Protecting the U.S. Military's Premier War Lab

They would strike the enemy forces encamped in the village before dawn. State-of-the-art night-vision goggles would allow them to invisibly advance their troops and tanks under the cover of darkness. An unexpected torrential rain swelled the river and made it impossible to cross on foot. The company of soldiers would have to march back into the woods and cross at a nearby bridge.

Unfortunately, the enemy anticipated this move. Enemy troops waited until the advancing company was massed on the bridge before opening fire with heavy artillery and machine guns. The company lost almost half of its troops before subduing the entrenched enemy forces and crossing the bridge. On its way to the village, the company lost its commander and another 30 troops.

Then the real trouble began. Those who made it into the village were gunned down in a firestorm. Guerilla soldiers disabled the company's M1AI Abrams tanks with 40-pound backpack bombs. War is hell. Fortunately, this was only practice.

The War Lab
As the world's population continues to migrate to cities, battles are being waged in densely populated urban regions. U.S. war planners have been aware of this dynamic for more than a decade. In response, they are developing urban warfare strategies that integrate land, sea and air forces in blitzkrieg-style operations that strike with surgical precision.

Fort Polk, home of the Joint Readiness Training Center (JRTC), is one of the U.S. Department of Defense's premier training facilities and is one of only three combat training centers in the world. Fort Polk hosts soldiers from the Army, the Air Force, the Army Airborne, the Rangers and Special Forces. Their equipment includes artillery, tanks and helicopters. Representatives and soldiers from the military organizations of U.S. allies are often included in the training exercises at the JRTC.

Each year, the JRTC conducts up to 10 "rotations"—combat training exercises that can last between two and three weeks at Fort Polk's 96,000-acre facility in west-central Louisiana's Kisatchie National Forest. At the heart of the fort's thickly forested territory is the Military Operations in Urban Terrain (MOUT) complex. The MOUT is a series of scaled-to-life villages complete with service and civilian personnel posing as village residents, built within an area of about four-by-five miles.

The centerpiece of the MOUT complex is a town called Shughart-Gordon, named in memory of two Delta Force soldiers killed in a vicious street battle in Mogadishu, Somalia, in October 1993. A network of 950 CCTV cameras and advanced telecommunications systems innervates the town, monitoring and recording the action. The sophisticated Multiple Integrated Laser Engagement System (MILES) reports participant and vehicle locations and keeps track of who and what has been put out of commission. To add realism, selected buildings and vehicles are rigged with explosives and detonated on cue as combat trainees move through the town. The object is to create an environment as similar to actual combat as safety will allow.

Securing the Brain-center
At the other end of the audio and visual monitoring network is the JRTC-Instrumentation System Operations Center building, the brain-center of the JRTC. In addition to housing the tons of high-speed computing systems installed and maintained by Raytheon Technical Services Co., the operations center is home to teams of civilian and military personnel that track the real-time data pouring in and direct the progress of training operations. The terabytes of data collected during each exercise are studied in multimedia after-action reviews so that personnel can learn from the exercise's successes and failures.

Up to one year ago, the JRTC-IS Operations Center had no physical security systems in place. Because Fort Polk is located in a rural area and the operations center is well within the base's perimeter, the possibility of someone gaining unauthorized access was unlikely. But recent world events have elevated the importance of the information flowing into and out of the operations center, so the government mandated enhanced security. Raytheon was assigned the responsibility of selecting and installing an electronic security system.

The government gave Vanessa Crawford, engineering project leader with Raytheon, a basic list of security objectives that she and the Raytheon team had to fine-tune and then develop into a list of specific requirements.

One of the items on the list was the installation of turnstiles at the main entrance of the operations center inside the lobby. Crawford did some research and came across Gunnebo Entrance Control, a manufacturer of turnstile products. "After I explained what we were looking for to the Gunnebo representative, he recommended we contact a security systems integrator." Said Crawford, "I worked with the government and the military to further define the requirements for the security system, and then Raytheon submitted an RFP to a list of security system integration companies. Securitas Security Systems [formerly known as Pinkerton Systems Integration] came back with the best response in terms of capabilities and cost," explained Crawford.

Proposing a Solution
Securitas' recommendation specified an AMAG Professional edition access control system. "They were looking at different access control systems and really liked the fact that AMAG was installed at the Pentagon," said Dean Bernard, account executive with Securitas. Securitas also recommended and installed AMAG's multiNODE-2000 controller panels that feature the ability to store biometric templates. "They appreciated that the AMAG system could support biometrics and smart cards, as they anticipated using both at some time in the future."

"Securitas recommended the AMAG system, but I was responsible to research it to ensure it met all of our requirements," explained Crawford. "I did the research and found that it did." At this point, the operations center is using HID proximity cards as its access control credentials and is investigating ways to use the cards as part of a workstation security system.

Another component of Crawford's requirements list was a digital video recording system that would give JRTC the ability to visually survey and record activity inside and around the perimeter of the operations center and other surrounding areas. Additionally, the DVR system would have to interface with the access control system so that operations center security personnel could manage the access control and video system using one interface at the same workstation. This integration would provide visual records linked to access control events. If a door were forced open, for instance, security personnel would be able to identify by video who committed the breach.

Said Bernard, "There again the AMAG system provided another compelling benefit in that it offers a number of integrated third-party DVR options." AMAG's Digital Video Management (DVM) module is an optional software application that offers customers a range of third-party DVR choices. The module links the AMAG access control and DVR databases and controls DVR cameras and playback within the access control interface.

The ability to expand the DVR system as the fort added buildings was essential. To address this requirement, Securitas recommended Loronix, one of AMAG's integrated DVR partners. "Loronix uses server-based architecture," explained Bernard, "so additional recorders and cameras can be easily added when the military decides it's time for the system to grow."

To meet the perimeter-monitoring requirement, Securitas installed 10 Pelco cameras. Five of the cameras are fixed and feature low-light and color capabilities with auto-iris varifocal lenses. The other five cameras are also low-light and color capable and feature advanced pan, tilt and zoom capabilities. Securitas then installed two Loronix Enterprise MP Recorders™. Each digital recorder manages five cameras over the operations center's local area network (LAN).

Crawford wanted the best possible video quality, so Securitas set the recorders to record at 30 frames per second. The Loronix recorders use a compression technology that preserves image quality while reducing storage requirements by about 25 percent. Each recorder is equipped with a 320-gigabyte hard drive and uses an activity detection algorithm that records video only when a pixel change is detected, further preserving hard-drive space.

Mission Accomplished
Cliff Taylor is as much a feature of the JRTC as the sophisticated training technology it uses. A career military man, Taylor was one of the early players in the development of the JRTC when it was founded in 1987 at Fort Chaffee in Arkansas. When the JRTC was relocated to Fort Polk in 1993, Taylor, who played a role in developing the instrumentation systems in the operations center, relocated with it.

Still an Army employee but now in a civilian capacity, Taylor is the operations center's instrumentation systems manager. As such, he has been closely involved in the process of selecting the right security systems and is responsible for overseeing security at the JRTC-IS Operations Center. Said Taylor, "The access control and video recording units have absolutely helped us create a secure environment. The Army's security people have given us their stamp of approval."

While Fort Polk is one of the most technically advanced and realistic role-playing simulations in the world, it's no game to the staff at the JRTC. They're deadly serious about their mission to save lives and train soldiers to overcome the new challenges they face. And, with the recent security modifications at the JRTC-IS Operations Center, they can confidently work towards accomplishing their vital mission.

Jeremy Zimmerman is a freelance writer from Southern California.

Loading