In his capacity as co-chair of a QDR panel on “joint enablers,” Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence Dr. Stephen Cambone keeps raising the same hard question: What do I need all these guns for if I don’t know where to shoot? The military services have pretty much conquered the challenge of precise targeting. They can hit anything they can find — not just with high explosives, but with non-kinetic and even non-lethal force. But they often can’t find the enemy, because effective terrorism and insurgency is all about keeping out if sight. So Cambone is arguing with inexorable logic that the Pentagon should be spending less money on the shooters, and more money on the sensors that can find and track targets.
A bit of science helps explain the problem. There are four forces at work in the universe: the strong and weak forces that bind and decay atoms, gravity, and electromagnetism. Electromagnetism is the most useful force in looking for enemies, because people and machines generate a range of distinctive electromagnetic “signatures” from radio waves to infrared to visible light. All of these emissions are arrayed on a spectrum in which the length of their waves (“wavelength”) decreases as their vibrations per second (“frequency”) increases. Once you have figured out what actions produce particular wavelength/frequency combinations, you can build sensors to find the source of those emissions. And just about everything has a signature — your computer, your watch, your eyes, even your pants as they rub together. In fact, most things have multiple signatures; your car has over a dozen.
What Under Secretary Cambone wants is a global network of pervasive, persistent sensors that can collect and process all of the electromagnetic signatures generated by adversaries into a composite picture of threats that is continuously updated. That might sound pricey, but in fact hundreds of billions of dollars could be saved on unneeded weapons systems if the military had a reliable way of localizing elusive threats. The Air Force is likely to be lead agent for implementing this vision, because it has a lock on most of the relevant technologies. But which technologies are most important?
Some are too touchy to discuss, such as the next generation of eavesdropping satellites being developed by the National Reconnaissance Office’s signals-intelligence directorate. But three systems stand out as must-haves. First, Space Radar which would provide continuous tracking of ground vehicles plus imagery in any weather superior to what will be delivered by the planned Future Imagery Architecture. Second, an improved Global Hawk unmanned aerial vehicle that can simultaneously collect imagery and signals intelligence for days at a time over vast areas. And third, a joint electronic aircraft that can subsume the sensor functions of planes being developed for the Army, Navy and Air Force. Tying these and other assets together in an integrated architecture will be challenging, but success would save more money than it spends.
Find Archived Articles: