By Jason Port
As we have moved from the dynamic fight of the high intensity conflict into the counterinsurgency aspects of today's endeavors, we find our lower leaders being used more as strategic assets and less so as the pointy end of the spear. Solutions for problems are no longer counted in rounds expended, and diplomacy at the muzzle end of the rifle is no longer an option. Over the past five years our company, CC Intelligent Solutions, working with units like the XVIII Airborne Corps and the 82nd Airborne Division found that by mining tactical data at the forward edge, soldiers on the ground were leaving on patrols better prepared to meet the current threats. In addition, we found that analysts on high were better able to forecast the actions of the enemy. It is our belief that by tracking the non-kinetic aspects of our operations in a similar, digital fashion, we would be able to better predict the benefits we receive by taking certain actions over others. Further, we would be able to help commanders make decisions based on facts and history, rather than gut instincts alone.
These ideas are based on what we saw as the combat events reporting and management system for the Coalition Joint Task Force in Afghanistan during OEF 06-08 and for Multinational Corps-Iraq (XVIII Airborne Corps) in OIF 05-07. Our system fundamentally collected operational reports from the forward leaders via a browser based interface and stored the information for retrieval and reporting later. Further, these reports were managed based on priority and matching certain criteria, moving them up the chain of command as required by the policies in place. Once captured the data was disseminated around the world within 45 minutes so that experts in the Pentagon and elsewhere had the same data as the next patrol out of the gate. Further, as we focused on interoperability between systems, we shared the data via a variety of mechanisms to get the information into other tools like Analysts Notebook, Command Post of the Future (CPoF) and Maneuver Control Systems (MCS). This approach enabled soldiers throughout the SIPRNet cloud to see the information and respond to it in near real time.
We posit that by taking a similar approach with non-kinetic reports, we would allow our Civil Affairs (CA) elements and non-governmental organizations to make more effective use of resources by employing them at locations which will receive the highest return on investment. Further, by tracking these projects centrally, enablers across the battlespace can eliminate redundant efforts at the earliest available time rather than waiting until completion to see two wells dug 100 yards apart.
During our work in Iraq, an anecdote was told to one of our analysts. A CA leader working in a village set about building a bridge which would connect two towns, improving commerce and building cross-community relationships. The CA leader went to the local construction crew and paid them to build a bridge which would meet this need. A Department of State field officer came to a similar conclusion around the value of a bridge, and she too went about contracting with the same builder to build a bridge in the same location for the same purposes. Shortly thereafter, a representative from an NGO came to the town and they too paid this same crew for a bridge in the same location. The bridge builder successfully built this bridge, and then left town to perform similar work on the other side of the country, leaving with three times the pay, and only one bridge. This story was related to us three years ago, while we were working in Iraq, but as we helped the transition to CJTF-101 in OEF recently, the systems in place had not significantly improved.
Commander's Emergency Response Program (CERP) -- The First Step in the Solution
By aligning project development under a common collaboration system, the warfigher and their counterparts above could have ensured that they were sharing their project data. CJTF-82, under BG David Rodriguez was moving in this direction by controlling the flow of project dollars. They had automated the process of submitting for funding for commander sponsored projects; for example, battalion commanders could request funding for development of a new school in their area of operations. The associated workflow allowed the request to move through channels digitally, and ensured that the dollars were being spent on relevant projects. By doing this, BG Rodriguez was able to ensure requests were properly handled and that he could roll up the spending against information like the type of project or the requestor, to identify successes or failures, or to quickly identify problems in the request process.
Further, because most users had access to the CERP database, all users could quickly see projects in certain areas, as they were geo-referenced, reducing the opportunity for redundancy. Lastly, our intent was to be able to take this data and overlay it with tactical events over time, to understand how projects affected the community at large. Our stopping point came when we couldn't readily identify the other projects in the region sponsored by non-military agencies (to include the Corps of Engineers).
The Easy Solution
In speaking with soldiers from an Army Reserve Civil Affairs section recently returned from missions around the world, they were asked where they kept project files. For example, when a school is being built, where did they keep information about the school, why it was built or when it was due to go into operation. Their responses varied from filing cabinets to Word documents. They typically submitted a periodic (weekly, monthly) report via Excel or e-mail. Where the data went, they didn't really know, and very little came back to them in exchange for their report submission. This sounded strangely familiar to when we were sitting with then-LTG Vines, commander of the XVIII Airborne Corps, as he described where his company commanders kept their report data prior to our beginning to work for him. By aggregating the operational data, we were able to create a mine-able data set which analysts could use as a base of data on which to base their intelligence assessments. We believe that the solution to managing project data is as easy.
The non-kinetic community needs a set of tools which spans across organizations; accessible to the non-governmental organization, USAID, Department of State and the many others who operate in the battlespace. For example, the Asian World Bank, a key financial influencer in the economic development of Afghanistan, needs the project data as much as the PRT commander on the ground if they are to coax an investor into building a factory near Kandahar as it can demonstrate that certain regions are progressing faster than others.
Fundamentally, project data is relatively basic information which describes "what", "when", "why", and "how much?" Each project sponsor should be able to provide this data before a project is ever started. However, once a project is begun, status reporting is key, as we can associate these status reports with specific laborers, providing a factual basis for hiring them again.
Once the project is completed and the project is being used, we can then begin to report on the usage of the project. For many of the projects we develop in theater, there are specific metrics which show success. Patient beds in hospitals, student count for schools, gallons of water pumped, or kilowatts generated are a few of the more common. By reporting on these metrics, we can define a return on the investment like never before.
While we perform these actions today at the team, company, and battalion level, we do not have a comprehensive picture of the projects in progress today. Further, we have no ability to mine this data to review it in a different light. We might know that we have built X number of schools in Tal Afar, but we have no automated/easy way to look at student count per school to indentify gaps in the education system, or that there was any benefit at all to building that many schools to begin with. Further, we are unable to look at the economic and demographic make-up of Tal Afar and the school count and compare their success there to other towns with a similar make-up. For example, if we built a factory in town A which raised the employment rate from 55% to 90% and in turn IEDs dropped from 9 per month to less than 1 per month, what happens if we build a factory in town B with similar economic and demographic data? Answering this today is all but impossible without a team of people, a box of pencils and hours of research. However, the commander in Town A above likely already knows a lot of this information, as does the commander in town B. They will only share today, if they run into each other at the Career Captain's Course, long after it was important to them.
Looking Beyond the Camouflage
By centralizing the data, as we did with kinetic data, we offer the ability to mine it. Further, by allowing its access at the company level, we give those operating at the edge of the empire more tools in their kit than the 32-pound sledgehammer. However, to be successful, we must offer this system to the other enablers in the field. USAID and Department of State manage large budgets in the reconstruction efforts. We must ensure that they are brought to the table early as their adoption of the system is equally as important as those in uniform.
Further, we must look to extend this sort of system to all who would want to use it for the purposes of helping nations re-build. For example, allowing the host nation government to contribute only makes the data more accurate and gives the host nation more of a stake in the rebuilding effort. In an ideal world, non-governmental organizations, like the Red Cross, or Doctors Without Borders would participate as well, but we recognize that their need to remain outside of governmental affiliation may supersede our need to obtain and mine this data. Their projects represent a minority of cases and could be handled through a liaison between agencies.
The Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT)
In cases where there is a PRT and where the PRT has both military and civilian representation, the case has been made that through their interaction as a middle ground between civilian and military organizations, that we eliminate the redundancies and ensure effective use of resources. We do not dispute this, but suggest that the tools described above provide these key decision makers a resource which facilitates inter- and intra-agency coordination and offer them a more detailed and accurate history.
In both cases, with a PRT or without, the history of the region is subject to failure in transmission from one leader to another as rotations for many range between 6-18 months. For those who have been forward-deployed, we return telling ourselves about how valuable our left-seat/right-seat rides were for our incoming replacements. However, I personally will never forget my excitement at coming home, and while I am sure I tried to help my replacement, I know I missed something.
Having watched now from the sidelines for three Transfers of Authority, each commander leaves thinking he made significant improvement in his area of operations, and his replacement looks at what he has been handed like it is a disaster he will handle differently. While we like to think this is not the case, the replacement is coming in after 6 months of rest ready to take on the world again, and the incumbent just can't wait for that first night of sleep in his own bed.
A digital record of these non-kinetic actions can enable the incoming commander to learn more about his area of operations, while still sitting at home drinking coffee on Sunday morning with his family. The sharing of data is real time, and two weeks prior to arrival, the new leader knows what he can expect. He can also begin to take over some of the future planning for his area, building upon what is there and not starting from scratch. Up the chain of command, his commanders are doing the same with the roll up data, as they evaluate the regional activities. This can expedite TOA, and ensure a more seamless transition. Even better, the military incoming leader can begin to understand how his civilian counterpart works prior to arrival, again smoothing the transition, building the key relationships before the pressure is really on.
Our hope is that this has provided our leadership some ideas on the gaps which are present in the current information systems. There are many attempts to coordinate much of this information, but it is occurring in such a dysfunctional fashion, that the data sits in filing cabinets or Excel files and in the worst case, flies out with the outgoing commander as he heads home with his personal laptop computer. This effort is not designed to armchair quarterback. We are trying to highlight this gap in the hope that the leadership can see this as a mechanism to assist the civil assistance leader in making decisions with limited resources and in turn to learn from our actions to help us shape decisions in the future.
We desperately need a system in place in theater today for this specific purpose, across these enablers, but it must be provided at echelons above the Army. The reality that today's military thinks the center of the universe has become Southwest Asia. And yet humanitarian operations in Central and South America, or New Orleans during and after Katrina could all benefit from this sort of tool kit. Until we have something like this, we will continue to rely upon paper, Excel, and commander's instincts. While all are valuable tools, we are advancing into an age where we can do better.
Jason Port is a 14-year veteran of the US Army, having served in a variety of Cavalry and Infantry NCO leadership positions in National Guard, Army Reserve and Active Army assignments. Most recently he was assigned as a Scout Detachment Leader/Platoon Sergeant for SFOR 12 in 2002-2003 where he assisted the Civil-Military liaison team in the development of RC-East in Bosnia-Herzegovina. He is currently working for CC Intelligent Solutions, a Defense Contractor in Raleigh, North Carolina, specializing in forward deployed information management solutions.