2004 October 12 Tuesday
US Military Sensor Network In Iraq Invasion Performed Poorly

Lt. Col. Ernest “Rock” Marcone was a battalion commander of the 69th Armor of the US Army 3rd ID during the Iraq invasion tasked with seizing the Objective Peach bridge across the Euphrates on the edge of Baghdad, Marcone found that all the modern US military sensor networks provided front line troops little help in finding the enemy.

As night fell, the situation grew threatening. Marcone arrayed his battalion in a defensive position on the far side of the bridge and awaited the arrival of bogged-down reinforcements. One communications intercept did reach him: a single Iraqi brigade was moving south from the airport. But Marcone says no sensors, no network, conveyed the far more dangerous reality, which confronted him at 3:00 a.m. April 3. He faced not one brigade but three: between 25 and 30 tanks, plus 70 to 80 armored personnel carriers, artillery, and between 5,000 and 10,000 Iraqi soldiers coming from three directions. This mass of firepower and soldiers attacked a U.S. force of 1,000 soldiers supported by just 30 tanks and 14 Bradley fighting vehicles. The Iraqi deployment was just the kind of conventional, massed force that’s easiest to detect. Yet “We got nothing until they slammed into us,” Marcone recalls.

Objective Peach was not atypical of dozens of smaller encounters in the war. Portions of a forthcoming, largely classified report on the entire Iraq campaign, under preparation by the Santa Monica, CA, think tank Rand and shared in summary with Technology Review, confirm that in this war, one key node fell off the U.S. intelligence network: the front-line troops. “What we uncovered in general in Iraq is, there appeared to be something I refer to as a ‘digital divide,’” says Walter Perry, a senior researcher at Rand’s Arlington, VA, office and a former army signals officer in Vietnam. “At the division level or above, the view of the battle space was adequate to their needs. They were getting good feeds from the sensors,” Perry says. But among front-line army commanders like Marcone—as well as his counterparts in the U.S. Marines—“Everybody said the same thing. It was a universal comment: ‘We had terrible situational awareness,’” he adds.

The article goes on to state that front line troops found the enemy the way they always have: by running into them. Also, even that quote above paints a rosier picture than the full aricle provides. There were lots of failures of network data flows at the higher levels of the command chain with systems shutting down for 10 and 12 hours at a time.

The US military is even less well equipped to fight an insurgency. Though obviously in the extended battle against the insurgency lots of lessons are being learned and no doubt some high tech equipment is being developed and deployed to better fight an insurgency. Still, whatever the technological advances may have occurred in the last year and a half since the fall of Baghdad those advances have not yet managed to give the US military such a huge advantage over the insurgency that the US military can crush the insurgency the way the US forces can crush a conventional army.

If you think the US military's electronic information systems worked incredibly well in Iraq be sure to read the full and lengthy article and you will be disabused of that notion.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2004 October 12 12:01 PM  Military War, Rumours Of War

Derek Copold said at October 13, 2004 11:32 AM:

Patton said fortresses are monuments to man's stupidity. Our sensors and technology are nothing more than updated fortresses. They're useful, but they have their limits.

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