ISR strategy needed

Draft Pentagon Report Lays Out Key Lessons From 'Decade Of War'

By Christopher J. Castelli / June 7, 2012

The Joint Staff warns in a critical assessment of the last decade of war that the Pentagon must craft a strategy for intelligence gathering and pursue major improvements in interagency coordination to avoid repeating mistakes made since the 9/11 attacks, according to a copy of the 40-page "for official use only" draft report obtained by Inside the Pentagon.

In the last 10 years, the Pentagon failed to understand the operational environment, learned the hard way that conventional military methods were ineffective and initially ignored the need to influence perceptions in order to achieve objectives, states the sweeping assessment prepared at the request of Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey.

Titled "Decade of War: Enduring Lessons from the Past Decade of Operations," the May 23 predecisional draft report is the first volume of a study designed to inform the development of tomorrow's military. It offers an array of recommendations, including calls for a new strategy for meeting military intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance needs and new legislation to bolster interagency ties, modeled on the 1986 Goldwater-Nichols Act that reorganized the Defense Department.

Although 80 percent of the military of 2020 is either programmed or already exists today, the Pentagon has a "perishable opportunity to be innovative" by significantly changing the other 20 percent of the force and by changing the way it uses the remaining 80 percent, Dempsey said May 16 in Virginia Beach, VA.

"We're transitioning from a decade of war," he said. "A complex and uncertain security environment looms. And as we look toward the future, each service and our total joint force face fundamental questions about their identities, their roles and their capabilities."

To conduct the study, the Joint and Coalition Operational Analysis office reviewed 46 studies it had prepared from its inception in 2003 through early 2012, examining over 400 findings, observations and best practices in search of enduring lessons. "In general, operations during the first half of the decade were often marked by numerous missteps and challenges, while those in the second half featured successful adaptation to overcome these challenges," the report states.

The report lays out 11 major lessons related to understanding the operational environment, addressing conventional and unconventional threats, winning hearts and minds, managing major transitions in military operations, adaptation, integrating regular and elite forces, coordinating with other agencies, coalition operations, host-nation partnering, surrogates and proxies and super-empowered threats. More lessons are anticipated in future volumes. The study follows President Obama's release in January of the Defense Strategic Guidance, which he said would prepare the department for the next decade. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has said the United States is at a "strategic turning point" following 10 years of war and substantial growth in the defense budget.

Seeing the world as it is

DOD repeatedly failed to understand the environment in which the military operated, according to the report. "In operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere, a failure to recognize, acknowledge and accurately define the operational environment led to a mismatch between forces, capabilities, missions and goals," the report states.

For instance, the early focus on top-down approaches in Afghanistan ignored tribal and cultural realities and other factors that called for a bottom-up approach, the department writes. Intelligence shortfalls, including a dearth of spies and interpreters, contributed to such problems. Shortages of drones and signals-intelligence assets were ultimately addressed when DOD surged such assets, the study notes.

Looking ahead, the report urges the department to educate military leaders about the need to improve assessments based on data, intelligence and insights drawn from a wide array of sources. Noting the increasingly decentralized and joint nature of operations, the study calls for the development of a strategy for best meeting military forces' needs for ISR data and other information.

The report also advocates policies and information-technology solutions that promote the fusion of information and reduce the compartmentalization of intelligence across the interagency community and among partner nations. And the study calls for revisiting classification policies to boost information sharing and a common understanding of the operational environment while preserving necessary operational security.

DOD also needs to increase access to expeditionary ISR platforms and improve training of personnel on available ISR capabilities to better enable either focused, intelligence-driven operations or rapid assessments in support of humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, the report states.

Building relationships is also essential, according to the report. "Bring in experts from all backgrounds -- military, other interagency, NGOs, think-tanks, academia and private sector -- and leverage their insights and expertise to inform and tailor approaches," the department writes. Officials should expand and incentivize language and cultural training across the force, the report states. The study also urges leveraging relationships and expertise on the operating environment resulting from forward presence of military and other interagency elements.

Conventional war paradigm

The second lesson, the department writes, is that conventional warfare approaches were often ineffective when applied to operations other than major combat, "forcing leaders to realign the ways and means of achieving effects."

"Unlike conventional war, success in many of the operations over the past decade depended on capacity building and achieving sustainability of gains that were made during operations," the report states. "This focus on capacity building taxed the military and the U.S. government overall, as they were often not prepared for these tasks, especially on the scale demanded in Iraq and Afghanistan."

The report calls for maintaining the U.S. military's ability to overmatch peers and regional aggressors in conventional war but also capturing tactics, techniques and procedures for retaining and refining "the ability to rapidly adapt." The Pentagon must refine the military's ability to "conduct non-conventional warfare, identifying specific capabilities and adaptations developed over the past decade to be sustained" and include key lessons in education and training, the department writes.

Dempsey has said cyberwarfare capabilities, ISR, undersea systems and drones will be increasingly important in the coming years.

Officials should be prepared to create tailored organizations to handle unique operational conditions and needs; advocate jointness; disseminate lessons; and conduct flexible intelligence operations, the study notes. "Be prepared to transition the intelligence paradigm from the traditional top-down flow to a bottom-up flow when necessitated by local conditions, and maintain the ability of [general purpose forces] to conduct network analysis," the report states.

The study also urges reassessing the alignment and use of active, Reserve, Guard and civilian components of the force to "better leverage expertise and capabilities and allow more agile and tailored support to operations."

Battle for the narrative

Another shortcoming in the last decade concerned battles for the hearts and minds of people around the world. "We were slow to recognize the importance of information and the battle for the narrative in achieving objectives at all levels; we were often ineffective in applying and aligning the narrative to goals and desired end states," the report states.

"While the military was slow to adapt to these developments, the enemy was not, developing considerable skill in using these new means of dissemination to their own ends."

But U.S. officials in Iraq and Afghanistan later created cells to track national and international news and manage communication problems. "When an Iraqi government leader said something that was harmful to the coalition effort, the [Multinational Forces-Iraq commander] would promptly go meet with him and try to resolve the situation," the report states. Similarly, the Presidential Information Coordination Cell (PICC) in Afghanistan was established to manage communication and information between NATO forces and the host government. "The PICC was often successful in resolving potentially negative issues before they became public," the report adds.

In the last decade, the image of the United States was often tarnished by tactical decisions at odds with U.S. values or strategy, the report states, citing the Abu Ghraib scandal. Israel also found its imaged tarnished by missteps, the report notes. "Similarly, the negative sentiment concerning Israel in the 2006 Lebanon War, while exacerbated by an enemy [information operations] campaign, was rooted in a heavy-handed Israeli approach that failed to adequately discriminate between combatants and noncombatants and went against international norms for the conduct of combat," the department writes.

The report urges a "comprehensive examination and assessment of force structure, actors and tools with regard to communications strategy." DOD should expand policy and doctrine to include best practices and recent challenges and to leverage new advances in social media, the department writes. The study also advocates tailored communications strategies that are coordinated with other agencies, coalition partners and host nations.

Increased transparency is key, according to the report. "While observing necessary [operational security], aggressively share information with host nations, [non-governmental organizations] and others to increase transparency and understanding of U.S. positions," the report states.

The study also advocates anticipating consequence management; resourcing information operations; using proactive, prompt and accurate messaging; building partner capacity; reinforcing words with deeds; and ensuring commanders are involved.


In the first half of the decade, the department failed to adequately plan and resource strategic and operational transitions, endangering the accomplishment of the overall mission, the study concludes, noting this improved in more recent years. NATO-led combat troops are slated to withdraw from Afghanistan by the end of 2014.

The report calls for establishing civil-military organizational structures and doctrinal-type guidance to help the department codify a "comprehensive approach to transitions that is conditions-based yet acknowledges politically determined milestones."

DOD should manage transitions by clearly defining desired end states, developing an assessment process to provide feedback to inform the effort and avoiding major changes to leaders, staff and organizations during major transition events, the report states.

Transitions must be planned in advance and "properly resourced," the study adds.

"Understand the capabilities, authorities, and restrictions of the government agency, coalition partner, or host nation to whom responsibilities are being transferred, and work to maintain influence and to enable their success," the department writes. Using innovative approaches for training and situational awareness is also recommended.


Over the last decade, particularly in the first half, DOD policies, doctrine, training and equipment "were often poorly suited to operations other than major combat, forcing widespread and costly adaptation, and in the process, threatening the mission," the department writes.

DOD's counterinsurgency, stability and counterterrorism doctrinal publications all underwent major updates during this period. "Fortunately, the challenge of inadequate planning and preparation was matched by widespread and successful adaptation at all levels," the report states.

Looking ahead, DOD must "plan to adapt" by continually challenging assumptions and requirements and by putting into place mechanisms to adapt quickly, according to the study. The department must also develop and promote adept leaders, retain and codify the best examples of adaption over the last decade, sustain the relevance of doctrine, develop capabilities to network with subject-matter experts and "energize" the lessons-learned process, the report states.

During a May 1 speech at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Dempsey noted the Pentagon is "just beginning to adapt from counterinsurgency as kind of our central organizing principle," moving instead to "something that I might describe as a global networked approach to warfare." The aim is to integrate unprecedented capabilities such as cyberwarfare weapons into the conventional force, "partnering differently . . . with a very different goal and with very different processes to support it and allowing ourselves to confront these networked, decentralized foes with something other than huge formations of soldiers, sailors, airmen or Marines," he said.

Noting this is "an inchoate idea," Dempsey added, "But I do think . . . what we're looking for in the future is to take that counterinsurgency strategy, which is very static, very manpower-intensive, and see what we can do with smaller organizations but that are networked globally and with partners in order to confront these challenges that might range from terrorism, because it's still out there, to piracy, to transnational organized crime."

Integration of regular and elite forces

The report's sixth lesson concerns the need to continue tightening ties between regular military forces and elite troops. "Multiple, simultaneous, large-scale operations executed in dynamic environments required the integration of general purpose and special operating forces, creating a force-multiplying effect for both," the report states.

The report urges the department to provide leaders of elite forces and special operations forces with a better understanding of each others' capabilities and limitations. Regular and elite forces should establish "habitual training and mission relationships," the study states. In addition, officials must institutionalize best practices for optimal use of ISR, collaboration and targeting, the department writes.

Noting DOD must improve the rapid fielding of capabilities, the study urges officials to maintain the conventional forces' ability to rapidly obtain and field weapons and gear to promote integration with special operations forces.

Improved joint manning processes are also needed, the study notes.

Interagency coordination

Interagency coordination, considered key for leveraging the skills and capabilities across departmental boundaries, "was uneven due to inconsistent participation in planning, training, and operations; policy gaps; resources; and differences in organizational culture," the report states, adding that fixing the problem requires bold legislation.

"Initially in Iraq and Afghanistan, interagency unity of effort was a resounding failure," the report states, noting the challenge of interagency operations is not a new lesson. A Joint Staff memo from 1961 underscored the same point: "In the past it has been extremely difficult to achieve interdepartmental planning . . . these inhibitions of other governmental agencies must in some way be overcome."

The study calls for the Pentagon to ensure senior leaders stress the necessity and value of interagency coordination at all levels of operations, "make interagency coordination mandatory," and promote the development of sweeping legislation. "Pursue development of a Goldwater-Nichols-type act to mandate and develop a framework for increased interagency coordination for a whole-of-government approach," the report recommends.

The interagency must also be properly resourced, the report states. "Prioritize budgets to appropriately resource the interagency to ensure a whole-of-government approach for contingencies Continue to use DOD personnel to meet near-term requirements," the department writes.

Officials should also operationalize the interagency by developing policies for "greater inclusion of interagency involvement in planning, training, and execution to increase interagency contributions, including expansion of their expeditionary capabilities," according to the report.

DOD should also routinely test interagency integration by planning for instances where interagency integration is critical, and evaluating policies and approaches to be used that address identified lessons and challenges, the study states.

Further, the report urges the Pentagon to launch new DOD-wide programs for interagency exchange tours that would expose military and civilian personnel to a range of interagency organizations, promoting a better understanding of organizational cultures, equities, traditional roles, capabilities and limitations. Improved interagency participation in training and education is also needed, according to the report.

Coalition operations

In addition, establishing and sustaining coalition unity of effort was a challenge due to competing national interests, cultures, resources and policies, the report states.

The report calls for refining DOD's contribution to the interagency approach to building and sustaining coalitions; boosting engagement and training; accommodating and anticipating national caveats and rules of engagement; resolving knowledge-management and interoperability challenges; building a common basis for action with shared doctrine, tactics, techniques, procedures and policies; boosting language and cultural expertise and avoiding unnecessary classification.

"Classification policies should be realistic in terms of the potential harm of sharing information," the report states, noting leaders should proactively share information with partners as needed.

Host-nation partnering

"Partnering was a key enabler and force multiplier, and aided in host nation capacity building," the department writes. "However, it was not always approached effectively nor adequately prioritized and resourced."

The study urges DOD to bolster existing relationships; create new relationships; boost language and cultural proficiency; build a framework to improve security force assistance (SFA) training effectiveness across all host nation requirements; and develop plans for an effective SFA surge capacity to support a large-scale capacity building mission, including required resources and authorities.

The Pentagon should also "shape public opinion" by developing a communications strategy that touts the positive aspects of partnering, increasing support and legitimacy for the U.S. and host nation; assess efforts; and "consolidate and streamline" the many authorities and funding mechanisms for SFA.

Surrogates and proxies

Another lesson is that states sponsored and exploited surrogates and proxies to generate asymmetric challenges, the report states. It urges DOD to improve targeting of threat finance and other support; expose sponsor/proxy relationships and promote fissures; team with U.S. diplomats and spies to counter such threats; share intelligence with partners as needed; anticipate asymmetric approaches; boost internal coordination; and tackle such challenges through both direct and indirect approaches.

"Oppose proxies and surrogates through a global campaign that combines direct action and law enforcement with indirect approaches that address the factors that fuel support for terrorism," the report states.

Super-empowered threats

The report's final lesson concerns "super-empowered threats" that emerged when "individuals and small groups exploited globalized technology and information to expand influence and approach state-like disruptive capacity."

"This was largely due to the nexus of commercially available technologies, transnational criminal networks, and terrorist groups enabling small groups or individuals to execute attacks with global impact," according to the report.

Top military commanders and other agencies must work to develop capabilities to define enemy networks by identifying the links between terrorists, insurgents, criminals, and governments, the report states. Also needed are capabilities to exploit friction points and maintain pressure on the networks, the study adds.

Working with law enforcement officials is key, according to the report. "Promote a common understanding of existing authorities for action among U.S. interagency and foreign partners; combine this with effective fusion of intelligence, law enforcement information, and private industry data," the study states.

DOD must also disrupt enemy information operations, leverage local knowledge and expertise, deny enemies sanctuary, and work with federal, state, local and private sector authorities "to preempt and/or respond to attacks," according to the report. -- Christopher J. Castelli