Joint training for joint ISR

After the Army criticized the Air Force for not being responsive enough to its intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance needs, the Army established in 2007 its own aviation unit in Iraq. Named Task Force ODIN for the Norse god of war and an acronym for observe, detect, identify and neutralize, the unit links Army unmanned air systems, fixed-wing aircraft and attack helicopters to rapidly attack insurgents who plant roadside bombs.

Earlier this year, Defense Secretary Robert Gates criticized service-centric thinking at the Defense Department for preventing the deployment of more ISR assets to the front lines. “Because people were stuck in old ways of doing business, it's been like pulling teeth,” he said during a speech April 21 at Maxwell-Gunter Air Force Base in Alabama.

The problem is that rapid integration between ground and air forces has become an urgent need for the military when it comes to defeating insurgents’ tactics.

However, there are bright spots of cooperation among the services. In what military planners say should be a harbinger of things to come, a 4th Infantry Division brigade combat team (BCT) from Fort Hood, Texas, engaged in BCT air-ground integration training earlier this year with assistance from the Air Force’s Air Combat Command’s Joint Air Ground Division. Because the brigade is currently deployed, military officials did not want to reveal the BCT’s full identification.

The Army’s Training and Doctrine Command’s (Tradoc) Joint Air Ground Office and the Joint Forces Command’s Joint Fires Integration and Interoperability Team (JFIIT), which assisted in planning joint events, also participated in the training.

The training the soldiers received was to prepare for a rotation in Iraq, where demands for air support are high, said William Rierson, JFIIT’s fires division lead analyst. The idea was to make the training as realistic and collaborative as possible. Achieving that meant the unit had to have the systems — or the data they would ordinarily produce — so they could “request and receive information the same way that they would in theater,” Rierson said.

A fire-control training event at Fort Hood in March involved Air Force A-10 aircraft. The final mission readiness exercise in Fort Polk, La., in April included Air Force F-16s, Navy F- 18s, and an E8 Joint Surveillance and Target Attack Radar System aircraft.“We were essentially looking to be enhancing what would typically be service-centric training and make it joint,” Rierson said.

One purpose of the training was to use its planning as a reproducible template for future joint training. “Not just close air support, but electronic warfare and other systems they would ordinarily not see at their home station,” Rierson said. He said that although the final report isn’t complete, the feedback so far has been positive.

Part of the training included instruction on the Army’s version of the Distributed Common Ground System, an ISR distribution network with joint capabilities.

Deployed brigades have access to more ISR information than they did a few years ago, said Glenn Nichols, head of Tradoc’s joint air ground operations. “That’s one of the challenges we’ve been identifying from feedback downrange, that it’s complicated stuff,” he added. “We had developed the tools to mine all of this data, but it’s very difficult to cut through the immense amount of data to get to the few pieces of information that are critical,” Nichols said.

About the Author

David Perera is a special contributor to Defense Systems.

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