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Army trying to get better grasp on war zone intelligence.

Seeking to improve soldiers' intelligence-gathering skills and cultural awareness, the Army is introducing a number of changes to its training and education programs.

Under the banner of "every soldier is a sensor," the Army is pushing the notion that ground troops are primary sources of valuable battlefield intelligence.

Throughout the occupation and counterinsurgency operations in Iraq, an Army team of intelligence experts observed that during routine patrols, U.S. soldiers would interact with Iraqis and other local people, collecting potentially valuable data. But the Army has no established process to capture that data quickly enough to turn it into practical intelligence.

During a three-month period last year, for example, of 400,000 patrols in Iraq, only 6,000 reports were generated. "That's not good," said Lt. Col. Steve Iwicki, Army deputy director for actionable intelligence. Although a division commander may have up to 15,000 sensors on the battlefield, human intelligence prove to be the most helpful in complex war zones such as Iraq, be explained.

Starting with basic training, all Army schools, including non-commissioned officer and warrant officer courses, will teach the "every soldier is a sensor" concept, Iwicki told reporters. "The goal is to make soldiers better observers and reporters of information."

While the Army Training and Doctrine Command updates the school curricula, units preparing for deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan are trained by "mobile teams" from the Army Intelligence School, based in Fort Huachuca, Ariz. "They train forces in the field to do better tactical questioning and reporting," said Iwicki. "We trained all units before they deployed." The next step is to prepare soldiers as they go through the Arrays education system.

The 25th Infantry Division, while deployed in Afghanistan, came up with a commonsense technique to help improve the intelligence collection process. A battalion typically has an intelligence shop of five to seven people, which quickly gets overwhelmed by the amount of intelligence that is collected and processed. So the division set up "battalion intelligence liaison teams" composed of two soldiers who were not necessarily intelligence specialists, but rather "motivated guys who wanted to help," Iwicki said.

Every day, the liaison team would make the rounds to every company headquarters and collect reports on patrols or reconstruction activities, for example. "They bring the information to the battalion headquarters and help get it into the system, so the division has access to the information," Iwicki explained. He noted that the liaison teams were not allowed to screen or interrogate suspects.

The plan is to expand this model down to lower echelons. "We still haven't solved the problem at the company level," he added. "We are looking at that."

To help automate intelligence collection, the Army is buying 1,000 handheld computers known as "commander's digital assistants." Most of the new CDAs will be sent to Iraq, and some to Afghanistan. The $11,000 device has satellite connectivity, and can provide real-time updates on the locations of friendly forces in the area. The main function of the CDA, however, will be to digitize the intelligence soldiers pick up on daily patrols, Iwicki said.

Rather than having to manually type in information, soldiers can click on pre-programmed "pick lists," said Lynn Schnurr, director of information management at the Army Intelligence Directorate. Lists include vehicle types and colors, and people's physical descriptions, among other things.

Without this technology, the information gets passed along via radio or telephone, and it may take days or weeks before arty of it gets into the division's database.

Soldiers typically carry an FM radio, and pass messages to the squad leader. The message chain moves up to the platoon leader, the company commander and the battalion commander, Iwicki explained. "Maybe by the time it gets to the brigade level, someone will type up a report that is put into the system."

The system in this case is a central database that division commanders can tap into. The Army purchased a commercial software tool called "Analyst's Notebook," to help intelligence experts weed through massive loads of information.

Units in Iraq also have installed biometrics systems to automate the identification of individuals, such as detainees, and to prevent fraud.

But these technologies, no matter how advanced, still cannot help solve a fundamental intelligence problem soldiers confront day to day in Iraq: how to identify friendly locals, combatants or suicide bombers in an environment where everyone blends together.

The solution is to instill more cultural awareness into military training, said Iwicki. The Army is now making that part of the pre-deployment training, he said.

"After the initial training, combined with their experience on the ground, they are starting to understand who are the local guys that are a threat and who are not," he said. The system is "not perfect, but it is better." Cultural awareness training is a "ramp-up process" that starts as the unit gets ready to deploy, and works with mobile training teams.

"You can't just look at someone on the street cold and understand if he is good or bad," Iwicki said. A combinational of lessons learned by other units and information passed along by civil affairs eams who interact with locals helps arriving troops understand who in the village are the enemies.

The lack of cultural awareness has been a constant problem for the U.S. military, noted Kelly McCann, a retired Marine who now works for a private security contractor.

In the United States, "we recognize people's facial features," said McCann. "But when we go to Pakistan, Pakistanis all sort of look the same, because we don't have experience looking at them. That's a huge problem."
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Title Annotation:Upfront
Author:Erwin, Sandra I.
Publication:National Defense
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Oct 1, 2004
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