Army revamp to boost IT spend

By Leon Engelbrecht
Johannesburg, 07 Sept 2007

The SA Army has embarked on a "massive" restructuring. This will see it establish 10 brigades grouped into two field divisions in the next three years, a step that will require a substantial investment in ICT.

Army chief lieutenant general Solly Shoke yesterday told a "State of the Army" media briefing that approval for the restructuring was obtained on Monday.

An officer attending the briefing says it will be preferable if each of the brigades at least receives a comprehensive command-and-control (C2) infrastructure. The Army is acquiring the technology to equip two such brigades as part of its R27 million Project Legend. At a cost of R13.5 million each, the bill for 10 such systems can top R135 million.

The companies in the running for the project are African Defence Systems, Saab Systems SA and EADS-Fulcrum. The defence department's Armaments Acquisition Steering Board is expected to make a decision on the winning bidder in the next month.

The system architecture the Army seeks must consist of a static C2 system to support the brigade staff, mobile C2 systems to support battalion and company commanders, and location sensors to track "blue force" units of all sizes. The Army wants enough of these to support three simultaneous peace support operations elsewhere in Africa and one training exercise at home.

Bidders must fulfil a range of requirements, including a commitment to "having a local support and enhancement capability within SA that can maintain/upgrade the full software suite for at least 10 years after commissioning". The tender documents also require that the "source code of the system shall reside in SA for Department of Defence use".

Shoke did not discuss figures, saying: "I'm just a soldier, they [the signal corps] must give me a secure C2 network."

Training and simulation

The restructuring forms part of the implementation of the Army's "Vision 2020". In his presentation, project leader colonel Eddie Drost says the Army is placing a major emphasis on realistic training. "This means simulation. We must make dead sure when deploying forces to the DRC [Democratic Republic of Congo] that they are trained for that type of environment."

Drost adds that Australia has heavily invested in simulation to add realism to the training of troops destined for deployment in Afghanistan and Iraq. "By the time that soldier deploys, he would have done hundreds of patrols down the main street of Baghdad and would have hit a thousand IEDs [improvised explosive devices - jargon for roadside bombs]," he adds.

A major focus will be on the ability to experiment with new tactics, techniques and technology, Drost says - a step that is in line with international best military practice.

The Army last year evaluated a Swedish battle simulation training system. Shoke has expressed interest in the technology, but to date the Army has not budgeted any funds for its acquisition.

Future tech

Drost also highlighted intelligence assets and information and telecommunications as key priority areas. Although Shoke says a discussion on specific technology would be premature, Drost says the general requirement for intelligence assets included sensor technology. This includes robotics and nanotechnology, reconnaissance capabilities, such as manned and unmanned, armed and unarmed ground and air vehicles, as well as the necessary "fusion capabilities" to access information vertically and horizontally.

Regarding information and telecommunications, Drost says the Army "must ensure the digitisation of the battlefield and applicable networking priorities in a joint C4I3RS [command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, infrastructure, reconnaissance and surveillance] system".

This, he says, includes assured and improved C2, the creation and improvement of situational awareness, better logistics flow and the meshing of weapons and sensors. With regards to weapons, he notes the Army is seeking IT-enabled systems that are more accurate at longer ranges.

Drost adds Vision 2020 will take at last two decades to implement - provided the funding is available.

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