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Aerial ISR Inside an ESC

The 103d Sustainment Command (Expeditionary) took over an aerial intelligence, surveillance,
and reconnaissance program from its predecessor and increased the capabilities of that program through persistence and cooperation.

When the 103d Sustainment Command (Expeditionary) (ESC) arrived at Joint Base Balad, Iraq, the intelligence section, or G–2, learned that its predecessor, the 13th ESC G–2, had recently developed and implemented an aerial intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) program.

The 13th ESC G–2 section had created, resourced, and institutionalized a program of systematically requesting unmanned aircraft systems and other types of reconnaissance aircraft to patrol the skies over areas with identified threats to convoy escort teams. Video from the aircraft was streamed in through a computer for the section to monitor. The 13th ESC G–2 had the capability to communicate with the aircraft, directing it to any suspicious activity it witnessed during a mission. The 103d ESC decided to continue its predecessor's aerial ISR mission when it replaced the 13th ESC.

Spartan Field Kitchen

An MQ–1 Predator unmanned aircraft system awaits its next mission at Balad Air Base, Iraq. The Predator is used for armed reconnaissance, airborne surveillance, and target acquisition in Iraq. (Photo by Airman 1st Class Jonathan Steffen)

Recognizing the ISR Requirement

Logistics operations need to be supported by an ISR program. ESC convoys constantly traverse dangerous areas of operations and represent a critical link in the supply chain, which could have a significant impact on operations if disrupted. With finite route possibilities, known destinations, and limited movement times, convoys are regularly targeted by the enemy.

Supply lines are the lifeblood of any military force, and history shows that protecting them is vital to mission success. The primary threats to sustainment in Iraq are the enemy's improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and explosively-formed penetrators. These threats can be mitigated by protective armor to shield personnel and cargo, but that is only one part of the defense. Another layer of defense is a trained set of eyes using technology to provide overwatch for the vehicles moving the beans, batteries, and bullets.

Every division and major subordinate command in the Army except for the ESC has ISR assets. In Iraq, the ESC's "eyes in the sky" belong to U.S. Forces–Iraq (USF–I) and are located throughout the country. USF–I allocates these assets to the divisions, which in turn share them among their subordinate brigades and retain a few platforms at their headquarters for their own requirements.

Because each level possesses its own platforms, each has created its own system of requesting, processing, documenting, and tracking internal requests for ISR coverage. Any attempt to coordinate ISR coverage over a considerable stretch of a main or alternate supply route requires synchronization through multiple operational environment owners (OEOs), each with its own unique way of doing things.

Force reductions and equipment reallocations to Afghanistan have reduced the availability of fixed-site force protection and other operational requirements. Affecting ISR efforts even further, division G–2 and USF–I J–2 staffs are many times the size of an ESC G–2 section.

Performing With Limitations

The 13th ESC ISR program was fully functional but was limited in its scope and ability to add protection to the force. While the U.S. Division–Center (USD–C) in the Baghdad area readily provided the 13th ESC with priority of effort for ISR aircraft, the ESC rarely received approved requests from the other U.S. divisions throughout Iraq.

Furthermore, the section's small size allowed only one Soldier to be used in the role of ISR manager. Some other concerns were the section's lack of training on imagery skills, reduced bandwidth, and insufficient computing power for the robust needs of full-motion video (FMV) feeds.

In the 6 months before the 103d ESC's arrival, the 13th ESC experienced more than 100 IED attacks on convoys. Those attacks made up roughly 7 percent of all attacks against U.S. troops and Iraqi Security Forces along the routes regularly used.

Taking Over the ISR Mission

Although the 13th ESC G–2 section built a strong foundation for conducting ISR operations and had a sound, systematic approach, the program required growth. To maintain or even consider expanding the existing ISR program, the 103d ESC would face the same challenges that its predecessor had endured.

The 103d ESC's G–2 section was not trained in collection management or imagery analysis. Resourcing normal day-to-day operations spanning a 24-hour period proved to be difficult for the small staff. But the section had one advantage: The ESC commander and G–2 leaders recognized the importance of having an organic ISR program.

The commander mandated that the 103d ESC seek all seven capabilities of protection: synchronization of route clearance, presence, close air support, air weapons teams, airborne electronic attack, civil engagement, and the G–2's priority, ISR. Despite the section's constraints, it formulated an aggressive approach with the end state of expanding the ISR program it inherited. With ISR as both a G–2 and command goal, the G–2 reprioritized and redistributed the workload among the team, freeing up time and energy.

The first focus was on maintaining the existing relationships the 13th ESC fostered in creating the program. It was apparent from the beginning that both the USD–C commanding general and the collection team were highly receptive to ISR needs. With most of the attacks occurring in the Baghdad province, this allowed the G–2 to preserve the existing effort within the most probable area of concern. The G–2 dedicated one Soldier to ISR at night, when most activity occurred, and initially focused on USD–C.

While sustaining the ESC's inherited program, the G–2 brainstormed new methods to expand and improve the program. The team communicated with its sustainment brigades, the USF–I headquarters, and the collection management teams at each of the divisions in an effort to understand all of the systems in place throughout the area of operations and to gather best practices. Objectives were explained and discussed, as were the named areas of interest (NAIs), to every senior leader and resource manager who was available to listen.

The G–2 section came to the consensus that em-ploying economy of force by taking a three-pronged strategy was the best solution. First, the ESC continued to request ISR for areas where coverage of its enduring NAIs was already provided through USD–C. Second, the ESC identified when and where OEOs and divisions allocated their ISR platforms along routes of interest. This allowed the ESC to tune in to equally relevant missions conducted by other elements and piggyback off of their FMV feeds when ESC missions were scrubbed.

Finally, based on recommendations from both the USD–C and U.S. Division–North, the ESC G–2 employed the sometimes underused counter-IED platform technologies that are held at the division level. These platforms use technologies beyond FMV and reach back to dedicated analysts who report suspicious activity in real time.

Cooperating for Greater Force Protection

The 103d ESC G–2 worked to shape a close professional relationship with the engineer brigade responsible for route clearance teams (RCTs) on most of the routes that the ESC's convoys traveled. Within 30 days of the ESC's arrival, engineer and ESC elements began a cooperative endeavor that included sharing intelligence, a common operating picture, and NAIs and their criteria, such as geographical and attack-level parameters. They also exchanged ideas about synchronizing RCTs, ISR, and convoy movements.

Instead of trying to convince asset managers to permanently dedicate an ISR platform specifically to the 103d ESC, the ESC pursued ISR assets that already covered its logistics areas of interest and requested access to the mission results. The ESC's ISR situation was communicated to anyone who would listen to inform them of the ESC's mission and needs.

A last-minute meeting with a sympathetic USF–I asset manager and a contract lead resulted in the ESC's hiring of two contracted ISR analysts. Shortly after, the ESC received two Persistent Surveillance and Dissemination System of Systems and a field service representative who helped the ESC to expand the number of ISR FMV feeds and better monitor and analyze them.

Within 60 days of arrival, the 103d ESC's ISR program had grown from being the additional duty of one individual to being the responsibility of four dedicated personnel with the capacity to improve the force protection of ESC activities. With two ISR analysts on the job, the G–2 was able to monitor the ESC's day and night operations. The battle rhythm and products were refined to ensure that subordinate and sister units knew the details of the ESC's missions and how to contact the G–2 for any reason.

The increasingly comprehensive program required procedures for notifying RCTs and operations staff after identifying suspicious activity on a route. Both the operations and G–2 staffs worked concurrently to inform personnel about hazards.

Specifically, the chief of operations worked with the appropriate divisions to ensure that RCTs reacted to threats and that convoy escort teams in the immediate vicinity were notified. In turn, ESC analysts in the joint operations center provided updates on situations, worked with their OEO counterparts to validate hazards, and worked to bring in more assets to help. The ISR system also provided situational awareness to the commander and staff about specific convoys with respect to attacks, traffic congestion, and accidents.

Implementing the ISR Mission

The added synergy and knowledge inherent in having trained ISR personnel allowed the 103d ESC to create depth by initiating a standard collection request for national-level imagery over areas in which the ESC had an ongoing interest. This allowed for coverage of immediate threat areas derived from human intelligence and other sources. The expansion also required the development of an ISR operational summary that was distributed daily throughout the command to ensure operations, support operations, mobility, and intelligence staffs had visibility of when, where, and what the G–2 team was covering.

Throughout the deployment, improvements continued to be made from the ESC foxhole, creating initiatives that built efficiency and effectiveness and further expanded the 103d ESC's ISR abilities. One member of the G–2 staff modified the NAI criteria, moving away from a model that originally encompassed only active main and alternate supply routes and enemy activity within a geographical area. This initiative also incorporated data on convoy activity and route clearance times and locations, resulting in prioritized NAIs.

An ISR analyst developed an ISR management system that organized asset scheduling, mapping, and mission requests into one user-friendly interface. As a shop, the 103d ESC G–2 aggressively pursued access to additional ISR feeds, coordinated their use with other sections and subordinates, revalidated requirements, and refined processes to enhance the counter-IED, RCT, and quick-reaction force efforts.

A number of lessons learned were developed from this mission. First, the ISR effort should not cause competition between tactical and sustainment operations. The U.S. divisions and ESCs are all too often targeted on the same routes and have the same goal of interdicting enemy activity.

Likewise, communication through partnerships, networking, and relationships often compensates for shortfalls in staff. Collaboration is impossible inside a vacuum, and using resources and maximizing economy of force can provide great results.

Finally, through conversations at every level, the 103d ESC discovered that sustainers, when dealing with operational partners and higher headquarters, must articulate their needs before they will receive the resources they require. Only when the cohorts and personnel within the intelligence hierarchy were educated did the G–2 section gain access to the assets they needed.

Captain Jonah E. Krause is the deputy G–2 of the 103d Sustainment Command (Expeditionary). He has a bachelor's degree in business administration from William Penn University.


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