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Intel and Military Transformation - Background Brief

| 38 Comments | 5 TrackBacks
Winds of Change team member Robin Burk is an adjunct faculty member at the US Military Academy (West Point) and the wife of a retired Air Force officer. After nearly 30 years as a techie and high-tech executive, she has also finally found time to pursue PhD work, with a research focus in the use of intelligent software agents to evaluate and analyze masses of unstructured information. As always, any contributions of Robin to Winds of Change reflect only her personal understanding or opinion, and not necessarily those of West Point or the Army.

Well, the Senate's report blasting the CIA is all over today's news. It's pretty apparent that our intel community needs a fundamental overhaul. Actually, that red flag has been raised a bunch of times in the past, only to have Congress and Commissions sidestep the hard decisions. This time, though, it will be impossible to avoid taking on this difficult issue directly. It looks (according to some who know firsthand, of whom I'm not one) as if the problems are built into the overall structure set in place by law ... and no doubt compounded by the inertia built into any long-lived bureaucracy.

The U.S. military is already undergoing rapid and profound changes of their own in response, not only to the global War on Terror, but also to a whole slew of technical, geopolitical and other shifts around the world. I'd hoped to begin a new monthly WOC feature looking at these changes and their implications, along with insights into the technologies that will play a role in our future intelligence capability and our defense, overseas and at home. Unfortunately, right now I'm double-tasked and running on less sleep than I'd like, so this new feature is on hold for a while. But I thought I might throw out some links to background info for your summer reading .....

The intel reforms will be contentious, with hard choices in front of us. The current structures date back to the end of WWII and some political horsetrading. For the story on how we got to where we are, check out Flawed by Design: the Evolution of the CIA, JCS, and NSC by Amy Zegart, who earned her PhD at Stanford during Condi Rice's tenure there IIRC. Also check out Wm Odom's Fixing Intelligence for a More Secure America . Odom is a past Director of the National Security Agency, our signals intel group, and he's been pushing for structural changes to the CIA, FBI and the overall intel community for a decade or more.

I'm just starting John Keegan's Intelligence in War: Knowledge of the Enemy from Napoleon to Al Qaeda. A good read to understand what the military needs from intelligence gathering, and why (as Odom notes) one size does NOT fit all.

Tranformation of the US armed forces is already underway. To understand how our services work now (and especially the Army, which is particularly affected), an authoritative place to start is the 578 page How the Army Runs: A Senior Leader Reference Handbook 2003-2004, which you can read online or download from the U.S. Army War College. To get a feel for the magnitude of the transformation underway, check out this excerpt and the links that follow:

“The military is at a historic moment; it is a time when the confluence of factors are relentlessly driving change. Foremost among these factors is the advent of the Information Age that has empowered rapid and focused adaptation …. This rapidly developing network centric mode of operation is bypassing layered bureaucratic systems and processes … allowing concurrent vertical and horizontal informal communications and access to near real-time task related information. Simultaneously, the accelerating development of revolutionary technologies with broad military applicability is continually improving precision, detection, range, lethality, navigation, situational awareness ….

Finally, the strategic environment is forcing a transformation, not only in our new weapons systems and platforms, but also in the organizations, systems and processes used to develop and manage the Army. This context includes: the emergence of a more complex national security environment with diminishing protection afforded by geographic distances; a deteriorating international security environment caused by weak and failing nation states; and the emergence and diffusion of power to non-state actors .... Changing large organizations with well-developed cultures embedded in established hierarchical bureaucracies is incredibly difficult … .”

And even more so during wartime, although the U.S. military has done it before. This time around, while the larger force transformation goes forward, the Army has developed a concurrent detailed, classified plan for force expansion and rotation into Iraq and Afghanistan (subscription article). Key quotes:

The Army, according to briefing slides on the campaign plan, is no longer planning for “contingency operations,” but rather focusing on designing the force for “continuous operations ...

A substantial portion of the document focuses on the Army's new modularity concept. The service is beefing up the combat power of brigade-level units, known as the units of action, and making them less dependent on a designated division headquarters. The 3rd Infantry Division at Ft. Stewart, GA, was the first to reorganize its brigades under the construct. The modularity piece of the campaign plan will provide the service with a much deeper rotation pool to draw from when looking for troops to deploy to places like Iraq and Afghanistan, the official told reporters this week.”

Modularity also results in more flexible operations on the battlefield, made possibly by those information networks mentioned above. For more on the need and rationale for force transformation, check out this white paper.

The military is successful in part because it clearly states the groundrules and assumptions for planning and operations, in accordance with national objectives defined by the Commander in Chief and Congress. Follow the links here for a wealth of info on defense, homeland security, cyberwar and other military doctrine.

The military uses a lot of acronyms and jargon. Not sure exactly what distinguishes conventional from special operations, or what military doctrine is? The Defense Techical Information Center's online dictionary is a good place to start.

When the dust settles after my current flurry of tasks, I'll come back with some neat links to exotic weapons, sci-fi sounding technologies and the more mundane (but important) skills that the US military is developing. Until then, have fun reading!

5 TrackBacks

Tracked: August 15, 2004 2:53 AM
Excerpt: I save a lot of links in my blog surfing, thanks to FeedDemon's NewsBin feature. Too many. But see, I usually have no time to blog. Thus, these entries are filed away in my newsbin, ported back and forth from home to office computers and back again, ju...
Tracked: August 15, 2004 2:58 AM
Excerpt: I save a lot of links in my blog surfing, thanks to FeedDemon's NewsBin feature. Too many. But see, I usually have no time to blog. Thus, these entries are filed away in my newsbin, ported back and forth from home to office computers and back again, ju...
Tracked: August 15, 2004 3:17 AM
Excerpt: I save a lot of links in my blog surfing, thanks to FeedDemon's NewsBin feature. Too many. But see, I usually have no time to blog. Thus, these entries are filed away in my newsbin, ported back and forth from home to office computers and back again, ju...
Tracked: August 24, 2004 1:26 PM
Defense Dictionary from Shot In The Dark
Excerpt: A big problem for people on the left; when they try to talk about things related to the military, they tend to sound incredibly ignorant. For the most part, it's because they are; most of them (I'm generalizing here, but...
Tracked: September 24, 2004 12:11 AM
Defense Dictionary from Shot In The Dark
Excerpt: A big problem for people on the left; when they try to talk about things related to the military, they tend to sound incredibly ignorant. For the most part, it's because they are; most of them (I'm generalizing here, but...


Another great book on military transformation is by Thomas P.M. Barnett of the Naval War College entitled "The Pentagon's New Map; War and Peace in the 21st Century". I did a write up of it on my blog,


Thanks Steve - Barnett's book is a great addition. Any others, readers????

Robin - the Marines have a "small wars" website that has tons of stuff. Scads. Oodles. I'm just starting to wade through it:

Need to read your links , then I will be back - but if you look at what direction Rummsfield has been pushing for 4 years this kind of sounds like that same thing. Stike anywhere within 3 hours because of a small light military, global reach on aircraft and put special forces on the ground, not a 60 day pile up next door to telegraph a punch.... Although somethings need to be changed (Congress) - which is probably the hardest push overall.

Need to digest a bit - but from what you say, I agree 100%.

Yes, the USMC small wars approach is one paradigm for the issues facing us for the next years. Also a great addition to my starting list.

I would argue, though, that "small wars" and "asymmetric operations" aren't the whole reason for the current push by Rumsfeld and others for force transformation.

I really want to get into some of this in detail when I can come up for air. But just as one example consider how the easy availability of steganography tools complicates our intel and defense challenge. Islamacist terror networks have been regular consumers of these and other cracker tools available from your local underground bulletin board.

Or, consider the opportunities and challenges of the network-centric battlefield. The very maturity of some communications technologies changes the demands placed on our military. That would be true even if we were not facing probably a decade or more of potential asymmetric operations.

However, the Marine emphasis on understanding the culture and mindset of the terror groups (and the environments that they come from) is also a key success factor. That's why DOD sponsored the development of a video game that goes beyond teaching foreign languages to also teach cultural clues.

I would argue that Rumsfeld is mostly looking at how to do big wars smaller and faster rather than doing small wars better. He wants to reduce our marginal propensity to not act. He's mostly interested in logistics and whiz-bang technology, and I would argue that people skills are far more important. Iraq thus far seems proof positive of that.

Hence I like what the Marines are talking about, and the British school of counterinsurgency thought from which it derives.

I just left DIA, the "transformation" is pure crap. The civilain wonks are scurring to cover their asses, it's all just another worthless shuffle. Can half the old timers there and downsize the civilian staff by 50%. Most the folks there have no actual intel mission.

I think that anyone who looks at how large organizations -- and the DoD is just about the largest organization anyone can think of -- change has to wonder just how on earth this heavy-handed, political, top-down approach can possibly work. There's a lot of theory that kind of gets hashed out at the top civilian levels, but Lord help us all by the time it makes its way down. I mean, this is a bureaucracy that can't even keep track of its own money - we're talking lots and lots of zeroes here. Far better, I would think, to switch to a more experimental, bottom-up approach to the whole thing. Go to the OFT website and its pictures of Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz and papers and seminars and essay contests.

On the subject of the Senate intel committee report on Iraq, I'm gonna have a major analysis on it ready hopefully by Sunday.

Oh, and Joe Wilson is a lying sack of sh*t, as the report makes quite clear.

As an Air Force special operations guy since 1995, I might be able to shed some light on this whole 'transformation of the military' thing. 'Transformation has turned into one of those buzzwords that comes along every couple of years, becomes the trendy new 'in' thing, then fades away to be replaced by a new one. 15 years ago, it was 'Quality', we were going to use TQM concepts to improve the military and use the 'peace dividend' wisely. 10 years ago, it was RMA, 'Revolution in Military Affairs. 5 years ago, it was 'Jointness'. Now, it's 'Transformation' and everybody is jumping on the bandwagon.

Folks, here is the plain truth. The military needs to get back to the basics (you know, discipline, marksmanship, logistics, comms, language skills, physical/mental toughness, etc. . .) before it starts leaping into the future of robots, networks and the usual sci-fi stuff. Here we are in the 21st Century and the following problems cropped up in Operation Iraqi Freedom:

- East Coast and West Coast Marines 10 miles away couldn't talk to each other because of basic comm problems. We're talking members of the same service here.

- Abu Graib prison. Lack of leadership and discipline, from the top to the bottom. Christ, even the ancient Greeks and Romans knew how to prevent that kind of stuff, what the hell's our problem?

- The U.S. Army, looking at the Jessica Lynch fiasco with 20/20 hindsight, has suddenly realized that even support troops need to know how to clean an M-16, return controled and accurate fire, respond to an ambush, dress a wound, you know, actually act like military professionals. Apparently, this is considered a new and novel idea. What next, expecting soldiers to be in good shape and know how to read a map?

- Marine and Army units sometimes went two or three days without rations because of logistic problems. Even Xenophon and his Greek mercenaries had enough to eat when they marched down the Euphrates. Of course, the march back up was different but you get the idea. . .

So if Rumsfeld wants to 'transform' the military, fine, great, sounds cool. He can start by 'transforming' his boot into some of the military leader's asses and straighten out the lack of basic military competence that is starting to trip up operations overseas. Does anyone really think the military today is ready to 'transform' when you still have all of these entry-level problems? Computers are great, but computers don't fight wars. People fight wars and our military people aren't being trained and led properly. Fix that and that will be enough of a 'transformation' for me.

"The U.S. Army, looking at the Jessica Lynch fiasco with 20/20 hindsight, has suddenly realized that even support troops need to know how to clean an M-16, return controled and accurate fire, respond to an ambush, dress a wound, you know, actually act like military professionals. Apparently, this is considered a new and novel idea. What next, expecting soldiers to be in good shape and know how to read a map?"

Agreed whole-heartedly, however I think we could do them in tandem.

Change is hard, and for some cultures change is very hard. I'm part of a team that was asked to give an outside opinion on some changes the Army recently put in place. To do that we looked, among other things, at how businesses and the other services have handled the same challenge.

I wasn't particularly surprised to see that the Army's way of handling this issue, and the way they went about making changes, was rather different than, say, the Navy's. Each service (and many large companies) has its own culture and mindset, based on its historic mission and all the events since then. The Army's culture is based on masses of people making coordinated, large movements. The Navy's, OTOH, is based on the autonomy and authority of a ship's captain from the days when a ship might be at sea, without radios, for months.

How do you get these different cultures to work as a unified whole? In the Cold War, we had the luxury of long planning processes and service rivalries. Today, we don't. We need nimble, joint operations that can be formed, deployed and commanded on short notice in response to unpredictable threats. And that takes massive changes, in mindset, doctrine, training, organization and, yes, technology too.

I watched large companies struggle to adapt to info technology in the 90s & consulted to a few of them along the way. The ones that got through that decade intact and prosperous were the ones that could adapt without losing their basic market grounding. They had to do things like allow small suppliers to link into their computer systems and plan parts deliveries on the fly, rather than negotiate through their traditional purchasing departments.

The same opportunity (and challenge) faces our military. On the one hand, it really would be helpful if every soldier could do his/her basic function. [sarcasm off] OTOH I think Gutrumbles is right - not only can we upgrade training of the common soldier in parallel with other changes, we must do so if we are going to be ready to take on the threats of the next 20 years.

Robots and all the rest are just tools - but they are very useful tools that can be a tremendous force multiplier. The Marines have made extensive and very profitable use of micro UAVs for battlefield recon, for instance. The use of robots (teleoperated) for recon in Afghan caves has saved a bunch of US lives.

I'm old enough to remember the draft - and we really do not want to go there. Our current enemy has large numbers of bodies to throw at us. We OTOH can and must go another way: a lean (but appropriately sized, not lean-for-leanness'-sake) and professional military with the tools and training and doctrine to get the job done. High tech can supply some of those tools.

I had the opportunity last year to meet a war hero from the Thunder Run to Baghdad, an O5 tank battalion commander whose men were at the very tip of the spear. When briefed on the new Blue Force tracker just before leaving, he says, he discounted it as "PCs in a tank for no reason". But a more tech-savvy recent USMA grad kept feeding him useful info from the tracker system, and he now credits it saving lives and enhancing his battalion's effectiveness during several days of continuous fire engagement with the Republican Guard.

I've not served in uniform. I have, however, lived with, worked with and known career military all my life. Some of my close relatives have been boots-on-the-ground NCOs, some flew fighters. A few were combat-decorated, including my godfather uncle (Silver Star, multiple Bronze Stars, multiple Purple Heart NCO). Give them, and the men and women like them, the right tools and let a professional military get the job done. And yes, that means a professional military, not just a bunch of people with 20 yr job tenure! (or 30 for the general officers .....)

And don't get me started on the mess at Abu Ghraib. One of my colleagues here at the Point is a female O5 MP who served in some hotspots in Bosnia. I have no doubt it would have taken her about 3 days to get that operation cleaned up and operating to standard. Every really strac female soldier I know is disgusted at that situation and its reflection on their role in the service.

Had to chuckle at John Lance's comments about the "buzzword of the day" tendency. Can't really argue about that.

But .... the tech stuff is here to stay and so is the need for some deep changes that are both enabled and forced by the technology.

Last year the office next to mine held a quiet spoken, friendly aw-shucks kind of guy. It wasn't until he had to wear his Class As one day(uniform with jacket that includes ribbons and medals) that I realized he was a combat-decorated Army Special Ops guy. He wears a bunch more ribbons up his chest than most guys his rank and a Pathfinder badge (i.e. if the special ops guys are out there ahead of the regular army, the pathfinders are out ahead of the other special ops guys). He also has a graduate degree in Computer Science.

We only had him for a short while before he rotated back to an operational slot. But, it's a sign of the times folks ....

I definitely think tech has a big role on the battlefield (hell, I'm a SOF helo pilot, I love having Blue Force Tracker, IDAS/MATT, DIRCM and all the other alphabet-soup toys on my Pave Low). I think the 'conventional' military would do well to emulate the way SOF does business. The problem that I see is one of prioritization. All of the money that should be used to 'transform' the most important piece of tech on the battlefield, comms, is being wasted on high-priced major weapons programs with huge cost overruns.

For instance, the USAF is so fixated on fielding the F/A-22, it's letting everything else slide. Strategic/tactical airlift, aerial tankers, bombers, CAS, CSAR, everything is being neglected for the now $300 million per aircraft super-fighter that will 'tranform' air-to-air combat. The Marine Corps is breaking their account with the V-22, the Army is just trying to stay above the parts and maintenance nightmare that is unfolding in CENTCOM while promising the Future Combat System, whatever that might wind up being. The poor Navy is still planning on building Virginia-class subs and the DD-XX destroyer but no one can figure out how that helps out the GWOT (Global War on Terror).

People always say you should criticize something if you don't have a plan. Well, here's my idea of what the military needs to concentrate on in order to 'transform' in the middle of a shooting war:

1) Comms is super-important. Every trigger-puller in Afghanistan and Iraq and anywhere else should have, as a minimum, a user-friendly version of Blue Force Tracker and a secure radio that can talk on squad, platoon and company nets. The Army is working on something called Transformational Communication System. Project originally started out at 6 billion, now it's up to 18 billion and no tangible results in the field. This is criminal, we need to fix tactical comms NOW!

2) UAVs. I think UAVs are great for certain types of defined missions (I would never use them for CAS, for instance, but think they work great for recon). More and better UAVs, just don't let them turn into the overrun pork festivals that the F/A-22 and F-35 are at the present.

3) Defensive systems for aircraft. Remember all the helicopters shot down back in the winter? The U.S. Army is scrambling to put SOF-level defensive systems on all it's helos. Same goes for the C-130s/C-17s/C-5s used by the USAF. Having air superiority doesn't mean shit to scattered insurgents using shoulder-fired IR missiles.

4) Logistics. In this age of computers, I still can't figure out how Americans deployed to a combat theater can be missing things like body armor, ammo, food, gun lube, hell, even water. Something is broken in the logistics system and needs to be addressed quickly. Also, the services apparently didn't realize that shit wears out faster in combat ops than in peace-time (duh) and is now scrambling to fix the vehicles and equipment that is being worn to the nub in Iraq and Afghanistan. Again, stuff that should be caught if we're using this computer-centric new model for warfighting.

5) The Basics. The services should immediately start copying the good things from Marine Corps Recruit Depot training. Segregate the sexes during Basic. More unarmed combat, CQB training and Immediate Action drills. Tougher PT standards. More language/cultural training. And for the love of God, higher standards when it comes to discipline and responsibility. Is it too much to ask that people in the military actually look and act like professional war-fighters? If you hate running and resent people telling you what to do, maybe you need to find another line of work.

You might notice there isn't much there for the Air Force or the Navy. Those two services actually have the luxury of looking ahead to the next crisis and planning accordingly. The biggest danger to the USAF and USN is blowing their money on shit they don't need. The Army and USMC have a lot of areas they need to fix or modify and they have to do it while fighting the GWOT. Again, I'm all for Tranformation, but it has to be done with an eye to not dropping the ball on your non-tech, basic skills type issues.

My one and only conversation with an active duty Army soldier (home on leave) revealed that his unit had had major problems with ground to ground communications. They resolved this rather skillfully. The radios in their Humvees were staticky and useless a good deal of the time. They went to local markets in Iraq and purchased cell phones with their own money. Ta Da! They now had Humvee to Humvee communications restored. That is until the Coalition Authority pulled the plug on the repeaters. The working network was pulled down so outside contractors could build from scratch a new network and claim a monopoly. Their cells all went dead and they had to go back to using their Humvee sometimes-it-works-sometimes-it-doesn't radios. I still remember the comment, "If it was Army issue, it would probably wind up breaking down."

On another note, if I recall Rumsfeld set to work in January '01 on force reconstruction. Why has there been little for the Congress to sign off on since then?

It's clear from the war in Iraq that some aspects of our military's training, systems and supply network were allowed to deteriorate in the 90s. That needs fixing, big time.

Re: the cell phones for Humvees, that's a mixed bag. Good things: soldiers on patrol can communicate. Bad things: not all Humvees have them, commanders aren't plugged in, maybe other important equipment on the vehicle relies on those radios too. Even worse thing: the cell phones aren't secure, and they run off of an infrastructure that's easily vulnerable to sabotage.

Our soldiers are taught to do battlefield repairs, show ingenuity and look for an 80% solution they can use now rather than wait like sitting ducks for a 100% solution to come their way. Sounds like the guy you talked to did just that.

OTOH, don't assume that it was the contractors, or only the contractors, who nixed the cells and insisted on a full-up radio network. I can think of several reasons why commanders might agree they weren't anything more than a short term tactical solution (and a dangerously vulnerable one at that).

Re: Rumsfeld and submitting transformation plans to Congress, there are a couple of dimensions to that. Go back and read the Army's own assessment of how hard it is to get a hierarchical bureaucracy to change ... not all the leaders are happy with his focus. Trying to build consensus through Congressional hearings with lots of generals testifying could turn into a real quagmire -- and I use the word deliberately.

There's a lot of important transformation that doesn't need Congressional approval. Best to do what you can as soon as you can and deal with the Congressional things when necessary ... but not hold up the important changes already within your authority, at a time when our military has major demands on it around the world.

Robin: Gratitude for the reading list, this is a great entry.
As an ex-defens con, focused on R&D, I was interested to see systems that were in beta at the time of Gulf I being deployed in Gulf II. I saw the major theme of Gulf I as ATR, and the major theme of Gulf II as C3I (from my perspective). If this is a ten year cycle (or so), what you expect the next major combat theme will be? My guess is telepresence and teleoperation-- our front lines will be silicon!
I would love to read the exotic weapons research-- I know research into particle beam weapons and gravity disruptors is ongoing-- are there others?

It is senseless to consider technology and our adaptation to the technological landscape (a.k.a. transformation) as something that is a complement to basic skills and training of the services. In a real sense technology has always been part of the terrain on which military forces operate, and they can either take advantage of that terrain or try to work around their weaknesses or the opponent's strengths. In that sense, technology is just another dimension like altitude or covering vegetation, although it is more subtle in showing its effects until the actual point of decision is reached and lo and behold, one finds that steel weaponry enables Cortes to smash the Aztec opposition in repeated encounters, for instance. But this discovery by the Spanish was not accompanied by its parallel appreciation by the Aztecs, who notably had a well disciplined standing army with large numerical superiority over Cortes and his indigenous allies. (steel wasn't the only thing working for Cortes, though)

So it is not like we can revert to USMC tactics of Korea 1953 and protect US foreign interests comprehensively 5 decades later. Sure the tanks and artillery were cheaper, and draftees don't get paid squat as they keep the ranks full of grunts to go "hey diddle diddle up the middle". The story about the humvee cellphones is indicative that even our troops wouldn't support such a radical reversion to "basic tactics". So a more balanced question is not whether to adopt one extreme or another, but rather to look at how to adapt to the tech terrain most efficiently.

Thanks, Jinnderella. Glad to see people reading and responding on this one - hope to hear more, too.

Re: research focus, as you can probably tell from the blurb at the top of the entry, my own research has applications in C4I (command, control, communications, computers & intelligence). Some other areas, not necessarily the most exotic, that we will probably see deployed soon on at least a trial basis:

- telepresence and teleoperated recon and weapons systems (already in place or in final tests) but also autonomous (self-guiding) vehicles and weapons. Think: a robotic "pack mule" that can follow a squad, carrying supplies and ammo, but not need an operator to find its way around potholes. Or, a recon unit that can maneuver itself through a city street or a building, beaming back video as it goes. Some might be quite small and easily overlooked by the locals ....

- nanotech and materials. Think: battle uniform that can shift colors / markings automatically to blend into the surroundings, firm up into harder/less mobile battle armor when desired, and that has a wearable computer woven into its threads, which can monitor pulse and other body status, signal a squad leader when someone's in trouble and perhaps keep him breathing and apply pressure to keep bleeding under control until the medics can get there.

- smart weapons. Think: a swarm of mini-missiles that is given a group of targets. The mini-missiles organize themselves to do the job & if one gets shot down, they figure out on the fly (literally) which ones should re-target themselves to ensure the top priority targets are covered.

- machine translation of foreign languages. There already is research that uses intelligent software to translate written / electronic materials. It's a much bigger challenge to translate spoken language on the fly ... but expect a lot of progress in this area over the next decade.
This isn't the really exotic stuff, which deserves a whole post of its own LOL.

What Tom Roberts said.

Here is the official or semi-official military reading list:

Military Reading Lists

Each service has its own. The overlap is interesting too. Especialy check out what the enlisted are supposed to read and you will see why we have the best military in the world.

They got the study of war down.

With new bits added all the time.

Sun Tzu, BHL Hart, Summers etc. It is all here and more.

Robin: Is your research based on the "Actors" paradigm?
Autonomous land vehicles were my bread and butter for a while-- IMHO we're at least 15 years out from useable autonomous tanks-- look at the sorry results from this year's highly publicized competition.
" machine translation of foreign languages. There already is research that uses intelligent software to translate written / electronic materials. It's a much bigger challenge to translate spoken language on the fly"
Now that is kewl! We will see silicon tranlaters competing in the DLI Language Olympics, like the Chess Championships. But we will need a major paradigm shift for real time translation-- chomskyan rule-based grammers are too slow and inflexible to work, IMHO.

Robin: Is your research based on the "Actors" paradigm?

No, I'm focusing on ways to assign and use measures of reliability, relevance and semantic closeness to information ... the intersection between artificial intelligence and decision analysis. [/jargon off LOL]

Autonomous tanks are a big step. But lots of strides are being made in more modest autonomous ground movement. Air movement, of course, is much easier.

Just curious.
What's the thinking when one of these autonomous supply vehicles is used in situation where the lines are fluid and there's a high likelihood of being overran or infiltrated?

Is there some kind of Star Trek self-destruct sequence or something? We wouldn't want the bad guys using our stuff would we?

So far as I'm aware, the tactics and doctrine for using autonomous ground vehicles isn't set yet ... but I might just not be aware of current thinking. The technology is still in the R&D stage, although with a lot of current attention.

I said the following a year ago in my post "US Military -- Back To The Future":

"...the key variable in future American military operations aren't platforms or precision guided munitions, but network bandwidth connecting intelligent people. The bigger and faster the sensor/shooter/C3I network, the nastier and deadlier it becomes.

The really interesting thing to see is what happens when the 4th Mechanized (Mech.) Infantry Division's land combat data system comes into use and we then add "Land Warrior" infantry to it. We are talking a half an order of magnitude increase in combat network size compared to the heavily touted theater air power networks of the Iraq war from the 4th Mech's combat vehicles alone. Combat infantry added to that bumps it up to a full order of magnitude larger.

The American Army's love affair with vehicle-mounted .50 Caliber M2-HB machine guns has made for very unfair close combat firefights between Americans and everyone else since 1944. Ask the Wehrmacht what the fifties mounted on 3rd Army M-8 Greyhound armored cars did during the pursuit after Falaise. The "Ma-Deuce" has been the U.S. Cavalry's version of the mounted lance for several generations now. Yet that was nothing compared to the kill ratios the 3rd Mech had in Iraq. The 3rd Mech went through the Iraqis like the Martians went though the British Army in H.G. Wells "The War of the Worlds." There are some good organizational reasons for this. Yet those reasons can be applied to every combat division. This begs the question just what is the fully networked 4th Mech going to be like in combat?

In aerial combat, "situational awareness" is a great combat multiplier until you have to close the range to engage. AMRAAM missiles kill lots of bad guys at range but closing with Sidewinders is the only way to be decisive, especially in a politically/tactically constrained rules of engagement fight. Then it gets down to who has the initial advantage, with the best trained and experienced pilots, and with adequate equipment.

What will these networked land combat units be like before they "go into the merge" of close combat firefights? Robotic micro-UAV "point men" 300 yards ahead and 50 yards above human point men are going to make for very "situationally aware" line platoons and extremely "unfair" close combat firefights. Add this to GPS-based fire support, loitering drones, airborne sensors, JDAMS, and modern body armor and our infantry is "...going to make Caesar's legions look like combat-ineffective girly-men," to use quote from a friend of mine.

He also said, "We will literally be able to fight at ludicrous odds - not just outrageous odds - and triumph nearly bloodlessly," to which I have to agree.

I am of the opinion that this phenomenon is a logarithmic progression that the American military is only just beginning to climb. The reason we are light-years ahead the rest of the world in conventional military power is that we have invested enough in people and technology that we have gotten past an inflection point on the military effectiveness curve for the use of modern information systems. It is going to take very little more marginal investment on our part to obtain vastly increased and selective killing power."

What we are relearning in Iraq is that there is more to war than fighting and battles.

During the 1990's the US military and the Army in particular let its logistical combat support and combat service support infrastructure and personel development run down. Part of it was budget driven but the greater part of it was the politically correct stuff like "Consideration Of Others" (Some one plese correct me if I got that name wrong) 'feminizing' initiatives of the Clinton years. The sexual harrassment scandals like Tailhook, the Air Force Academy and in the Army's basic training all left the brass with no cover from stupid ideas that essentially created CS and CSS units as defenseless uniformed bureaucrats.

This run down was papered over via private contracting of Dynacorp and K.B.R. in permissive peace keeping environments rather than in hostile countrysides like Iraq.

Now the pipe's bill has come due and we are relearning all the old lessons of occupation and counter insurgency all over again. The wonder here isn't that we are screwing up, it is how little we are screwing up compared to the early days of Korea and Vietnam and how quickly we are learning and evolving against the threat.

The most important part of "Transformation" is already in place in the people serving. Every American military service has a learning culture at its core and those who are in now are passing on that level of competence to the next generation of servicemen.

I hadn't visited in a while, good to see it's still up. Personally, I think the USAF reading list is an embarassment to the Air Force. Neither of the two John Boyd books (BOYD and MIND OF WAR) are on there and Col. Jim Kyle's THE GUTS TO TRY is missing as well. The USMC and U.S. Army have some excellent books on their lists. A couple of snoozers but that's to be expected.

This whole discussion on technology reminded me of a quote from Gulf War I (can't remember who said). "We (the coalition and Iraqis) could have traded equipment and the outcome would have been the same, it just would have taken a little longer". I think that is the proper attitude to take on military technology. It's great stuff and saves lives (both our's and their's) but you can't forget that technology, especially the brand-new high-speed stuff, has a habit of letting you down when you really need it and that's when you have to depend on superior leadership and training. I can't tell you how many times I've lost a SATCOM radio right at the precise time I really, really needed it to work. Same goes for GPS or INS navigation systems, mission computers, defensive systems, terrain-following radars, you name it. Personally, I would rather have a slightly obsolete piece of equipment that works 99.9% of the time than a cutting edge piece of high-tech that works 75% of the time (example: M-16 vs AK-47 during Vietnam War). Reliability will always be a big factor in military equipment and the anecdotes from the field tend to bear that out.

So how to build reliability into the futuristic stuff coming over the horizon? The Marine Corps has a pretty good 'battle lab' at Quantico, the U.S. Army was using the 4th ID as the testbed for the Future Combat System and the new Stryker vehicle, but they got deployed to Iraq (after getting stiff-armed by the Turks prior to the start of the war), so they're not doing too much experimenting these days.

In some ways, though, having Iraq and Afghanistan going on right now is a weapon developers dream. They basically have two enormous live-fire ranges where they can test stuff, sometimes on enemy combatants. The Air Force guys at the old Philips Lab used to do that with their new tech when Somalia was going on in 1993. So expect some cool stuff to be tested and improved on the current battle-fields.

One quick point: I think a couple of folks might be misunderstanding me when I mentioned getting back to 'basic skills' as advocating using old, out-of-date tactics. That was the furthest thing from my mind. What I meant was that we can't concentrate on turning our soldiers/airmen/sailors/marines into computer-savvy networkers but let their 'basic skills' slide (ie. discipline, fitness, marksmanship, land navigation, etc. . .) The last thing I would advocate is a return to massive bombardment/frontal assault kind of tactics (usually referred to as 'Second Generation Warfare' by the strategy goons). 'Basic skills' is what separates an Army infantryman in Afghanistan from an Army contractor working in an air-conditioned cubicle at the White Sands Missile Range.

Part of what John is getting at, I think, are the responses that military training inculcates, to the point that they are automatic.

Watching the embedded reporting during the drive to Baghdad a year+ ago drove home something I knew intellectually, but hadn't really absorbed before then: that much of Army training is designed to allow people to function with precision and reliability under conditions of extreme fatigue, confusion and stress. 20-somethings sleeping 2 hrs at a time in the back of a moving Bradley vehicle, able to clean their weapons after dust storms and tie their boots correctly - and able to continue to function when their buddies are hurt or dead beside them.

We're used to thinking of a skill like marksmanship as something that needs practicing. But other aspects of the professional soldier do, too. Discipline, physical strength and endurance, emotional strength and endurance: these don't just happen, they are developed and they can be lost.

So too with character and judgement. I know I've said this here before, but it's worth saying again: the reason the cadet corps at West Point has so very strict an honor code - and the reason they enforce it among their peers - is to ensure that under the pressure of danger, pain and confusion, USMA grads will still lead and act with honor and do the right thing, not the easy thing (or the tempting ethical short cut).

At a different level, group coordination and tactical execution needs practice and reinforcement too. And I think all my colleagues would agree that without those things, the technologies don't create an effective military.

Robin hit the nail precisely on the head.

Tranformation is coming and it has great promise for the U.S. military. We just have to be careful and not let our enthusiam for advanced technology blind us to the non-technical qualities that are critical to a military force.

Same goes for intelligence. Does anyone these days really question the greater need for HUMINT? Increased language skills? Better coordination between the myriad intel agencies? The U.S. has spent the last 25 years emphasizing the 'high-tech' part of intelligence gathering(satellites, signals intercepting stations, super-computers, etc...) Despite all that, 9/11 still happened. Now, leaders are starting to realize that there is no technological replacement for good old-fashioned spycraft. Unlike the Cold War, fighting groups like Al Qaida and Hezbollah is almost impossible without good HUMINT. Whether we can regrow ours in time remains to be seen. . .

Funny you should mention "machine translation of foreign languages". It can be more useful than you might imagine, even at its current poor state.

I don't have time to properly engage in this discussion this morning, but I'd like to point out a site that details one of the DoD's three major IT operational/intel "transformation" efforts. The work is very real, and is likely to get into the hands of "Warfighters" (in their lingo) very soon:

It's a revolution in both procurement methods and paradigm; for the latter, see starting at "Only handle information once" for the real revolution. Unfortunately the site redesign removed the side by side comparison of old vs. new, but e.g. look at "Post before processing", meaning you post raw info before your analysts produce an intelligence "product". I.e. you eliminate that bottleneck where a few have to sift through a lot before the men at the sharp end get info.

Of course, the real trick is setting up things so that other consumers can find ("pull") worthwhile stuff, but it has great promise in shortening the time it takes for those who need info to get it.

I assure you that despite being buzzword rich its very real.... (And of course this can be implemented at the same time e.g. the Army relearns the old lessons of the craft, like individual marksmanship.)

The Belmont Club has some interesting ideas on how the US Navy is changing tactics and armament.

Great additions, Harold & Marc. Anyone else have other good background info links?

Trent: Is your article in Joe's archives? I would like to read it, as it seems quite prescient. What do you think the kill ratio actually was during Gulf II? It seems it was held very close. How will the world view us if the next generation hardware can deliver a kill ratio of, say 1:10,000, through virtual battlefield presence?


Here are Trent's articles that you are looking for:

I have some time now, but unfortunately it seems that my major differences are to Mr. Lance. Specifically:

1) Paradigm buzzwords: point taken, but as I remember reading "10 years ago, [about] RMA, [the] 'Revolution in Military Affairs", well, it happened. That's Trent Telenko's "sensor/shooter/C3I network", although the Russians put the C3I in the middle (since it's in the middle of the time sequence).

The example we've all heard of is the second (public) attempt to take out Saddam, when an "on call" B1 dropped on a place he was thought to be. That (to my memory) is exactly what was talked about back then, and obviously now implemented. Of course, it isn't always going to work, but from delivering steel on target to Iraq being as Jerry Pournelle pointed out the first "no turn war" (sensing, deciding, and doing was essentially instant, putting us entirely inside the decision loop of the organized Iraqis), we've finished the "revolution" and the buzzword is therefore longer needed.

(On the other hand I'm sure you're right about Quality/TQM/Jointness (which was also an '80s thing as I remember) et. al.)

2) "The poor Navy is still planning on building Virginia-class subs and the DD-XX destroyer but no one can figure out how that helps out the GWOT (Global War on Terror)."

My reply is that the Navy sure can't lose "Command of the Seas" while it helps the GWOT. E.g. it would be ... unfortunate for the free world to loose control of the Far East to the PRC by default while we're focused on the GWOT, and we have to replace our current subs and surface ships sooner or later.

And as pointed out, the DD-X + rail gun = one nasty system for delivering steel on target (as long as we keep our space assets; those darts require terminal guidance for the longer shots). (This system is many years out, but the GWOT is going to take more than a generation to win without genocide....)

However, a lot of your points are well taken, especially the one on comms. It's my understanding (and I'd love to hear from someone who's using the currently fielded stuff) that it's being fixed (slowly) by what I remember to be one of the major "IT" transformations: (from the Horizontal Fusion site) the Joint Tactical Radio System, which "offers a family of software reprogrammable radios based on an open- communication architecture that will provide interoperable tactical wideband Internet protocol (IP) communications capabilities..."

JTRS ought to be a great thing. It's hardly cutting edge technology, and if the analog part of the JTRS radios are done right (or good designs are retrofitted), everything else will fall into place since the rest can be refined and reprogrammed into the firmware of the fielded radios. Putting Blue Force Tracker on top of that would require more hardware (i.e. a display of some resolution), but I would assume JTRS could support it (the bandwidth requirements should be extremely modest compared to voice transmissions).

In reference to "Transformational Communication System", I don't know what that is, but what I remember reading is that JTRS is being fielded now, with the big problem being that individual radios are (per the web site) scheduled for Full Rate Production in 2Q FY2005, which is a long time from now....

(For the record, the final of three most significant immediate IT transformations is simply major bandwidth improvements as mentioned on the Horizontal Fusion website; make both landline and satellite communications a lot fatter, so we can e.g. deliver the message "you have missile" all the better.)

Lurker: Gratitude! But it wasn't Twisted Sister--it was Ride's pop-rock anthem, Twisterella.

Here's my 2 bits on future military technology that are currently being developed (not science-ficton):

The Land Warrior or Future Warrior program will allow squad/platoon leaders to instantly call down artillery, Close Air Support, or bombing using an attached computer to their uniform, utilizing GPS and navigation to literally 'point and click' on where they wish to attack. Rifles will be mounted with laser range finders to help soldiers determine the precise location where they want to target an attack.

Think about the consequences: The squad leader sees a large group of enemy, instantly sends the precise position of the enemy to a Warthog gunship or fighter bomber, and cleans up the remainder easily. Of course, this requires near seamless communication between the Army and Air Force. Realistically, it's completely possible and doable...practically, it'll probably be a while till it works right.

The same approach applies to urban combat, where the enemy is more dispersed and under cover of civilian buildings. Soldiers identify snipers, enemy fortifications, and other strategic points. They point their rifle at this location, press a button, and the location is uploaded to a tactical database, accessible by any aircraft or helo that is designated to provide air support. Any aircraft or helo selects a location, accepts it as their current target, and uploads a signal to the database when they've fired on target. Here, we have a revolving system of targets and attacks, where the command structure is more direct and the response time much faster.

Of course, this brings up a lot of concerns regarding friendly fire and mistargetting. As you eliminate the barriers between the targeter and the shooter, you increase the risk of friendly fire and accidental attack. The same thing applies to current tech: eg. the Patriot Missile.

Notice that the 'tech' here is all simple IT and Comm stuff. Radio communication, databases, navigation/GFP, and a good (fast) interface for use in combat. But, combined together, it makes for faster response and deadly coordination. And that's what makes the transformation so interesting..

There's also microwave 'guns' that heat up the skin of combatants without really hurting them. Perfect for those situations where you really want to make a painful statement without actually killing anyone. Would have been useful when the looters took to Baghdad right after the 'end' of the action.

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