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9/12/2012
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Army Commanders: Let Us Choose Big Data Apps

The Army faces a technology control debate as some commanders ask to choose their own big data intelligence apps, looking to prevent more troop deaths from IEDs.

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Many enterprise software vendors claim their products underpin customers' mission-critical applications or data. Few are able to point to reduced body counts.

In Afghanistan, better information and better analysis has helped reduce the number of deaths among Western coalition troops by 10% to 12% so far this year, according to the Pentagon.

During the first three months of 2012, only 5% of detected IEDs affected coalition troops, according to figures provided by the Pentagon's Joint IED Defeat Organization. Bombings and casualties rose during the warm, more-active months of the Afghan "fighting season," but are still 10% to 12% lower than this time last year, according to an AP story.

So far this year, IEDs have claimed only 44% of all coalition troops killed in Afghanistan, according to iCasualties.org, which tracks war-related deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan. During 2009, 61% of fatalities among U.S. troops in Afghanistan were due to IEDs. In 2010, the number dropped to 58%, according to iCasualties.

[ Read Army Plans Overhaul Of Virtual Training Games. ]

The steady drop is directly attributable to an increase in real-time information and observation of bomb planters from a growing network of observation towers, balloons, and observation aircraft, according to Lt. Gen. Michael Barbero, director of the Pentagon's Joint IED Defeat Organization.

During the early years of the war, coalition forces relied far more on tips from local Afghans, many of which were unreliable due to the questionable loyalties of those with good enough ties to the Taliban to have solid information on IEDs, and the questionable quality of intelligence from the rest, according to security analysts.

Towers, balloons, and aircraft allow U.S. and coalition troops to keep a direct eye on the roads being booby-trapped, while also making troops more effective in using remote-controlled robots and other standoff methods to check for or blow up IEDs before troops are in range. The higher the quality of information the military gets--especially real-time information gathered by direct observation--the more effectively it can operate and the less fighting troops have to do to accomplish their missions, John Arquilla, a professor of defense analysis at the Naval Postgraduate School, said Wednesday in an NPR story.

Army wants cloud, commanders prefer "bring-your-own" apps
For the Pentagon, the fly in the ointment is that some of its commanders in the field claim casualties are still higher than they should be because the Pentagon requires them to use intelligence and analyses from its custom-designed Distributed Common Ground System-Army (DCGS-A) tool--a massive, cloud-like series of interlinked systems that combines human and signal intelligence from all four military services to deliver recommendations, alerts, and warnings.

DCGS-A is a huge improvement over the nine standalone intelligence-analysis systems the army had used for intelligence of different types from different locations, according to PEO-IEWS, the Army unit responsible for developing new technologies to help combat troops in the field. The big difference between DCGS-A and other intelligence-distribution system is that previous efforts focused on feeding information to high-level commanders rather than those in the field.

DCGS-A was built with the realization that counter-insurgency tactics have to be set by and for commanders of ground troops in the field rather than generals in Washington. As a result, the system is designed to boil down intelligence from more than 200 sources of information to the point that local commanders can select, share, or correct the data according to their own immediate need to avoid IEDs or find insurgents.

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