Army wants to make ‘every soldier a sensor’

By Stew Magnuson

ArmySensor“Every soldier is a sensor” is a catchphrase employed with increasing frequency by Army generals. But what does it mean?

To some, it is simply increasing awareness about the dangerous environments infantrymen find themselves in. To others, it is more literal: technology can be used to gather intelligence — observations, photos, etc. — and send it back to analysts.

Army Lt. Gen. William Boykin, undersecretary of defense for intelligence, said after the Vietnam War the Defense Department allowed the individual services to go their own way on intelligence gathering. The military lacked focus on the issue until the early 1990s when the need to improve intelligence gathering was recognized. Even then, there were few resources allocated to tackling the problem.

“Now we’re up against insurgents. And there’s nothing more important [in fighting an insurgency] than intelligence. And there’s nothing more important within the intelligence community than human intelligence,” Boykin said at a National Defense Industrial Association special operations conference.

For the military, human intelligence is much broader than the clandestine work carried out by the CIA, he said.

“Two guys in a spider hole putting eyes on

a target is human intelligence. A guy sitting in an attic of a building with a long telescope — that’s human intelligence,” he asserted. “It

can be clandestine. It can be overt.”

When the Army went to Iraq in 2003, it brought an intelligence system that was designed to fight conventional enemy formations, noted Col. Ralph O. Baker, former commander of the 2nd Brigade Combat Team of the Army’s First Armored Division. Once the brigade began cordon-and-search operations in Baghdad shortly after the invasion,

it became clear that the existing intelligence gathering, analysis, and evidence collection methods were all inadequate for countering an insurgency, Baker wrote in the March-April 2007 issue of the Army’s “Military Review.”

“Our ability to successfully prosecute intelligence operations was directly linked to the ability of our soldiers to collect, preserve and exploit evidence,” Baker wrote. “To remedy that, we initiated a training program to give our soldiers and leaders the skills they needed to manage evidence.”

Building on the lessons learned by units such as Baker’s and others, the Army is emphasizing the importance of intelligence operations at every level. The service is now pushing the “Every Soldier is a Sensor” slogan in basic training, said Lt. Gen. Thomas Metz, deputy commanding general and chief of staff of the Army Training and Doctrine Command.

“I want every soldier to believe it and make that come true. I want every soldier to know that he can make a difference. That he can be the sensor,” Metz told reporters at an Association of the United States Army conference. A computer simulation game named after the slogan is being used to test soldiers’ skills in detecting threats. There is also an “Every Soldier is a Sensor” lane at Ft. Jackson, S.C., where trainees move through a forest looking for anomalies — suspicious objects placed throughout the track that should make them pause. Some hazards are more obvious than others, such as wires sticking out of the ground.

“I want soldiers constantly scanning the world around them … I want them to be awake,” Metz said.

Gen. William Wallace, TRADOC commanding general, said he knows of drill sergeants who place sand bags under bunks to see how long it takes for a trainee to alert others that something is out of the ordinary. Sometimes it can take several days. Eventually the drill sergeant will ask the recruits if they noticed the bag, and if so, why they didn’t bring it to his attention.

For Boykin, all this is a positive sign that the Army is focusing on intelligence gathering. “That sounds like a counter insurgency concept,” he said of the soldier as sensor idea. It indicates that that task isn’t only the responsibility of special operators or Army scouts.

“It’s a recognition that every soldier on the street has something to add or something to contribute to the intelligence picture,” he said.

“We’re asking a lot of soldiers,” Metz said. “It takes a lot of training to build that ethic.”

Once that ethic has been instilled, the next step is to identify technologies that will help communicate and sort out all the information being gathered.

A program overseen by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency — the tactical ground reporting network, or TiGRNET — is helping four brigades share pictures, text and maps of what soldiers are observing while on patrol.

Mari Maeda, the manager for the project, said information gathered by patrol leaders or infantrymen normally goes up to a battalion intelligence officer, but doesn’t necessarily come back in any organized way. The soldiers feel that they’re sending information off into a void.

DARPA discovered that there are no standardized ways to write patrol reports, she told National Defense. Some units are strict about making the officers file reports, while others are lax.

When they do send off reports in Microsoft Word, the information often sits in an intelligence officer’s folder. If a squad leader wants to know what happened along a route the previous day, he must track down the intel officer, or get him to share the folder. And if he succeeds in accessing it, he may have to read through 20 pages of text or more to find out what he needs to know.

“The enemy is always patterning us. They know the routes we are constantly taking, but we’re not doing that for ourselves. We don’t have a systematic way of capturing which routes our guys are taking,” Maeda said.

TiGRNET — actually a software application rather than a network — allows soldiers to download intelligence into one program. The intelligence can include photos soldiers have taken with digital cameras, observations they have made and written in simple text or detailed maps of the areas gathered by Global Positioning System devices. Before leaving on patrol, they can study high-resolution satellite imagery of what routes they will be taking. Icons for roadside bombs, ambushes, or weapons caches populate the map so they don’t have to wade through the enormous text files. They can click on a roadside bomb icon, for example, to see if there is a picture showing where it was hidden. Currently, four battalions are testing the system in the 1st Cavalry Division in Iraq.

Because two brigades’ areas of operations may overlap, the browser allows them to check out problems encountered by other units in the same neighborhood.

“If you want to go on a certain route, in a certain neighborhood, then you want to find out what’s been happening in that locale … that seems like a real no-brainer,” Maeda said. “You think soldiers should have this in the fifth year of war, but they don’t.”

The sea change created by TiGRNET is that the junior officers and infantrymen have eliminated the middleman — the intelligence officer — and they can put the information they, and others, have gathered to immediate use, Maeda said. Patrol leaders now feel that they are getting something out of the reports they are submitting.

“We have closed the [intelligence gathering] circle,” she said. “The soldier is going to generate the report, [and] all that information is now available to him at his fingertips.”

The program is designed to be intuitive so it doesn’t require more than a few minutes of training, Maeda said. The users can highlight areas on the satellite imagery and enlarge a more detailed map of where they are going, or do a word search based on the names of neighborhoods or Iraqi citizens.

As for technology to gather information, DARPA has provided a few GPS-enabled cameras for TiGRNET users, but most soldiers are using their personal cameras.

Wallace said the feedback he has received on TiGRNET is encouraging. It turns the individual patrol leader or individual soldier into an intelligence gatherer, he said.

“They have a better appreciation of the environment in which they’re going to operate in the future based on past trends and practices,” Wallace said.

Since TiGRNET requires the user to download the information into a laptop at a forward operating base, it begs a question. Does every soldier need an individual communications device, or connection to a network, to transmit what they are seeing in real time?

Wallace said: “We have found through experimentation that there is an absolute necessity for the individual soldier to have the means to communicate on the battlefield.”

Three programs are under way that will look at giving each infantryman the means to transmit back to higher headquarters what they are seeing. The Land Warrior program is the Army’s first attempt to give every dismounted soldier a data communications device. That program has been zeroed out of the budget, but one combat brigade will deploy to Iraq with the equipment this month.

Metz said the brigade’s experience will “inform the future.” TRADOC will closely study how the communication devices are used in the battlefield.

“If a piece of technology really shines, I think the leadership of the Army and the nation will find the money” to fund it, he said.

Future Force Warrior, a technology demonstration program, will also look at ways to connect every soldier to a network. A follow-on program, tentatively called “ground soldier system,” will be deployed as part of the Army’s Future Combat Systems, which seeks to connect vehicles and unmanned assets to a network. Whether that will extend down to the dismounted soldier remains to be seen.

The force XXI battle command brigade and below (FBCB2) digital monitor currently allows the transmission of real-time combat support information and connects leaders within an organization to the network. So how far down should the two-way flow of information go?

The squad level is about right, Wallace said.

“I don’t believe that every individual member of a squad needs his own FBCB2 type device,” he said. Each soldier should have some kind of beacon that lets a platoon leader know where his men are, but “you don’t want soldiers dinking around with the network when they ought to be worrying about firing their weapon, looking around corners and doing all the necessary and dirty work associated with close combat in complex environments,” he added.

Metz, however, believes there are some advantages to linking soldiers to a network. A soldier on patrol may notice vendors in a market sitting cautiously behind stalls. He knows that something has changed since the previous day when they were out front aggressively pushing their wares. Now he has to get to the nearest communication device and phone in his report.

“With the network, he can immediately tell his platoon leader, who can assimilate the fact that at market x, y, z something is going on.”

For the time being, soldiers will have to move from their sensing position to a network-enabled vehicle so information they gather goes out to a headquarters, Metz said.

“It’s going to be much better when the soldier can sense something and have the network connected to him. That’s why we’re not giving up on taking the net down to the soldier,” Metz said.

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