|Deployable "Digital Campus" Matures, Ready to Go |
Deployable "Digital Campus" Matures, Ready to Go
By Jim Caldwell, Army News Service.
Fort Monroe, Virginia -- (ANS) May 18, 2001 -- A new digital "Deployed Training Campus" can be shipped to anyplace in the world, set up in about three hours by two people and ready to help train soldiers via the Internet and a two-way video and voice system.
"This prototype supports the Army's concept of training soldiers in the environment they're going to fight in," said Chief Warrant Officer 5 Charlie Bos, chief of the Deployed Training Branch within Training and Doctrine Command's Deputy Chief of Staff for Training organization. "They can be trained on their critical tasks and remain proficient."
Older versions of the training system, which were built basically using equipment in the Army inventory, are being used in the Sinai, Kosovo, Bosnia and Germany. The new system was built for the Army for about $400,000.
Bos said that figure includes research and development.
"These systems will hopefully cost less than $200,000 by the end of the next iteration. And they'll be twice as powerful and half the size," he said.
The systems that are currently in Europe have to be carried on a flatbed truck. The new one fits into 19 specially designed boxes and goes on a small ramp C-130 loading pallet. Bos wants the package to eventually fit into a Humvee.
"The original plan was to give one or two units to a division," he said. "I think the ultimate place for this is at brigade headquarters. When the brigade deploys, once they get settled into their mission, they need to go right into training and this is the vehicle to provide it."
Bos is also assigned to Fort Lewis, Wash., in the TRADOC Interim Brigade Combat Team Coordination Cell. He oversees development of the digital training campus.
The deployed campus consists of 17 high-end laptop computers, multiplex equipment that can handle video, voice, fax, telephones, and a deployable antenna, all with test equipment.
The video teletraining package contains a pan, tilt, zoom and automatic focus video camera, two 42-inch plasma flat panel displays and eight push-to-talk microphones.
After the antenna is set up and plugged into the system, it is digitally ordered to align itself with the correct satellite.
Power is provided by the deployed unit.
"We stopped using a generator with the last iteration," Bos said. "We were spending big bucks on a diesel generator that weighs a ton, and we never used it. We just didn't want that log trail."
Bos recently brought the campus to Fort Monroe and set it up in a tent in Continental Park across the street from the TRADOC commander's house. Throughout the day he gave briefings as officers, enlisted soldiers and civilians wandered in. Those involved with training development and technologies stayed to listen.
The tent, he explained, was not part of the deployed campus; it was just one he brought with him to serve as a classroom. The ideal place to house the equipment is wherever the deployed unit is housed, but a tent works just fine.
"If, for some reason, you wanted to use it outdoors in the heat or the cold, the equipment can take it," Bos said.
Classes are scheduled through the Network Control Center at Fort Eustis, Va. The NCC handles communications and schedules classes for all the deployed training sites.
TRADOC leadership was so impressed they want Bos to demonstrate the system to Army leadership. Although the full schedule hasn't been set, Bos will take the system to the Pentagon and the TRADOC Commanders Conference in August.
The Sergeant Major for DCST, Sgt. Maj. Danny Hubbard, will show the system to attendees at the Armor Conference at Fort Knox, Ky., May 21.
Forerunners of the Deployable Training Campus have been in operation in the Sinai, Kosova, Bosnia, Macedonia and Germany, some for as long as six years.
The system at Vilseck, Germany, has saved U.S. Army Europe about $7 million to train soldiers in the Battle Staff NCO Course. Three times a year, instruction is beamed via satellite from the Sergeants Major Academy, Fort Bliss, Texas, to soldiers who need the training. Although soldiers from installations around Europe travel to Vilseck for the training, the cost is much less than sending them to the United States for the course.
Soldiers from deployed areas such as Bosnia can be included in the training without having to leave their operational areas.
First priority for the Deployed Training Campus is military training, according to Bos. In addition to BSNCOC, such training as Defense Language Institute refresher foreign language courses have been beamed to overseas troops by satellite. A hazard materials handling course was also broadcast for the first time to troops in Germany and Kosovo in March 2000.
"The pilot program was so successful that a second course was conducted in June 2000," Bos said. "That one linked Bosnia, Kosovo, Vilseck, North and South Camps in the Sinai and Alaska.
"This was the first time that soldiers on three continents were taught at the same time."
Next on the priority list is individual professional military development, followed by civilian education. Live classes are beamed from institutes such as City Colleges of Chicago and the University of Maryland after duty hours to deployed troops.
Morale and welfare is the third priority. When not in use the campus can be used for soldiers to call their families if the calls are local to Fort Eustis or can be patched in through the Defense Switching Network. Computers are available to get on the Internet to correspond with friends and families. Deployed units can also schedule video visits with families through video-teleconference centers on installations in the United States or overseas.
"The satellite stream is a 24/7 operation and costs not one dime more to keep it running, so there's no extra charge to let soldiers use it for personal communications.
"Once you've seen a long line of soldiers waiting to just get inside a tent to get their chance at the Internet, you know that's an important benefit for them," Bos said.
"The staff at the Network Control Center spend a lot of late nights connecting video calls for deployed soldiers. To say that Mr. Walt Breckons and his people at the NCC are supporters of our deployed troops would be a mild understatement."
A recent upgrade now allows NCC staffers to connect with all National Guard and Army Reserve sites around the country.
The ability to run simulations also makes the campus ideal for a commander to run combat training with his staff.
"The campus would serve as a great TOC, (tactical operations center) but we hope commanders won't use it for that purpose, and use it for it's intended purpose," Bos said.
The system that Bos demonstrates is the first of three prototypes, with two others undergoing initial acceptance tests at Fort Eustis. When the other two are certified, the first system will be put in use at Camp Bonnefield in Bosnia. The next will replace the equipment in Kosovo.
"That's an old system," he said. "I'm just getting tired of fixing it. You have to take a wrench out to adjust the antenna to get the satellite online."
While the first deployed training systems were doing the job they were designed for, it was evident that they had to become more user friendly. To gain more command acceptance, they had to be deployable, too.
"We actually wrote the white paper for this package about a year and a month ago in a restaurant in Cairo on the way back from the Sinai," he said. "It's become a reality in just that short a time."
"We" includes Bos, Sgt. Major Andy Neal, NCOIC of the Deployed Training Branch, and Dr. Carl Wyatt, former branch chief. Wyatt now works for Forces Command, developing joint training policies.
"This is a combat multiplier for a deployed commander," Wyatt said. "His soldiers can be refreshed in skills and knowledge for METL (mission essential task list) skills, or receive training for the specific operation."
"In all, the deployed training program within TRADOC fills two primary tools within the transforming Army," Bos said. "First it defines what the Block 5 TADLP (The Army Distance Learning Program) will look like with it's finally deployed.
"More importantly, it helps soldiers and commanders alike."
(Editor's note: Jim Caldwell is a journalist with the Training and Doctrine Command, Fort Monroe, Va.)