[ The Real McCoy Online Home ]                                                                                                                     March 27, 2009

Blue Force Tracker speeds 
Soldier movements

By Tom Michele, The Real McCoy Contributor

Soldiers learning critical tasks and techniques to best accomplish their mission and do it all safely are learning some of that with the Blue Force Tracker (BFT) communications system during mobilization training at Fort McCoy.

Photo: Sgt. Jack Tente works on a Blue Force Tracker communications system at Fort McCoy. Tente is mobilizing with the 401st Engineer Company of Oklahoma City. (Photo by Tom Michele)
Sgt. Jack Tente works on a Blue Force Tracker communications system at Fort McCoy. Tente is mobilizing with the 401st Engineer Company of Oklahoma City.  
(Photo by Tom Michele)

"Having a Blue Force Tracker system in their vehicle is important to Soldiers and their commanders and other members of their unit and adjacent units because it offers critical communications and critical situation awareness," Staff Sgt. Mark Komettor said.

Komettor is a BFT instructor at the 181st Infantry Brigade who, along with his fellow teachers, conducts instructional sessions for mobilizing Soldiers training at McCoy as part of intense training to get vital information to Soldiers before they head to combat.

"BFT is a satellite-based tactical communications system," Komettor said. "As long as we can see a satellite, we can communicate."

Staff Sgt. Richard Hartley, another BFT instructor, said, "The big thing about BFT is that it isn’t impaired by the line-of-sight restriction that radio has. On the two tours of duty I had in Iraq, my unit mainly used BFT as a very major navigational tool. It gave us information as to where we and our friends were, and where the enemy was, so we would know what was happening on the battlefield."

Komettor said BFT also covers longer distances than the main line Single-Channel Ground-Air Radio System (SINCGARS) radios that are still the No. 1 form of communication in the Army.

"All branches of the military use BFT," Komettor said, "and all branches can communicate together if they are all in the same area of operations."

"Knowing where you are, and where your friendly forces are, so you don’t shoot at them, is obviously very important," Komettor said. "BFT is a very good tool to tell the Soldier where their other unit elements are and to tell other friendly elements where you are."

BFT also works to let Soldiers know where enemy forces are and other hazards such as detected and identified improvised explosive devices, craters, unexploded ordnance, concertina wire, nuclear-biological-chemical sites, mine-fields and any other obstacles and hazards.

"That situational awareness allows the Soldier to avoid hazardous or contaminated areas, places the Soldier doesn’t want to go and shouldn’t go," Komettor said.

The BFT system has the distinct advantage that the map view with friendly and enemy forces also is being viewed in real-time by commanders at most every level, to and through brigade, so all commanders may instantly know where all the players are and subsequently make command decisions to fight the battle.

Another distinct advantage of BFT is that it works in the middle of a desert sandstorm, jungle monsoon or mountain blizzard, and, at night. BFT doesn’t have the disadvantage of a paper map, or the need for several paper maps as the Soldier moves from one map sheet to another.

The BFT is not just a navigational or positioning tool. It also allows text messaging of information to and from all BFT elements, such as detailed information about threats and obstacles. Soldiers can communicate via free-text e-mail to their commanders and other elements, and receive orders from their commanders.

Through testing at the Army’s National Training Center in California, the Army learned that use of the BFT changes the equation of Soldiers and commanders spending 80 percent of their time evaluating their locations and 20 percent of their time deciding on the course of battle. Now, with BFT, that is reversed to 20 percent evaluating locations and 80 percent to better orchestrate an attack.

(Michele is a public affairs specialist for Eagle Systems and Services Inc., contractor for CONUS Support Base Services.)


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