Leadership: March 25, 2004

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The 2003 Iraq war will be noted for the large number of "lessons learned," and actually acted on. Not just stuff like what weapons and tactics worked, or didn't, but what "pig picture" stuff needs some improvement. The USJFCOM (US Joint Forces Command) is a Department of Defense organization in charge of transformation, experimentation, joint training, interoperability and force provision. In plain English, JFCOM is supposed to look at ways to make the services work better together in wartime. After examining how the services cooperated during the Iraq campaign. JFCOM identified four areas that needed a lot of work. There are;

Deployment Planning and Execution. Each of the services has plans for gathering their forces and getting to a combat zone. But these plans do not include a lot about how cooperation with the other services would happen. For example, the air force controls all the air transports, and air force mobilization and deployment plans give highest priority to air force needs. But the army and navy have important stuff that needs to be flown over, and getting use of the air force transports often involves a lot of high level wrangling. These problems can be solved by having the Department of Defense sign off on each services mobilization plans, working out conflicts and contradictions ahead of time. But there's always the problem of keeping this information current. To do this means getting each of the services to keep in mind that they are part of a joint force and to keep the other services up to date on changes in plans. Another problem JFCOM noted here was in the mobilization of reserve forces. This is mostly an army problem, as the army has the largest number of reserve forces. But if the army has problems mobilizing its reserves, it soon becomes everyones problems.

Coalition Information Sharing. This is primarily problems with the different services sharing combat and support information as the mobilization went forward, and after combat had begun. But there are also problems dealing with foreign allies. It's hard enough getting the services to hook up with each other and constantly exchange useful information. With foreigners you have even less peacetime contact. Another part of the problem is deciding what information is important to the service you are sending it to. Send too much stuff, and important things get lost in the mass of unimportant material. The solution is to go look at how these problems were hastily worked out with improvised solutions during wartime, and make those procedures a permanent part of how the services operate. In the past, the wartime cooperation quickly disappeared once the services went back to their peacetime ways. That is changing because, for example, all the services have become enamored with TST (Time Sensitive Targeting). That is, hitting valuable targets as soon as they were spotted, and before they could move. This was most apparent in the attempts to find Saddam Hussein and drop a bomb on him. But there are also targets like missile launchers, and even combat units, that are hit most effectively, if at all, as quickly as possible after someone spots them. Army ground units, and particularly Special Forces teams, often spot TSTs. CIA agents deep in enemy territory can also find a TST, and quickly transmit the GPS coordinates. Even CIA controlled spy satellites will often find a valuable, but mobile, target. If the information can move quickly enough through the military networks and bureaucracy, the bombs, missiles or artillery can be brought to bear in time. So information sharing has to be speeded up, as well as made more appropriate to the task. Things like TST, and real time video from UAVs (or front line troops) has made the services more in touch with each other, and they all find that they like it.

Fratricide Prevention. This means avoiding "friendly fire." Most of it involves air force warplanes firing at friendly troops. This has been going on since World War II. Incidents have been declining steadily, and incidents of friendly ground troops firing on each other were very low in Iraq. But the air force still has problems. Despite the low number of such incidents, they all get a lot of publicity and this is bad for morale and the confidence troops have to have in the air force the next time they call on air power in combat. Progress can be made, as witness the way the army and marines have organized and trained their own air forces for supporting their own ground troops. Some of this is simply training pilots more intensively to recognize who is who on the ground. The benefit of this can be seen by the greater confidence army troops have when marine warplanes are supporting them, versus air force aircraft. Apparently JFCOM is determined to learn from the sorry history of friendly fire and install some changes that with stick, and work.

BDA (Battle Damage Assessment). This is all about confirming that a target you attacked, usually from the air, was destroyed, or was not and needs a little more attention. The U.S. Air Force has consistently had problems with this since World War II. BDA was not as large a problem in the recent Iraq and Afghanistan campaigns because there was often someone on the ground near the target to verify the degree of destruction. In Iraq, this was usually friendly ground forces or helicopters, advancing so fast that it was easy to verify destruction. In Afghanistan, there weren't many important targets that were not attacked without the help of Special Forces teams actually observing the target and calling in the bombs. Another advantage of recent vintage is the growing availability of UAVs using video cameras that simultaneously broadcast their pictures, via satellite link, to users worldwide. This is crucial for good BDA, because just one picture of the bombed site is often deceptive. People on the ground learned (and never forgot) during World War II that if you can make a bombed location look like it was put out of action (when it wasn't) you can carry on, secure in the knowledge that the Americans have crossed that place off their target list. Up through the 1999 Kosovo bombing campaign, this technique, and other ancient deceptions, were used quite successfully. The air force is still vulnerable to a large list of ground deceptions, and JFCOM is making yet another effort to get ahead of the trickery down there.

 


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