Skip to main content
CNN International EditionWorld
The Web     
Powered by

Technology links 101st on the battlefield

By Ryan Chilcote

CNN's Ryan Chilcote
CNN's Ryan Chilcote

Story Tools

This report was written in accordance with Pentagon ground rules allowing so-called embedded reporting, in which journalists join deployed troops. Among the rules accepted by all participating news organizations is an agreement not to disclose sensitive operational details.
more video VIDEO
CNN's Karl Penhaul talks to U.S. women pilots who are set to fly attack helicopters in a possible war with Iraq. (March 18)
premium content
Unit Profile: 101st Airborne Division 
Known as the "Screaming Eagles" 
•  Commanders: U.S. | Iraq
•  Weapons: 3D Models

In our Behind the Scenes series, CNN correspondents share their experiences in covering news and newsmakers around the world.

CAMP NEW JERSEY, Kuwait (CNN) -- If it comes to war in Iraq, Col. Mike Linnington will lead thousands of soldiers from the 101st Airborne's 3rd Brigade onto a crowded, fast-paced battlefield.

Their success at least in part will depend on his ability to keep track of his forces, as well as the enemy's, even while he is on the move.

"In the Gulf War, one of the biggest problems was situational awareness and the ability to battle track blue force, or friendly units. What Blue Force Tracker allows us to do is not only track where the friendly units are in and around our area but also it's a great navigational tool to help you get from point A to point B," Linnington said.

The Blue Force Tracker is a new digital tracking system, which shares information with hundreds of other commanders.

The system can keep track of both friendly forces and the enemy, and allows troops to communicate by e-mail -- a feature that could come in handy if units have radio failures or move out of transmission range.

"I can put combat messages in the report and send that in burst format to everyone in my unit and everyone in the adjacent units. I can do situation reports, I can request med-evac, I can do NBC (nuclear, biological, chemical) reports to mark contaminated areas, even request fire missions, check fire missions, or send ... my higher commander a situation report," Linnington said.

The Blue Force Tracker uses satellite signals from friendly forces in the field to map their positions -- reducing the risk of so-called "friendly fire" incidents.

That's no small matter friendly fire accounted for almost a quarter of the U.S. fatalities in the 1991 Persian Gulf war.

"As we encounter enemy formations on the move, I can also identify those enemy formations, type in what size, activity and location of those formations and send those messages up," Linnington said, adding that it reduced the risk that other units would encounter the enemy inadvertently.

Since the tracker carries a wealth of information about U.S. troop movements, soldiers would have to destroy the tracker quickly if they face capture. The vehicles are linked by satellite, so commanders could destroy the software remotely, if necessary.

"Not only do I have the ability to quickly destroy my system, with a touch of a stylus and a hit the red box but I also have the ability to remotely destroy other systems on other vehicles," Linnington said

Linnington said that because the system is new, it remains to be seen whether it will be a major help in battle, but he said he was excited about the capabilities it gives him.

The system does has some down sides -- It only updates every five minutes, so troops would still have to contact their commanders before opening fire.

And it gives Col. Linnington's boss more of a chance to micromanage him.

Story Tools
Click Here to try 4 Free Trial Issues of Time! cover
Top Stories
Iran poll to go to run-off
Top Stories
EU 'crisis' after summit failure

On CNN TV E-mail Services CNN Mobile CNN AvantGo CNNtext Ad info Preferences
   The Web     
Powered by
© 2005 Cable News Network LP, LLLP.
A Time Warner Company. All Rights Reserved.
Terms under which this service is provided to you.
Read our privacy guidelines. Contact us.
external link
All external sites will open in a new browser. does not endorse external sites.
 Premium content icon Denotes premium content.