Iraq offers glimpses into ISR future

Having better intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities than the enemy helped coalition forces during Operation Iraqi Freedom, but the conflict also illustrated that more work is needed on ISR supporting urban operations, according to Army officials.

Superior ISR is a cornerstone of urban warfare success, according to Keith Masback, director of ISR integration in the office of the Army deputy chief of staff for intelligence. He noted that examples of success in Iraq included being able to differentiate between friends and foes in the local population and sparing historical landmarks from bombings.

"There were glimpses, or a porthole, into the future of how we're going to operate," Masback said during a May 20 ISR conference in Washington, D.C., sponsored by Defense Week.

Another preliminary lesson learned from Iraq is that "reach works," he said. When intelligence personnel need something, they don't care where it comes from as long as they get it at the right time.

To the Army, ISR is more than targeting, it's also understanding the overall culture in a variety of operations, including peacemaking and peacekeeping, said Masback, a former Army intelligence officer who has been at his current post for about a year.

The Army needs new urban ISR tactics, techniques and procedures (TTPs), doctrine, equipment, and training to be successful in the future, he said.

Lt. Col. Mike Hanley, chief of the doctrine division at the Army's Infantry School, Fort Benning, Ga., agreed and said fusing ISR information at the battalion level is insufficient because squad leaders can die and the next in command must be prepared. That requires a joint common operation picture down to soldier level, he said.

"There is no more difficult environment than the urban environment" because of the density of the terrain, human beings and infrastructure, as well as extremely compressed timelines and distances, Hanley said. "It's imperative to understand all characteristics so we can function."

In addition to better imaging and friendly-force tracking, Masback said the Army also needs to rapidly intercept, track, locate and translate enemy communications. He added that many of these capabilities overlap with homeland security missions and personnel.

For example, a firefighter can pull up to a blazing building and know just by looking at it where the main beams and different types of walls are. Soldiers and Marines need that same kind of intelligence so the information is relevant at the "point of decision," Masback said.

To accomplish those goals, the Army and entire Defense Department must invest today in tomorrow's tools, including technologies designed for the soldier, better sensor grids, enhanced networks with horizontally fused data, and detailed modeling and simulation to give soldiers experience with urban warfare before they arrive in a combat zone, he said.

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