Army Communicator

Lessons are learned from: Stryker Brigade Combat Team JRTC CERTEX

Lessons are learned from: Stryker Brigade Combat Team JRTC CERTEX

Gregg Powell

This article outlines the communications lessons learned during the first Stryker Brigade Combat Team’s certification exercise in April 2003 at the Joint Readiness Training Center. This is a summary of a report published by the Signal Center at Fort Gordon, Ga. A review of the SBCT’s communication and information systems is also provided in the complete report which may be obtained either from MAJ Gregg Powell at or from the Signal Center. Diagrams outlining the reach-back networks installed from the SBCT into the legacy division, corps, Army forces, Joint Force Land Component Commander and staff or Joint Task Force are also included in the complete report and may be obtained in electronic format.


Army Transformation: In October 1999, the Chief of Staff and the Secretary of the Army announced a new Army transformation vision, which established an explicit requirement for the Army to become more strategically responsive. To meet these challenges, the Army began implementing a three-phase transformation plan, which began with the creation of the Interim Brigade Combat Teams, and will culminate in the fielding of the future force sometime between 2015 and 2020. The IBCT was renamed the Stryker Brigade Combat Team by the Army Chief of Staff.

Currently, there are two Stryker Brigades at Fort Lewis, and there are plans to stand four others up in Schofield Barracks, Hawaii, Fort Wainwright, Ala., Fort Polk, La., and the last in Pennsylvania (National Guard).

SBCT Organizational and Operational Concept: The SBCT O&O document provides a framework that defines organizational constructs and fundamental operational capabilities and precepts necessary for the first and subsequent SBCTs to perform their wartime mission. Field Manual 6-31.21 Stryker Brigade Combat Team reinforces and supplements the concepts outlined in the SBCT Organizational and Operational. FM 6-31.21 was published in March of 2003

SBCT overview:

The SBCT’s primary attributes include:

a. Significantly increased tactical, operational and strategic mobility;

b. The ability to augment a standard Army division or corps and fight as a divisional or separate brigade;

c. The ability to achieve decisive action through dismounted infantry assault and organic direct and indirect fire support;

d. And foremost, its ability to quickly overwhelm an opposing force through greatly enhanced information superiority and situational understanding made possible by a fully integrated and synchronized system of systems that include all of the Army Battle Command System platforms (Air and Missile Defense Workstation, Army Field Artillery Tactical Data System, Airborne Separation Assurance System, Combat Service Support Control System, Maneuver Control System, Tactical Airspace Integration System, Integrated Meteorlogical and Environmental Terrain System, Force 21 Battle Command Battalion/Brigade and Below) and the Battlefield Operating System specific information system platforms and sensors that feed each of the individual Army Battle Command Systems.

The SBCT is specifically designed to serve as an early entry combat force, and is based around the eight variants of the Stryker wheeled combat vehicle. The Stryker variants are medium-weight (roughly 20 tons minus supplemental armor) combat and combat support platforms. The SBCT is preconfigured in ready-to-fight combined-arms packages that are capable of deploying within 96 hours, airlifted by any heavy-lift airframe to include C-130 Hercules aircraft, and capable of beginning combat operations within an hour of arriving at the aerial port of debarkation, immediately following initial forced-entry elements. The SBCT is designed to sustain operations for up to 180 days without relief, and is designed to operate under a division, or under a corps headquarters designated as the ARFOR, JFLCC or JTF. The SBCT will also compliment an Air Expeditionary or Marine Expeditionary Force. The SBCT has limited sustainment, force protection, intelligence, joint effects, and long-haul communications capabilities and requires support from its higher headquarters.

SBCT mission: The SBCT is designed primarily for small-scale contingencies in complex and urban terrain and low to mid-range conflicts that involve both conventional and asymmetrical threats. The SBCT deploys under the control of a division, corps or ARFOR commander and executes early entry combat operations immediately upon arrival in theater. The SBCT is designed to participate in Major Theater War as a maneuver component subordinate to and supported by a division or corps. (1)

SBCT organization: Major sub-elements of the SBCT include: three motorized, combined arms infantry battalions, each composed of three combined arms rifle companies and a headquarters company; Reconnaissance, Surveillance and Target Acquisition squadron; anti-tank company; artillery battalion; engineer company; brigade support battalion; military intelligence company; signal company; and the brigade headquarters and headquarters company. (2)

Key operational capabilities: The SBCT possesses several key operational capabilities as defined in the O&O which include: mobility, dismounted assault and the close fight, enhanced situational understanding and information superiority. The O&O defines the first two key operational capabilities as the most distinctive core qualities. Arguably, the third capability, enhanced SU and Information Superiority is equally important because it is exactly this capability that provides the commanders with a Common Operational Picture enabling a fight to be coordinated and synchronized, and enabling fires and effects to be massed to achieve overmatch and provide decisive advantage over an opposing force. The Army has traded away armor and firepower for IS and mobility, and it is the enhanced SU and IS capability that must in a large part make up the difference in capabilities. The command, control, communications, computers, intelligence. surveillance and reconnaissance systems enable enhanced SU and IS.

C4ISR: C4ISR systems provide all commanders in the SBCT with the capability to: see and understand all dimensions of their battlespace; precisely locate and track critical targets; conduct simultaneous operations with lethal and nonlethal means; operate with joint and multinational forces; and recognize and protect their own forces and other friendly forces. These capabilities are critical for the SBCT to synchronize widely dispersed and highly mobile forces operating through an extended battlespace. ABCS sits at the core of the Army’s C4ISR systems. A future combat system is being developed to replace ABCS.

Command and control: The FBCB2 component of ABCS provides a situational understanding/command and control capability down to the combat platform level, while MCS provides the SU/C2 capability in a tactical operations center environment. The C2 functionality within the ABCS platforms is configured differently to meet a variety of operational roles at different levels of command. Maps, imagery and digital terrain elevation data are integrated into the COP display for use in situational planning, mission planning and rehearsal, decision-making and navigation. C2 and planning processes are further supported by a distributed joint common database used to build the COP, and collaborative planning enabled by a Battlefield Video-Teleconferencing Center and shared white board capabilities between the Bridgade Tactical Operation Centers. A collaborative planning capability currently does not exist between the brigade and the maneuver battalions because of technology limitations, which are detailed in the Signal Center report. A collaborative planning capability between the brigade and the maneuver battalions was identified as a requirement during the SBCT JRTC CERTEX.

Intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance: It is important to understand the tremendous impact that intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance have on the signal mission. ISR systems compose a large portion of the information systems that require connectivity through different types of communications networks. The SBCT S-2, S-2 operations team and military intelligence company plan and direct ISR operations, collect and process information, produce intelligence products and disseminate relevant intelligence information to the brigade. The MI Company contains an ISR analysis platoon, ISR integration platoon, and a tactical human intelligence platoon. The ISR analysis platoon conducts threat disposition development, situation development, target development and battle damage assessment in support of the SBCT S-2 section. The ISR integration platoon processes, and integrates information derived from sensors across all battlefield operating systems and intelligence disciplines. The SBCT MI Company and S-2 section have a reach-back capability to external intelligence sources via SIPRNET and Joint Worldwide Intelligence Community using Trojan Spirit II satellite terminals.

The Reconnaissance, Surveillance and Target Acquisition squadron is the second key ISR element in the SBCT serving as the brigade’s primary intelligence collection and information source. The RSTA serves as the eyes and ears of the SBCT, and includes a reconnaissance troop composed of a headquarters element, reconnaissance platoon, mortar platoon and a surveillance troop composed of a unmanned aerial vehicle platoon (4 UAVs), multi-capable sensor platoon and nuclear, biological and chemical platoon. The RSTA squadron collects Imagery Intelligence, Signal intelligence, communications intelligence and tactical electronic intelligence.

The MI Company runs the Deployable Intelligence Support Element. Within the DISE, the MI Company gathers, analyses and disseminates intelligence to the SBCT. The primary information system platforms used in the DISE are the common ground station, all-source-enclave, single-source-enclave and ASAS-Remote Work Station. Other intelligence related information system platforms and transmission systems include the Ground Control Station (terminates COMINT, TACELINT, IMINT, Measurement/Measuring And Signature Intelligence and Moving Target Indicator feeds from various sources such as Guardrail, Global Hawk and Predator UAV and Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System) and the PROPHET SIGINT and Electronic Warfare system.

Key lessons learned during the CERTEX

The SBCT CERTEX validated the SBCT’s O&O and successfully demonstrated readiness for combat operations. The CERTEX also validated the SBCT’s C4ISR capability. From a communications perspective there were many observations made, lessons learned and limitations identified–several stand out.

1. The Near Term Digital Radio does not provide enough bandwidth to meet the data transfer requirements of the SBCT. The available data rate that the NTDR provides does not allow digital imagery or other large files to be moved between the brigade and the battalions. The NTDR also cannot support all of the ABCS traffic while simultaneously supporting the voice-over-white-board application(s) that would provide a collaborative planning capability between the battalion and brigade TOCs.

DISCUSSION: This is due to a limitation in the core technology of the Near Term Digital Radio. The NTDR will be replaced by the Joint Tactical Radio System beginning in 2007. The JTRS Wideband Networking Waveform should address many of the NTDR shortcomings.

RECOMMENDATION: A recommended course of action has already been identified by the Battle Command battle Lab at Fort Gordon, and approved by I Corps. This solution involves a Ku-band Viasat commercial satellite terminal, and a Linkway 2100 TDMA-based modem. There are other commercially-based satellite systems that are available like the SWE-DISH (Digital Deployable Training Campus), however, satellite systems that are configured in a hub-spoke architecture will not work for collaborative applications. Hub-spoke architectures are very inefficient with regard to latency because multiple hops between ground stations and the satellite are often required for hub-terminals to transmit to other hub-terminals. Latency may exceed a few seconds when multiple satellite hops are necessary–this far exceeds delay thresholds for interactive applications and services, and sometimes requires special equipment, which takes into account the Transmission Control Protocol timing and window sizing. L-band solutions like International Marine/ Maritime Satellite were also proposed, but do not provide the necessary data throughput that is required for such things as Battle Command on the move. The TDMA-based satellite solution is logically a fully-meshed network, which places any node in the network only one hop away from any other node, minimizing latency. This solution also uses satellite resources in a way that is orders-of-magnitude more efficient than the old Frequency Division Multiplexed way of doing business.

Since the Time Division Multiplexed Access-based modem only uses the satellite to transmit when it has traffic to send, it is a far more efficient use of the satellite’s resources, and it is also possible to have many terminals come up on the same satellite carrier. TDMA-based SATCOM stands to revolutionize the way satellite resources are used and allocated.

2. The NTDR does not have adequate range to provide coverage across the entire 50 x 50 km battlespace specified in FM 6-31.21 and the SBCT O&O.

DISCUSSION: Two courses of action exist to address this deficiency. The first possible course of action is to obtain more NTDR relay radio packages. This is not a feasible course of action. Obtaining additional relay radio packages will increase the NTDR coverage area, however, it will also create additional force protection issues, and will require additional soldiers that will count against the mandated SBCT personnel ceiling. Adding additional NTDR relays will also compound the available bandwidth problem. The NTDR was designed to operate in a fully (or almost fully) meshed network where each radio is able to talk with every other radio. This would require approximately 156 radios evenly dispersed across the 50×50 km box. When the radios are widely dispersed (which is normally an operational necessity) and radio clusters are only able to communicate with other radio clusters through a relay radio, then choke points are created in the network that greatly diminish available throughput. Given that the SBCT is expected to operate in discontiguous battlespace, a uniform distribution of NTDRs is unlikely.

RECOMMENDATION: The second and recommended course of action is to field a UAV that would carry a Communications Relay Package. Ideally this UAV would be dedicated to the CRP, so communications missions will not conflict with surveillance missions. This course of action solves the transmission-distance limitation problem. It must be noted, however, that a UAV CRP does not address the issue surrounding the NTDR’s lack of bandwidth, nor does it provide a solution that will facilitate voice-over-white-board collaborative planning. The current inability to do collaborative planning and the inadequate range of the NTDR radio are two clearly distinct problems.

3. The SBCT does not have an Airborne Communications Relay Package.

DISCUSSION: While this fact is tied directly to the second issue in the preceding paragraph, and is one factor that limits the NTDR coverage area, the SBCT’s lack of a CRP is a critical deficiency and should be raised as a separate issue. Two possible courses of action exist. The first possible course of action is to eliminate a CRP as a system that will be fielded to the SBCT, and have the brigade continue to make due with ground-based relays as they have. This is an unacceptable course of action. Earlier analysis and recommendations made by the Signal Center indicates that a CRP is critical if the SBCT is to operate in a 50 x 50 km battlespace. In fact, it is highly likely that this space will be extended in future conflicts, especially when the SBCT arrives as an early entry combat force. This conclusion is also supported in the ongoing Objective Force Unit of Action experimentation currently ongoing at the Fort Gordon Battle Lab.

RECOMMENDATION: The second and recommended course of action is to obtain funding for and field a UAV CRP solution to the SBCT. A CRP is identified as a requirement in the IBCT O&O and in FM 6-02.2. A CRP was also identified by the Signal Center in the IBCT O&O analysis (Annex H, IBCT O&O) as a critical requirement. A CRP dropped off the radar screen, however, when the SBCT’s designated UAV was changed from a Hunter UAV with a 250-pound payload to a Shadow UAV with a 60-pound payload (47lbs of which are taken up by the surveillance camera package). It was an initial concept that the Hunter UAV would carry a secondary CRP payload. The initial O&O stated: “The non-linear non-contiguous deployment of the IBCT will, at times, require Enhanced Position Locating Radio System and Single Channel Ground and Airborne Radio System distances that simply cannot be met with ground-level retransmission systems, especially if the demand for force protection limits the emplacement of RETRANS systems. There will not be enough satellite terminals in the BSC to cover the gaps.” While the NTDR radio was not mentioned in annex H of the IBCT O&O, it should have been since it has the shortest transmission range of all the tactical radios in the SBCT. In fact, one of the After-Action Review comments made by the JRTC OPS Group stated that the NTDR is the weak-link in the chain when it comes to the Tactical-Range Exercise Retransmission/Relay platform, since the T-REX must be deployed based on the shorter NTDR planning ranges, and not the longer EPLRS or SINCGARS planning ranges. An airborne CRP is a key component of the SBCT communications support strategy. The SINCGARS, EPLRS and NTDR nets require an aerial CRP package to ensure full coverage of the SBCT’s battlespace. Operations in a non-contiguous battlespace demands coverage beyond the SBCT’s land-based retrans and relay capability. Along this line, it is also critical to point out that not only is a CRP absolutely necessary, but the CRP MUST be on a dedicated UAV. If the CRP is placed as a secondary payload on an ISR UAV, then the CRP mission will likely take backseat to the primary ISR mission of the UAV platform. A dedicated CRP UAV is an absolutely necessary requirement. This fact also came to light during the Unit of Action Objective Force Experiment, which took place at the Fort Gordon Battle Lab in April 2003. Other issues like who owns the CRP UAV, and who flies it must also be addressed to insure that the asset remains a dedicated Signal asset and does not get hijacked for other missions. Currently, there are no plans to fund or field dedicated CRP UAVs to either the Stryker Brigades or to the Unit of Action Future Force. This is a problem that must be addressed in the near future. The Army has banked on situational understanding and information superiority being a combat multiplier for the SBCT, however, if the transmission systems do not have the capability to pass information, than the SBCT’s ability to maintain information superiority becomes seriously degraded.

4. The Digital Bridge needs a GCCS-A server.

DISCUSSION: The 109th Headquarters Support Detachment is referred to as the Digital Bridge. The DB is a digital liaison between the SBCT and its higher headquarters that remains co-located with the higher HQs. The DB is needed because the SBCT’s ABCS hardware and software is not compatible with all its potential higher HQ’s older ABCS and ATCCS equipment. The DB is an interim solution to provide a digital linkage between a legacy HQs (corps/division) and the SBCTs. This is a requirement if the DB is expected to deploy as part of a Joint Task Force. The DB currently does not have a Global Command and Control System–Army server.

RECOMMENDATION: Outfit the Digital Bridge with a GCCS-A server. If the DB deploys where the SBCT is the ARFOR, and no higher ARFOR exists, then there will be no GCCS-A server for the ABCS platforms in the SBCT and DB to tie into. This is a critical deficiency. assuming that the SBCT may deploy and function as the ARFOR.

5. The DB needs TAIS and AMDWS Systems.

DISCUSSION: This would provide an organic SBCT compatible Army Airborne Command & Control & Air Defense Area planning capability within the DB, and would ensure gaining headquarters would not have to modify their existing A2C2 architecture and/or procedures required to interface with SBCT. This issue is specific to the digital bridge, and does not have any bearing on the SBCT CERTEX.


6. The DB requires two organic SMART-T satellite terminals.

DISCUSSION: This will prevent any higher headquarters that the DB is attached to from having to provide AN/TSC-85 or AN/TSC-93 GMF satellite assets. Division signal battalions and corps signal brigades likely will not have enough GMF satellite assets doctrinally to support an element like the Digital Bridge. This issue is specific to the DB, and does not have any bearing on the SBCT CERTEX.

RECOMMENDATION: Field two additional Secure Mobile Anti-Jam Reliable Tactical-Terminal satellite terminals with two 31F20 operators. This will provide the tie in necessary for the DB to perform its mission and provide connectivity between the SBCT and a legacy corps or division.


The Stryker Brigade demonstrated a unique set of capabilities during the April 2003 CERTEX. The shortcomings and limitations outlined in this paper will not prevent the first SBCT from conducting its mission while deployed in Iraq, or in any other hostile environment. The issues listed in this article are presented to identify current limitations and issues with the SBCT’s C4ISR capabilities, so that they can be corrected wherever possible.

C4ISR and the transmission and information systems that enable it are the construct upon which SU and IS are built.

The Concept of Firsts: See First, Understand First, Act First, and finally, Finish Decisively, serves as a combat multiplier.

The Army is banking on this combat multiplier since it has traded armor and firepower for enhanced IS and mobility. Because IS is wholly dependant upon C4ISR systems, it is absolutely critical that we in the Signal Regiment work to address the communication shortcomings currently facing the first and second SBCTs.

While there are a host of other issues that have become immediately relevant as a result of OIF that must also be addressed by the Signal Regiment, it is important to not lose sight of the issues currently facing the first SBCT. In fact, the communications issues that the warfighters are discussing coming out of OIF are essentially the same issues facing the SBCT that are outlined in this article. Requirements such as Battle Command on the Move, and issues such as the outdated nature of MSE and the inability of industry or the Signal Corps to provide adequate data throughput to the warfighter while on the tactical offensive are all critical concerns that must be addressed by the Signal Regiment.


A2C2–Army Airborne Command & Control

AAR–Active Array Radar

ABCS–Army Battle Command System

AFATDS–Advanced Field Artillery Tactical Data System

AMDWS–Army Missile Defense Work Station

APOD–aerial port of debarkation

ARFOR–Army Forces

ASAS–All Source Analysis System

ASAS-RWS–ASAS-Remote Work Station

ATCCS–Army Tactical Command and Control System

BCOM–Battle Command on the Move


BOS–battlefield operating system

BVTC–Battlefield Video-Teleconferencing Center

C2–command and control

C4ISR–command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance

COMINT–Communications Intelligence

CGS–common ground station

COP–Common Operational Picture

CRP–Communications Relay Package

CSSCS–Combat Service Support Control System

DISE–Deployable Intelligence Support Element

DB–Digital Bridge

DTED–Digital Terrain Elevation Data

DISA–Deployable Intelligence Support Element

EPLRS–Enhanced Position Location and Reporting System

EW–Electronic Warfare

FBCB2–Force XXI Battle Command Battalion/Brigade and Below

FDMA–Frequency Division Multiple Access

FM–Field Manual

GCCS-A–Global Command and Control System–Army


HUMINT–Human Intelligence

IBCT–Interim Brigade Combat Teams

INMARSAT–International Marine/ Maritime Satellite (Organization)

IMINT–Imagery Intelligence

IMETS–Integrated Meteorological and Environmental Terrain System

IS–Information Superiority

ISR–intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance

JCDB–joint common database

JFLCC–Joint Force Land Component Commander and Staff

JRTC–Joint Readiness Training Center

JTF–Joint Task Force

JTRS–Joint Tactical Radio System

JSTARS–Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System

JWICS–Joint Worldwide Intelligence Communications System


MCS–Maneuver Control System

MI–military intelligence

MTI–Moving Target Indicator

MTW–Major Theater War

MSE–Mobile Subscriber Equipment

NBC–nuclear, biological and chemical

NTDR–Near Team Digital Radio



RSTA–Reconnaissance, Surveillance and Target Acquisition

O&O–Organizational and Operational

OEF–Operation Enduring Freedom

OIF–Operation Iraqi Freedom

SATCOM–satellite communications

SBCT–Stryker Brigade Combat Team

SIGINT–Signal Intelligence

SINCGARS–Single Channel Ground and Airborne Radio System

SIPRNET–Secure Internet Protocol Network

SMART-T–Secure Mobile Anti-Jam Reliable Tactical Terminal

SU–situational understanding

TACELINT–Tactical Electronic Intelligence

TAIS–Tactical Air Integration System

TCP–Transmission Control Protocol

TDMA–Time Division Multiplexed

TOC–tactical operations center

T-REX–Tactical Range Exercise

UAV–Unmanned Aerial Vehicle

4 UAV–UAV platoon


(1.) BCT O&O Document. Signal Corps Directorate of Training, Fort Gordon, Ga., pages 3-4

(2.) IBCT O&O Document, Signal Corps Directorate of Training, Fort Gordon, Ga., pages 3-17

MAJ Powell is a Functional Area 24, Telecommunication Systems Engineering Officer. He is currently a project officer at the Fort Gordon Battle Command Battle Lab. Major Powell participated in the Stryker Brigade certification exercise at Fort Polk in April, 2003, at the request of the JRTC Operations group, as a Signal Center representative.

COPYRIGHT 2003 U.S. Army Signal Center

COPYRIGHT 2003 Gale Group