Intelligence: How Do You Know?

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October 27, 2009: The U.S. Air Force, long a leader in technological innovation, is reinventing the wheel, and running into problems figuring out if it will work when used. This all began over the last decade as the air force has rediscovered target networks. The air force is revising its combat planning process to better analyze the overall impact of bombing different types of targets.

JEFX (Joint Expeditionary Force Experiment) is what the Air Force is calling a series of annual experiments that try out new technologies, to see how they can improve their ability to do the most damage to enemy military capability, in the shortest amount of time, and using the least number of bombs. As the air force puts it, JEFX, “provides new capabilities and machine-to-machine information flow between intelligence preparation of the battlespace, targeting, information collection management and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance management tools.” In plain English that means that more powerful computers, communications and software are going to be used to speed up the analysis of targets in terms how they fit into the overall enemy war effort, and what effect bombing any particular target will have on the overall enemy war capabilities.

However, this concept was first developed and used during World War II. Back then, the system ran into problems when it tried to figure out how to most effectively use heavy bombers to disrupt German war production. Many mistakes were made, because the German wartime economy was not well understood and, perhaps more importantly, efforts to accurately measure the effect of the bombs on German targets often failed. The Germans were well aware of this measurement problem, and actively, and successfully, camouflaged damaged, but still functioning factories, so they appeared to be out of action.

After World War II, the air force didn’t give up on “target analysis,” but believed that it was no longer as critical. With nuclear weapons, there was now sufficient firepower to shut down everything in an enemy economy, not to mention killing most of the enemy population. There was one problem with this strategy; no one was willing to use it. Once the Soviets got nuclear weapons in the 1950s, nuclear warfare became too dangerous to use. So the air force had to step back and try to improve the World War II target analysis methods.

But a major problem remained. Intelligence capabilities were still not up to the task of accurately measuring the impact of the bomb strikes. This process is called BDA (Bomb Damage Assessment), has been the weak link in air force planning for the past sixty years. An example of this was seen most recently during the 2003 Iraq war, where the attempt to kill senior Iraqi leaders failed, because there was insufficient information on where these guys were. Same story in 1999 in Kosovo. The air force thought they were destroying hundreds of Serb armored vehicles. But the Serbs were good at World War II era deceptions, and it was later discovered that only a few dozen vehicles were actually hit.

JEFX may improve the ability to figure out the impact of destroying a particular target. But the basic BDA problem remains. The air force is no better off when it comes to knowing if a target is indeed out of action. The situation has gotten worse when it comes to Internet based warfare, where you can't use aerial photos to get a look at what damage you may have done. This is seen as an increasingly difficult problem.

Work does continue on improving BDA, but it must be kept secret. If the other guy knows exactly what your new BDA methods are, he has a better chance of coming up with ways to deceive them. The air force doesn’t like to talk about it, but it’s biggest weakness since World War II has been BDA, and intelligence work in general. These weaknesses have cost many pilots, and soldiers on the ground, their lives, and will continue to do so until there are some breakthroughs in the BDA area.

 


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