Intel Gathering Technology Must Be Protected from Budget Cuts, Says Pentagon Official
Michael Sheehan, assistant secretary of defense for special operations/low-intensity conflict, said ISR has been a game changer for special operations forces.
"Not just the aerial platforms, but all intelligence collection," he said at the National Defense Industrial Association's Special Operations/Low-Intensity Conflict symposium in Washington, D.C. That includes ground and sea signals intelligence and the software that allows special operators to fuse the data from these sensors, he added.
Reporters at the conference have peppered senior special operations officials with questions about what programs might be going by the wayside as budgets decline. Leaders have been tightlipped, though. SOCOM Commander Navy Adm. William H. McRaven said at the symposium that Special Operations Command will be short $1 billion this fiscal year if Congress does not pass a 2013 budget.
"We are going to make sure that the guys at the pointy tip of the spear are trained, fully equipped and ready to go," he said, but he declined to spell out where cuts may come from.
Sheehan was more forthcoming at least about what he would like to see protected.
"We see every day in our community new technologies that enhance our ability to do this more effectively," he said, referring to special operators' ability to target terrorists. Sea, air and ground sensors are vital to the fight, he added.
The second capability he would like to see protected lies mostly outside the special operations realm, and that is border control technologies. Biometrics, the ability to positively identify a person using unique physical characteristics, has greatly reduced freedom of movement for terrorists, he said.
As far as the aerial platforms that many of these sensors fly on, Air Force Special Operations Command will have to revamp many of them to adjust to areas where it does not have easy access to airstrips, AFSOC Commander Lt. Gen. Eric Fiel said.
"We are over-investing in permissive ISR platforms," he said. In a country like Afghanistan, where air bases are close to the area of operations, unmanned aerial vehicles and manned aircraft spend very little time reaching their targets. In Africa and Asia, that may not always be the case. When U.S. forces don't have access to airports, the aircraft may have to fly hundreds of miles just to transit, he said. By the time they get there, they may only have only a couple of hours to perform their mission.
Sheehan said halting terrorist networks' ability to communicate and move freely has hindered their ability to launch strategic operations such as attacks against the U.S. homeland.
He touted successes against al-Qaida and its affiliates in Yemen and Somalia as examples of how the new strategic guidance released one year ago is already taking effect. The guidance called for counterterrorism operations with "smaller footprints" for U.S. forces. That has been applied in those two countries, and while he said the terrorist organizations are still there and much work remains, they have seen dramatic loss of territories over the last 12 months.
Photo Credit: Navy