U.S. Southern Command is using information gathered on popular social networking websites to augment intelligence data gathered by more traditional military systems to combat drug trafficking.
The command also uses the data to identify regional trends in Central and South America, its area of operations.
The posts on websites such as Twitter are providing U.S. officials with "valuable regional insight" and helping improve joint efforts with partner nations, according to SOUTHCOM's commander, Air Force Gen. Douglas Fraser.
ISR "is only one piece of where we could gain information and get awareness," Fraser said April 5 during a hearing of the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee.
SOUTHCOM "is improving our ability to analyze social media sources such as Twitter and blogs so we can identify regional trends early and accurately," Fraser wrote in prepared testimony to the committee. "When appropriate, we are also seeking to improve and expand the use of the All Partners Access Network, an online community that promotes collaboration among governmental and non-governmental organizations during exercises and operations."
Still, SOUTHCOM officials see the need for a number of more traditional ISR components, such as improved imagery intelligence, wide-area coverage, sensor integration, signals intelligence, moving target indicators, layered ISR architecture and management tools, and biometrics, according to Fraser's prepared testimony.
The command also is working closely with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency to find systems that address SOUTHCOM's unique requirements.
Some of these needs include: persistent manned and unmanned aircraft, fast unmanned surface craft, acoustic and electronic sensors to detect semisubmersible and underwater vessels, over-the-horizon radars, and commercial satellite radars that can detect go-fast boats.
Officials also are asking for systems that can see through thick jungle foliage.
"Individually and collectively, all of these technologies enable our operations and represent opportunities to develop regional capabilities," Fraser wrote in his prepared testimony.
The Air Force has been flying Global Hawk reconnaissance drones over Central and South America at the invitation of partner nations for several years. However, those operations have been limited due to the demand for those types of aircraft by allied forces in Afghanistan and Iraq.
"Every combatant commander would like more" ISR, Fraser told the committee. "Within the current capabilities and capacities and priorities we have, I'm comfortable with the assets we have."
Combating drug trafficking is one of SOUTHCOM's primary missions.