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How Technology Failed in Iraq


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Sorry for the long post. This article was emailed to me and I thought it worthy of posting.  It is an interesting article that questions the balance of "Sense" capability versus your capability to "Act".
The Iraq War was supposed to be a preview of the new U.S. military: a light, swift force that relies as much on sensors and communications networks as on heavy armour and huge numbers. But once the shooting started, technology fell far short of expectations.

By David Talbot
November 2004
The largest counterattack of the Iraq War unfolded in the early-morning hours of April 3, 2003, near a key Euphrates River bridge about 30 kilometres southwest of Baghdad, code-named Objective Peach. The battle was a fairly conventional fight between tanks and other armoured vehicles-almost a throwback to an earlier era of war fighting, especially when viewed against the bloody chaos of the subsequent insurgency. Its scale made it the single biggest test to date of the Pentagon's initial attempts to transform the military into a smaller, smarter, sensor-dependent, networked force.

In theory, the size of the Iraqi attack should have been clear well in advance. U.S. troops were supported by unprecedented technology deployment. During the war, hundreds of aircraft- and satellite-mounted motion sensors, heat detectors, and image and communications eavesdroppers hovered above Iraq. The four armed services coordinated their actions as never before. U.S. commanders in Qatar and Kuwait enjoyed 42 times the bandwidth available to their counterparts in the first Gulf War. High-bandwidth links were set up for intelligence units in the field. A new vehicle-tracking system marked the location of key U.S. fighting units and even allowed text e-mails to reach front-line tanks. This digital firepower convinced many in the Pentagon that the war could be fought with a far smaller force than the one it expected to encounter.

Yet at Objective Peach, Lt. Col. Ernest "Rock" Marcone, a battalion commander with the 69th Armour of the Third Infantry Division, was almost devoid of information about Iraqi strength or position. "I would argue that I was the intelligence-gathering device for my higher headquarters," Marcone says. His unit was at the very tip of the U.S. Army's final lunge north toward Baghdad; the marines advanced on a parallel front. Objective Peach offered a direct approach to the Saddam International Airport (since rechristened Baghdad International Airport). "Next to the fall of Baghdad," says Marcone, "that bridge was the most important piece of terrain in the theatre, and no one can tell me what's defending it. Not how many troops, what units, what tanks, anything. There is zero information getting to me. Someone may have known above me, but the information didn't get to me on the ground." Marcone's men were ambushed repeatedly on the approach to the bridge. But the scale of the intelligence deficit was clear after Marcone took the bridge on April 2.

As night fell, the situation grew threatening. Marcone arrayed his battalion in a defensive position on the far side of the bridge and awaited the arrival of bogged-down reinforcements. One communications intercept did reach him: a single Iraqi brigade was moving south from the airport. But Marcone says no sensors, no network, conveyed the far more dangerous reality, which confronted him at 3:00 a.m. April 3. He faced not one brigade but three: between 25 and 30 tanks, plus 70 to 80 armoured personnel carriers, artillery, and between 5,000 and 10,000 Iraqi soldiers coming from three directions. This mass of firepower and soldiers attacked a U.S. force of 1,000 soldiers supported by just 30 tanks and 14 Bradley fighting vehicles. The Iraqi deployment was just the kind of conventional, massed force that's easiest to detect. Yet "We got nothing until they slammed into us," Marcone recalls.

Objective Peach was not atypical of dozens of smaller encounters in the war. Portions of a forthcoming, largely classified report on the entire Iraq campaign, under preparation by the Santa Monica, CA, think tank Rand and shared in summary with Technology Review, confirm that in this war, one key node fell off the U.S. intelligence network: the front-line troops. "What we uncovered in general in Iraq is, there appeared to be something I refer to as a 'digital divide,'" says Walter Perry, a senior researcher at Rand's Arlington, VA, office and a former army signals officer in Vietnam. "At the division level or above, the view of the battle space was adequate to their needs. They were getting good feeds from the sensors," Perry says. But among front-line army commanders like Marcone-as well as his counterparts in the U.S. Marines-"Everybody said the same thing. It was a universal comment: 'We had terrible situational awareness,'" he adds. The same verdict was delivered after the first Gulf War's ground battle, but experts had hoped the more robust technology used in the 2003 conflict would solve the problem.

The Pentagon points to the Iraq War's many networking successes. During the blinding sandstorm that lasted from March 25 to 28, 2003, a U.S. radar plane detected an Iraqi Republican Guard unit manoeuvring near U.S. troops. Bombers moved in to attack using satellite-guided bombs that were unaffected by poor visibility. And the vehicle-tracking system (known as Blue Force Tracker) successfully ensured that commanders knew the locations of friendly units. Overall, command headquarters in Qatar and Kuwait sported "truly a very impressive digital connectivity" that "had many of the characteristics of future network warfare that we want," Brig. Gen. Robert Cone, then director of the Pentagon's Joint Center for Operational Analysis and Lessons Learned, said in a Pentagon briefing last year.

Yet connectivity in Qatar was matched by a data dearth in the Iraqi desert. It was a problem all the ground forces suffered. Some units outran the range of high-bandwidth communications relays. Downloads took hours. Software locked up. And the enemy was sometimes difficult to see in the first place. As the marines' own "lessons learned" report puts it, "The [First Marine] Division found the enemy by running into them, much as forces have done since the beginning of warfare." Describing the army's battle at Objective Peach, John Gordon, another senior researcher at Rand and also a retired army officer, put it this way: "That's the way it was done in 1944."

On April 2, 2003, army lieutenant colonel Ernest "Rock" Marcone led an armoured battalion with about 1,000 U.S. troops to seize "Objective Peach" (inset), a bridge across the Euphrates River, the last natural barrier before Baghdad. That night, the battalion was surprised by the largest counterattack of the war. Sensing and communications technologies failed to warn of the attack's vast scale-between 5,000 and 10,000 Iraqi troops and about 100 tanks or other vehicles. The U.S. success in the battle was the result of superior tactics and equipment.

Military intellectuals call them "revolutions in military affairs." Every few decades, a new technology or a new "doctrine," to use the military jargon, changes the nature of war. Single technologies, like gunpowder or nuclear weapons, spur some of these revolutions. New doctrines, like Napoleonic staff organization or Nazi blitz tactics, drive others. And some are the result of many simultaneous advances, like the airplanes, chemical weapons, and machine guns of World War I-which achieved new rates of slaughter.

The newest revolution is known to Pentagon planners as "force transformation." The idea is that robotic planes and ground vehicles, empowered by an ever expanding range of sensing, targeting, imaging, and communications capabilities (new technologies), would support teams of networked soldiers (a new doctrine). According to its most expansive definition, force transformation is intended to solve the problem of "asymmetric warfare" in the 21st century, where U.S. forces are not directly confronted by conventional militaries but rather must quell insurgencies, destroy terrorist cells, or mitigate regional instability. Among other things, more nimble, networked forces could employ tactics like "swarming"-precise, coordinated strikes from many directions at once.

The technologies driving force transformation are incredibly complicated. It will take at least 31 million lines of computer code to run something called Future Combat Systems, the centerpiece of the Pentagon's transformation effort. An army-run program expected to cost more than $100 billion, it consists of a suite of new manned and unmanned machines, all loaded with the latest sensors, roaming the air and ground. Software will process sensor data, identify friend and foe, set targets, issue alerts, coordinate actions, and guide decisions. New kinds of wireless communications devices-controlled by yet more software and relaying communications via satellites-will allow seamless links between units. Currently, 23 partner companies, many with their own platoons of subcontractors, are building the systems; Boeing of Chicago and Science Applications International of San Diego are charged with tying them all together and crafting a "system of systems" by 2014.

In this grand vision, information isn't merely power. It's armour, too. Tanks weighing 64 metric tons could be largely phased out, giving way to lightly armoured vehicles-at first, the new 17-metric-ton Stryker troop carrier-that can avoid heavy enemy fire if need be. These lighter vehicles could ride to war inside cargo planes; today, transporting large numbers of the heaviest tanks requires weeks of transport via land and sea. "The basic notion behind military transformation is that information technologies allow you to substitute information for mass. If you buy into that, the whole force structure changes," says Stuart Johnson, a research professor at the Center for Technology and National Security Policy at National Defence University in Washington, DC. "But the vision of all this is totally dependent on information technologies and the network. If that part of the equation breaks down, what you have are small, less capable battle platforms that are more vulnerable."

The Iraq War represented something of a midpoint-and an early proving ground-in the move toward this networked force. The U.S. offensive did include the old heavy armour, and it didn't sport all the techno-goodies envisioned by the promoters of force transformation. But it did presume that satellite- and aircraft-mounted sensors would support the fighting units on the ground. The war's backbone was a land invasion from Kuwait. Ultimately, some 10,000 vehicles and 300,000 coalition troops rumbled across the sandy berm at the Kuwaiti border, 500 kilometres from Baghdad. Desert highways crawled with columns of Abrams tanks, Bradley fighting vehicles, armoured personnel carriers, tank haulers, Humvees, and of course, fuel tankers to slake the fleet's nine-million-litre daily demand for fuel.

Several communications links were designed to connect these vehicles with each other and with commanders. First, and most successfully, at least 2,500 vehicles were tracked via Blue Force Tracker: each vehicle broadcast its Global Positioning System coordinates and an ID code. This thin but critical stream of data was in essence a military version of OnStar. Commanders in Qatar saw its content displayed on a large plasma screen. Marcone, like some other commanders in the field, also had access to it, thanks to a last-minute installation in his tank before the invasion.

"A Critical Vulnerability"

Once the invasion began, breakdowns quickly became the norm. For the movement of lots of data-such as satellite or spy-plane images-between high-level commanders and units in the field, the military employed a microwave-based communications system originally envisioned for war in Europe. This system relied on antenna relays carried by certain units in the advancing convoy. Critically, these relays-sometimes called "Ma Bell for the army"-needed to be stationary to function. Units had to be within a line of sight to pass information to one another. But in practice, the convoys were moving too fast, and too far, for the system to work. Perversely, in three cases, U.S. vehicles were actually attacked while they stopped to receive intelligence data on enemy positions. "A lot of the guys said, 'Enough of this shit,' and turned it off," says Perry, flicking his wrist as if clicking off a radio. "'We can't afford to wait for this.'"

One Third Infantry Division brigade intelligence officer reported to Rand that when his unit moved, its communications links would fail, except for the GPS tracking system. The unit would travel for a few hours, stop, hoist up the antenna, log back onto the intelligence network, and attempt to download whatever information it could. But bandwidth and software problems caused its computer system to lock up for ten to 12 hours at a time, rendering it useless.

Meanwhile, commanders in Qatar and Kuwait had their own problems. Their connectivity was good-too good. They received so much data from some of their airborne sensors that they couldn't process it all; at some points, they had to stop accepting feeds. When they tried to send information to the front, of course, they found the line-of-sight microwave-relay system virtually disabled. At the command levels above Marcone's-the brigade and even the division levels-such problems were ubiquitous. "The network we had built to pass imagery, et cetera, didn't support us. It just didn't work," says Col. Peter Bayer, then the division's operations officer, who was south of Marcone's battalion on the night of April 2 and 3. "The link for V Corps [the army command] to the division, the majority of time, didn't work, to pass a digital image of something."

Sometimes, intelligence was passed along verbally, over FM radio. But at other times vehicles outran even their radio connections. This left just one means of communication: e-mail. (In addition to tracking vehicles, Blue Force Tracker, somewhat quaintly, enabled text-only e-mail.) At times, the e-mail system was used for issuing basic orders to units that were otherwise out of contact. "It was intended as a supplement, but it wound up as the primary method of control," says Owen Cote, associate director of the Security Studies Program at MIT. "The units did outrun their main lines of communications and networking with each other and with higher command. But there was this very thin pipe of information via satellite communications that allowed the high command to see where units were."

The network wasn't much better for the marines pushing forward on a separate front. Indeed, the marines' lessons-learned report says that First Marine Division commanders were unable to download crucial new aerial reconnaissance photographs as they approached cities and towns. High-level commanders had them, but the system for moving them into the field broke down. This created "a critical vulnerability during combat operations," the report says. "There were issues with bandwidth, exploitation, and processes that caused this state of affairs, but the bottom line was no [access to fresh spy photographs] during the entire war."

Fortunately for U.S. forces, they faced little resistance during the Iraq War. The Iraqis launched no air attacks or Scud missiles. Iraqi soldiers shed uniforms and boots and walked away barefoot, studiously avoiding eye contact with the Americans. When they did fight, they used inferior weapons and vehicles. To be sure, U.S. units racing forward would run into stiff "meeting engagements"-jargon for a surprise collision with enemy forces. But such meetings would end quickly. "They [the U.S. forces] would succeed in these meeting engagements," Cote says. "But we were far from the vision of total knowledge. You can easily see how we would have paid a big price if it were a more robust opponent."

The problems are acknowledged at high levels. However, Art Cebrowski, retired vice admiral and director of the Pentagon's Office of Force Transformation, cites "existence proofs" that networking was generally successful in Iraq. In previous conflicts, combat pilots were briefed on targets before takeoff; hours would elapse between target identification and an actual attack. In the Iraq War, more than half of aerial sorties began without targets in mind, Cebrowski says. Instead, targets were identified on the fly and communicated to the airborne pilots. "Combat was moving too fast; opportunities were too fleeting. You had to be in the networked environment" for it to work, says Cebrowski.

Clearly, networking during the ground war was not as successful. "There were certainly cases where people didn't have the information they needed. This was a very large operation, so you would expect to see the good, the bad, and the ugly in it," Cebrowski acknowledges. But it would be a mistake to use these problems as an argument against phasing out heavy armour, he says. Big tanks require not only considerable time and energy to move into battle but also larger supply convoys that are themselves susceptible to attack. According to Cebrowski, by keeping heavily armoured tanks your main line of defence, "you simply move your vulnerability to another place on the supply chain."

Alpha Geeks at War

Some defenders of force transformation argue that the troops' problems were doctrinal, not technological. According to this line of reasoning, the networking of the Iraq War was incomplete-because it was fatally grafted onto old-fashioned command and control systems. Sensor information went up the chain of command. Commanders interpreted it and made decisions. Then they passed commands, and tried to pass relevant data, down the chain. The result: time delays and the magnification of individual communications failures.

Better, some say, that information and decision-making should flow horizontally. In fact, that's how the 2001 war in Afghanistan was fought. Special-operations forces organized into "A teams" numbering no more than two dozen soldiers roamed the chilly mountains near the Pakistan border on horseback, rooting out Taliban forces and seeking al-Qaeda leaders. The teams and individuals were all linked to one another. No one person was in tactical command.

But despite the lack of generals making key decisions, each of these teams of networked soldiers had a key node, an animal once confined to corporate IT departments: the alpha geek, who managed the flow of information between his team and the others. The U.S. special forces also maintained a tactical Web page, collating all the information the teams collected. And this page was managed by a webmaster in the field: the metageek of all alpha geeks.

How did the page perform? Postmortems and reports on special-forces operations in Afghanistan are more secret than those from the Iraq War. A report on one major special-forces operation, Operation Anaconda-an attempt to encircle and root out al-Qaeda in March 2002-is due soon from National Defence University. Still, anecdotes are trickling out of the special-forces community. And they provide a startlingly different view of warfare than Marcone's tank-level vantage. One account, not previously reported, comes from John Arquilla, an expert in unconventional warfare at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, CA.

The scene was a cold night in the late fall of 2001. In New York City, the World Trade Center ruins were still smouldering. In Afghanistan, a U.S. Air Force pilot en route from Uzbekistan noticed flashing lights in the mountains below, near the Pakistan border. Suspecting that the flashes might be reflections from hooded headlights of trucks bumping along, he radioed his observation to the webmaster. The webmaster relayed the message across a secure network accessible to special forces in the region. One team replied that it was near the position and would investigate. The team identified a convoy of trucks carrying Taliban fighters and got on the radio to ask if any bombers were in range. One U.S. Navy plane was not far off. Within minutes, the plane bombed the front and rear of the convoy, sealing off the possibility of escape. Not long after, a gunship arrived and destroyed the crippled Taliban column.

The episode, as recounted by Arquilla, shows what's possible. "That's networking. That's military transformation right there," Arquilla says. "Some of the problems in Iraq grew out of an attempt to take this cascade of information provided by advanced information technology and try and jam it through the existing stovepipes of the hierarchical structure, whereas in Afghanistan we had a more fluid approach. This is war by minutes, and networking technology allows us to wage war by minutes with a great probability of success." In this case, service members on the battlefield collected data, shared that data, made decisions, and ordered strikes.

Network vs. Insurgents?

Perhaps Pentagon optimists are right. Perhaps the success of Blue Force Tracker, of the special-forces assault on the Taliban column, and of air force operations in Iraq accurately foretell the full digital transformation of war. But to many observers, the disruption of communications between the main ground combat units in Iraq was not a very promising sign at all. "If there is this 'revolution in military affairs,' and if this revolution is based on technologies that allow you to network sensors and process information more quickly and spread it out quickly in digestible form, we are still just scratching the surface of it," says Cote of MIT. "If you look at the performance of a lot of the components of the first efforts in that direction, it's a pretty patchy performance." And then there's the question of terror and insurgency. Even if the Pentagon transforms war fighting, the meaning of the word "war" is itself undergoing a transformation. More Americans died in the September 11 attacks than have subsequently died in Afghanistan and Iraq. And the Iraq insurgency challenges the meaning of the Iraq military victory. Future wars will be fought in urban zones by low-tech fanatics who do not follow the old rules. They are unlikely to array themselves as convenient targets for the U.S. to detect and destroy. Indeed, a leading cause of death among U.S. soldiers in Iraq today is improvised bombs targeting passing vehicles such as Humvees.

Arquilla says some networking technology can be-and is being-brought to bear against the Iraq insurgency. While actual strategies are secret, some general tactics are known. Suspicious vehicles can be tracked, and their connections to other people and locations determined. Small drone aircraft can deliver video feeds from urban buildings as well as from desert battlefields. Sensors can help find a sniper by measuring the acoustical signature of a bullet. And jamming devices can sometimes block radio-controlled detonation of roadside bombs. But old-fashioned tips from humans are likely to trump technology. "Our networks don't really have the sensitivity to keep up with unconventional enemies. All the network does is move information around, but the information itself is the key to victory," says Loren Thompson, chief operating officer of the Lexington Institute, a think tank in Arlington, VA. "It's a little hard to derive meaningful lessons from networked war fighting when you are dealing with such modest threats."

The welter of postmortems from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars tell many stories. But one thing is clear: Marcone never knew what was coming at Objective Peach. Advanced sensors and communications-elements of future networked warfare designed for difficult, unconventional battles-failed to tell him about a very conventional massed attack. "It is my belief that the Iraqi Republican Guard did nothing special to conceal their intentions or their movements. They attacked en masse using tactics that are more recognizable with the Soviet army of World War II," Marcone says.

And so at a critical juncture in space (a key Euphrates bridge) and time (the morning of the day U.S. forces captured the Baghdad airport), Marcone only learned what he was facing when the shooting began. In the early-morning hours of April 3, it was old-fashioned training, better firepower, superior equipment, air support, and enemy incompetence that led to a lopsided victory for the U.S. troops. "When the sun came up that morning, the sight of the cost in human life the Iraqis paid for that assault, and burning vehicles, was something I will never forget," Marcone says. "It was a gruesome sight. You look down the road that led to Baghdad, for a mile, mile and a half, you couldn't walk without stepping on a body part."

Yet just eight U.S. soldiers were wounded, none seriously, during the bridge fighting. Whereas U.S. tanks could withstand a direct hit from Iraqi shells, Iraqi vehicles would "go up like a Roman candle" when struck by U.S. shells, Marcone says. Sitting in an office at Rand, Gordon puts things bluntly: "If the army had had Strykers at the front of the column, lots of guys would have been killed." At Objective Peach, what protected Marcone's men wasn't information armour, but armour itself.

Again my apologies for the long post, etc.  If anyone finds a link to this article, please post it and I'll delete my posts.
Thanks for that-very interesting, although the bit on the SF ops in Afgh is probably inaccurate. Actually, I'm not sure that the article really says that there was too much "Sense" and not enough "Act": if there is one thing a US JTF is normally not shy on it is "Act" stuff. Rather it seems to me that the problem is the correct management of the products of "Sense" so that the right commanders get the right info at the right time. Act without "Sense" is just blundering; "Sense" without "Act" is impotence. Cheers.
From the information presented,  it sounds like that light colonel put too much stock into what was getting spit out of the email program from higher, and forgot that a good recce screen would have given him at least *some* warning. Surely he had some 19D Cav scouts or some STA types in BN HQ. Did he have no Kiowa or Apache support? Failing those resoures, surely he could have scrounged some grunts to go out and act as tripwires.
If he did just sit there and wait for the whizbang shit to drop from higher's ass, he ought to have been relieved. UAVs, sat coverage, and "sensors" are good tools, but only a fool would pronouce them the end all and be all.

Last note, an admiral giving pointers on how best to carry out a ground war is like a virgin trying to direct a porn star on how to fuck better.
I'm glad I read down through the thread. That was the first thing that popped into my mind when I read the first article.

Where was the Recce force?

Nothing better than "Eyes on"
Does it actually say anywhere that he didn't deploy integral recce? Cheers.

Thanks for the response.  I meant the sense and act comments in terms of our own army.  We are moving away from traditional capabilities (armour, artillery, etc) that were firmly focused in the firepower or act capability towards a sense focussed army.  While not necessarily wrong (or a bad thing), considering political and defence realities, we must be careful of the lure of technology as at the end of the day it will be the guy on the ground fighting in a traditional conflict spectrum.

The second comment I have is that while information is never bad, the ability to collate and disseminate this information in a timely and workable form can become problematic.  How much information is too much?  How much information pulls a strategic commander forward in to the operational and tactical sphere's of operations.  

I support the army transformation instituted by LGen Jeffery but I am cautious of what we are forming ourselves into.


We have to be careful criticizing the LCol on the ground as the article doesn't go into great detail.  The article leaves no doubt that the pace of operations exceeded the capability of information operations to support.  However, he would have had some types of recce available to him.  Certainly the results of engagement indicate he was ready for them.


Amen.  In the end you can only count on what you control, see and influence.
I agree that the level of detail provided in the article on the engagment could have been far more involved. But looking at what is presented, it seems that it was, all of a sudden, "Oh hey, three full battalions closing with my position". I realize todays "journalists" use the truth only as a nice sounding touchy feely word, but like I said, as the engagement was presented, it appears this one lone BN pulled up on the OBJ and then just sat there waiting for their infomartion manna to just fall outta the sky. To say it again *IF THAT WAS THE CASE*, then I have to question "WTF, sir". As Recceguy points out, "Where was the recce force?"
Gunner said:

Thanks for the response.   I meant the sense and act comments in terms of our own army.   We are moving away from traditional capabilities (armour, artillery, etc) that were firmly focused in the firepower or act capability towards a sense focussed army.   While not necessarily wrong (or a bad thing), considering political and defence realities, we must be careful of the lure of technology as at the end of the day it will be the guy on the ground fighting in a traditional conflict spectrum.

I agree whole heartedly, and I do not wish to come across as a mindless cheerleader for electrons. However, I do believe that we are foolish if we do   not take advantage of improved combat information systems, so that our always-limited "Act" assets will be used on the right tgt, at the right time, instead of being squandered by WWII-style blundering about.

You do not need to convince me, an Infmn, that Predator does not replace "boots and bayonets": just check out Iraq or Afgh right now. That, to me, is "modern war"; ie: war fought in the modern time. Real war, not the Scientific American glossy-article version. But, if I can use Predator, or Coyote, or anything else to put my troops/my fires in the right place at the right time, I'm all about that.

You have hit on the key issue: when does the info flow become the info torrent; when does adequate combat info become info overload, and how much info do we need/can we reasonably use and still stay ahead in the OODA loop. Waiting till we have "all the info" can nbe seductive just because we believe we can get it, but may leave us at the mercy of a less risk-averse foe who will gamble.

So--I guess I'm of two minds. The tech is good, but it   must be treated as a tool. The real weapons are the minds of our commanders and the soldiers who put their boots on the ground. Cheers.

It isn't the technology that "failed", apart from the fact nothing mechanical works 100% of the time.

People failed.  People who don't correctly appreciate capabilities and don't follow useful processes will be disappointed.
I recently read an article by a US army CO praising the system they had, despite the bandwidth issues. He was able to have complete blue SA, which was itself an asset previously unheard of. It prevented some serious blue-on blue incidents during the sandstorms. He did mention that Red SA was not very good via that system, though it was updated by "traditional" means.

I would be reluctant to say that technology failed in this case. I would ask "what was the level of dependence?" As has been pointed out above: what about his integral recce assets?

I think what we, especially we in the CF, need to recognise is that we are in a transitional phase, and we cannot afford to regard technology as a panacea at the expense of our tradional capabilities. At some point we may figure out how to provide commanders at all levels with an electronic blue and red overlay that is always up-to-date, but at the moment we cannot.


I was waiting for the subject of "information dominance" to surface on this board.   Not that I was looking for a contentious subject to weigh in on, but it seems to me that the extant realities and the purported achievements in regards to the "Sense" function have been overlooked and/or hightly overrated in this particular forum.   If "Sense" is the foundation upon which all of our "Big Head/Small Body" Interim and Future Army organizations and operations will purportedly be based, then we have a long way to go according to the current experience of our allies who are actually doing the business.   We have senior Canadian Army leadership (DLSC & now COs) who purport that we will never again conduct the Transitional Operation known as "Advance to Contact" because "tomorrow" we will purportedly have perfect enemy Situational Awareness and will then be able to "Advance with PURPOSE".   And if you believe that, I have some perfectly good swampland to sell you...

The fact of the matter is that digitization has not yet proven to be the "force multipiler" that its proponents would suggest.   The above U.S. article is just the start.   There are other recent articles based on testimony to the U.S. Senate which decry the abject fallacy of "information dominance" in the context of 21st Century warfare.   To whit - "asymmetic warfare", the "3 Block War", complex terrain and "insurgent forces" by their very essence preclude the "stand-off" information dominance that some believe wiill lend us a decisive advantage.    

For the "systems guys", digitization and the associated "Command Support enablers" are the insititutional Holy Grail.  And therein lies the rub WRT an inordinate (and grossly misplaced) dependance upon sensor-based information through an "All-Source-Coordination-Cell", a "Command Support Battalion" or whatever you choose to call the command support albatross.   If the aim is to give the man on the ground in the face of the enemy the goods that he needs to prosecute operations, then I'm sorry to say that our current (and forecast) ISR technology and ASCC "fusion cells" are not going to fill the bill.   Indeed, the results are more often than not entirely out to lunch.   Hmmm - a battalion-sized organization at Brigade level which exists to provide "command support" based on a cast of hundreds, dependant upon kilometres of FOCA cable to enable the "network", and working from an electronic download of ISR data.   Try to move that congolmeration in a hurry - I dare you.   Agile?  I think not.  But wait - it gets even better.   This very same static/wired organization is supposedly going to direct (and by virtue of Blue SA) second-guess the decisions on the ground of the dismounted tactical commander who doesn't have the luxury of packing a 36" gas plasma screen in his (or her) rucksack... Our American friends are already playing the tactical "second guessing game" based on too much tactical information being fed to the operational and strategic levels.    Been there, see it in action 2 years ago.   I'd be pleasantly surprised if PBI could tell me that times have changed based on what he is seeing now.....

But let's talk tangibles.   The reality is that as recently as 2 years ago, 3 PPCLI launched on 2 very deliberate combat operations which were characterized by fundamentally flawed Coalition intelligence.   I am not going to give specifics because I suspect that there are still OPSEC issues extant.   I will simply comment upon issues that have been promulgated in the press or in Garth Pritchard's documentary films.  

First off, I won't speak about just how abjectly badly the U.S. leadership pooched Op ANACONDA.    You can read about that for yourselves in various on-line venues.   Suffice it to say that for the major conventional operation of that particular war, the U.S.-led coalition messed up royally.   I was there for the Bde Air Assault orders.   According to all-source Int, the enemy were supposed to consist of several hundred fighters hunkered down in the village of Sher-Kan-Kel in the Shah-i-Khot Valley.   Well, as we all know it turns out that there was nobody whatsoever in the abandoned village in the low ground.   Instead, there were upwards of 1,000 AQ and sympathetic foreign fighters dug in on the high ground covering the Shah-i-Kot Valley in a classic "Horseshoe Ambush" just itching for a fight.   And the US forces obliged by landing low in the valley, much to their initial detriment.   It went rapidly downhill from there.....

When 3 PPCLI BG was told to make ready and withdraw from the Kandahar Airfield defence in order to conduct combat operations in the Shah-i-Kot, the news was all bad.   Things were not going well for the initial air assault, and 1 of the 2 battalions had required a night extraction from untenable positions.   I could go on and on, but you get the general idea.   When 3 PPCLI was told to turn over the K'har defence to a cobbled together U.S. relief force, things were not looking particularly good in the Shah-i-kot.   We were the de-facto Bde Reserve, and we were being hauled out of the defensive line for offensive ops.   3 PPCLI staged to the FOB in Bagram within 24 hrs and never did receive a cohesive nor complete set of orders.   We were simply told to "Kill Al Qaida" (the verbatim Bde-level Mission Statement - I crap you not), and given an Air Assault plan.  

HERE IS MY POINT.   At that time, U.S. forces from the 101st and 10th Mountain had been on the ground for 5 days (off and on).   "Strat Recce" in the form of every single Western SF unit that you can imagine had been keeping "eyes on" the situation from the surrounding mountain tops.    And yet, when 3 PPCLI launched (within 48 hrs of warning) we had zero reliable intelligence.   We never did recieve chohesive Bde orders from 10th Mtn Div.   Nor did we ever receive valid Int product (Falconview, etc).   Instead, our BG O Gp was told at H-20 that there were "80 to 100 Al Qaida dug-in and waiting for us", and that our mission was was going to be a mountain-top, air-assault, deliberate attack, crap-storm.   Oh, very good news indeed - especially considering that most of the Battalion was quite literally getting off of C-130's and C-17's from Kandahar and then walking across the tarmac at Bagram to pick up to 2x 81mm mortar rounds, receive a 5-minute brief, and then get on Chinooks inbound to the LZ on the Whale.   Very Interesting times, and sadly lacking in "perfect Situational Awareness"...
Our second "offensive operation" was a battalion air assault into Tora Bora to conduct a Sensitive Site Exploitation" (SSE) of the so-called "CNN Caves" that OBL was purported to have habitated during the Dec 01 SF bombing campaign.   This mission was preceeded by detailed meetings with the SF teams that had been involved in the Dec 01 actions.   The entire mission was predicated on the analysis of a Pentagon SEAL Officer who claimed to know "where to look".   At the end of the day, we spent 2 weeks at the FOB in Bagram rehearsing everything from CQB to vertical shaft entries.   And then we launched with a Delta det and an SF ODA leading the way.   While in Tora Bora we expended the CF's alllocation of demolitions for untold years to come, turning big rocks into little rocks while fruitlessly searching for "Osama CNN" caves that simply did not exist.   The locals told us so - there were no caves.   These were the very same locals that quite readily told us about the AQ grave-site that we subsequently exhumed and took DNA samples from.    There was far more to gain from the unanticipated grave site than there was from the "right the f**k out of it" U.S. Int contention that there were "caves complexes" in the area of Tora Bora that we were sent to.   A well-prepared battalion-sized defensive position with bunkers, etc?  Yep, we found that.  Caves?  Not a one.  The entire mission had been based on SF recollections, backed up by Satellite imagery showing shadowed indentations in cliff walls.   Yes, it is true - we expended untold tons of demolitions in order to excavate solid rock features that had been "pinpointed" by satellite imagery "shadows".   Another proud moment for the "Sense" combat function as actioned by the most technologically sophisticated army in the world....

I won't even get into our "Recce in Force" Air-Mechanized foray into Zabul Province.   Suffice it to say that the "Int" was equally out to lunch.   To the extent that it caused a fundamental shift of our operational plan less than D-24.   Par for the course....

All of the above to say that as the 3 PPCLI BG "ISTAR Coord" and OC Cbt Sp duing the 2002 deployment, I watched the Coalition repeatedly fall flat on its face in regards to actionable information and intelligence. Never once were we provided with accurate int.   Indeed, I can say with my hand on my heart that all three offensive operations we launched were (unfortunately) based upon fundamentally flawed intelligence.   We had the benefit of the "superbowl" of international Special Forces (including our own) providing "strategic reconnaissance".   On top of that, we had Predator, AC-130, Coyote, the US MICO UGS Pl sensors, and just about every other ISTAR capability that you could imagine working on our behalf.   And at the end of the day, guess what provided us with our only actionable intelligence?   You guessed it - Canadian soldiers manning covert OPs, overt standing Patrols, snap VCPs, airmobile patrol insertions/extractions, etc, etc.   Gosh, what a surprise..... What is old is new again....

I am not going to get into how our U.S. 101st comrades subsequenstly "saw the light" and took a page from our book WRT the necessity of Area of Influence Dominance, HUMINT, and the related importance of CIMIC-generated "hearts & Minds" as critical Force Protection measures.   As far as we were concerned, sharing our "best practices" with our American allies served our collective interests.   And I must say that our sister Bns of 3rd Bde 101st Airborne did their level best to adopt the "Canadian Model" once they saw the uncontested effectiveness of our "soft stick" approach to K'har airfield defence.

But where was I going with thjs particular thread?   Good question, given my rambling and reminisces.   Here is the rub.   In my personal experience, the most technologiically sophisticated Army in the world cannot acheive reliable information dominance.   Heck - it can't even achieve reliable "blue SA", let alone accurate and timely/actionable "red SA" down to unit level.   The bombing of our soldiers in Afghanistan 2 years ago and the article above are simply representative of our collective institutional shortcomings.   And yes, I quite deliberately say "we" when it comes to shortcomings.   Canadians are most definitiely included.   Don't get me wrong - I am not a "basher" of the U.S. Army.   Indeed, I take great pride in having served as a small part of it during combat operations.   I am simply "equal opportunity" in suggesting that we (the Canadian Army) also fail  in adequately training our newly-minted soldliers to deal with the realities of the 21st Century operational environment.  Furthermore, I believe that we are unduly optimistic (to the point of delusion) in our institutional expectations for technology-based solutions to the perennial challenge of operational "sense" capabilities.

Here is the fundamental problem/disconnect in my (admittedly stunted) way of thinking.  It is a fact that the most technologically sophisiticated military force in the world, with all of its resources and funding, cannot produce tactically   relevant intelligence which facilitates the decisive defeat of an insurgent opponent in complex terrain.   U.S. forces in Iraq have been reduced to conducting the traditional "advance to contact" in urban operations, trolling with MBTs because they are the only vehicle that can take the initial enemy hit.  Contact is generally a "surprise" and occurs at extremely close ranges.  Once the enemy announces his presence by engaging the lead armoured vehicles, infantry are committed to the manoevre response.  It can reasonably be said that "Sense" in the context of current and anticipated future operations (urban/complex, asymmetric threat, etc) is largely limited to waiting for the first enemy hit.  Current ISTAR technology offers little to no practical advantage at the tactical level in such an  operating environment.   

So here's the thing.  Given the recent operational failures of the U.S. military intelligence system (with all of its "Champagne" assets and feeds) to provide relevant information to those most in need, one has to wonder just what makes the Canadian Army leadership think that we can achieve   similar results with "lesser means" on our typically half-arsed "Kraft Dinner" budget?    

Sorry, but from what I have seen of our collective capabilities, "less" means "less".   Until someone can show me in practical terms how technology can be leveraged to increase my capacity to deal wth a persistent and adaptive asymmetric threat in complex terrain, I am not buying into the "Interim Army" nor the "Force Employment Concept".   Indeed, I would be delighted to hear exactly how those two concepts are supposed to mesh.   Can anybody explain to me how the interim Army is going to fulfill the FEC?   Are the FEC and the Interim (or Future) Army even compatible in terms of contemporary operations?   I would genuinely like to hear the views of those who honestly believe that a "DFS System of Systems" is the way to go. There's something "suspect" about a system wherein 2/3 of the capability is based on long-range missile firepower that will have zero applicability to the very types of operaton that the FEC and current experience suggest.   Hmmm.... it strikes me as a tad odd that our allies are fighting Gen Krulak's rather prescient "3-Block War" nose-to-nose with the enemy, yet the Canadian Army is busy investing in weapon sytems with an 8K direct-fire range.   Excuse me, but outside of a fixed firing point in Suffield, I've never seen a tactical situation which necessitated an 8 km direct-fire engagement.  But then again, perhaps that is just me....

Roger about 90% of what MarkC said. I don't want to say too much just at the moment, but Mark is right on WRT the "reach down" and "suck up" of higher HQs once they have the means to do so.

However, I can honestly state that as far as I can make out (and I am about to embark on an earnest no-sh*t research project) they have gotten better in a number of areas. I think that we may be in for a big surprise: they may kick over our lemonade stand on quality at lower levels. We'll see.....

As far as "Sense" goes, I've already staked out my position on the balance required between "Head" and "Body". But, we should be careful that our measured skepticism does not become "military Luddism". If we go that route, perhaps we should get rid of radio, radar, night vision equipment, lasers, diesel vehicles, helicopters, etc. My point is that technology marches onwards,and we must choose the useful bits, all the while keeping the nature of war in mind. Cheers.
Mark C:  Thanks for your insight into actual operations.  Mark B.
I would side with those who say people or organizations failed, rather than the technology itself was at fault. If that Colonel wasn't seeing to his own position, then there really is no surprise he was surprised. The Iraqi forces did not have "stealth" technology or creep up on his position with "cloaking devices" engaged.

The two greatest defeats of a technologically sophisticated army in the ancient world were examples of how "technology" was trumped by poor organization and planning: the battle of Cannae in 216 BC, where Lucius Aemilius Paulus and Publius Terentius Varro's larger and better armed and equipped armies were sucked into Hannibal's trap by their arrogance and haste (they didn't put out a screen of skirmishers, or even have their maniples in a "open order" checkerboard fromation, denying them any tactical flexibility once the battle commenced); and the battle of the Teutoburg Forest, where the Roman leader Publius Quinctilius Varus simply marches into the woods without taking any sort of tactical precautions.

At Isandlhwana several millenia later, the same thing happened, a poorly prepared defensive position and bungled leadership led to a Zulu victory.

It is all about the leadership at all levels using their tools to the best potential and creatively finding new ways to do things with existing resources.

a_majoor said:
It is all about the leadership at all levels using their tools to the best potential and creatively finding new ways to do things with existing resources.

That is all well and good, until your "tools" and "existing resources" have been reduced to the extent that operational failure is assured thanks to a fundamentally misplaced institutional reliance upon technology-based "efficiencies".  Can you say "Army Transformation"?  I knew you could......
Tools and existing resources can encompass anything. For ROTO 13 pre training, I ended up acting Platoon Commander in a defensive position. We had 1 NVG for the platoon, and 1 522 "Rad B". The weapons det had no SF kit, and we had 1 X C-9 per section.

When we were bumped, I had runners to communicate with the sections, the GPMG was staked in with the help of a compass, and savvy soldiers took out their digital cameras and used them in "night" mode to fight the battle. It was a total Kludge, but it worked.

Yes it is always nice to have more resources, but creatively changing how we use what we have can also go a long way
Sorry, but you missed my point regarding the very real dangers of hanging your "institutional hat" on the perceived (and very questionable) benefits of technology.

I am an admitted "dinosaur", but I am all for "leveraging technology" to give our soldiers an advantage over the enemy.   My concern is that our Army Transformation is not based upon leveraging technology for the benefit of the soldier.   It is a political imperative based on limited funding.   Anyone who genuinely believes that "information dominance" is achievable in the near term in the context of the asymmetric operational environment is utterly delusional.   Just read about the numerous and substantive U.S. "information dominance" failures during the conventional portion of Op Iraqi Freedom.   And then consider the exacerbating challenges of dealing with an asymmetric threat in complex terrain with all of the complicating factors (intermixed non-combattants, collateral damage, multi-agency presence, media omnipresence, etc).

Sorry, but anyone who truly believes that "command-centric forces which are lighter but more agile and decisive" will carry the day in the 21st Century asymmetric environment is utterly delusional.   Will "Canadian Army Transformation" result in more capable force structures?   Only if one buys into the "Force Employment Concept" tenets of "Lead with sensors to define the operational environment and threat, then engage with long-range precision stand-off munitions, then exploit with effects (whatever that means), and finally If (and only IF) and when required, commit soldiers to engage in close combat".   The entire "Force Employment Concept" and the resultant "Interim Army" and "Future Army" conceptual constructs are predicated on the "Big Head/Small Body" being able to achieve and exploit information dominance.   Hmmm....Information dominance is currently eluding the most technologically sophisticated military in the world, because the very nature of the 21st Century operational environment precludes such an advantage...

I will put on my "heretic hat" and suggest that the "meat" of our proposed "Force Employment Concept" is solely predicated upon affordability at the expense of genuine capability.   Why are we buying 66 MGS?   Not 60, not 70, not 100?   Because the Army planners were told that they have $600 million to spend.   And 66 MGS is all that $600 million will buy.   There was no force structure rhyme nor reason associated with the 66 MGS decision.   Nor was their any associated with the 48 TOW-LAV conversions that we can afford.   And on, and on it goes.   If anything, we are pursuing lesser capability for more money while deluding ourselves that our much more limited Direct-Fire "System of Systems" will somehow make us more capable.   Sorry, but in a operational context characterized by an asymmetric enemy exploiting complex terrain, fully 2/3 of the MBT replacement "system" is totally ineffectual.   Fine if you are fighting in Suffield.   Not quite so useful if your next stop is Falluja.   In the operational construct that we envision, the entire Canadian Army will be left with a grand total of 66 MGS attempting to provide intimate support to our Infantry.   Less protection, less mobility, less on-board ammo, degraded immediate crew SA, etc, etc.   The long-range ADATS and TOW direct-fire missile systems will be utterly useless in complex terrain.   And yet we proclaim to be "optimizing" for just that environment.   Yeah, right....

At the end of the day, we are left with proposed future force structures predicated on arbitrary dollar figures.   Sorry, but I don't buy into the "DFS System of Systems" for a second.   Optimized for "complex terrain" and/or the 21st Century operational environment characterized by a comparatively low-tech asymmetric threat and huge potential for non-combatant casualties?   I think not.   Motivated by political imperatives and limited funding?   Yes, that I can understand (if not agree with).   But don't try to sell me a pile of bear-crap disguised as a high-fibre berry pie.  

The abject falsehoods of a politically and fiscally-motivated future force structure become increasingly clear when we combine the dubious utility of our anticipated "Direct-Fire Capability" with the aforementioned failure of "Information dominance" in the 21st Century operational environment.   There is senior leadership within the Canadian Army which claims that our impeccable "Red SA" will preclude the need to advance against a non-defined threat.   In other words, no more "Advance to Contact".   Yeah, right.   The extant operational environment utterly precludes technology-based information superiority.   How can a UAV overflight differentiate between a farmer and an insurgent until such time as the latter trades his pitch-fork for an RPG along your resupply route?   Particularly if the latter is blending with a crowd until the critical moment?   How can a UAV or UGS detect a road-side IED?   Or a suicide bomber?   The answer is that they can't - mechanical "sensors" are largely useless in such a situation - as our U.S. allies have discovered much to their chagrin.   In the current operational context, technology is a horribly misplaced and ineffective replacement for "boots on the ground".    It rarely serves as a viable enhancement for physical presence and security, let alone a "stand-alone" replacement for same.    Once again, we choose to indulge in self-delusion....

I am going to leave it there for the time being.   I realize that my views are contentious, particularly where the "party line" is concerned.   So be it.   I've been around long enough to recognize an institutional fart dressed up as perfume when I see it.   The "Interim Army" and the "Force Employment Concept" are recipes for utter   disaster and institutional failure in my humble view.   The future holds the answers, and Lord knows I hope that I am ultimately proven wrong.   I doubt it, but I am quite content to see evidence to the contrary.   The problem is that nobody will know if we got it right or wrong until one of two things happens.   Victory ensues, or the body bags start flowing home....

Just my $.02 CAD.....
...interesting post !

Mark C said:
Ahhhh,I was waiting for the subject of "information dominance" to surface on this board. 
First off, I won't speak about just how abjectly badly the U.S. leadership pooched Op ANACONDA.  According to all-source Int, the enemy were supposed to consist of several hundred fighters hunkered down in the village of Sher-Kan-Kel in the Shah-i-Khot Valley.  Well, as we all know it turns out that there was nobody whatsoever in the abandoned village in the low ground.  Instead, there were upwards of 1,000 AQ and sympathetic foreign fighters dug in on the high ground covering the Shah-i-Kot Valley in a classic "Horseshoe Ambush" just itching for a fight.  Very Interesting times, and sadly lacking in "perfect Situational Awareness"...
  Our second "offensive operation" was a battalion air assault into Tora Bora to conduct a Sensitive Site Exploitation" (SSE) of the so-called "CNN Caves" - there were no caves. I won't even get into our "Recce in Force" Air-Mechanized foray into Zabul Province.  Suffice it to say that the "Int" was equally out to lunch.  To the extent that it caused a fundamental shift of our operational plan less than D-24.  Par for the course....Thoughts? 
I totally agree with Mark on the failure to effectively transform the Canadian Army due to politically motivated and budget driven purchasing decisions. And I do indeed know from the Technology Review article and various After Action testimonials like Evocatus' that the current setup in the US Army is not working the way the planners and salesmen would like.

My point is we have or are getting all these new toys, without changing the organizational structure to use them properly. I am not in a position to suggest we need X sections of UAVs and Y troops of Coyotes interacting with z Combat teams, but someone is thinking about it, and we need to implement the changes.

My take is a lot of the problem is "HQ centricism", where information flows up and down the chain to HQ nodes for processing and dissemination. There are lots of opportunities for bottlenecks and filtration in that set-up, as we have seen.

Perhaps the model to persue is the US Special Forces in Afghanistan: Operators directly linked to the shooters without the intervening Headquarters apparatus. There, airpower could be vectored in to a target within minutes. Previous wars, like the Persian Gulf War and Kossovo had delays of several hours between the target being sensed, and an airplane finally arriving while the information worked its way up and down the chain.

Finally, "boots on the ground" is an important aspect of the military, and ideally transformation means putting the new tools directly in the hands of the soldiers on the ground, rather than layering them over the existing structures.