With the new DARPA technology, soldiers are getting more and better information. But some experts say that for the soldiers to be truly empowered, military doctrine and organization will need to change too. “I have seen one after another of these interesting networking technologies come along, and none of them has made a dent in the institutional resistance to organizational change or doctrinal innovation,” says John Arquilla, a professor of defense analysis at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, CA, who is a progenitor of the concept of network organization in the military. Yes, he says, patrol leaders can now enter information into the system more easily. But “we still have divisional-, brigade-, and battalion-level structures, mostly on supersized forward operating bases, with the number of smaller outposts relatively few. If we are going to talk about a networked warfare, we need to put the network front and center in our thinking.” One way to do that is to deploy soldiers in smaller groups with more authority to make decisions.
That’s what happened in 2001, when special-operations forces were chasing al-Qaeda and the Taliban in the mountains of Afghanistan. When a team identified a target, it did not have to send a report up the chain of command and wait for a decision before acting. It could call on comrades and even call in air strikes. “If you believe that the real implication of the Information Age is the empowerment of small groups–and if there is any lesson from 9/11, that is it–we are really talking about information that allows small groups of people to do striking things,” says Arquilla. The Iraq counterinsurgency should fight the same way the special forces fought in Afghanistan, he says.
Still, even without the kinds of organizational changes that Arquilla is advocating (see “Network Warfare”), DARPA’s new software system is empowering frontline soldiers and shaping operations. For example, in a telephone interview from Camp Falcon, 28-year-old Captain David Lively described how TIGR once helped soldiers track down a pair of mortar attackers. One night, Lively recalled, soldiers on patrol radioed back to base that they were being shelled. At the base, other soldiers tapped into the database and quickly found earlier reports of mortars coming from an intersection of two canals in the vicinity. “TIGR provided some real-time history to where we could look back where a common source was coming from,” Lively said. The soldiers at the base radioed the findings to their comrades and to a circling Apache helicopter. The pilot headed for the spot and was able to pursue a fleeing pickup truck with mortar tubes in its bed.
Michaelis says such anecdotes are not uncommon. “I can’t name the number of times that patrol leaders and company commanders have turned to me and stated [that] their most important tool they have to fight this fight has been TIGR,” he wrote. “I’ve had … time-sensitive operations that were able to make associations between the target being handed to them and local residents, [allowing the soldiers to find insurgents who otherwise would have escaped]. I’ve had patrol leaders avoid potential IED hot spots or pass on IED tactics to their fellow patrol leaders.”