Army and industry officials expect to transfer some capabilities of the Advanced
Field Artillery Tactical Data System into the Future Combat Systems program,
based on favorable reviews from the Iraqi battlefield. Feedback from the war,
however, also pointed to several shortfalls that need to be fixed.
AFATDS, built by the Raytheon Company, is an automated command and control
system that identifies targets and pairs them with fire-support weapons. AFATDS
was introduced into the force seven years ago, but has been upgraded several
times. About 90 percent of the Army, 50 percent of the Army National Guard and
the entire Marine Corps employs AFATDS.
The software development for the past six years has cost around $270 million,
according to Steve Lutz, Raytheon’s program manager.
According to Col. Fred Coppola, the project manager for Intelligence and effects,
AFATDS will be around for at least 20 more years. Army officials working with
AFATDS call this program a bridge into the FCS and its fires support technologies.
“The FCS contractors have looked at AFATDS, and I think they have identified
a lot of that core code, and they will be using that,” said Lt. Gen. Steven
Boutelle, the Army’s director of information operations, networks and
space. “Now, they will put their own interfaces on it,” and make
it work with the other systems in FCS.
Automated command and control requires linking a variety of sensors, explained
Lutz. These could include a forward observer, an unmanned drone or the Joint
JSTARS radar aircraft. “AFATDS is not about field artillery, but it is
about fire support. We brought all these different methods of delivering fires
When the observer identifies the target, it is sent to AFATDS over radio. AFATDS
operates most of the Army’s radios and communications systems, and works
on mobile subscriber equipment, said Lutz.
Once the data is analyzed and displayed, the information is digitally sent
to the weapons systems. “AFADTS can compute the technical solution,”
said Lutz. “At the same time, it notifies the observer that you have a
This process takes about six minutes for firing rockets and four and a half
for other munitions.
“There are high priority targets, which can be engaged faster,”
said Maj. Gen. Michael Maples, the commanding general of the Army’s Field
Artillery Center at Fort Sill, Okla. He said that four and a half minutes is
a “pretty fast response, but it is not where we want it. ... There are
some training issues that also can reduce that time,” he added.
Maples said that sensor to shooter links are critical for the Army. “I
need to have a sensor, something that is going to ID the target to the accuracy
that I require,” he told National Defense. “What I do not want to
have is a target that goes un-serviced on the battlefield for a length of time.”
He noted that one of the shortfalls in the technology today is battle-damage
“One of the challenges that we have today is that I may fire that mission,
but I may not know the outcome of that mission until later,” he said.
Further, the de-confliction of air space is going to be critical for fire support
missions, Maples contended. “We are going to have UAVs and, of course,
we are going to have munitions of all types that are going to be operating in
the air space,” he said. “There are a lot of folks working to enable
that, but it has to be done in a joint way,” he said.
Plugging in too many advanced features may not be a good idea, he said. “We
have reached a point where we made it too complicated. ... If you do add additional
functions in there, they still have got to be [easily] accessed by those who
are going to use them.”
An after-action-review of the 3rd Infantry Division’s mechanized artillery,
published on June 17, contends that AFATDS provided a “very stable and
reliable fire control platform that allowed the delivery of fires in support
of ground maneuver forces. Units effectively used it to tactically and technically
deliver field artillery fires, manage fire support coordination measures, and
provide a common operational picture down to platoon level,” the review
Nevertheless, soldiers suggested a series of recommendations to improve future
versions of AFATDS. On the battlefield, the soldiers found the AFATDS hardware
to be vulnerable to the weather and the harsh desert terrain, the report said,
particularly to sand, vibration and heat.
“Many of our AFATDS boxes have inoperable keyboards and dust contaminated
the keys and mice of all the systems,” said the report.
Soldiers said the system was too large and heavy, and moving it in and out
of vehicles was cumbersome, therefore dissuading operators from using the system
at times. Set up and tear down procedures were lengthy, the report stated.
To solve size, weight and contaminant problems, the report recommends repackaging
AFATDS into a more durable laptop system.
The AFATDS box is also extremely sensitive to AC voltage fluctuations, said
soldiers. Any changes in voltage causes AFATDS to default to unfiltered DC power
or internal battery power. Consequently the AC inverter uses up a lot of wattage.
A durable laptop is also the answer to this problem because it will eliminate
the need for a heavy-duty power supply, the report said.
Soldiers also were unable to override the automated AFATDS decision making.
The report recommends that the software be updated to allow battalion and platoon
operators to make necessary manual adjustments.
Soldiers could not select the type and number of rounds they wanted to fire,
because the system generates a certain fire order for a particular situation.
AFATDS needs to refine its guidance package, said the report, to allow the operator
to “force a specific fire order” when necessary.
A total of 600 AFATDS—split between the Army and the Marine Corps—
have been fielded during OIF. Raytheon is planning to integrate 12 systems onto
U.S. Navy ships, according to Lt. Col. Jim Chapman, the product manager for
fire support. Eventually the system is going work with the Navy’s Extended
Range Guided Munition, as well as the Army’s new GPS-guided round Excalibur
and the Non-Line-of-Sight Launch System.
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