Recon 'gadgets' played key role in Iraq surge into the limelight

"ISR" has become the new silver bullet in counterinsurgency. It stands for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, but it really means a series of new sensors and other electronic collection and analytic gadgets. It also includes the manned and unmanned airborne platforms for which they primarily operate, reports the Washington Post.

Last July, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates approved shifting more than $1 billion to ISR programs from other fiscal 2008 Pentagon budget accounts. In detailing the programming request to congressional committees, Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon R. England wrote, "These funds are being made available for ISR based on the view of the Secretary of Defense that the ISR effort is a higher priority and needs to be addressed at this time."

Last week, without detailed explanation, the Senate Appropriations Defense Subcommittee announced that it had provided an additional $750 million "to fund high priority intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance initiatives" in the fiscal 2009 defense appropriations bill.

For the best and most dramatic description of how useful ISR has become in Iraq, there is an article in a recent issue of Joint Force Quarterly journal written by Lt. Gen. Raymond Odierno, who is scheduled to become the new commander of Multi-National Forces-Iraq tomorrow, and two of his subordinates, Lt. Col. Nichoel E. Brooks and Lt. Col. Francesco P. Mastracchio.

"Employment of ISR, according to the current counterinsurgency doctrine, sets the conditions for the initial success of the surge in Iraq," they wrote. Threats come not just from insurgents but also from "militias who at any time might be working with or against each other," but "most are consistently working against coalition forces."

They attribute new successes in meeting those challenges to the recent increase in ISR, featuring "full motion video assets." These are devices that can keep what they described as the "unblinking eye" on targets. There are enough that they can be placed at the level of combat brigades.

Four years ago, there was no such video capability and limited top secret channels. Couriers were often used to synchronize intelligence databases at unit command posts.

Now, they wrote, brigade combat team commanders have a platoon with unmanned aerial vehicles that can provide 18 hours of full motion video coverage and signal intelligence teams that can collect and analyze intelligence, as well as tap into classified national data resources.

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