Search This Blog

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Will Coalition Troops Be Allowed to Use Special Forces Technology to Counter IED Attacks?

Contributor: Alex Shone
In Afghanistan, population-centric operations to increase Afghan human security and support for the Coalition are being underpinned by high-end technological efforts that directly target the insurgents (INS). Targeting is crucial in any counter-insurgency (COIN) effort where kinetic operations are concerned and Afghanistan is certainly no exception. It is well documented how careless or misguided strikes have inflicted dire civilian casualties, causing the legitimacy of ISAF troops to be undermined as Afghan support is lost.

Extreme range surveillance
Extreme range photography is an innovative approach to capturing photographic images of insurgents, in the act of their activities, from as far as 500 metres away. These images can be of a sufficient clarity to be used as a form of biometric intelligence collection for facial recognition and biometric databases.

In Afghanistan, two key weapons of the INS are the improvised explosive device (IED) and long range small arms fire (SAF). The importance of accurate targeting is illustrated in the following example of one tactical evolution in the conflict. In past operations, it was customary for the INS, themselves, to emplace IEDs. Such devices were generally placed ahead of convoys and even dismounted patrols along their intended route - critically, by the insurgents themselves.

With the proliferation of unmanned aerial systems and greater employment of Intelligence Surveillance Target-Acquisition and Reconnaissance (ISTAR) assets, however, the insurgents were generally easy targets for directed fire in this act. The INS escalated affairs, taking family members of local nationals hostage and then forcing them to emplace IEDs. When these men were targeted and killed, local communities withdrew support for the coalition because they were seen to have killed an innocent person.

Similarly, in instances where dismounted troops made contact with the enemy and were engaged by SAF, civilian casualties could ensue as the INS quite deliberately chose locations where the risk of collateral damage was high. This changed in 2009 when the rules of engagement (ROE) were amended under General Stanley McChrystal. Thereafter, troops were not permitted to engage the enemy where there was the accompanying risk of civilian casualties as a result of that action.

Though it appears to be a sound strategy, it could produce frustrating tactical situations whereby troops being fired upon would not be permitted to retaliate. Oftentimes, after arriving at the scene of the INS firing positions, ISAF troops found the attackers had already melted back into the community and hidden their weapons in the process.

From asymmetric response to coordinated offensive
In Afghanistan, troops are under constant surveillance by the INS. The INS are looking for patterns to exploit whilst simultaneously collecting technical intelligence, performing battle damage assessments and directing attacks. The INS think like soldiers because that is what they are; they are insurgents, not terrorists. Their attacks are not random, but are complex ambushes designed around the targeting of specific units or vehicles. IEDs are placed in large numbers and form a tactical minefield.

They are placed sequentially in daisy-chain form; striking lead vehicles, then subsequent responders according to whatever sequence will cause maximum disruption. Likely helicopter landing sites for casevac will be identified and accordingly littered with IEDs. Natural cover likely to be sought by ISAF troops under fire is similarly identified and laid with IEDs. Troops are frequently being forced to execute a fighting withdrawal from complex IED ambushes as vehicles attempting to reverse out of the situation get hit by more IEDs.

In Afghanistan, troops negate INS surveillance through the employment of deception. Bergans can carry dummy aerials and vehicles can be fitted with dummy electronic counter-measures (even so simple as a crisp tube wrapped in duct tape). These are short-term fixes as the INS surveillance will uncover these tricks sooner or later. A more proactive approach is required that involves an aggressive counter-surveillance presence that dissuades the blatant and overt INS surveillance efforts. This would ‘militarise’ INS surveillance efforts (though likely not stop them). It would also, however, complicate the operational requirements and in doing so, reduce the surface area of the surveillance footprint available.

The potential use of extreme range photography with units proliferated amongst patrols would be one way in which this could be achieved. Commercial cameras exist that are capable of producing usable photos from distances as far away as 500 metres. If this technology received a dedicated development according to this military utility then perhaps this effective range could be extended further. This is not a new concept and is one that has been used by Special Forces; it is the proliferated photographic technology among patrols now being suggested that is new.

Incorporating special forces systems
There are a range of options available for the implementation of this technology. One idea, as used by SF units, is for a weapons-mounted platform. INS can be photographed, identified by remote third parties and then dispatched by the shooter. This negates the requirement for troops to carry a bipod or tripod to achieve the necessary camera stability, though there is of course the potentially negative performance impact on the weapons from the camera. It is also, however, an extremely threatening means of taking photos of potential INS suspects in the COIN context. This platform, were it implemented, would fall well under the remit of targeting - and pointing a weapon at everyone down an Afghan street is not a way to win 'hearts and minds'.

Alternatives are shoulder and helmet mounted platforms that satisfy the less aggressive prerequisites of COIN. The ability to photograph everyone and anyone who is observing patrols and convoys could then be achieved in a non-aggressive manner. Assuming there were then the manpower necessary to digest this material, vital intelligence could be produced from such photography - and in near real-time. This technology has many positive justifications for tactically sound actions against the INS that satisfy the new ROE. Photographing the INS positively identifies the nature of the situation and could legitimise the returning of fire or the calling in of artillery or air strikes. This activity would also justify the Afghan National Directorate of Security, Afghan National Army or Police in targeting suspected INS and arresting them.

Extreme range photography would directly support the current work of biometric intelligence gathering and the implementation of a biometric database in Afghanistan. Facial recognition systems are one major facet of biometric systems currently in use. Much of the high-end technology being used to knock the INS onto their back foot is far removed from the soldier on the ground. Ultimately, a great deal of the equipment now carried by soldiers remains the low tech, traditional essentials; chiefly ammunition and other combat equipment fighting order essentials.

This emerging technological solution presents a valid (and tested) capability to be used effectively by soldiers against the INS. Surveillance imposed on ISAF troops by the INS is constant and vigilant; it delivers to the INS the results they need. Our own counter-surveillance must swing into gear if it is to provide an effective counter.

Alex Shone is a dedicated Counter-IED analyst at Longbow Solutions and currently serves as a research associate at the UK Defence Forum.,7340,L-3754271,00.html

Your feedback is always welcome.
Thank you!

No comments:

Post a Comment