Official: More tech needed vs. terror

'We just don't have enough UAVs' in Afghanistan, the Army's senior intelligence officer says

The Army could use more unmanned aerial vehicles and other technology tools, such as automated translators, to support the war on terrorism, according to the service's senior intelligence officer.

"We just don't have enough UAVs" in Afghanistan, Lt. Gen. Robert Noonan Jr., the Army's deputy chief of staff for intelligence, said during an April 9 press briefing that was part of an asymmetric warfare symposium sponsored by the Association of the U.S. Army.

Noonan said that the allied forces involved in joint military operations in Afghanistan and other countries could benefit from more UAVs now and advanced models in the future. He added that having more UAVs to deploy during last month's Operation Anaconda in eastern Afghanistan could have saved U.S. lives.

Noonan said UAVs — including the Air Force's Predator, a vehicle used for surveillance, reconnaissance and targeting that is armed with a TV camera, an infrared camera and radar — have been extremely useful in battlefields by identifying and following enemy targets. That enables the Army to get into the enemy's decision-making processes.

In the future, Noonan said he'd like to see UAVs that are armed, can travel greater distances and work in different environments, such as the jungle. He also said that the Army has to rely on the Air Force to supply Predators but should have similar technology available later this year.

Among the technologies that will benefit soldiers in the future are automated translators. Noonan said versions are available now, but they are not as robust as the service would like. The technology also could alleviate the burden on linguists: The United States spends millions of dollars on linguists and is operating with a shortage.

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 then shipping them back to the United States electronically, usually late at night when the 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 allied forces are facing an enemy technological environment that includes satellite communications and notebook computers running commercial off-the-shelf software for encryption, none of which is in English.

All of that aids 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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