The predominant threat of modern warfare has emerged as hybrid networks of state and nonstate actors capable of developing and employing asymmetric weaponry. This new type of threat poses a multidimensional problem for military decision-makers at every echelon of command.
The global use of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) indicates our nation’s enemies will continue to evolve in unconventional ways; low-intensity conflicts will provide them with opportunities to achieve operational or strategic objectives. At the tactical level, they will continue to employ asymmetric weapons, causing casualties and denying maneuver forces freedom of movement.
In an irregular warfare environment, the joint force commander must resolve operational uncertainties and identify the critical nodes in the adversary’s network. Information alone is not enough. Detailed, actionable intelligence is needed to help the commander target those critical nodes.
Much of that actionable information is being provided by forward deploying exploitation enablers. One major success story from US Central Command’s (USCENTCOM’s) operations in Iraq and Afghanistan is the development and proven effectiveness of a joint mobile exploitation capability.
By forward-deploying packages of multidiscipline exploitation enablers (technical, cellular, document and media, forensic, biometric, etc.), and partnering their activities with traditional intelligence exploitation disciplines (signals, geospatial, human, etc.), the joint force commander can be provided with a highly detailed picture of the operating environment. He can now directly address the inner workings of the adversary’s infrastructure, identifying critical individuals and processes.
Mobile exploitation capabilities in Afghanistan and Iraq routinely produced intelligence that provided insights into the adversary’s operations. Exploiting that information often shifted the balance against the enemy and proved to be an effective countermeasure against evolving threats, as well as a deterrent to unconventional tactics and related criminal activities.
Over time, these enablers have compiled an incredible repository of information pertaining to irregular warfare and terrorism. The repository has applications well beyond USCENTCOM.It can help our partner nations address their own irregular warfare threats.
The insights provided by our mobile exploitation capabilities are critical to defeating asymmetric weapons. Joint explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) forces and the weapons technical intelligence community, through a partnership unique to operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, are able to exploit adversary weaponry and identify the critical nodes in IED supply chains. Joint EOD resources provide the Joint Forces Command (JFC) with the capability to capture and salvage foreign material in forward positions and collect, analyze and exploit technical data.
Empirical evidence is the cornerstone of a collaborative exploitation process. When complemented by the forensic sciences, technical data can inform decision-makers or provide meaning for action in permissive and semi-permissive environments.
Although the value of a synchronized, deployable exploitation capability has been demonstrated, challenges remain. Historically, many of these enablers were rushed into battle and refined in place. Initially, the Joint IED-Defeat Organization served as the procurement vehicle for a preponderance of tools, equipment and systems related to mobile exploitation capabilities. However, capabilities were often presented to commanders without an adequate organizational construct or integration plan.
Despite adding value to operations in multiple theaters, a majority of enablers were delivered in an inefficient manner. Techniques and procedures for integration into the commander’s operations tempo were typically developed in the heat of combat.
After a decade of battlefield experience, the deployable exploitation capability has been developed, resourced and has proved to be a necessary tool in the commander’s kit bag for addressing irregular warfare threats. As commanders and planners grow familiar with the value of a deployed exploitation capability, they will include a need for those resources in their deployment planning.
Unfortunately, while a workable organizational construct has been established and trained personnel are ready for deployment, the concept as a whole has not been formally institutionalized.
The time has come to address the doctrine, organization, training, leadership and education, personnel and facilities considerations that underpin this capability. Establishing a single exploitation enterprise to synchronize the aggregate of DoD, service, interagency and even multinational exploitation resources would significantly enhance responsiveness to combatant command requirements.
A lean exploitation enterprise will allow decision-makers to speed up tactical and operational timelines and capitalize on fleeting opportunities to inflict damage upon the enemy.
Joint task force staffs reinforced by a reachback capability can integrate and analyze technical information to prevent technological surprise, assess foreign scientific and technical capabilities, and develop countermeasures to enemy advantages. They can facilitate technical-scientific collaboration between civil-military actors, refine targeting processes, and offer criminal support to prosecution.
The mobility of exploitation enablers underpins our technical-scientific approach to military exploitation. Exploitation packages and related materiel must continue to be scalable and modular to conduct activities in support of operations across the range of military operations.
Michael Chappen is a subject matter expert on Counter-IED operations and topics related to IED-Defeat. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.