Saturday, January 28, 2006

Topic: Info-centric Warfare

Much has been said about the need for transformation in our military. Nowhere is transformation more necessary than in the field of intelligence.

Intelligence deals with collection, handling and analyzing information. We need to change how we approach each of these tasks:

Collection. During the last ten years our collection capabilities, (especially related to our "national" technical assets), have improved, but they have also become increasingly important to the warfighter community. Basically, there are more customers for what in the past were considered "strategic" assets. The line between strategic and tactical in constantly being blurred in the different realms of warfare and intelligence is no exception. Our collection assets have to support both military and civilian activities in order to achieve our national goals. Of course, the needs of the military (usually short-term, more perishable, operational and tactical needs) are very different from those of the civilian sector (usually more "strategic" and long term needs). Even within the military sector the intelligence requirements of a battalion commander fighting insurgents in an Iraqi town are very different from those of a regional combatant commander planning for the next potential theater-wide crisis. Additionally, the requirements to support a counterinsurgency and counterterrorist operations (4GW), are very different from those needed to support traditional maneuver warfare (3GW) for a major conflict.

Handling of Information. This deals with how we disseminate and what we do with the information we have collected. If the collection aspect is sensor-centric, the handling aspect is network-centric. Today, we live in a multi-INT environment. No single discipline of intelligence (IMINT, SIGINT, HUMINT, etc.) has all the answers. At the operational and tactical level, in order to put bombs on target and at the right time, you usually cannot rely on a single INT. This is what's called fusion. To make key decisions in our current environment we need fast iteration of information from more than one sensor. That information needs to get to the right player at the right time. In Afghanistan and Iraq (and in any future major operation) this involves analysts from different agencies, handling different kinds of INTs, disseminating intelligence in networks to permit quick responses in support of operational and tactical decisions made under great time pressure and under stressful conditions.

Analysis. The two tasks mentioned above have mostly a technical component (sensors, networks) with the human factor as the unifying component. Analysis is mostly a human challenge. In the realm of defense intelligence, we have are being asked to analyze terrorist threats (long considered a law enforcement problem), as well as conventional nation-state capabilities. Due to the rate of assignments at which we change assignments, there is very little chance that the average military intelligence analyst would be an expert in both disciplines. Even the experts from the defense intelligence community would greatly benefit from consulting people from outside the community on subjects in which we have been traditionally weak (e.g. counterterrorism). Unfortunately, on many occasions, we don't stray from the perspectives of the "cleared", "need-to-know" ("the anointed") crowd. By keeping the analysis within our circles, we might miss patterns that non-cleared experts might see. We need to work a way to use the expertise that these "outside" sources bring to the table without compromising our security.

We are already seeing the changes. But more needs to be done. We are witnessing a fundamental transformation of how we conduct our business. The thing is we have to work on all three domains at the same time. We can vastly improve our collection capabilities, but if we don't improve the way we handle and analyze that information, we would still be facing new threats with old methods.

Sunday, January 22, 2006


I was out of pocket for two weeks participating in a military exercise. I had a blast, but now I am back into my normal routine. I received some feedback from Dan at tdaxp (one of my favorite blogs) and I really appreciated it. His comment pointed me in the direction of one of his best post: a very extensive review on Dr. Thomas PM Barnett's Blueprint for Action. Coincidentally, that's one of the books that I am currently reading.

So far, I like Blueprint for Action (BFA) better than Pentagon's New Map (PNM), the first book in the series. Many of the concepts introduced by Dr. Barnett in PNM are developed and fleshed out even further in BFA. I have not finished the book yet (I am currently in the middle of chapter 3), so I am not going to review it (difficult to top Dan at this point). I can tell you that the books has had some resonance among my fellow young military officers and you will start seeing some of the terms described in PNM and BFA (or some variation) by the current generation of service members.

We have seen it. All of us that have spent years overseas have seen the unstoppable train of globalization sweeping through even the most non-integrating of Gap regions. But of course, globalization has a dark side and there is where I tend to concentrate as a military officer. I am a member of the Leviathan service par excellence, the US Air Force and we've had our share of success in "processing politically bankrupt states" since I came in (Milosevic, the Taliban, Saddam), although we can improve our performance in the second half of the game, the so-called peace, or the mostly non-kinetic portion.

Trust me, we in the Air Force do not believe in fair fights, witness the F-22, the B-2 and F-117. These are aircraft that are in a league by themselves, fifth generation fighters and bombers in a world where other countries can't even come up with something to match our "old" aircraft like the F-15, F-16, and my favorites, the A-10 and B-52.

Of course equipment is just a part of why we are so good in the Leviathan role; our training, organization, and doctrine (the human aspects) are just as impressive as our slick fighters and bombers. Oh, and we have an awesome (but often overlooked) SysAdmin component too, exemplified by our airlift forces.

Our Leviathan forces are a product of the two core competencies Dan alludes to: being rich and wanting quick fixes. We have translated these competencies into a force that can win wars quickly. Unfortunately, you can't win the peace quickly.

Case in point, most of our military exercises involve a conventional adversary du jour (it used to be Iraq, now mostly Iran or North Korea) and we deal with this exercise in less than two weeks with overwhelming force. One of the main problems we have in waging peace is that our Leviathan forces are too good at destruction. The peace is all about reconstruction.

We are impatient precisely because we are rich. Rich people are impatient. And they are able and willing to pay extra to get what they want...NOW.

The traditional military-industrial complex is alive and well in America, so don't worry about it. Do we need a new version of this complex to satisfy the needs of the peace? I honestly, don't now. We would certainly be playing to our weaknesses. By the way, the military can absorb long deployments in Gap regions if these operations maintain a low profile. We did it in El Salvador, we are doing it in Colombia, Afghanistan, Kosovo, the Horn of Africa, the Philippines, and other parts of the world were we are running low-profile military operations. We were bombing Iraq for years before 2003, sending our pilots into harm's way, and hardly anybody outside of the military ever noticed.

We can do one part really well of the process for politically bankrupt states. We can deposed regimes almost at will. Now, this is not easy. But it plays to our strengths. Just like Michael Jordan made it look like it was easy in the basketball court. There is a lot of work that goes behind making it look easy. As a nation, we are the Michael Jordan, basketball player, of conventional war. But we are the Michael Jordan baseball player, of patiently waging the peace.

The issue of whether we should concentrate on our strengths or weaknesses as a nation is fascinating. Our armed forces certainly have the will and the endurance to do what is asked of them, but the military is a relatively small percentage of the population and the military is controlled by civilians who are influenced by a number of political factors that don't necessarily match with the tactical ground truth.

The media usually reports the "easy" stories, Iraq right now, is an "easy" story to report. Not easy to cover, as evidenced by the many journalists that have been killed or kidnapped in Iraq, but easy to report. There's a difference. Low-profile ops are not easy to cover or report, and they are less polarizing.

It would be interesting to see how we develop our peace-waging capabilities in the next decade. It would be mostly an Army and Marines show with the Air Force and Navy in supporting roles. More to come...

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