Army seeks to root out urban foes

The Army is reviewing available technology that could be used to help troops detect, identify and locate both friendly and hostile forces in cities as quickly as possible.

The Army's Intelligence and Information Warfare Directorate is reviewing responses to a recent request for information for technology that can be used to gather intelligence and fight enemy forces in urban settings by picking up radio signals generated by their high-tech equipment. However, such battles, especially in foreign cities, pose numerous problems for the Army, not the least of which is quickly distinguishing "bad guys" from innocent civilians, said Fran Orzech, chief of the directorate's information operations technology development branch.

That task becomes even more difficult when enemy forces seek to mask their activities by setting up command and control centers using communications equipment in hospitals, schools and other facilities, where innocent civilians work, he said. The "sheer density of radio frequency signals" emitted from those commercial systems — plus wireless phone and paging systems — add yet another complicating factor.

"We need to precisely locate [the enemy command and control hubs] to decrease collateral damage" whenever and wherever possible, Orzech said.

Given the profusion of commercial products that emit radio signals, tactical troops need specialized tools for tracking and identifying them, said Loren Thompson, defense analyst at the Lexington Institute, an Arlington, Va., think tank.

"The message of the Information Age is that even the most primitive enemies have access to dozens of communications [tools], and they're all digital and all operating at different frequencies," Thompson said. "We need to scan them all to find the one that matters."

As an example, Thompson noted that about three months ago, Pakistani police found an al Qaeda operative in a hotel room surrounded by three satellite phones and six laptop computers.

"It's not enough for the [National Security Agency] to point a satellite at a city. Tactical forces need their own organic ability to track these signals," he said.

The Army's RFI, which was issued Dec. 11, 2002, and closed Dec. 23, garnered 15 responses from public and private organizations. It is part of a new four-year science and technology program — called Information Operations for the Objective Force (IOOF) — that is focused on adapting sensor technology, signal processing techniques and computer network operations for the Army's use.

Objective Force seeks to develop advanced information technology tools, vehicles and weapons that will make the Army's armored forces better able to survive an all-out fight. The centerpiece of that effort is the Future Combat Systems, which will equip Army vehicles with information and communications tools that soldiers can use for command and control, surveillance and reconnaissance, direct and non-line-of-sight weapons firing, and personnel transport.

The RFI covered four major components of interest to the Army:

* Existing high-sensitivity receiver systems that operate in the 20 MHz to 18 GHz range and are capable of detecting, discriminating and identifying operating protocols or information associated with sources of radio frequency radiation up to 2,000 meters away.

* Software algorithms that will analyze data from receivers and allow the Army to discriminate individual sources of radio frequency radiation and/or determine their geographical location in a high-density environment.

* Protocol-recognition technologies that can work with input from high-sensitivity receivers and identify the underlying operating protocol 95 percent of the time or better.

* Algorithms that will process available signal data using traffic analysis tools to further identify potential enemy targets.

"We are going to look at what we've got in the next week or two and see who has something [that can] benefit" IOOF, said David Potter, technical manager for the RFI. "It's a fairly big problem with a lot of different aspects. We want to see if there [are] bits and pieces we can put together."

Once Army officials have reviewed the RFI responses and identified in-house capabilities, they will decide whether to issue a request for proposals or begin awarding smaller, individual contracts.

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Technology wish list

In addition to high-sensitivity receiver systems, Army officials are looking for other technology that will aid troops fighting in urban areas, including:

* Commercially available telecommunications intercept and identification capabilities.

* Global Positioning System technology.

* Data-filtering solutions.

* Sensor correlation.

* Multipath signal analysis.

Source: U.S. Army

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