March 2005 
Volume 03, Issue 10 
Integrated Defense Systems

Golden opportunity at Ft. Knox

A firsthand account of what FCS teammates saw in combat training at a U.S. Army facility


Golden opportunity at Ft. KnoxAs coalition forces continue their hard work in Iraq, a U.S. Army–wide initiative to replicate tactics used in Iraq is under way at military installations across the United States. One of these is Ft. Knox, Ky., home to the Army Armor Center and responsible for training armor and cavalry soldiers.

The Armor Center's training curriculum, like many other Army training programs, has changed significantly because of the war in Iraq. In coming years, that curriculum will experience even more dramatic change as the Army begins spiraling new technologies being developed by the Future Combat Systems program into the hands of the current force. A Boeing–Science Applications International Corporation team is the Lead Systems Integrator for FCS.

Until then, the Army will continue to evolve its training to prepare soldiers for the battlefield of the 21st century. A group of 10 FCS employees and I had a chance to see this preparation firsthand during a recent visit to Ft. Knox. When we embarked on this journey, we knew we would get a glimpse into the day-to-day routine of a soldier in training. But an even greater takeaway was an appreciation of the skill set currently required of each soldier, and an understanding for the requirements FCS must meet to support a future "Unit of Action soldier."


Since 1918, Ft. Knox has been one of several posts where recruits go for basic combat training. In a muddy infantry physical training field, drill sergeants were teaching them hand-to-hand combat as part of basic combat training. The recruits were in their second of nine weeks of the basic curriculum; many would be deployed to a combat zone immediately after graduation.

Golden opportunity at Ft. KnoxBased on lessons learned in Afghanistan and Iraq, the Army has switched to teaching a "street fighting" style of hand-to-hand combat. No longer used are pugil sticks—long poles with padded ends used to simulate bayonet fighting—or traditional self-defense techniques.

"I was surprised to learn that today's new soldier arrives in combat less than 30 days after graduation. From what we observed, it's clear that the Army has adapted to meet the needs of an Army at war," said Shirley Buzzell, an office administrator on FCS who participated in the visit.

Another visible sign of the Army's initiative to replicate tactics observed in Iraq was the creation of a functional Forward Operating Base at Ft. Knox. Last year, the Army began constructing FOBs, or enduring bases, as long-term encampments for the thousands of American troops expected to serve in Iraq. An FOB is essentially a compound used to support tactical operations without establishing permanent facilities.

The FOB at Ft. Knox was designed after FOBs U.S. soldiers now operate from in Iraq. It includes all the functionality of an active FOB including a Command and Operations Center, living quarters, supply tent and mess hall. Army recruits, reservists and personnel from other military branches spend at least one week at the Ft. Knox FOB to prepare for their deployment. During the FOB training cycle, they work through scenarios drawn from Iraq, such as conducting security patrols in simulated towns, destroying a simulated roadside bomb and reacting to a convoy ambush. These exercises and others are part of what's called the "Warrior Challenge."

About FCS and Ft. Knox

The Future Combat Systems model calls for development of U.S. Army "units of action" that will be made up of 18 different types of ground and air vehicles and data-collecting sensors, all connected by an advanced computer network. A soldier linked to these platforms and sensors has access to data that provides a highly accurate picture of what's going on around him. Currently, soldiers at Ft. Knox, Ky., maintain and train on such ground combat vehicles as the Bradley Armored Fighting Vehicle and the Abrams Tank. FCS will, over time, replace these vehicles with a new family of manned and unmanned ground vehicles which will be lighter, smaller and easily transportable by airplane. The first manned ground vehicle prototypes are expected to come off the assembly line in 2008.


Since the end of the Cold War, conducting "full-spectrum" operations has become common for U.S. troops because of enemies' often-limited ability to contest them in open terrain. Operation Desert Storm is a classic example where opposing forces didn't survive well in the open desert. In every military operation since Desert Storm, American forces have fought in dense, urban areas like the streets of Mogadishu, Somalia, or in restrictive terrain like the mountains of Afghanistan. The Army has always trained its soldiers for combat in urban and restrictive terrain; in recent years this training has become even more sophisticated.

To better prepare soldiers for urban missions, Ft. Knox has established a Military Operations on Urbanized Terrain site on which sweeps for insurgents are simulated. During the exercises, the sights, sounds and smells of an urban warfare scenario are created—including placing individuals role-playing as terrorists and civilians in and around buildings and exchanging gunfire using training ammunition.

Our group experienced this intense and stressful environment firsthand when we were allowed to stay inside a building during a sweep. "You could see the intensity on the soldiers' faces when they quickly entered the room," said Greg McKenzie, an engineer on the FCS program.

Golden opportunity at Ft. Knox
Golden opportunity at Ft. Knox


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