The Pentagon's master plan for the future relies on networking together every grunt, every general, and every drone -- so information is instantly available to everyone on the battlefield and in headquarters. The Iraq invasion was supposed to the beta test for this military "transformation." And for the top brass, it all worked great. But for many of the front line soldiers in Iraq, this tranformed military looked like a combat force, circa 1944, reports Technology Review.Take Lt. Col. Ernest Rock Marcone, a battalion commander with the 69th Armor of the Third Infantry Division. He was supposed to capture a key bridge on the Euphrates River.
Next to the fall of Baghdad, says Marcone, that bridge was the most important piece of terrain in the theater, and no one can tell me whats defending it. Not how many troops, what units, what tanks, anything. There is zero information getting to me. Someone may have known above me, but the information didnt get to me on the ground.Marcones men were ambushed repeatedly on the approach to the bridge. But the scale of the intelligence deficit was clear after Marcone took the bridge on April 2.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 thats easiest to detect. Yet We got nothing until they slammed into us, Marcone recalls.Microwave relays, meant to transmit satellite and spy plane images, were not more reliable.
Critically, these relayssometimes called Ma Bell for the armyneeded to be stationary to function. Units had to be within a line of sight to pass information to one another. But in practice, the convoys were moving too fast, and too far, for the system to work. Perversely, in three cases, U.S. vehicles were actually attacked while they stopped to receive intelligence data on enemy positions. A lot of the guys said, Enough of this shit, and turned it off, says Perry, flicking his wrist as if clicking off a radio. We cant afford to wait for this.One Third Infantry Division brigade intelligence officer reported to Rand that when his unit moved, its communications links would fail, except for the GPS tracking system. The unit would travel for a few hours, stop, hoist up the antenna, log back onto the intelligence network, and attempt to download whatever information it could. But bandwidth and software problems caused its computer system to lock up for ten to 12 hours at a time, rendering it useless.All of this jives with earlier "after action" reports on the invasion, where communication problems were the norm. Some members of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force, for example, had to use a helmet headset, four radios and two laptops at once to communicate with their comrades and commanders.