An article in November’s Armed Forces Journal about how IT programs are being used in the conduct of counterinsurgency. Web-based/web-inspired systems making use of blogs, wikis, and forums have been most successful thus far, as have those using what could be called a user-centered design approach.
In the spring of 2005, a tactical problem met a technical solution. While working as a program manager in the Information Processing Technology Office of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), Mari Maeda began speaking with soldiers returning from Iraq and discovered an operational need: Soldiers at the battalion level and below needed additional information technology to better conduct counterinsurgency operations.
Every day, soldiers were learning about their operating environment and their enemy. The knowledge they gained while on patrol or conducting a mission could mean the difference between life and death, mission success or failure. However, they had only limited information technology assets available and none properly suited to the challenges of counterinsurgency, where information must not only be passed between echelons, it must be shared laterally between small units and stored for replacement units.
Troops in theater had been creative in their approaches to the challenge. Some units developed databases employing Microsoft Access, some used massive spreadsheets linked to relevant files, others simply did things the old fashioned way Ã¢â‚¬â€ with filing cabinets full of paper reports. One of the more creative and well-resourced approaches was the development of CavNet by the 1st Cavalry Division. Developed entirely in house by 1st Cavalry, CavNet was essentially a collection of blogs and forums that allowed junior leaders down to the squad level to share information with one another across the entire division. It was so successful that various forms are still in use.
Seeing gaps in capability and a clear operational need, soldiers from the 1st Cavalry Division teamed with Maeda to work on what would be called the Tactical Ground Reporting system, or TIGR (pronounced Ã¢â‚¬Å“tigerÃ¢â‚¬Â).
TIGR is map-centric software developed to aid information-sharing at the battalion and below, with emphasis on the squad and platoon levels. Along with Force XXI Battle Command Brigade-and-Below (FBCB2), it is one of very few pieces of information technology created for small units.
By working directly with the soldiers who would use the software, developers were able to meet a one-year development schedule and to create a system meeting or exceeding user requirements.
Among users in the field, TIGR has been a success. It is routinely cited for saving lives and being an indispensable tool for effective counterinsurgency operations. A user-friendly, map-based graphic user interface, flexible reporting and search tools, and the ability to store multimedia are cited as strengths of the system.
Though popular with troops in the field, TIGR gained support within the Army more slowly. The unorthodox fielding method put it outside of the normal acquisition system. In addition, the capabilities that make it popular Ã¢â‚¬â€ principally the ability to share information across all echelons Ã¢â‚¬â€ are somewhat at odds with standards for the sharing of classified information. In spite of setbacks, the program appears to be reaching a tipping point and is scheduled for fielding to most of the brigades in Iraq by early 2009.
FusionNet was developed by the staff of the XVIII Airborne Corps in conjunction with CC Intelligent Solutions, a private software-development firm. FusionNet was a means for the corps to streamline the bottom-up flow of information typical of counterinsurgency and help it develop a common operating picture across the theater.
Though FusionNet was developed and fielded with astonishing rapidity by military standards, it had not yet been officially certified for use on Army networks by the Army G-6 (information management). The corps commander made the decision to operate FusionNet Ã¢â‚¬Å“at riskÃ¢â‚¬Â and thereby bypassed the G-6 certification process. Primarily because of this, the system became unique to XVIII Airborne Corps and has been phased out in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Following the departure of the corps, the Combined Information Data Network Exchange (CIDNE) came into prominence. Developed by Intelligent Software Solutions in conjunction with III Corps and championed by Central Command, CIDNE is a Web-based system with similar attributes to FusionNet, but with enhancements such as a leader engagement tool. Like FusionNet and TIGR, CIDNE incorporated commercial off-the-shelf technologies in a novel way. With four major releases since fall 2006, CIDNE has become standard for enemy activity reporting in Iraq, though it has not been adopted Army-wide. Like FusionNet, CIDNE has a suite of tools generally used at brigade and above. Discussions are underway for linking CIDNE and TIGR to address the needs of higher-echelon staff users that CIDNE serves and the patrol leaders that are served by TIGR.
MarineLink was conceived about the same time as TIGR and CIDNE. MarineLink is similar to the other programs in that it is a web-based system developed by a small team of software engineers working directly with troops in the field to fill an operational need. What really set MarineLink apart was the rapidity with which it was adopted across the Marine Corps and became ubiquitous among Marine units. In contrast, FusionNet essentially ceased to exist outside of the XVIII Airborne Corps, while CIDNE and TIGR are generally restricted to Iraq.
What made the difference was the fielding system the Marine Corps had in place for networked software. While the requirements are the same as those for the Army Ã¢â‚¬â€ with regard to bandwidth, information security and other requirements Ã¢â‚¬â€ the Marine Corps has put emphasis on expediting review and approval for new systems that meet operational needs in the field. The result is Marines have the information technology they need down to the lowest level and have in place the infrastructure to support the program worldwide.
FusionNet, TIGR and CIDNE were able to reach theater rapidly because theater commanders approved Ã¢â‚¬Å“at riskÃ¢â‚¬Â operation. They are still bogged down with further certification.
Though the Army has made an effort to streamline its acquisitions process and had some successes, the process for information technology remains slow. It is important to protect networks, to ensure unity of effort and to ensure IT platforms can communicate with one another. However, the process could be made to operate more efficiently. With MarineLink, the Marine Corps demonstrated an ability to do in months what takes the Army years.
A great deal has been made of the Ã¢â‚¬Å“revolution in military affairsÃ¢â‚¬Â that accompanied the incorporation of information technology into U.S. military forces. We must keep in mind a similar revolution has occurred among the nonstate enemies the U.S. is confronting in Iraq, Afghanistan and the wider war on terrorism. Our enemies have access to wireless communications, satellite communications, the Internet, computers and many of the same software tools used within the military. They have relatively flat hierarchies, so information can flow quickly from one group to the next. Attacks can be planned and coordinated via e-mail, executed with the assistance of cell phones and reported for propaganda value on a Web site.
The information technology employed by insurgents and terrorists is easy to use, inexpensive and readily available via commercial channels. Because these are relatively small organizations, they are able to upgrade capabilities rapidly.
To maintain an information edge, the U.S. military must be able to keep pace with much smaller, nimbler organizations. Lessons taken from experience developing TIGR, FusionNet, CIDNE and MarineLink indicate we can do much better in this.
Getting scientists and troops together is not enough, however. Other steps are necessary to get software fielded in a timely fashion.
For instance, the Army gives no special priority for the certification of networked hardware or software specifically designed for troops in combat. It can take months or years of testing and evaluation to officially clear systems for the field. In contrast, the Marines and Special Forces have created fast-track certification for wartime IT.
The software explored in this article also demonstrates the value of Web-based databases for counterinsurgency.
Finally, information must be allowed to flow freely from peer to peer and between echelons in counterinsurgency operations.
his does not mean allowing an information free-for-all. There must be procedures in place to ensure the quality of reporting and security of information. The information must be allowed to flow, however, or we will be at a permanent disadvantage.
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