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Countering Violent Extremist Organization High-Profile Attacks.


This article discusses how a special operations joint task force (JTF) developed an airborne intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (A-ISR) collection strategy employing the Gorgon Stare capability to answer priority intelligence requirements (1) critical to countering violent extremist organization (VEO) high-profile attacks (HPAs). (2) It also provides an assessment of Gorgon Stare's initial 30 days of collection in theater by analyzing measures of performance (3) and measures of effectiveness. (4) The intent of the article is to capture lessons learned from the application of the Gorgon Stare capability to provide intelligence support to counter-terrorism operations. And finally, the article provides recommendations for the future employment of the asset that are applicable in any theater of operation.

The JTF assessed that disruption of the VEO's support zone and HPA facilitation routes would have a significant impact on the network's ability to conduct HPAs. The JTF also assessed the best way to answer essential elements of information (5) regarding the HPA facilitation network was to exploit observables of enemy activity in the form of logistical support trains. Following these logistical support trains would likely lead to the identification of VEO training camps, as well as staging areas for lethal material or HPA operatives being transported out of the VEO's support zone.

To execute this strategy, the JTF identified "collection anchor points" (CAPs), (6) or ISR start points, by layering human intelligence, signals intelligence, theater and national collection, and geospatial analysis of terrain. These CAPs were initial locations of interest assessed to be associated with HPA training or facilitation. The JTF then employed the Gorgon Stare capability, conducting ISR follows from these static points of interest, specifically looking for indicators of logistical support activity to illuminate facilitation routes and compounds of interest actively in use by the enemy network. Focusing Gorgon Stare collection at these CAPs facilitated the confirmation or denial of enemy indicators, (7) enabling fix/finish options at critical nodes within the VEO's HPA training and facilitation networks.

Information Collection Strategy Development

The JTF began development of its A-ISR collection strategy by building a threat model for HPAs. The intent of this exercise was to identify intelligence gaps regarding the HPA cycle. The identification of these intelligence gaps then drove the development of information requirements, and eventually specific collection requirements, necessary to interdict HPAs.

The threat model in Figure 1 on the next page illustrates a general outline of the HPA cycle, derived from tactical, operational, and strategic level assessments, both internal and external to the JTF. The cycle begins with recruiting new VEO members in both physical and virtual spaces. It continues with training HPA operatives in the VEO's support zones, planning for specific HPA plots, executing the attack in urban terrain, and ultimately conducting media exploitation in the information space. Effective media exploitation then drives recruitment, reinforcing and iterating this cycle. The JTF used this broad threat model as a tool to identify intelligence gaps hindering the enterprise's full understanding of how VEOs recruit, train, plan for, facilitate, execute, and exploit HPAs.

Outlining the "knowns" of the HPA cycle in the form of a threat model helped the JTF to identify "unknowns" in the form of intelligence gaps. With the intent to develop an A-ISR collection plan, the team refined the intelligence gaps to only those that would drive information requirements that A-ISR observables and collectibles could answer. Access to recruitment spaces is limited; therefore, HPA planning has few targetable vectors outside of signals intelligence collection, and collecting on the execution and exploitation phases would fail to interdict HPAs before they occurred. As a result, the JTF determined that the HPA training and facilitation networks were the two best targetable vectors at which to direct an A-ISR collection strategy.

These conclusions led the JTF to hinge its counter-HPA collection strategy upon collection at locations associated with HPA training and facilitation, with tangible observables and collectibles of logistical support activity serving as enemy indicators.

A-ISR Collection Plan Methodology

The first logical step to translate the JTF's collection strategy into a coherent plan of action was to nominate A-ISR start points. The intent was to identify assessed HPA training facilities and/or lethal material facilitation nodes by layering multiple forms of intelligence. The JTF would then use these locations as "CAPs" at which to focus A-ISR collection. If HPA training/facilitation indicators were observed, the CAP would be nominated as a named area of interest (NAI) (8) for further pattern of life development. If indicators were not observed, the CAP would be shelved and removed from current collection priorities.

Each CAP also served as an A-ISR anchor point from which to conduct follows. Tasking A-ISR to conduct follows of vehicles or personnel assessed to be facilitating lethal material into and out of the VEO's support zones aligned A-ISR capabilities with observables that could be characterized as enemy activity by layering other forms of intelligence. Conducting ISR follows had the potential not only to identify facilitation routes actively in use by the VEO, but also to identify secondary compounds of interest, assisting in the nomination of locations for future collection. By layering all forms of available intelligence at these CAPs, this strategy would assist in the nomination and validation of NAIs, drive persistent surveillance and pattern of life development, and enable potential kinetic effects on the VEO's HPA training and facilitation networks.

Information Collection Plan Execution--Employment of Gorgon Stare

Completion of the JTF collection plan coincided with introduction of the Gorgon Stare capability into theater. Gorgon Stare provides contiguous overland wide area motion imagery (WAMI), allowing analysts to consistently find and track the movement of individual dismounts and large objects within a roughly 50 [km.sup.2] area. Equipped with two wide area airborne surveillance (WAAS) pods, one electro-optical and one infrared, Gorgon Stare images the entirety of the WAMI full field of view at two frames per second throughout the course of the vulnerability period (VUL). (9) Via the line of sight common data link, Gorgon Stare transmits this imagery either in standard definition or high definition to processing, exploitation, and dissemination (PED) cells and end users at the tactical level for viewing. The Gorgon Stare processor breaks down the WAMI field of view into multiple "subviews," with the intent to broadcast smaller fields of view for near-real-time PED, providing analysts with situational awareness over multiple geographically dispersed areas/compounds of interest. The Gorgon Stare processor can produce up to 48 subviews, depending upon the resolution requested and available bandwidth at the enduser level. Gorgon Stare also enables the end user to submit post-ingest exploitation requests for information to the continental United States-based PED cell, which is able to provide forensic tracks (10) of persons and vehicles of interest throughout the WAMI field of view. (11)

The JTF's collection plan required static pattern of life collection to characterize CAPs and identify the arrival and departure of logistical resupply trains; it also required a dynamic collection capability to conduct follows. Whereas this strategy would typically require two A-ISR assets or one dual-sensor asset to execute effectively, the JTF was able to execute static and dynamic collection tasks with one Gorgon Stare-equipped ISR platform.

Gorgon Stare end of mission products also allowed the team to validate NAIs effectively by providing a record of arrivals and departures of vehicles and personnel at CAPs over time. This data assisted the team in identifying which CAPs to shelve from current collection priorities and which CAPs had a level of activity warranting nomination as official NAIs. Recorded and tracked over time, these metrics offered excellent inputs to measure the effectiveness of the collection strategy.

The post-ingest exploitation capability also provided the ability to conduct an unlimited number of forensic vehicle or personnel follows falling within the WAMI field of view, limited only by PED manpower available. Because targetable signatures of HPA training/facilitation activity can be fleeting in nature, it was essential to have the capability to record all activity in a 50 [km.sup.2] area throughout the course of the VUL, review the feed, and analyze activity of interest that may not have been observed in the full motion video (FMV).

Forensically tracking vehicles and personnel through the WAMI field of view, and fully leveraging the continental United States-based PED capability, illuminated facilitation routes actively in use by the VEO to a degree not previously observed in theater. Conducting follows to illuminate facilitation routes is not a novel concept; however, the ability to leverage the system architecture of Gorgon Stare was an unprecedented opportunity to map and record critical nodes in the VEO's training and facilitation network. In particular, the opportunity to leverage the system included the geospatial intelligence data ingested and stored at the ground-based Gorgon Stare archive manager and the provided PED manpower to analyze that data.

To tailor the collection strategy to effectively employ Gorgon Stare, the JTF grouped its priority CAPs into 50 [km.sup.2] WAAS orbits daily. The JTF then directed the creation of a WAAS subview over each CAP, requesting near-real-time callouts of vehicle or personnel arrivals and departures within each subview. These near-real-time callouts served to cue the platform's FMV sensor to locations of interest and provide a record of activity of interest that may warrant a post-ingest exploitation request for information.

Measures of Performance and Measures of Effectiveness

Approaching the 30-day mark of the introduction of Gorgon Stare into theater, the JTF conducted an initial assessment of how well the asset had performed in theater and how effectively the asset had answered the JTF's priority intelligence requirements relating to HPA training and facilitation networks.

The goal of this assessment was threefold:

* First, to determine the efficacy of Gorgon Stare sensors in observing threat indicators and supporting the counter-HPA collection strategy.

* Second, to analyze the intelligence value of Gorgon Stare's post-ingest exploitation capability.

* Third, to provide an assessment of how successfully the team's collection strategy developed the JTF's understanding of HPA training and facilitation networks.

To achieve all three goals, the JTF divided measures of performance and measures of effectiveness into three categories: "sensor employment," "post-ingest exploitation capability," and "collection strategy." The end state of this assessment was to produce a body of data supporting recommendations to address any identified deficiencies in ISR performance or effectiveness.

Measure of Performance and Measure of Effectiveness Summary

During 96.8 hours of collection over 11 missions with Gorgon Stare, the JTF collected on 28 different CAPs. This collection--

* Enabled the development of pattern of life products on seven NAIs.

* Confirmed four lethal aid facilitation routes.

* Identified one possible HPA training facility.

* Facilitated one structure strike.

* Provided critical intelligence supporting one human intelligence-triggered operation targeting an HPA high-value individual.

Gorgon Stare's unique technical features provided the opportunity to illuminate lethal aid facilitation networks; drive the find, fix, finish, exploit, analyze, and disseminate cycle; and potentially interdict imminent HPA threats. The JTF also validated Gorgon Stare's employment in support of special operations forces-specific tactics, techniques, and procedures, specifically validating Gorgon Stare's use in support of aerial strike operations, human intelligence operations, and signals intelligence operations.

Lessons Learned

The application of the Gorgon Stare capability provided lessons learned about intelligence support to counterterrorism operations. The three main lessons were--

* Prioritize quality over quantity of collection.

* Validate CAPs and NAIs.

* Dedicate analytical manpower to Gorgon Stare.

Prioritize Quality over Quantity of Collection. The JTF designated an average of 7 to 10 WAAS subviews per ISR mission. Through analysis of end of mission products and the feedback from the PED cell, the JTF determined that eight subviews is the optimal number per mission due to a few limiting factors.

First, if employing the asset for pattern of life development on multiple compounds of interest, more than eight subviews will limit FMV collection at each location. On days when the platform executed a complete VUL, the FMV sensor was usually only able to soak each CAP twice before the asset's return to base time. By minimizing the number of subviews per mission, this will increase the volume of FMV collection at locations of interest, allowing more detailed pattern of life development over fewer VULs.

Second, more than eight subviews can saturate near-realtime callouts, clouding the tactical end user's ability to determine to which activity of interest to slew FMV. When FMV collection is sporadic, it is usually not of a high enough volume for the end user to glean any intelligence value. In order to maximize the value of FMV collection, the JTF recommends prioritizing compounds of interest and maximizing daily subview nominations at eight.

Third, having more than eight subviews significantly stresses PED capacity and may prevent the end user from receiving near-real-time callouts and end of mission "chip-out" products. The end user may have to decide between receiving near-real-time callouts, which cue FMV for follows, or end of mission chip-out products, which track arrivals and departures at compounds of interest. If the end user requires both near-real-time callouts and chip-out products, the best practice is to limit subview nominations to eight.

Validate Collection Anchor Points and Named Areas of Interest. The JTF recommends developing a standard operating procedure for when to nominate CAPs for NAI status and when to shelve CAPs from collection priorities. A potential way forward is to determine the number of essential elements of information that must be observed within a specific number of collection hours in order for a location of interest to either retain CAP status, lose CAP status, or be nominated as an official NAI.

Dedicate Analytical Manpower to Gorgon Stare. Properly managing the Gorgon Stare capability and employing it in support of targeting is exceptionally time-intensive. The JTF recommends dedicating an analyst to effectively manage the asset, submit detailed and proper ISR tasking guidance, analyze the collected data, and package and disseminate derived intelligence to the broader community.

A dedicated analyst to this asset also enables the systematic tracking of measures of performance and measures of effectiveness, enabling regular reports that describe the measures of performance and measures of effectiveness. In order to constantly refine and improve information collection, the JTF recommends regularly conducting formative and summative assessments for measures of performance and measures of effectiveness. Formative assessments after each mission help to fine-tune requirements for the next mission. Summative assessments would ideally occur at 30-, 60-, and 90-day intervals to refine the employment of the capability. (12)


The Gorgon Stare capability clearly demonstrated the potential to effectively illuminate HPA training and facilitation networks, directly enabling efforts to interdict HPAs. However, the collection strategy themes presented here are applicable to any problem set. These themes are--

* Begin with a threat model.

* Identify intelligence gaps.

* Align collection capabilities with collection requirements.

* Conduct regular assessments of measures of performance and measures of effectiveness.

The captured lessons learned regarding the employment of the Gorgon Stare capability also hold value for other task forces that may employ Gorgon Stare in the future.


(1.) "An intelligence requirement that the commander and staff need to understand the threat and other aspects of the operational environment." Office of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Joint Publication (JP) 2-01, Joint and National Intelligence Support to Military Operations (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Publishing Office [GPO], 5 July 2017), III-8.

(2.) For the purposes of this article, a high-profile attack is defined as any attack involving mass casualty producing tactics (person or vehicle-borne improvised explosive device, semi- or automatic weapon ambush in a crowded space, etc.) targeting noncombatants or host nation security personnel, usually in a major urban center. An effective high-profile attack usually results in non-insurgent casualties but is considered effective if it garners media attention for the violent extremist group that conducted the attack, regardless of how few casualties occurred.

(3.) "Represents a quantitative measure and answers two questions: whether the [intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance] ISR capability performed within technical standards and whether the planned collection was accomplished." Office of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, JP 2-01, B-7.

(4.) "Represents a qualitative measure and answers whether the collection that was accomplished satisfied the requirement." Ibid.

(5.) "The most critical information requirements regarding the adversary and the environment needed by the commander by a particular time to relate with other available information and intelligence in order to reach a logical decision." Office of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, JP 2-0, Joint Intelligence (Washington, DC: U.S. GPO, 22 October 2013), I-8.

(6.) Although "collection anchor point" is not a joint or Service doctrinal term, the joint task force used the term to facilitate a shared understanding and labeling of ISR start points.

(7.) "An item of information which reflects the intention or capability of an adversary to adopt or reject a course of action." Office of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, JP 2-0, GL-8.

(8.) "A geospatial area or systems node or link against which information that will satisfy a specific information requirement can be collected." Office of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, JP 2-01.3, Joint Intelligence Preparation of the Operational Environment (Washington, DC: U.S. GPO, 21 May 2014), GL-7.

(9.) A VUL refers to the "vulnerability period" or the time aircraft are away from the base and vulnerable. It is the complete time an aircraft is airborne, also known as a "sortie."

(10.) The movement of persons or vehicles of interest derived from reviewing wide area motion imagery after the ISR platform has landed and ingested data to the Ground Station Archive Manager. The continental United States-based Distributed Ground System-2 processing, exploitation, and dissemination cell can provide analysts stationed forward with these forensic tracks upon receipt of a request for information.

(11.) U.S. Air Forces Central Command, Reconnaissance Operations Center, Gorgon Stare Increment 2 (April 2017).

(12.) Office of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, JP 2-01, B-9.

by First Lieutenant Adria K. Penatzer

1LT Adria Penatzer is a student at the Maneuver Center of Excellence Captains Career Course. Previous assignments were targeting officer with the Military Intelligence Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, and tactical intelligence officer with the 16th Military Police Brigade. 1LT Penatzer graduated from the University of Virginia with two bachelor of arts degrees in foreign affairs-government and East Asian studies.

Measures of Performance:

1. Sensor Employment

1.1. Tasked versus actual collection hours

1.2. Total FMV collection hours

1.3. Number of WAAS observations

1.4. WAMI quality

2. Post-Ingest Exploitation Capability

2.1. Request for information processing

3. Collection Strategy

3.1. Number of dynamic and forensic follows enabled

3.2. Utilization of the post-ingest exploitation capability

Measures of Effectiveness:

1. Sensor Employment

1.1. Special operations forces-specific tactics, techniques, and procedures validated

2. Post-Ingest Exploitation Capability

2.1. Intelligence value of post-ingest exploitation products received

2.2. Number of requests for information resulting in new CAP nomination

3. Collection Strategy

3.1. Number of follows resulting in new CAP nomination

3.2. Number of CAPs with WAAS collection

3.3. Number of NAIs validated

3.4. Number of precision pattern of life products generated
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Author:Penatzer, Adria K.
Publication:Military Intelligence Professional Bulletin
Date:Apr 1, 2019
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