Intelligence Information Drives Army Operations At a Faster Pace

December 2005
By Robert K. Ackerman
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U.S. Army soldiers set out on a sunrise patrol in an east Baghdad neighborhood. The demand for actionable intelligence is growing as U.S. forces confront increasingly resourceful adversaries in urban settings.
More sensors generate more data for more options—if the message gets through to the troops.

Flattening a network instead of a city may be the key to successful urban combat operations. U.S. Army intelligence is restructuring its information architecture both to suit the ongoing force transformation and with an eye on the joint arena. The Army’s goal is to create a network that extends the reach of vital information across the breadth of the force and down to the individual warfighter.

Lt. Gen. John F. Kimmons, USA, is the deputy chief of staff, G-2, U.S. Army. He explains that, as part of the military’s joint intelligence team, the Army must transform how it thinks and performs its intelligence mission. This effort breaks down into two tasks. First, Army intelligence must organize itself as a component of joint intelligence teaming through modularity. With the Army transforming into smaller, more robust brigade combat teams (SIGNAL, September 2004, page 23), its intelligence functions must adjust to meet that new architecture. That will help meet joint intelligence requirements.

Second, the Army is hard at work creating what Gen. Kimmons describes as a flat intelligence network. This approach eschews the traditional echelon-based method of distributing intelligence in favor of taking advantage of all the information—classified as well as unclassified, covert as well as open source—that is collected across the battlefield and around the world. This network must be organized both to employ better sensing systems and to provide better access to vital information, the general emphasizes.

This builds on the improved ability to provide actionable intelligence to the commander in a tactically timely manner. The difference would be that vital elements of the battlespace picture would be available to warfighters further down the chain of command.

Gen. Kimmons observes that actionable intelligence derives from the ability to collect information and organize it at all classification levels. Users would be able to pull or receive intelligence information directly related to their level and their needs. The flat network would comprise structured databases that could be accessed at all levels.

“Just as a policeman runs your license plate when he stops your car, he is raking across thousands of bits of data that have been stored and organized in a way that lets him run that plate,” the general analogizes. “It is a lot more complex than that to work against terrorism, but it is not so dissimilar in theory.

“The biggest challenge is to harness the power of all the information, all the intelligence, all the combat data and all of the other information on our adversaries and our environment that already has been collected over time,” he continues.

This will require taking advantage of everything that has been collected, he states. That is done today, but imperfectly. “We have a lot of electronic shoe boxes out there that are not interconnected, and analysts cannot rake across all of the information that exists on a particular subject.” Analysts would have to make multiple queries against each of the electronic shoe boxes, which are not structured in any particular way. “Our challenge is to empower distributed analysis at every level across our Army and across our joint military,” the general declares.

This is where the flat network will be defined, and much work remains to achieve that goal. Gen. Kimmons notes that special operations forces have achieved this capability already. They are focused on a narrower target set than the Army as a whole, but the Army has achieved it on the conventional side in a narrow way, he adds. Now, the Army must extend that capability by empowering a broader set of units and organizations.

Part of this effort includes information operations, particularly in foreign cultures. The Army is increasing the number of personnel who are versed in foreign cultures both for intelligence collection and active information measures. The Army Intelligence Center and School at Fort Huachuca, Arizona, has a cultural awareness course with mobile training teams that visit deploying units. These teams employ foreign-born U.S. citizens personally familiar with specific regions. Their topics include customs and courtesies as well as the cultural context of an operating environment.

“There is a keen appreciation, from the Army chief of staff all the way down to our battalion and brigade commanders, that information operations are critical,” Gen. Kimmons declares. “Ultimately, the shaping of perceptions is equal in importance to successful tactical operations.

“We have more than enough lethal capacity to deal with all of our adversaries if we have enough actionable intelligence to be able to identify them positively. At the same time, even if we have that actionable intelligence that allows us to deal with our adversaries kinetically or lethally, the facts of what we are doing could be twisted or even misconstrued in an information operations sense so that we could win every tactical engagement and still be perceived as losing the war,” he warns.

Sgt. 1st Class Austin Bergan, an intelligence analyst from the 3rd Infantry Division, assembles a Raven unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV). Troops in the field will be needing more UAVs to provide them with assured responsive support.
That scenario fits the decade-long U.S. military campaign in Vietnam, where U.S. forces prevailed militarily in every fight but ultimately were bested in the political and public opinion arenas. Gen. Kimmons explains that information operations must be an integral part of every tactical operation on the battlefield, and in some cases, it must precede tactical operations to set conditions for victory.

“Our enemies understand the power of globalization, and they rightfully believe that a significant portion of the [terrorist] insurgency that we are fighting around the world is contingent upon their success within the information operations domain,” the general states. “We also understand that.”

Gen. Kimmons relates that U.S. forces have “gotten increasingly good” at employing information operations tools, tactics and techniques over time. These efforts may range from psychological operations and leaflets to the U.S. forces’ response to information put forth by jihadist Web sites. However, U.S. forces still are challenged when employing those tools as part of an overarching information operations strategy that is flexible and agile.

“Information operations have never been more critical and integral to the real and perceived success of military operations,” the general warrants. “It’s not just leaflets; it’s also what you do physically on the ground.”

This comes back to the concept of the flat network. Gen. Kimmons states that this type of network helps information operations by providing greater understanding of cause and effect, both in terms of its available information and in terms of its means of collection.

Technology hurdles to developing the flat network may be easier to solve than human issues, the general suggests. The Army is working with defense agencies and joint organizations to develop cross-domain solutions that would allow data to flow rapidly from high-classification levels down to lower levels where operators need to use it. These lower level operators would not be able to learn the sources and collection methods for this high-classification information, but they would be able to glean the information necessary for them to conduct successful operations.

Gen. Kimmons cites, as an example, how a vital piece of intelligence might be collected at the Top Secret special-compartmented-information level, and this data might reveal the existence of a threat at a specific location on the ground. That information cannot be held hostage at the classification level, he points out, so the flat network must be able to provide the essence of that intelligence to the lower level operator. A software rule set should allow that data to cascade down to that operator, to whom it might appear as little more than a blinking red dot on a digital map.

The general compares it to the way a combat aircraft’s heads-up display may show threat information that might have been collected by highly classified, esoteric means. The pilot need not know how it was collected; the important detail is that the pilot knows its meaning and can act accordingly. The Army desperately needs this same capability at the battalion and company levels, Gen. Kimmons says, and he adds that the Army is closer to a technological solution than it is to solving the cultural aspects.

The most important technologies are those that will help develop a joint integrated network that allows rapid sharing and visualization across a multiple classification domain in near real time, the general offers. This would harness the full power of intelligence across the defense community and among agencies. It would empower distributed analysis and allow analysts at all levels to query across all available intelligence without putting sources at risk.

Software and databasing solutions are critical, the general maintains. These include data mining technologies that allow users to rake across large data sets comprising both structured and unstructured data simultaneously. In addition to having these search capabilities, the user also would be able to visualize that information through sophisticated tools that would illustrate relationships, significance, anomalies, changes and opportunities.

“That [capability] is an American asymmetric advantage,” Gen. Kimmons declares.

This capability would serve as a critical enabler that would allow the Army to use modularity to build tradeoffs across the force, the general points out. Having a network that can provide this capability for threat mitigation will permit building a mobile force that employs a variety of vehicles instead of only high-capability, top-of-the-line heavy armor.

Many new intelligence and information systems are being fast-tracked for deployment in Iraq. Some of these are designed for rapid insertion to address a pressing need and so are not part of existing plans. Gen. Kimmons explains that new intelligence technologies are run through joint guidelines and organizations to prevent them from becoming new stovepipes in the network-centric environment.

“There is clear understanding that we will not succeed if we perpetuate the stovepipe legacy architectures and reporting mechanisms that we have had before,” he emphasizes. “We have to link all those disparate databases and electronic shoe boxes together and structure the data for rapid search.”

The general likens this function to the way a commercial credit card company scans millions of transactions for anomalies that might indicate fraud or theft. Existing software can perform some of these functions, and Gen. Kimmons relates that the Army is working with industry leaders to apply these software solutions to intelligence problems.

Many flat network software solutions being placed in Iraq under the Joint Intelligence Operations Capability-Iraq, or JIOC-I (SIGNAL Magazine, October 2005, page 44), now are converging into the Distributed Common Ground System-Army, or DCGS-A. By the summer of 2006, these solutions—which reach across different classification levels and reporting mechanisms—will converge into DCGS-A along the lines of the joint interoperability standards established by the U.S. Defense Department.

Gen. Kimmons offers that troops in Iraq largely seek two intelligence capabilities. One is “an almost insatiable desire” for increased human intelligence (HUMINT) for close access collection and greater interface with Iraqis and others on the battlefield. The heavy demand is driving the Army to increase the number of HUMINT soldiers, including those in counterintelligence, by another 2,000 over the next several years.

The other sought-after capability is more programmatic: persistent surveillance. The Army needs systems that look, listen and sense to provide assured responsive surveillance for extended periods of time over targets of interest, the general says. While the Army has many capable systems in the inventory—such as the Predator unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV)—they do not always provide assured responsive support to a division or brigade commander because commanders must compete for their services. New tactical UAVs and a family of smaller sensors under development will help provide persistent surveillance, especially through the flat network, the general offers.

Measurement and signatures intelligence (MASINT) is a growth industry, Gen. Kimmons adds. Many observable, detectable signatures of presence and activity have been ignored for years because the Army lacked the sophisticated technology to collect and process them. These signatures may include an emanation, an effluent or a biometric trace that can be analyzed and fused with other information to alert forces or clear up ambiguities. While MASINT is not the kind of data that Army intelligence traditionally has collected and worked with at the tactical level, it now is becoming both tactically relevant and available, he declares.

The greater worth of MASINT, as well as that of the other –INTs, will depend on the establishment of the flat network, the general reaffirms. “The battalion commander on the ground needs to know and be able to rub up against two years’ worth of experience on the ground in Iraq—the patrol reporting that came in last night, the pocket litter, the names normalized for spelling, and other ambiguous bits and pieces that he and his patrols pick up on the ground—how does he understand that? If we are going to avoid incremental analysis, which is locally insufficient, we have to be able to do it within the fabric of a black network,” Gen. Kimmons says. This entails comparing information to all available existing intelligence to determine whether various reports may involve related information.

“The operations intelligence nexus is so intertwined—so powerful—we need to extend it down to a conventional infantry, armor or artillery battalion,” he says. “The possibilities are endless.”

The general notes that today’s young soldiers are well-equipped to develop and exploit the flat network. He describes them as intuitive people who understand how data comes together, who understand how visualization of information appears. “It is not rocket science to them. They expect to see it, and they sense that it is within the realm of the doable. It’s just a matter of bringing it to them and hooking it up,” he says.

“We are beyond the tipping point. We are doing this now. We need to build it out so that this capability is not just in pockets of excellence.”

Early Weeks of Iraq War Highlighted Theater Intelligence Needs

The advantages of network-centric situational awareness as well as the shortcomings for intelligence users began to appear in the early part of the Iraq War.

Lt. Gen. John F. Kimmons, USA, served as the J-2 for the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) during that period. He relates that the joint community had unprecedented bandwidth to communicate and share intelligence as well as unprecedented access to data “pretty much on demand” from the national agencies all the way down to the corps J-2s with whom CENTCOM conducted daily secure videoconferencing. At the theater level down to the Army corps level, intelligence connectivity was “not perfect but very good,” he says.

However, the connectivity down to the division level was just “okay.” Bandwidth and the ability to share information became significantly degraded between corps and division, he imparts. Worse, from division down to brigade level, intelligence connectivity became “marginal to poor.” Many brigade officers could not obtain vital updated information nor query directly, let alone receive rapid answers to their questions. These shortcomings were prevalent even when forces paused, the general points out.

“It was not a flat network, and the communications and the intelligence data being passed was not as responsive as it needed to be,” he reports. “This whole vision of the flat network is the lesson learned from that time frame, and that was in a conventional context.

“If it’s rough at that level, you don’t have to wonder whether it will be sufficient for stability operations. It’s not.”


Web Resources
U.S. Army Deputy Chief of Staff for Intelligence, G-2:
Distributed Common Ground System-Army (DCGS-A):

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