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Transformation or Persistent ISR?

When that fella Donald Rumsfeld became defense secretary we heard a great deal about transformation. At the beginning of his administration, even President Bush praised the concept, fuzzy though it was to many.

As Rumsfeld became more and more unpopular on Capitol Hill and in the military, so did transformation. On top of that, many people had a simple question: just what the hell does transformation really mean, anyway? For many in industry, labeling something as transformational simply meant they were grasping at another marketing tool to grab money during the budget process.

The classic definition offered by transformation advocates such as Andy Krepinevich, former Net Assessment guru and head of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessment, is that military transformation results from a powerful combination of new technologies, doctrines that make them useful and people who understand what is possible. Development of the aircraft carrier battle group is often offered as one example. The German blitzkrieg -- melding mobile radio communication, complex train networks, and tanks and other armored vehicles that could move as quickly as trucks during the attack -- is another. Blitzkrieg is a very clear example. Virtually every major military in Europe had most of the individual capabilities needed but only Germany melded them together with doctrine and strategy.

Now we have the folks at "60 Minutes" running a pretty good piece about just what allowed the US to tag the bad guys in Sadr City and bring relative peace to the hotbed of insurgent activity. My colleague Christian Lowe watched the story yesterday (I watched it this morning, through the haze of the early winter crud) and he thought "the 60 Minutes piece titled The Battle of Sadr City is a pretty good explanation of where high-tech is crucial to enabling a counterinsurgency strategy that saves lives."

Watching the piece, I'm reminded of a story I put together right after our invasion of Afghanistan which quoted several senior OSD types that the biggest lesson they learned during that fight was the overwhelming importance of "persistent ISR." At the time, that pretty much meant Predator, combined with some national technical means that nobody really wanted to talk about.

What strikes me about the 60 Minutes piece is how well integrated at the brigade level are video and signals intelligence feeds from various unmanned systems. The intelligence is fed straight down and soldiers act on it with dispatch. The pictures of the insurgents regrouping after firing on the Green Zone, and getting blasted soon after speak ten thousand words. Left unsaid by everyone in the piece is the role of CIA and DIA human intelligence, combined with NSA, NGA and NRO data. CIA Director Mike Hayden and NGA Director Vice Adm. Robert Murrett have both made very clear recently that intel teams integrated at the brigade level have helped make the enormous improvements in Iraqi security possible. This may be where the real transformation is happening, the blending of intel and military technologies and doctrines.

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