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November 22, 2004

New truths, old truths, timeless truths.

Soldiers from the 82nd Engineer Battalion, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, clear a house in Fallujah, Iraq, where some insurgents have holed up. US Army Photo by Pvt. Brandi Marshall.

Think about what it takes to do that, house after house, day after day, week after week. Cops know what it's like, though cops don't usually face people with quite the same armament these guys face.

From an email I received last week (a forward, not addressed to me, I don't move in this guy's circle). I do however, wallow in this environment, and I am one of the quasi-Luddites who always ask the question, "Yeah, it's neat, but does it help the soldier?" I also concur with the statement in there regarding a lack of realism in our testing and development - but now that I work on the analysis side of that (and have worked on the developmental and operational sides) I'm not sure there's a heck of a lot that can be done, because it's hard to engender and maintain the 'need to learn and adapt' in peacetime that happens instantly in combat.

Bottom line - it still takes the 19 year old with a bayonet to finish the job, with some older farts like Dusty and I giving guidance and direction.

There is still no substitute for the warrior at the sharp end, willing to kill for that piece of dirt, and die to protect it and the inhabitants thereof. Anything that doesn't enhance that is a waste of time and money. And yes, Virginia, that *does* include Peace Keeping/Enforcement and Nation Building etc...

I've reviewed the articles that you sent to me. They were interesting reading but I would like to provide my perspective having been here last year and now with III Corps. What I share below is unclassified and much of my work over the last year has been in the classified realm so please understand if there are logic gaps. Also, I'm very tired so please excuse the grammar and syntax. I hope my comments are useful as you pursue the ABCS [Army Battle Command System - command and control computers. ed] evaluation.

The first thing I would tell you is that reporters for the most part are here for only a few days and are ignorant (not counting the embedded reporters who have experienced and learned). The majority of the press doesn't understand what they are looking at and are seeking graphic images and "action" shots. Having disparaged the press I need to emphasize that the real heroes are our Soldiers and Marines. These kids improvise, adapt and overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles. Using the MICLIC [Mine Clearing Line Charge, ed.] to clear roadways is a significant tool in their favor and I support them. Improvised Explosive Deices (IEDs) is responsible for approximately 63% of our casualties so predetonating hidden explosives is a plus. I worked with the Meerkat and Buffalo last year when landmines were a problem. Now the Buffalo is the hero because of its articulating arm is able to move IEDs with the operator safely behind armor and bullet proof glass. The enemy has progressed their hardware, tactics and techniques in 18 months over the evolution of technical development from 1970 to 2002. If you were to look at the history of Northern Ireland from 1970 to today you will see striking similarities.

Warlock, until it broke in the press, was a classified system that provides an electronic umbrella to protect the Soldier from remote controlled IEDs. The device is successful but with electronic counter-measures you never really know if the device works. When I travel over the road we have a Warlock that protects us and it is quite comforting knowing the system is on. I can tell you from firsthand experience that the IED is deadly and indiscriminant. It is also a psychological weapon as we do everything possible to up-armor our trucks.

Using existing technology that is relatively old such as Spectre
(AC-130) gunship and Cobra (AH-1W) can break the enemy's back with Specters 105mm howitzer, 40mm Bofors rapid fire cannons, and my favorite are the Vulcan 20mm "gatling" guns or the 25mm Gatling gun in newer aircraft. What make these platforms so effective are the state of the art navigation systems, electronic counter-measures, and most importantly night vision capability. As the Spectre crews say "You can run, but you will only die tired".

The Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) has become a significant platform for the commander. Sitting at my desk, looking at my SIPR (Secret Internet Protocol Router, the military's secure Internet, ed.] monitor, I can watch streaming video of live feeds from the UAV. In the JOC [Joint Operations Center, ed], as an example, they've watched guys vaporized while emplacing a mortar tube or large groups of subversives destroyed with a single precision bomb. Not much more I can say about this wonderful system - it works. The UAV is extremely effective and expensive but those three guys will never fire another mortar or the group of subversives will attack free Iraqi Citizens or Coalition Forces.

Raw combat power is the only way to take and hold ground. Mass is critical at the decisive point and time in a battle. The Stryker can't lead an attack into a fortified enemy stronghold. The M1 Abrams and the M2/M3 Bradley are well suited for this task of the Attack. All of the technical developments for weapons and related systems allow our Soldiers and Marines to get closer to the enemy so that the last 100 meters doesn't come at a huge human cost for Coalition Forces. The less of our guys who are killed and maimed the better. From the news you can see the Coalition Forces and Iraqi Forces are very effective in Fallujah. Urban fighting is dangerous and expensive but I'm confident we killed a lot of bad guys with our technology and minimize collateral damage. A point needs to be made about the Iraqi Soldier. They are wonderful people who want a free Iraq and are fighting and dieing every day in a higher proportion than the Coalition Forces. While their losses are terrible their willingness to fight alongside our men and women is a good indication that the formerly oppressed society is healing.

ABCS as we know it [emphasis mine, ed] was a failure. The ability of the Soldier to improvise, adapt and overcome obstacles with innovative concepts allowed them to take technology and leverage it. The most significant shortfall experienced last year was bandwidth which all but shutdown any of the ABCS systems and stovepipe development that hindered interoperability. That also created second order effects of not being able to get inside of the enemy's decision cycle. I believe the reason much of the equipment didn't work is because during testing we allowed contactors to maintain the equipment and the tests were neither rigorous nor realistic. Millions of dollars later the systems are improved in 2004 than they were in 2003. The Fog of War is something that is lost on the development side of science and technology. We are not fighting dim-witted boobs. The enemy leaders are educated and well versed in subversion and guerilla warfare. Many, I believe, are veterans of Chechnya and Afghanistan and have been trained by organizations such as the IRA or Al Qaeda. The bottom line is the subversives are fighting hard and taking tactical advantage by using immoral, unethical, and illegal tactics. These are criminal organizations pretending to be Nation States. [emphasis in original]

Finally, what I believe is most important is that we recognize that it isn't technology that wins wars, it is the Soldier, Sailor, Airman, or Marine using that technology to close the last 100 meters. Our best contribution to the Soldier is that we give them reliable equipment that works the first time (bring back the MILSPEC) [Military Specification, ed] and the training to properly use those tools to make them successful. Just because the equipment works in the laboratory or at the NTC [National Training Center, ed] doesn't mean it is ready for "prime time". Logistics is a forgotten aspect of what we do. As you develop the ABCS ensure that logistics is part of the solution. The Warfighters are merely 10% of the force (tip of the spear) and the rest are service and support personnel who must maintain the equipment that the Warfighter needs. U.S. Casualties are proportionally distributed, I believe, across the combat arms, combat support and combat-service support Soldiers. There is no moral (sic) problem - Soldiers are excited about doing their job but they deserve the right tools for the job and superior training.

Today I am headed west of Baghdad for several days to do technical evaluations on captured enemy equipment. As I prepare to depart I'm thinking that this action is truly a non-linear (asymmetric) conflict. We have to destroy enemy fighters while quelling an insurgency and not alienating the Iraqi people. The Iraqi people are a good folk who want stability and a prosperous future for their families. Technology has allowed us, to a high degree of success, to attack the insurgent and minimize collateral damage. Human Factors Engineering is critical to ensuring we improve Soldier performance, readiness, safety and TRAINING. This is lost on the science and technology community.

If you just surfed in from a link and aren't bored to death - you might like the follow-up post.