The Situation Room
At the battalion command post outside Balad, cables spill along the floor like the guts of an electronic beast. Flat-screen monitors display both grainy black-and-white and color surveillance footage, as many as 20 feeds at a time. Tower-mounted cameras, unmanned spy planes, even Air Force and Marine Corps fighter jets toting infrared targeting pods supply the images. It's an absolute torrent of information for the battalion's rumpled intelligence officer, Captain Pete Simpson, and his team of five analysts. With it, they keep watch over more than 1,000 square miles of Iraq from their desks.
A few years back, a division headquarters supporting 10,000 or 20,000 troops might not have had access to this much real-time footage. "We've got more stuff than we have any right to," Simpson jokes. But he can do more than get views from overhead. Thanks to the Sincgars radios, junior officers like him can quickly coordinate ad hoc missions with whatever jets and helicopters happen to be in the air-and order them to attack. "When I was a junior officer, this happened at the corps level," says Simpson's commanding officer, Lt. Col. Jeffrey Vuono, referring to an Army unit with 20,000 to 40,000 men. "Now we're doing it at the patrol level."
The air-ground collaboration is one of dozens of different ways that
network-centric tools are slowly starting to rejigger the military's hidebound hierarchies. In the Gulf War, the various armed services didn't talk to one another much, except at the highest levels. That's partly why there was a six-week air campaign and then a ground attack. During the 2003 invasion, the air and ground assaults struck at once.
But one of the most powerful tools in battalion command posts like these, notes Garstka, the network-centric theorist, may be one of the simplest: a Web browser, so junior officers can log into secure online forums. There captains and lieutenants can swap tactics, well before they appear in printed field manuals. This is critical in a place like Iraq, where insurgents' strategies change almost daily. When First Cavalry Division captain Chris Manglicmot first started seeing car bombs in his northeastern Baghdad sector, he turned to the division's collaborative site, Cavnet, for advice. Spread out your checkpoint, he learned, so the bombers don't have a central target. Look for vehicles that ride heavy and low. Watch for cars that drive aggressively, with shades pulled over the windows. There could be a bomb inside.
Paper, Not Pixels
Picking his way through the crumbling houses of Ad Duluiyah, Feldmayer is tied to the American grid by only the thinnest of threads. There's no way for him to get on any collaborative Web site from here. Most of his men are out of reach, scattered throughout the town. Many don't have radios; traditional Army fighting doesn't call for individual soldiers to be separated from their squad very often.
Feldmayer follows the Iraqi soldiers he's been teamed with across a dark, muddy, pothole-riddled yard. A locked gate bars the way to a group of houses. One of Feldmayer's U.S. soldiers blasts it open with a shotgun, and the men spill into the yard in front of a large dwelling. Soldiers crowd the front door, pounding with closed fists and yelling in Arabic. Women and children dart around corners and disappear into rooms. Tired men scurry outside, obviously spooked.
Feldmayer doesn't like the aggression. "Just take it easy," he tells the Iraqi troops through the patrol's interpreter, to the civilians' palpable relief. One of the men gathered in the yard gestures to the lieutenant. Feldmayer grabs the interpreter and shakes the Iraqi man's hand. "Salaam," Feldmayer says. The three put their heads together, muttering in English and Arabic.
Suddenly Feldmayer cuts off the conversation and urges the man and the interpreter around a corner. "He says he knows who the bad guys are around here," Feldmayer says. The interpreter takes notes as the informant rattles off names and addresses. If the Pentagon's vision of networked forces were realized here, he would be typing into a handheld computer, wirelessly connected to a network. The names would immediately be cross-checked with databases of known guerrillas and disseminated to local commanders. But for now, the patrol's interpreter writes down the Ad Duluiyah suspects on paper, using a pencil.single page
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