Official: Army needs more tech to fight terror

The Army needs more unmanned aerial vehicles and other technology to support the war on terrorism, according to the service's senior intelligence officer.

UAVs — including the Air Force's Predator, a vehicle that uses a TV camera, an infrared camera and radar for surveillance, reconnaissance and targeting — have been successful in battle by identifying and following enemy targets, said Lt. Gen. Robert Noonan Jr., the Army's deputy chief of staff for intelligence.

That information gives Army commanders a glimpse into the enemy's decision-making processes, making it easier to anticipate and counter their actions.

Having more UAVs to deploy during last month's Operation Anaconda in eastern Afghanistan could have saved U.S. lives, Noonan said during an April 9 press briefing, which was part of a symposium on asymmetric warfare sponsored by the Association of the U.S. Army. "We just don't have enough UAVs," he said.

John Pike, a former defense analyst with the Federation of American Scientists and now director of GlobalSecurity. org, a nonprofit organization, said the Army needs more UAVs and vehicles that are tailored to the groups they support.

"The problem is not simply one of not enough UAVs, but also one of the right kinds of UAVs that are integrated across all echelons," Pike said. "At least one problem in Afghanistan was in trying to use UAVs that were designed to support division or corps operations, to support operations by battalions or smaller units in direct contact with the enemy."

Noonan also wants to supply soldiers with automated translators. He said some devices are available now, but they are not as robust as the service would like, forcing the United States to spend millions of dollars on linguists.

Soldiers are now equipped with low-tech translation tools, such as a few common phrases on paper and some basic names and descriptions of the most-wanted enemies, but that should change by the end of the decade. "We talk about embedding [an automated translator] on every soldier — [and] that's not out of the realm of possibility" within about eight years, Noonan said.

One technological area where the Army is already reaping benefits in Afghanistan is document exploitation. The service is digitizing tens of thousands of documents recovered in Afghan caves and other areas and shipping them back to the United States electronically, usually late at night when more bandwidth is available, Noonan said.

In addition to paper documents, the Army also is recovering laptop computers, which add a "whole new dimension" to the service's intelligence-gathering efforts, he said.

Maj. Gen. Steven Boutelle, the Army's program executive officer for command, control and communications systems, said Afghan forces have technology of their own, including satellite communications and notebook computers running commercial off-the-shelf software for encryption, none of which is in English.

All of that helps the enemy, as does the fact that they do not have to go through a lengthy acquisition or operational testing process, Boutelle said. "They can just buy it and use it."


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