Small Wars Journal

Returning the Technical Control and Analysis Elements (TCAE) for Theater Signals Intelligence Support

Share this Post

Returning the Technical Control and Analysis Elements (TCAE) for Theater Signals Intelligence Support

Scott R. Hammon

We exist to support the one mission of the Army, “to fight and win our Nation’s wars, by providing prompt, sustained, land dominance, across the full range of military operations and the spectrum of conflict in support of combatant commanders.”

Rise and Fall of the TCAE

One of the first things Intelligence and Security Command (INSCOM) did after its creation was to conduct an echelon above corps (EAC) intelligence organization and stationing study.  It was this study that recognized the need to provide cryptologic support to tactical military intelligence units.  To answer this requirement, INSCOM fielded technical control and analysis elements (TCAE).  These TCAE’s were found at every echelon but played a vital role at what was then called the MI brigades at echelons above corps (EAC).  In the past, each of the ground component commands had a regionally aligned TCAE (e.g. Army South TCAE, or AS-TCAE).

Although the naming convention has changed from EAC MI Brigade to MI BDE – Theater (MIB-T), what has not changed was the overall mission to provide intelligence support to operational theaters in order to protect US national security interests and accomplishing the Army’s primary mission, defense of the homeland.  A critical component of that support, as required by the AirLand Battle Doctrine, was the provision of timely electronic warfare to all echelons. Throughout the Cold War, and the early years of the post-Cold War period, the responsibility of the EW support fell on the TCAEs.

As the world settled into the post-Cold War period, the United States Intelligence Community (IC) found itself in the awkward position of having no easily identifiable "enemy" at which to focus its strategic intelligence apparatus.  The threat to our national security, or at least the way we perceive it, had begun to undergo radical changes.

The threat was not only the only thing changing during the early 90’s.  SIGINT support to the Army formations was changed starting with the transfer of TCAE assets to the newly doctrinal concept of Analytical Control Element (ACE).  These ACE structures initially intended for Corps-level intelligence support also found their way into EAC formations.  This essentially combined all intelligence disciplines under one central intelligence control.  Many ACE formations still had an element that resembled TCAE’s in both function and name.  However, as a member of an ACE, and under an all-source centric leadership, many cryptologic support organizations, whether called a TCAE, Technical Control and Analysis Cell (TCAC), Single Source Section, or SIGINT Section, started to distance their connections with the National Security Agency.  Consequently, the ability of the Army to bridge the connection between national assets and requirements with operational requirements and collection degraded.

Since the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, Army Signals Intelligence (SIGINT) has seen a massive change in how business is conducted, the employment of the SIGINT Soldier, and the ever-changing technological advancements that have both provided challenges to intelligence collection and a boost to intelligence production.  With the start of the Global War on Terror (GWOT), SIGINT soldiers deployed in direct support of FORSCOM units to provide direct support to the multiple task forces in theater.  For cryptologic support, the task forces turned to the NSA and the newly formed cryptologic support groups (CSG) to provide the gap and enable NSA to provide operational support to the warfighter.  It was these CSGs that filled the role of what was the TCAE and ACE in past years.  The GWOT transitioned into multiple counter-terrorism operations.  Additionally, the development of the Intelligence Community (IC) Information Technology Enterprise (IC ITE) allowed for network where the IC could share technology, information, and resources by providing seamless and secure access to Community-wide information.  No longer did a SIGINT Soldier have to be assigned to a cryptologic center to access national databases.  Consequently, NSA has lost interest in fielding deployable CSGs.

A New World Order Forcing a New Strategic Plan

In a post-GWOT era, the Army finds itself in an increasingly complex security environment, defined by rapid technological change, adversaries in all operating domains, and the longest sustained operations in our nation’s history.  The intense focus and duration of our operations against an asymmetric adversary resulted in a period of extreme strategic atrophy and diminished our competitive military advantage.  With increasing global disorder, terrorist organizations, criminal threat networks, and heavily armed rogue nations, it is more critical than ever to provide decision makers the intelligence needed to make difficult choices and prioritize what is most important.  Consequently, inter-state strategic competition has supplanted counter-terrorism operations as the primary concern in U.S. national security.

Our nation’s central challenge to a lasting security and prosperity is the reemergence of strategic adversaries, what the 2018 National Security Strategy classifies as “revisionist powers.”  These powers, like China, and Russia, want to shape a global political atmosphere that is consistent with their authoritarian model.  Whether it is military modernization, influencing operations, predatory economics, political intervention or direct military action, these powers want to gain a position of veto authority over other nations’ economic, diplomatic, and security decisions.

Additionally, the threat of nuclear conflict is emerging as a primary threat to the homeland and regional destabilization as rogue regimes like North Korea and Iran pursue their nuclear programs or sponsorship of terrorist organizations.  Additionally, an increasingly isolated and threated North Korea further seek to guarantee its survival through the development and procurement of weapons of mass destruction beyond nuclear to include biological, chemical, conventional and unconventional weapons and a growing ballistic missile capability.

To counter these renewed threats, the national strategy is based in four core tenants:  be strategically predictable, but operationally unpredictable; integrate with U.S. interagency, counter coercion and subversion; and foster a competitive mindset.  Army SIGINT plays a vital part of in the accomplishment of all of these tenants; however, it is not necessary to re-invent the wheel but return to the theater-based EAC approach.

Applying SIGINT to the Levels of Warfare

One aspect of planning and execution that remains the same in this changing world is the existence of three levels of warfare: strategic, operational, and tactical.  The strategic level includes the objectives of the 2018 National Defense Strategy, briefly discussed above. 

The operational-level creates a link between national and military strategy while setting the objectives and pattern of military activity.  While normally characterized by maneuver or large units, in today’s complex intelligence world, one could argue that SIGINT, and its ability to conduct, produce, exploit and disseminate SIGINT, is, in itself, a maneuver element.  At this operational level, the Army must focus on attaining the strategic goals of the theater and design, organize, and conduct operations that support the theater campaign plan. The tactical-level includes tactics and techniques used by the force.  While typically thought of as a function of units at the corps level and below, with modern SIGINT and IC ITE, we find tactical applications are afforded to all echelons. Consequently, it is more important than ever to form an organization that can provide the oversight, direction, control, and analysis of all aspects of SIGINT that ranges from the strategic to tactical levels.  With this, the Army should return to the concept first envisioned by the echelon above corps (EAC) intelligence organization and stationing study, the TCAE.

Understanding the Structure of a Theater Force

The Army’s support to the Combatant Command is rooted in the Theater Ground Component Command.  This Command, the proponent for the land domain, is forward deployed, either actually or, in the case of Army South, virtually, into the unified combatant command theaters around the world.  The Army’s force is tailored according to military and strategic threats that exist for that theater.  Consequently, INSCOM aligned each of its MIB-T’s to be the Army’s primary intelligence support for that theater.

It is vital that SIGINT supporting ground component commands perform their functions at the operational level, being the bridge between strategic and tactical.  As such, SIGINT must support the COCOM CGs operational planning and intelligence requirements.  However, these requirements for each theater are unique and effected by factors that include current international political relationships, enemy situations, geography and the popular support for US objectives in that theater. 

As a theater element, SIGINT must be ready to simultaneously provide operation intelligence support up to higher commands and push strategic intelligence down to the tactical level, supporting combat and finishing forces at all echelons, often across several federal agencies.

It is at this operational level where SIGINT must concentrate on collecting, analyzing, evaluating and reporting information that identifies strategic and operational centers of gravity.  The exploitation of these centers, either through direct action tied to destroying, disrupting or denying, or through influencing operations, will achieve the political and theater strategic objectives.  Additionally, it is at the operational level where we must analyze the threat capability, probable intentions, and vulnerabilities.

These and more can be realized by re-establishing the Regional TCAE, known in the past as the EAC TCAE.  The Regional TCAE (R-TCAE) operates under the SIGINT authorities given to the MI SIGINT Company/Battalion found in each MIB-T.  Its mission would be to conduct SIGINT operations in response to theater-level requirements, primarily those of COCOM and ground component commands, but also the assigned regionally aligned forces (RAF).  While theater ground component command retains SOTA and SIGINT direction, it is the R-TCAE that will provide the SIGINT technical support and mission management functions.  The R-TCAE would perform collection, processing, exploitation, dissemination, analysis, and reporting of SIGINT intelligence via both tactical and strategic reporting channels.  Additionally, the R-TCAE would deploy and manage tactical assets in support of the theater for the purposes of collection and geo-locating targets of interest. 

With integration into the national-level databases either via a SOTA-based Mission Correlation Table (MCT), or an NSA-delegated mission MCT, the R-TCAE would be responsible for maintaining SIGINT databases for both COCOM and RAF subordinated SIGINT forces that are either deployed or may be deployed in theater.   It would serve as the theater ground component command’s SIGINT POC for lateral theater TCAEs and the Army TCAE.  It would also serve as the SIGINT POC for national SIGINT support organizations operating in the Theater, as well as, any partner-national SIGINT military-to-military relationships. 

Ultimately, the R-TCAE would be the Army’s highest technical control architecture with its theater of operation.  As such the R-TCAE would provide a single POC between the Army and any national SIGINT operations, ensuring a cooperative and mutually supportive SIGINT strategy, ultimately merging tactical objectives to national and ensure that the COCOM is fully prepared to accomplish its objectives.

To date, the 66th MIB-T and the 470th MIB-T have begun to align its forces into a TCAE structure.  At the 470th MIB-T, the TCAE strives to organize the SIGINT personnel, assets and mission to closely mirror that which is described in Chapter 5, FM 34-37, dated 15 January 1991.  While additional updating must be accomplished, the result is an agile SIGINT force that can answer national requirements as part of a nationally delegated mission, while providing forward collection and cryptologic support to both the ground component command and the COCOM.  While this concept is in its infancy, operating for under 90 days, already we have postured a force that was able to quickly adjust mission and provide a level of support to an emerging threat with SOUTHCOM.

About the Author(s)

Mr. Scott R. Hammon is a graduate of Sergeants' Major Academy, attended the Army Management Staff College Continuing Education for Senior Civilians, and holds a Bachelor in Science in Resources and Technology Management from Troy University and is attending the Army War College this fall.