On January 8, General Dynamics acquired a little-known product from a Virginia-based tech company that could prove to be one of the most valuable tactical intelligence tools the U.S. Army possesses. The program is called the Tactical Ground Reporting (TIGR) System, and what makes it different is that it was conceived to meet the needs of warfighters at the bottom of the command chain, rather than the top. Defense contractors usually prefer to pursue technology opportunities at the brigade level or higher because that’s where the big money is. In contrast, TIGR is designed for use by squad leaders, company commanders and other warfighters who operate in the line of fire every day.
Most of the action that matters in counter-insurgency warfare unfolds in isolated villages, urban alleyways and other out-of-the way venues that generals seldom see. Keeping track of what’s going on at that level of combat is hard, because it consists of thousands of little items like what a kid on the street said, how the cops at the local police station were acting, and where shopkeepers were behaving nervously. There are ways of preserving such perishable information, but nobody at a stateside buying command or in Centcom headquarters can write a complete set of requirements for how such tools should operate because every neighborhood that soldiers patrol is different. What warfighters need is a lightweight, portable system in which tactical intelligence can be constantly updated and shared — for example, with the squad that shows up to replace your squad. That squad needs to know right now what you saw on patrol today, with as much texture and nuance as possible.
TIGR stores such intelligence in a secure laptop that displays information in easily interpreted maps and graphics, and is linked to all the other units in the local fight. Where were weapons caches found? Which taxi drivers were friendly? What locations could be used by the enemy for ambushes? When did communications devices go dead? That kind of information changes every day, so it needs to be updated constantly. And it needs to be passed on when there is relief-in-place or transfer-of-authority among combat units. TIGR maximizes awareness of the human terrain in which counter-insurgency warfare is fought, providing more detail, continuity and connectivity than any other intelligence tool currently available to the soldiers who actually do the fighting.
The TIGR concept was initially sponsored by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency in response to complaints from warfighters that existing intelligence tools were not well configured for the counter-insurgency fight, and information from higher echelons was often out of date or irrelevant. The system is designed to interact with another initiative called the Command Post of the Future, which operates at the battalion level and higher to enable deep collaboration across the force. A key feature of TIGR thus is its ability to quickly disseminate local information to all soldiers in the fight, based on a recognition that each warfighter is a potential sensor contributing to the common operating picture.
TIGR has now transitioned from DARPA sponsorship to the regular Army. GD’s acquisition of this relatively small but high-potential program reflects a persistent feature of its corporate culture — the ability to recognize value at the local level even as it strives to deliver superior results at the corporate level. Somehow, General Dynamics has managed to fashion a numbers-driven culture that outperforms the financial results of other big contractors while still exhibiting the sensitivity and responsiveness typically associated with smaller companies. TIGR is the latest installment in this remarkable story.
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