Commanders lament analysis dearth

SAN DIEGO — Despite massive advances in technology during the dozen years that separated the two wars in Iraq, several battlefield commanders say they need more, specifically in the area of data analysis.

Speaking at a panel on lessons learned from Iraq and Afghanistan at the West 2004 conference, sponsored by AFCEA International and the U.S. Naval Institute, Air Force Brig. Gen. Greg Power, vice commander of the 8th Air Force, said people in his command were overwhelmed with raw data.

"The Global Hawk was awesome and the amount of data that it collects is incredible," Power said. "The thing that we've learned from our lessons learned is that the Global Hawk will collect all of this great data, dump it down to the people and we got so much data that we were overwhelmed. So we had the Global Hawk go off into a holding pattern and we told it, 'Don't send us any more stuff.' "

Power said industry needs to look to the machine-to-machine interface between the Global Hawk and certain command and control systems to "take the human element out of the picture."

"In a fast-moving war, it's incredibly important to have that data stream continuously flowing," he said. "So we lost time there because we spent time analyzing an overabundance of data."

Analysts have predicted that a truly networked fighting force could rapidly become overwhelmed by the amount of data flowing down to them, and that solutions need to be developed to filter out excess information. But on the other side of the coin, several military leaders have said that a soldier or Marine in a firefight can't have too much information, and that direct feeds from data collection platforms like unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) can play an important role in warfare.

Power, however, called on vendors to provide technologies that can filter out extraneous data and analyze it en route to a command center.

"From the strategic view, looking at what we did with that platform, we weren't utilizing the full capability that it provided because we couldn't handle what we were given," he said.

Other observation platforms, however, performed up to spec and beyond, Power said. During the now-infamous sandstorm that temporarily halted the march to Baghdad, Iraqi commanders assumed they were safe from allied strikes under the cover of the storm, and moved about openly.

Using the Joint Surveillance and Target Attack Radar System, aircraft were still able to "put warheads on foreheads," despite the weather, according to Power.

But other commanders suffered from a lack of hard intelligence data and performed what Marine Lt. Gen. James Conway, commander of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force, called "combat by discovery."

"Tactical intelligence was impeded by our speed of movement," Conway said. "We just didn't have enough time to get the reconnaissance out and mature the picture as to what was in front of the division and the regiment on a day-to-day basis. I don't think we can say we had too much" intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance.

Conway said if he could go back and do things differently, he would request more use of UAVs to gain a greater insight into what was in front of his troops.

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