Tactical and Technical
Army's BMS MessBy Damien de Pyle September 10, 2019
Exercise Talisman Sabre 2019 (Ex TS19) was an excellent opportunity to get some new ideas off the ground and see how they worked within the Battlespace. One idea was the use of the Battle Management System (BMS) as an essential means of communication. As a Company Level Signaller, I had a great perspective on the use of BMS and how it did and did not work. People were often confused or unsure of the means they were to use when sending certain information. People were having issues using the BMS program itself and were unfamiliar with how to send reports and returns or how to access those reports and returns they had received. Lastly, the equipment we used to run BMS had several faults and we experienced persistent problems that highlighted issues with how we used BMS. Of course, as with any system, there will be challenges and problems that need fixing, areas that need to be improved on, and some elements that need to be maintained. However, with this new-found knowledge I believe we can synthesise these lessons learnt into some key points going forward in regards to communications and how BMS can fit into the broader picture.
The Priority of Information
We generally recognise that some reports and returns have a higher priority than others. The Casualty Evacuation (CASEVAC) report is an excellent example of a report which has essential and time-sensitive information directly relating to the life of a person. This report has a higher priority than a Radio Check, which can be done at any time. By understanding this principle, we can see that a means of communication which is quicker and more efficient in sending information should be used for higher priority information. BMS is not the most efficient means of communication. This is because of the small bandwidth that our Enhanced Position Location Reporting System (EPLRS) can handle when sending and receiving data. Until we can find a suitable upgrade to the EPLRS, BMS should not be used for high priority information.
On the other hand, the Voice Net is not to be used for information that is not time-sensitive. This problem was evidenced when Electrical and Mechanical Engineering Fix (EMEFIX) reports were sent over the Voice Net rather than sent with the pre-formatted EMEFIX report template on BMS. This situation clogged up the Voice Net, which could have been used for critical information. It was also frustrating for the sender and recipient when they needed to repeat certain parts which could have been avoided if it was typed and sent via BMS. Therefore, we can see that we need to distinguish between which reports and returns need to be sent via BMS and which need to be sent via Voice Net. Further, this needs to be made clear to anyone who uses both BMS and the Voice Net by having a clear print out of which means are to be used for specific Reports and Returns. Ideally, BMS should be used for Battle Tracking, Logistics reports, and low priority combat reports (such as a Priority 3 CASEVAC).
Familiarity with the BMS System
BMS was initially brought into service in 2008, yet after 11 years we still haven’t been sufficiently trained to effectively use it. The current courses that are helping with this are the BMS Foundational, Tactical User and Tactical Commander courses. Most soldiers have done the BMS Foundational course. However, this is not enough. As we know from experience, to be proficient in something one needs to know more than just the bare essentials. A soldier’s may was assessed as competent with a Harris 152 radio after the basic lessons in Kapooka, but, practically speaking, this does not mean they will be able to effectively use the radio on an exercise like Talisman Sabre as the platoon signaller. Likewise, we should not expect our soldiers and officers to be competent with BMS after having done a foundational course. There were plenty of examples from Talisman Sabre where soldiers and officers were unsure of how to do something with BMS that was important to their job. All soldiers who have to use the BMS should be put onto the Tactical User course and all Officers on the Tactical Commander’s course. Admittedly, this is already partially happening with the Network Implementation and Training Advisory Team (NITAT) running these courses. However, NITAT will be relieving its responsibility for this training back to units, which will negatively affect future training on BMS. There also seems to be a lack of motivation from both soldiers and officers in taking these courses seriously. During my Tactical User and Tactical Commanders courses, many participants did not show up or just left when they realised it was not compulsory. Noting how vital BMS is to the plans for the digitalisation of the Army moving forward, and how prevalent BMS was used in Talisman Sabre, it seems that BMS is just as significant as any other piece of communications equipment. If we want our units to be as effective as they can be, then we need to improve our familiarity with BMS.
Problems with BMS itself
One of the biggest jobs I had as a company level signaller was trying to fix all the problems that were going wrong with BMS. In Combat Team Bravo (CT-B) as part of Battle Group Tiger (BG Tiger), we had a number of BMS terminals all using the Enhanced Tactical Computer (ETC). The ETC itself caused the majority of the problems I was having with BMS. There were persistent issues with the ETCs that meant that many of the BMS terminals were unworkable. During EX TS19, more than a third of the ETCs within the CT had permanent problems. In addition to this, many of the fixable problems required that the ETC had to be re-imaged which requires a unique USB (of which there is only one in BG Tiger) and half an hour to run Wizard Installer. This situation is unsustainable. It was a constant source of frustration within the Company and significantly impacted our effectiveness. The good news is that the ETC is not the only BMS terminal that is available. By switching the ETCs in the Vehicles with the local area network personal computer (LAN PC) terminal, many of these problems could be fixed. The LAN PC provides more storage space, which means that more maps can be stored and has a better processor, so it runs faster. It is more reliable than the ETC with a lot fewer problems occurring with it, and lastly, it frees up a lot more space in the Command variant of the Protected Mobility Vehicle (PMV) which gives officers more flexibility and freedom. I would suggest the replacement of the ETCs with LAN PCs to solve this problem.
In summary, the BMS is an excellent system; however, we are far from being effective with it. The solution involves a greater understanding of when to use it, how to use it, and what should be used to run it. With these problems fixed, we can begin to bring the Army closer to its digitalisation goals and make our units more effective.