The Army’s Military Intelligence (MI) was poorly prepared for the challenges of a counter-insurgency campaign in Afghanistan and Iraq. MI had long prepared for a mechanized war of maneuver in Western Europe. The flow of information in such a scenario is largely top down, with technical assets at corps, army, and theater levels gathering, analyzing and dissemination information on the enemies order of battle, location, objectives and probable courses of action. Enemy tank and motorized rifle battalions, regiments, divisions and armies would be detected and tracked by reconnaissance, electronic and signals intelligence, radar mounted on platforms like the E-8 Joint STARS.* Reports from agents, informants, and captured enemy prisoners is important, but usually of a secondary nature. Speed of collection, analysis, and dissemination is critical.
Intelligence in a counter-insurgency, on the other hand, is driven by Human Intelligence (HUMINT), and is a “bottom up” venture. Combat units are not only the primary customer of the final intel product, they are the prime collectors of the raw data that MI uses to generate the analysis. Local agents, members of the indigenous population, and captured insurgents are the primary sources of the raw intelligence data.
It is a slow methodical process to identify persons of interest, finding individual insurgents, and then extrapolating that into locating cells, leadership, communications networks and funding sources. Signals intelligence, electronic intelligence, aerial reconnaissance and other technical means are used to support these efforts, as opposed to being the primary drivers of the collection effort.
After ten years of war, the MI branch and the supported combat units have gotten much better at the challenges of running such an intelligence campaign.
But the Army has to maintain its capability to operated in a high intensity, high tempo operational environment. One possible theater of conflict is, of course, Korea. The North Korean Army is big, and if it isn’t equipped with the latest and greatest, it does have a very large number of tanks and armored personnel carriers. If they can crack through the crust of South Korean defenses on the DMZ, they can use their speed and mobility to overrun Seoul and much of the south. The speed and agility of the US and South Korea will be critical in defeating any North Korean invasion.
Not surprisingly, the US 8th Army and US Forces in Korea train regularly with South Korean forces for just such a scenario. Recently, a command post exercise, Ulchi Freedom Guardian, was held to game out just a scenario. The results were not encouraging:
Intelligence software that the U.S. would rely on in a war with North Korea froze up repeatedly during a joint military exercise in South Korea in August, hampering the ability of U.S. and South Korean commanders to watch the movements of simulated enemy forces, a senior intelligence official said.
The Distributed Common Ground System-Army (DCGS-A) software is designed to link intelligence analysts to communications intercepts, imagery and radar collections stored in massive databases. When American intelligence analysts tried to use the software to track simulated North Korean troop movements, the screens on their DCGS-A workstations sometimes went black, forcing them to reboot the software, the senior intelligence official said.
We’ve seen an explosion in the use of drones throughout the services, from tiny hand launched short range drones, through the Predator and Reaper armed drones, to the huge RQ-4 Global Hawk to gather intelligence. The challenge is, how do you sort the wheat from the chaff from all the imagery and video collected. Similarly, the massive increase in the use of computers throughout the battlespace means there is exponentially more information that needs to be sorted. The DCGS-A is supposed to be the tool to enable this. But the ability to collect information has far outstripped the ability to collate, analyze and distribute it. Effectively, the DCGS-A was obsolete before it was even fielded.
There are a couple of institutional reasons why this is so. First, the procurement process is unable to move quickly. Merely defining the requirements for any given system can take years. The end users and the Army’s procurement agency have to decide what they want any platform to accomplish. They then have to justify a program to the Office of the Secretary of Defense, and then convince Congress to fund the program. Then they have to issue a Request for Proposals from industry, select the vendor, and then and only then begin the actual development of the product.
There is also great institutional pressure to have one platform perform as many functions as possible. One platform means fewer operators needed, a streamlined training pipeline, and streamlined logistical support in terms of spare parts. The need to minimize manning for operators and maintainers (and the training cadre) is critical. The Army’s end strength is set by law, and any soldiers used in one field have to be “bought” at the expense of soldiers elsewhere.
Further, buying and maintaining one platform should be cheaper. Theoretically, a single software platform would also mean simplified software management, but any user of Windows knows that’s not necessarily true.
And so we wind up with a system that is supposed to expedite the intelligence that our command posts need to execute full spectrum warfare hampered by an intelligence platform that is either frozen or rebooting for 10 hours out of a 96 hour exercise.
I’m certain that as the operators learn the ins and outs of the system, they’ll find some workarounds. And eventually, the software/hardware interface will improve to the point where there is some reasonable level of functionality. But the fact of the matter is, we’ve once again put so much stress on procuring an efficient system that the supposed efficiencies are less than we would have by buying three different systems, one for imagery, one for signals intelligence, and one for radar information. We’ve outsmarted ourselves.
*The E-8 JSTARS was a modified 707 radar plane. You’re probably familiar with the E-3 Sentry using its massive radar to track and control the air battlespace for hundreds of miles. The E-8 uses special radar to track movement on the ground.