The first law of aircraft…

…acquisition is that it must look good and thus Euro Hawk stumbles at even that first hurdle…

I subscribe to a digest of UAS-related issues from the Small Wars Council – often it lies dormant for weeks but this evening it delivered this corker item from Germany…an absolute how-NOT-to of aircraft (yes, unmanned aircraft ARE aircraft too) acquisition…

…because, of course, the second rule of aircraft acquisition is that it must actually meet a user requirement. One of the great idiocies of UA in the last decade is that people who really should know better are regarding UA as capabilities in their own right. The sad unfortunate and inconvenient truth is that UA are just like any other aircraft in that they provide a means to carry a capability through the air to (hopefully) create or apply specific effects. Those effects will probably fall into one of three functional groups of air power: Sense, Move, or Engage.

Some way down the acquisition path, there will be a decision point where the nature of the aircraft may need to be considered in terms of whether it should have seats or not. This decision should be based on a number of factors driven to a large extent by the environment in which it is expected that the aircraft will operate. And this is where the German methodology for Euro Hawk (assuming that such exists) unravels…surely not even the most zealous proponent on unmanned aircraft would realistically accept for a second that a large UA like Euro Hawk was ever going to be allowed to operate in the congested skies over western Europe?

The ‘sense and avoid’ issue is a bit of a red herring…the problem is not those airspace users that play by the rules: it is those that do not who pose the greater threat – unfortunately, as in so many things, it is the actions of the few that shape the rules that govern the many. The airways would most probably be far safer if all large aircraft flew automated courses, controlled by a central skynet air traffic control. Human error is one of the more common causes of air incidents and thus a higher, not lesser, degree of automation in the airways would promote flight safety. The Sully Sullenberger’s of the world aside, if a large modern aircraft suffers a major systems failure, the skill and experience of the crew is only so capable of countering that failure. The main benefit of a flight crew aboard an aircraft in distress is their real-time situational awareness that is denied to a emote operator.

But, getting back to the Germans…half a billion euros down the gurgler for a capability that it not only cannot operate at home but that it probably should not have ever thought it could so until UA are integrated into civilian airspace, something that is unlikely to occur on a large scale any time soon. But, airworthiness and compliance issues with Northrop-Grumman aside (get better contract writers), this investment need not be wasted. There is nothing stopping Germany entering into an agreement with one of more other nations for its Euro Hawks, if ever delivered, or a replacement UA (if they really really must have a UA in this class and not a more flexible manned ISR platform), to operate in someone else’s less congested airspace to maintain air and ground crew proficiency and possibly contribute to other outputs. There has been discussion that UK Reapers (which also cannot fly in western European airspace) may be based in Kenya to do exactly this. If Kenya does not appeal, why not Australia or New Zealand…?


UA are no  more capabilities in their own right than manned aircraft. Aircraft are a means of getting a capability to a specific point to create a  desired effect, and (ideally) back again.

Don’t give up the dream but definitely stop stoking the fire for premature integration of UAs into congested civilian airspace – just stoke the embers for now.

Read the contract before you sign it – if you don’t like it, then bin it (before you commit half a billion euros) and wait or identify a replacement supplier. Northrop Grumman is not the only player in this game.

The age of manned aircraft is not over yet.

Think outside the square – does your large expensive UA really have to be based at home?

Off to a good start for the Year of the Snake

Latest update in from the lads at Hawkeye UAV…homegrown Kiwi technology in action!!

North Otago, New Zealand

Early in the New Year we travelled to the South Island to undertake a large task in the Waitaki river valley. The task consisted of the hi res survey of multiple wetlands and other sites earmarked for conservation along a 30km section of the valley in the vicinity of Kurow, North Otago. Having driven down from Christchurch we approached Kurow from the North and it was immediately apparent that the Waitaki river was in flood. A quick drive around the area, checking out both the Waitaki and Aviemore Dams confirmed that there was plenty of flow coming down.


After booking ourselves into the mighty Waitaki Hotel we settled into our stay and got on with the planning. With myself and David this time was Drew Gwyer, of Hawkeye UAV Americas, a very experienced aviator doing his “apprenticeship” on the AreoHawk. It was his second day in New Zealand too, so the rapid change from Maine, to Auckland, to Palmerston North and then ultimately Kurow was probably pretty eye opening! We did manage to treat him to some nice weather down there which was undoubtedly a good contrast to the snowstorms at home.


Damn hard to beat a North Otago pub!!!!

On the morning of the second day, complete with our bountiful packed lunches prepared by the tavern staff, we headed out early to begin flight ops. We had in the region of 12 tasks to conduct over the coming days, some of quite significant size (7-8km²). We managed a full day of flying with three full sorties and a good start to our overall programme of work.


We received reassuring confirmation that our published NOTAM (Notice To Airmen) had been observed by the local helicopter operators too, who checked in with us and maintained safe clearance via radio communications during their operations alongside us in the valley.

The next day started out well but unfortunately was soon blowing 50-70km/h of wind and while we did launch and test the conditions, it was plain that it wasn’t ideal for accurate data capture.


Once we had resumed flying ops we began making good progress along the valley and through our tasks. We operated from a variety of sites, most of them adjacent to the river or on farmland nearby, having been up and down on the first day and arranged access with the property owners.



During the 6 days down in the Waitaki we lost a couple of days to weather, both from wind and rain and that did give us a chance to visit Oamaru and Moeraki and also to further Drew’s exposure to the great kiwi flat white. We did finish the job successfully despite the weather hiccups and bade farewell to the Waitaki Hotel and its friendly staff, heading back north to Christchurch for our return home with a hard drive full of raw imagery for processing.

Reno, Nevada USA

Later in January Hawkeye UAV travelled to the USA to put on a series of demonstration flights in conjunction with Hawkeye UAV Americas (HUA), at Reno-Stead airfield in Nevada. This was in part sponsored by the good folks from the Reno-Tahoe Airport Authority who have a state sponsored initiative to promote the growth of the UAV industry at Reno-Stead, which is also home to the Reno Air Races. To say they were warmly accommodating doesn’t really do them service, they were fantastic. On the threshold of the lesser used cross vector runway at Reno-Stead they had set up a luxurious tent complete with gas heating, coffee and catering to keep us all in great style. What we also had but hadn’t bargained for was a lot of snow on the ground! Being mid-Winter Nevada did not disappoint, providing mind-focussing temperatures a couple of degrees above freezing. I must also add that being accommodated at a Casino-Hotel was a bit of an experience for us kiwis who can count the total number of real casinos at home on just one hand.


The plan for the week here was to demonstrate the setup, flight and capability of the AreoHawk system to a steady stream of VIP guests from a range of interested industries, culminating with a media day on the final day. With the help of HUA we got underway on the first day, and after a coffee or two and warming our hands we launched the Hawk into the crisp but sunny skies of Reno-Stead, which rests at 5,000’ above sea level.


We had an allocated “flight box” for our use from surface to 700’ AGL north and east of our location and proceeded to survey it, snow and all. Photographing snowy ground, especially from altitude, was going to present an interesting proposition and not something we had undertaken before, so we were curious to see just how well it would turn out, both the imagery and the point cloud.

Orthomosaic result from Reno-Stead demo flights

As it turned out, the results were very good. Here’s a snapshot of the orthomosaic generated. Note the tent and vehicles in the bottom right corner.

In all, we flew the Hawk four times in three days, with lots of news media and VIPs in attendance for the final flight. This one, like the preceding flights went completely without a hitch, and the interviews and questions afterwards lasted longer than the duration of the sortie!


Links to the corresponding media articles and news footage is here on our facebook page.

While at Reno-Stead we were also very fortunate to see some very cool aircraft, including a MiG-21 that did circuits right next to us, and we got to visit Aviation Classics, an amazing repair and custom refit shop.



Surveyors leading the way with UAV technology

The first UAV operator’s course of the year was run from the end of January through to mid-February. On the course were two staff from Beasley and Burgess Surveyors Ltd of Northland, and two from Juffermans Surveyors Ltd, of New Plymouth. Both companies have purchased AreoHawk systems and their operators have now completed training ready to undertake survey work with their new gear.

Hawkeye UAV Ltd’s commitment to ongoing support and working relationships will see us maintaining a mentoring and flight supervision role, plus providing advice and assistance with planning.

Kevin O’Connor and Associates Ltd of Palmerston North are the third North Island survey firm to purchase an AreoHawk system and their training is about to begin in the coming weeks.

Engagement with survey companies is a great step forward for us. Each one is in a distinct area or province and allows greater reach of our UAV technology into these areas. Surveyors have existing client bases that will be well-served by the AreoHawk system and will also now be able to control their own aerial photography and 3D terrain requirements of all sizes, without the need for outsourcing. Additionally, all their data will be processed at home in New Zealand rather than offshore.

More operations from Birlik Harita in Turkey

These photos are from our Turkish partners during a Cadastral Survey along the long and narrow Datça Peninsula. Datça has nine villages scattered along the peninsula. These are; Cumalı, Emecik, Hızırşah, Karaköy, Kızlan, Mesudiye, Sındı, Yakaköy, Yazıköy. The local villagers were intrigued with the UAV and spent all day with the crew from Birlik Harita.






New Zealand domestic services work

The following photograph is of Gareth in the Kawekas while on a Department of Conservation task monitoring pinus contorta. For this we conducted both RGB and NIR (Near Infra-Red) orthophotography at 4cm resolution. The area where the photo was taken is the only clear area of significance within the regulated flight range. This did cause some added thought to how to launch and recover the UAV, however that is part and parcel of the job. The start of the year has been mostly orthophotos, some with NIR and some without. We certainly welcome any task and hope to make the most of the great summer here in New Zealand at the moment.

!cid_0f4d4ccb90ce9d69500d2231273f05b4Wondering when this new-fangled technology will be gracing out skies more…? One really has to wonder why an ISR-short Government isn’t latching on to this…

Like a fine wine, a good year…

Just in from Hawkeye UAV, their end of 2012 newsletter…

2012 is nearly at the close and since the last update there has been much to report.

Our new operators, in Turkey and South Africa respectively, have been busy flying sorties with their new AreoHawks.  Quickly settling into their work and undertaking a range of tasks and a lot of flying.  Some sample data from a Middle East survey task is shown here.


One of our AreoHawk airframes is currently being used as a testbed aircraft for the development of hydrogen fuel cell technology.  The Defence Technology Agency (DTA) here in New Zealand is undertaking a project to perform airborne testing and a capability study in conjunction with the Australian Defence Science and Technology Organisation (DSTO), who are sponsoring the project.  The AreoHawk has been selected as it is considered a robust and stable platform, with the ability to support modification and more weight.  The fuel cell technology is expected to push flight endurance out to 5-6 hours!

Serious game changer for Class I UAVs which have been traditionally limited by short legs…all of a sudden a CLASS I UAS could have a 200 km operating radius and still have a two hour loiter time over its objective…

Another AreoHawk airframe has been on display as part of an exhibition at The National Library of New Zealand, in Wellington.  Part of the “Big Data / Changing Place” programme, our aircraft represents a Kiwi company that is contributing big things in the world of data.  The exhibition and events run until the end of Aril 2013.

If you’re in the capital, GO AND SEE IT!!

Also here at home we have good news on covering the domestic services market.  Hawkeye UAV is forming partnerships with 3 established North Island survey companies.  Within their distinct regions these agencies will operate the AreoHawk, and grow the UAV survey capability around New Zealand with ongoing support from Hawkeye.  This collaborative arrangement will greatly help all parties and ease the pressure from the influx of domestic services work that keeps building month to month.

Amongst the tasks mentioned above are extended contracts for road building and engineering survey, conservation work and an extensive government facilities management portfolio (more on this next year).

We are making successful inroads into the development of both infra-red and multispectral data acquisition capabilities.  These will add some powerful tools to our arsenal and once again cement UAV technology as a very viable alternative to traditional manned aerial photography.

We have been mentioned in dispatches lately with a good news piece about our development of industry training packages for the safe and legal operation of UAV technology.  Published by the Aviation, Tourism and Travel Training Organisation (ATTTO) this article reaffirms our safety-first and procedural approach, and recognises Hawkeye UAV Ltd.’s commitment to working as an operator certified by the Civil Aviation Authority.

ATTTO article

Long overdue and about time…this will both make the skies safer by requiring operators to be trained AND certified AND accountable.

A new and exciting development for us that has only occurred in the past few days is the Australian Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA)certification of the AreoHawk for commercial use by our partner, AeroMetrex.  They are now the first AreoHawk UAV operator in Australia.  AeroMetrex, with the support of Hawkeye have been working very diligently with CASA for the better part of 2012 to obtain this endorsement. They promptly capped off this great news by announcing the sale of six AreoHawk systems within Australia.

CASA cert

Look for our write-up in the January edition of Coordinates magazine in the article “UAV/UAS – Potential and Challenges.”  Hawkeye has made a contribution on how we see the development of the technology and any hurdles to overcome.

Very way cool and great to see the Kiwi influence on the other side of the ditch…

Coming up early next year is a road trip of tasks and demonstrations in the western United States.  We have a succession of jobs to undertake that have been generated by the good work of Hawkeye UAV Americas (HUA).  There are some really interesting things on the list here, including the mapping of a whole town.  We hope to have some interesting shots and even more interesting stories to tell on our return.


Also in January Hawkeye will be running another UAV operators course for up to six new students.  These students, on completion of their conversion are likely to receive some serious on the job training as they are employed to assist with New Zealand tasks.  The summer months should permit plenty of flying and see each gain a lot of experience in a relatively short timeframe.



Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

International Globetrotters

Round round get around
We get around
Get around round round we get around
we get around
Get around round round we get around
From town to town
Get around round round we get around
We’re a real cool head
Get around round round we get around

Cheers to the Beach Boys for those opening words…

Just popped into the inbox…always good to see local lads doing well…the full update is in the Hawkeye UAV web site but I’ve taken the liberty of posting up the ISR-focused highlights below…this is cutting edge Kiwi technology, both in the aircraft technology and the imagery processing methodology…don’t forget that the processed imagery shown is actually a 3D model – very cool….and more so when you consider the size of the airframe doing the work….all images and text below © Hawkeye UAV…

At the end of September David and I departed Auckland, complete with UAV and cold weather kit, bound for Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia.   We arrived late Sunday night, to spend a week conducting tasks that included surveying an open cast coalmine in the North of the country.  Our host company MonMap took very good care of us and had made all internal arrangements for our stay and operations.

Mongolia is a really interesting place, mineral rich, particularly in copper and coal.  They have a young democracy born from the departure of Soviet control in 1989 at the time when the Iron Curtain was falling.  The legacy of Soviet rule is plain to see in Ulaanbaatar, particularly in its architecture.  That said, the obvious Western influence has definitely taken root in new business and development, and the culture of the city dwellers.  The predominantly Buddhist, Mongolian people are very open and friendly, fiercely patriotic and proud of their heritage and in particular their iconic founding father and conquering hero, Chinggis (Genghis) Khan.  His face is immortalised everywhere on statues, monuments, Vodka bottles and at least three kinds of very good local beer.  The capital’s international airport is of course named after him too.


Ulaanbaatar City

On Tuesday we travelled north via road to Sharyn Gol, a coal mining facility with a population of nearly 10,000 in the adjacent village.  Sharyn Gol was a former Soviet mine and the apartment blocks, main buildings and much of the legacy equipment remain.

Wednesday dawned overcast and with little wind initially which was an encouraging sign for the beginning of flight operations.  We had divided the whole facility into three flight areas, 1) The old and current open mines, 2) The steppes, railhead and facilities and 3) the village and outlying buildings.


Sharyn Gol mine HQ building, railhead and facilities


Mining equipment


Sharyn Gol coalmine

Throughout the morning the wind rose steadily and by the time we launched for our first sortie we were experiencing some good crosswind gusts in excess of 30 km per hour.  We conducted the flight as planned, with encouraging approval from the MonMap guys, a team of whom had laid out and very quickly tagged GPS markers for our ground control.  We had set up on the South rim of the pit clear of all mining operations and traffic, operating from out the back of MonMap’s Landcruiser. The flight duration was 72 minutes and we captured over 1,100 images. Recovery was routine, with the Hawk landing within 10 metres of our designated recovery spot.  Indicated wind gusts were registering as high as 47 km per hour and were blowing straight in off the Siberian plains.  Jackets and hats were the order of the day!  The AreoHawk took it all in stride.

After lunch we prepared for the next flight, launching from the South rim still, but further East this time, closer to our target area.  With more runs being conducted into and downwind, speed control and camera firing interval were of particular importance.  Our ability to adjust track, speed and turn radius on the fly, rather than relying on preplanned waypoints, comes into its own in these scenarios.  Despite the variable and strongly gusting winds, the task and subsequent recovery went smoothly and the Hawk landed within 20 metres of its programmed landing point.  Flight time was once again over 70 minutes long with in excess of 1,000 photos captured.

With the ever increasing wind and failing light we decided to conduct the final flight the next morning.  On the completion of Wednesday’s flying I started processing the imagery from flight 1, the mine.


AreoHawk 02 in MonMap livery


Parachute deployment, flight 1


About to touch down

Thursday morning was bright and sunny (and not as cold!).  With good light quite early we launched immediately after breakfast from an area North of the mine, within our target area.  This time we were operating adjacent to the foothills and the village lay stretched out on an incline, requiring David (on the controls for this sortie) to carefully manage acquisition altitude and terrain avoidance for the duration of the flight.  Being so close to the housing area and the schools we soon drew a steady stream of onlookers and curious folk keen to have a look at our operation and pose for photos with us and the UAV.

While the wind did once again grow in strength throughout the morning to over 30 km per hour it had little impact on the flight, which went very smoothly and was over 80 minutes in duration.  One of the main objectives of surveying the village and populated areas was to provide MonMap with a dataset for cadastral boundary and feature extraction.  The resulting product is very good and more than suitable for this purpose, especially with the GPS control applied.


Parachute hatch just popping on final recovery in Mongolia

Having completed flying operations and surveying more than a combined 12 square kilometres (3,000 acres) across the three completed flights we packed our stuff and headed back to Ulaanbaatar.  This gave us the opportunity to get into some imagery processing in the office, and to play tourist a bit.

Overall the results from the Mongolia flights have been outstanding.  We captured a lot of imagery on each sortie, with very strong overlap.  Both the point clouds and the orthophotos are extremely pleasing.  Working with MonMap was outstanding and we look forward to our return to their country next year to deliver systems and training, and for the odd Chinggis Gold lager.  Results video here.

Sharyngol Mine

Orthophoto mosaic result sample


Digital Elevation Model generated from the dense point cloud


Mine orthophotos draped over terrain model

South Africa:

In September, Andre Henrico of Aeroscan Aerial Survey, South Africa, attended training in New Zealand on his new AreoHawk.  A seasoned UAV professional, Andre has been doing the business from his South African base for many years.  Upon his return home he wasted no time getting to work, deploying his new gear on a task in Botswana.

Andre was good enough to send us some photos and share some of his results.


Andre onsite with his AreoHawk preparing to get underway




Digital Surface model


Elevation profile superimposed in front of the terrain model

It’s dorky, it’s ugly and…

…and it serves no useful purpose…

A solution in search of a problem

OK, so, yeah whatever, it’s technically very cool and it’s not REALLY an aircraft so you can let a couple of NCOs operate it – and of course save a bundle on what you would actually have to pay a proper crew…

I’m clearly a big fan of unmanned systems – in entirely the wrong job if I wasn’t – but it’s like they used to teach in the good old days at the Tactics School ‘..task with a purpose…’ that is, you don’t just do stuff simply because you can…

So what are my issues with the unmanned cargo aerial vehicle:

Even the acronym is dodgy as UCAV also represents unmanned combat aerial vehicle and I’m not sure we want to be getting to two confused. Maybe a good rule of thumb could be that if you have two acronyms that can be applied interchangeably but mean totally different things, then one of them has to change. Litmus test: would anyone be upset if the US announced it was deploying ‘UCAVs’ to Libya? (Let’s not go near the whole Syrian debacle…

It’s optionally manned i.e. the cockpit is still there and functional so that if required a pilot (one only as it is a single seater) can operate it. Sounds like someone is hedging their bets but who’d want to be flying a single seat unarmoured helicopter at low level in the badlands…possibly keeping it sellable so keep an eye out for some slightly used optionally manned K-Maxs on eBay.

It’s meant to save lives. How is not exactly clear. The greater numbers of casualties in a helicopter crash come from the passengers – this thing isn’t carrying passengers and it’s only doing ash and trash tasks which are not noted as being amongst the more dangerous helicopter missions unless all of a sudden boredom is actually a hazard.

Oh, I see, it’s meant to save lives by reducing the amount of ground traffic that needs to be exposed to the IED threat. But haven’t we been doing the airborne resupply thing for years now? What has K/Max really brought to the party except another aircraft type to maintain and operate?

This whole thing of we’ll only travel by air because of the IEDs gives the lie to ‘war amongst the people’: having come in and screwed up your country, we happy for us to have the luxury of free air travel…whoa, you locals step away from the aircraft – you still get to travel by land and risk the threat aimed at us. Yeah right, much as we don’t want our people to go in harm’s way, this is simply ceding the ground to the bad guys which bad. What’s worse is that validates IEDs as valid and effective tools to employ against ground forces. Expect to see (LOTS) more of them until they go the way of the Zeppelin and and made untenable as weapon systems. That means putting more resource into countering IEDs to the left, well to the left of the BANG. the K-Max UCAV isn’t going to help you there.

The K-Max might actually add to the problems created by ceding the land environment (great for air forces though!!) because every boring mundane MANNED ash and trash mission puts eyes on the ground, and the more that they cover the same area on a routine basis, the greater the familiarity they build up and the more likely they are to be able to detect and identify some form of anomaly or indicator that might need to be followed up.

Every manned helicopter currently doing the ash and trash mission can be reroled on the fly for emergency dust-off of casualties or to provide airborne ISR for troops in contact…can’t really do that with the K-Max UCAV. You also can’t use it to provide quick fires with its door guns because it doesn’t have doors let alone guns…can’t toss an airborne sniper up in it either…

There are hidden costs. This thing is not fitted with any form of self-protection system so its only really any good where there no air threat to helicopters. One also wonders how good the flight control system is once the aircraft has been damaged in flight – will it be able to autonomously divert to an alternate LZ or even opt to make an emergency landing in the field?

So sorry, close but no cigar…UAVs are useful but they are not a universal panacea for all ills and they certainly do make the IED issue ‘go away’…but everything has to actually contribute meaningfully to the war effort and, as writ to date, the K-Max UCAV simply doesn’t…

Comms Restored

Bit the bullet tonight and bought another one of these…prepaid only…so that I can stay connected when I am on the road and so Carmen can do the same with our other one: also means that when I am home alone, I can be connected for work and stuff as well (still no landline broadband options in Raurimu) although we might do the Farmside thing if I can arrange to be doing more full time work from home again (if the Ohakea Mess can survive a big drop in its house red consumption!!)…anyway, prepaid mobile broadband gives me the option of loading the stick up when I need it…I bought it from this outfit…

…which a few years ago, even last year, would have surprised me as Telecom here always been the monolithic unresponsive unfriendly mega(by local standards) corp which has done little to really satisfy consumer demand or concerns…but…I have to say that, since its big XT network meltdowns in 2009, not only does the CEO, Paul Reynolds, still have his job but he has managed to steer the organisation to the point where it is providing excellent mobile coverage, especially for data which is the only way that we ruralites have been able to break free from the constraints of dial-up internet access…when Telecom rebranded to its new logo last year, I would have offered that it represented the asterisk that referred to the contractual fine print that no one ever read but which granted Telecom an out from any obligations to provide anything resembling service…

With a firm hand at the helm, it has certainly turned around its mobile services with high speed coverage over most of the country and certainly putting its two closest rivals to shame…

I’m really looking forward to this C2ISTAR conference for the next week or so…it has been a ‘challenge’ to set up and certainly a good learning experience…and, in previewing some of the presentations this afternoon, I am fascinated by some of the developments that have been going on in the last year…

Staying focused in Afghanistan

A couple of months ago, in The Information (R)evolution, I made comment on an article in the Sept 10 C4ISR Journal, Shifting Terrain (After the C4ISR JOurnal site was taken down the only record of the original article I have is my original scribbled on one). On later reflection, I thought that it might be more constructive to offer a counterpoint to this article in the Journal as a means of furthering discussion and awareness of the nature of the contemporary operating environment. C4ISR Journal was happy to pick up my commentary and have just published it in the November 2010 issue…so, with no further ado, may I present for your professional information and review…Staying focused in Afghanistan

The version published is actually the penultimate version but technology conspired against us while I was on the road last month and neither myself nor Ben Iannotta, the C4ISR editor, were able to close off the last few loose threads before the closure of the publishing deadline. I have a copy of the final version and will upload it here in a couple of weeks so as not to steal any fire from the Journal’s current issue…

I haven’t had a chance to read through the other articles yet except for NATO integrates ISR at all levels which I think is still a largely aspirational goal but at least someone senior is forcing the debate. While the lowest common denominator approach may have been successfully employed in peacekeeping operations in the 90s, where possibly the driving force within the operation is the number of national flags waving at the table, it remains patently unsound for operations to the right of peacekeeping on the spectrum of conflict. More complex campaigns require entry bars to be set across a range of key enablers that might include language, doctrine, technical interoperability in communications, C2 and information systems, and levels of training in selected key skills…


Today’s COIN Center VBB

As below, Dean presented at the COIN Center’s Virtual Brown Bag session this morning…the slides and audio file will be posted on the Center’s website in the next few days…I may be offline for a week or so as I am off globetrotting again but will link them in when I get an opportunity…in the meantime I strongly recommend that anyone with a personal or professional interest in contemporary intel issues, key an eye of the site and download both files when they become available. This is very good stuff and at least on a par with MG Flynn’s Fixing Intel paper from earlier this year…

Top effort from Dean and it is great to see a compadre’s efforts paying off like this….

As a taster, here’s some of the questions that were asked during the session (to hear the answers, you’ll need to download the files…)

MAJ Decker BCTP – guest: Coming in loud and clear

Peter Sakaris – guest: To understand the environment over time shouldn’t we be getting better more reliable HUMINT through increased population interaction? I would think that the example of a new officer working with a veteran police officer in the CONUS as you described would help to do this in the COIN environment. Obtaining the institutional knowledge of an environment can come from people that live in that environment because they live it every day and are in areas of the local community where it would be difficult for us to get into.

Kevin Frank JIWC – guest: Not will ing give up on the analysis issue- believe that if we collect the correct data and present it to the analyst correctly, we’ll get better analysis at the current training levels, especially if the commander is asking the right questions…comments?

DK Clark, DTAC/CGSC – guest: Did you use the pattern-analysis plot, activities matrix, association matrix, and societal considerations in FM 3-24.2? If so, could you comment on problems with these methods/techniques of framing and displaying the intel analysis in COIN?

MAJ Decker BCTP – guest: Afghanistan Reintegration Program (ARP) is now doing the same as the Boston Gun Project by providing retraining opportunities to former insurgents

HOMBSCH, DAVID G Lt Col : Comment only (no need to repeat):   I love the quote – “analysts to be historians, librarians, journalists” – spot on.   I also totally agree, with exploiting reach back – generate staff with expert knowledge on specific regions, who understand normality, and can interpret important changes (indicators and warnings) to cross cue counter insurgent forces.  Hypothesis – there is a place for more foreign nationals in analysis teams in CONUS and allied intelligence agencies?

CPT Linn – guest: how are we integrating analysis into Data collected from FETs and HUMINTs in theater?

Peter Sakaris – guest: The Stability Academy, Kabul (formerly the COIN center of Excellence) is a COIN Academy that the leadership of deploying BCTs cycle through as part of their RIP/TOAs. They recommend the ASCOPE/PMESII-PT crosswalk as an analytical tool for helping gain the needed detailed understanding of the “complex human terrain”. Are you familiar with this, or other tools like it such as TCAPF and do you find them useful for this purpose? Have you seen other approaches not discussed that are/have been in use?

CPT Linn – guest: also how is that data utilized in targeting packages?

MAJ Allen Smith – guest: Do you vet and confirm info from gang leaders using SIGINT?  How do you build trust on a Narc?

Kevin Frank JIWC – guest: There are many units out there reporting data (CATs, FETs, PRTs, unit reports etc) . But are they getting the right information? ASCOPE is one guide- are there other collection guides out there that can help us get better data? Does the LE community have anythi

Kevin Frank JIWC – guest: anything that can help?

RODRIGUEZ, ISMAEL R USA  2: Any thoughts on the application of GIS in a police intelligence role? Do you think these techniques could translate well in COIN?

The Information (R)evolution

I’ve been marking papers for the last week or so, some good, some indifferent and a couple, well, you know…I handed the last lot back on Friday and, on my way out of the office on Friday, tossed the September issue on C4ISR Journal in my bag to snap my mind back into reading structured material by people who at least know how to write…

I haven’t been disappointed in the content in this issue, although it has made me long somewhat for the free time to be able to read more if not ALL of the journals that we receive each month…the title of this thread comes from the editorial in this month’s issue…Keep the revolution on course…

In this item, editor Ben Ianotta, applauds the US Army’s initiative to adopt commercial ‘smart’ phones as means of distributing and sharing (they ARE two different functions) information to troops on the ground. The idea came from Army Vice-Chief Peter Chiarelli last year “Give troops the same power over information enjoyed by the average commercial iPhone user.” While I’m sure that Apple enjoyed the iPhone plug, it will have to move fast if it wants any significant share of this initiative. Already competitors using competitive operating systems like Google’s Android are hitting the streets and at considerably LESS cost than iProducts. Apple, I think, seems to have a habit of misjudging the market and relying on customer loyalty for expensive products that offer LESS interoperability for vague and illusory benefits.

Much like, perhaps, some military product developers…who have still not figured out that, since the end of the Cold War, primacy in technological development has reversed from military R&D leaders to the commercial sector…that it has taken two decades from the turning point for the Army to accept distributing commercial communication devices to soldiers as something that it MUST do is mildly disturbing and also somewhat ironic in that the information-based revolution in military affairs, the long-vaunted RMA, focussed on massive bloated central information systems that never really delivered. In the meantime, there was this thing called the internet…

Another change heralded by this programme is a long overdue acceptance that classifying any and all information relating to operations does NOT have to be classified up the wazoo, and even less so if you actually want it to get to those who need it…what was that definition of knowledge management, sorry…information management…that we use…

…the right information…

…to the right people…

…at the right time…

…AND ensuring that they know what to do with it…?

Of course, this does NOT mean that everything should be tossed on the intranet and levels of classification done away with – although it would be an interesting experiment post-Wikileaks to see if the sudden flood of information could ever be processed by an adversary fast enough to act decisively on it.

On page 12 of this issue, there’s a short item on a mobile 3G network access system known as MONAX that would allow soldiers to access information with less reliance on commercial cellular systems. MONAX base stations “…could be positioned as fixed mast antennas on the ground, on vehicles, or in airborne assets such as aerostats, C-130 transport aircraft or – potentially – unmanned planes…” immediately below this item, is another on a Google Android-based wearable computer known as Tactical Ground Reporting or TIGR. It’s intended to facilitate situational awareness for individual soldiers and although currently designed to work over a tactical radio network, Android is designed for smart phone connectivity so it’s probably not too hard to join the dots here.

And speaking of joining the dots, page 8 reports on the first flight of the AeroVironment Global Observer. Weighing in it less than 10,000lbs but with a wingspan of 175 feet and a payload of 380lbs, the Global Observer is intended to fly at 65,000 feet for 160+ hours (that’s over a week!) for customers who might range from weather services to cell phone companies and others that need persistent coverage over an area.

More and more commercial off-the-shelf is the way to go, simply to get something out there now, instead of tediously slow, often bloated and inefficient, development projects…

The cover article starting on page 16 advises that Global Hawk will probably NOT be able to meet the current target date of 2013 to replace the venerable U-2 for high altitude long-range surveillance and reconnaissance. The problem is not so much that there is anything wrong with Global Hawk except it was never designed to replace the U-2 and thus has not been integrated with a number of the key collection systems employed by the U-2. This all dates back to a 2005 directive by the Rumsfeld administration in the US DoD to retire a number of older aircraft types including the U-2 and hammered home in 2007 with Rumsfeld’s certification that the U-2 was “…no longer needed to cover intelligence gaps…” I wonder which of that administration’s cronies might have stood to gain the most from contracts for a fleet of new S&R platforms..?

Unfortunately there is no even any agreement that Global hawk is a suitable replacement for the U-2…another go-round of the efficiency (cheaper) versus effectiveness (does the job) argument in which the chair polishing advocates of efficiency still demonstrate that they simply do not get that people are actually useful…SKYNET has nothing on some of these drones in diminishing the value of the human component of military, and thus national, power…

Woman to woman

MG Michael Flynn, 2Lt Roxanne Bras

I’m a little cynical about this next item, leading off on page 34, written by MG Michael Flynn, of Fixing Intel fame/notoriety (I thought it was both very good and long overdue but many consider otherwise) and 2Lt Roxanne Bras on the value of Female Engagement Teams (FETs). The one question that kept coming back to me as I read and then re-read this article was ‘What do FETs really do?’ Don’t get me wrong…I’m sold on the concept as it’s one that was used to considerable good effect during the six year BEL ISI mission on Bougainville (giving the lie to the description in the article of FETs as “…the newest tool to emerge from battlefield innovation…”) and was also described as a key enabler in a recent brief here by a visiting UK psyops practitioner.

My first concern with this paper is that it feels like ‘spin’ – maybe I’m just a bit too set in my ways but I’m having trouble understanding why a two-star general and a junior officer would need to collaborate on a two page article (two and a half if you include the pictures) – paper? Yes perhaps. A book, definitely but this just doesn’t feel right or genuine. Perhaps a better approach would have been to have write the paper and the other provide comment from their own perspective? I always remember an instructor at Tac School who hammered into us the concept of ‘task with a purpose’ – what is something there to do. Reading this article, I wonder what the intent of the author’s is. Clearly there has been some resistance to the FET concept but I’m not sure that this article is going to help any…

The FETs are described as key to gathering information within Afghan village culture but are specifically excluded from collecting intelligence. This implies that there is some distinction between intelligence and information but surely ANY information on adversaries and competitors (once known as the enemy), the weather and terrain (physical, human, informational, whatever) might fall under the heading of intelligence…? And surely, by mere virtue of engaging Afghan women in conversation, FETs will be gathering elements of actionable information be it actionable in training, targeting, situational awareness, etc, etc…

The article even goes so far to distinguish between FETs and Human Terrain Teams which also gather information on social and cultural terrain on the grounds that “…FETs have not been trained in information gathering and they do not know how to vet the information they gather…” Huh? So a FET is not trained to vet information that it is not trained to gather but which is the primary raison d’etre for its existence in the first place i.e. “…the FET can provide valuable information to the commander…”. Moreover while FETs are (quite rightly) not “…working to change Afghan culture and ‘liberate’ the women…”, they “…are a strategic asset…” and  “…should be applied using the very same inkblot strategy applied to [the] wider COIN strategy…” However the inkblot in COIN is indicative of spreading change, typically in growing (hopefully) support for the government and security forces…so what FET-inspired effect will be inkblotted across Afghanistan?

I’m sorry but as much as I think MG Flynn hit the nail fair on the head with Fixing Intel at the beginning of the year, in this case, I think he would have achieved more stepping back and allowing 2Lt Bras to promote the case for FETs based on her own experiences than with this top-level ‘spin’.

Shifting Terrain

Enter a caption

Following immediately on from the FET article is a rather superficial one criticising both Flynn’s Fixing Intel and the human terrain concept by “…US Army experts Paul Meinshausen and Schaun Wheeler…” In arguing that “…information about the human terrain is not the information that decision makers need to be able to work with local populations or defeat insurgencies…” They argue (weakly) that “…more important than data…is an understanding of the influences that drive behaviour…

As near as I can figure, their concept is that physical terrain and, more broadly, the physical environment is the key factor that affects a population and if we understand that environment, we can not only understand but influence the population. “The US and its allies need to let go of the assumption that conventional operations are somehow fundamentally different from counterinsurgent operations and consider the possibility that the population is just another group of people that adapts to its terrain just like any other friendly, neutral or enemy…” Ya think? Is that the arrogant ill-informed assumption that the flawed shock and awe doctrine was based on; the same doctrine that proved so bloodily ineffective in the first three years in Iraq ? Are these two “…experts…” really trying to say that it’s that simple, that all the work in the last five years on the shift from platform-based to individual-based warfare was just wrong and we had it right all along? Give me a break, please…

Nowhere in this article do the authors actually define where such understanding might come from, more so in the absence on what they claim is worthless ‘data’. I wonder if they might stop to think one night about the simple concept that perhaps understanding might be based upon analysis of lots and lots of bits of data and the application of that data against the context of the local environment. While dismissing the means by which we learn about cultures, including the old chestnut about anthropologists specifically criticising the human terrain system programme (in reality only a very small proportion of very vocal anthropologists have done so – the remainder seem happy to go about their anthropological business), they tell us that we need to learn about those same cultures in order to be able achieve our objectives in Afghanistan.

In the last paragraph before the ‘The Human Terrain Fallacy’ heading, the article states that an abundance of information on Afghanistan already exists from a vast range of non-military sources. This is absolutely correct but it is false to say this removes any requirement for the intelligence community to collect its own information. If anything the real problem that the authors allude to but never pin down in this article is that the problem is not in the collection but in the processing and analysis of this data, as both individual data sets and/or as a collated fused national data set. That the authors don’t ‘get’ this is clear when they follow on to declare a finding (in isolation) like “Dispute resolution must remain adaptive and flexible to setbacks and changes” as “…uselessly vague…”. As a statement on its own, this does seem like a statement of the blindingly obvious but then so do many other doctrinal statement – which is probably why they are espoused in doctrine in the first place. Examining that “uselessly vague” finding through a doctrinal lens, one might expect the context from which it has been ripped to include:

Examples of how dispute resolution processes have been applied with varying degrees of success.

A description of how that finding was derived.

Some distilled best practice guidelines, tips and techniques to assist the practitioner in getting it right.

Having spent a decade or so in the lessons learned game, some many clear and distinct observations and issues are ultimately distilled into similarly “uselessly vague” lessons which then form the basis of doctrinal change and evolution. Nowhere has this been more or better validated than through the ABCA Coalition Lessons Analysis Workshop (CLAW) process which was first implemented in 2005 and is now a key driver in ABCA processes.

This paper actually (painfully) reminds me of some of the less sharp papers I have graded in the last week or so. Instead of tasking itself with a clear purpose, it has the feel of a couple of first-year students more focused on being clever and impressing the staff with their brilliance…or what we call IntCorps-itis: always searching for the crucial piece of intelligence that will win the war instead of focusing on simply delivering good solid intelligence product…

I note that on Page 42, C4ISR itself awards this article a red ‘DANGER’ comment in its Attitude Check column and I wonder if someone else cancelled and this was all the C4ISR staff could find to fill the gap…it’s an article that’s not just immature but outright wrong and which would struggle to get an ‘F’ for ‘Fantastic’ on the marking scale….

In other news (in this issue)

There’s also some interesting updates on semi-autonomous EOD robots, iris scanning biometrics, the Blue Heron airborne multi-spectral imager and US Cyber Command and its challenges and opportunities.