Cold weather has arrived in Afghanistan, signaling the end the summer fighting season. President Obama and his administration are offering their review of our Afghan strategy today after a successful NATO Summit at Lisbon and a quick photo op visit to Afghanistan earlier this month.
As America and the world ponder the report now is the time for the president to consider adding an Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) "surge" to our Afghanistan strategy using our latest technology and capabilities. Mr. Obama’s objective should be to replace boots on the ground and the needless loss of life of American and Allied troops. -- Our new persistent ISR capabilities can locate and attack the Taliban and reduce causalities significantly, especially those due to the lethal Improvised Explosive Devices (IED’s). So let’s use them.
The Air Force is currently scheduled to introduce a family of new ISR systems in the coming months before next year’s fighting season begins. These systems could have a significant impact on the successful prosecution of the conflict in Afghanistan.
I am a firm believer that with the right strategy NATO can defeat the Taliban but I do not believe we can engage in nation building at the same time.
My recommendations in this article are to focus on attacking the Taliban and the miniscule number of Al Qaeda still in country more aggressively with powerful additions to our kill chain.
This ISR surge will provide persistent surveillance and a modern Command and Control ISR structure to execute these capabilities with increased success.
Most of these ISR assets are already planned. Others could be moved up with focused leadership directed by the President’s Strategy Review.
It is well within the realm of possibility for the president to aim to replacing last year’s 30,000 troop surge with a combination of these scheduled introductions and by accelerating other assets.
There are four significant, scheduled new systems:
1. The Gorgon Stare System. This is a wide area optical system, mounted on the Reaper Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA) that already has extensive theater success in an earlier configuration.
This system is scheduled to deploy next month and has five electro-optical (EO) and four infrared (IR) systems which will be a dramatic addition to the current Predator and Reapers in theater that now only have one EO and IR camera per RPA.
2. The New Bloc 30 Global Hawk. ISR RPA will be the new Bloc 30 Global Hawk. It has four sensors: IR, EO, Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR), and a Signals Intelligence (SIGINT) package which is scheduled to deploy at the start of the next fighting season. This RPA can stay airborne up to 36 hours, which means excellent persistence that allows continuous surveillance in all-weather day and night conditions especially when the Taliban are planting IEDs.
3. Wide Area Surveillance Platform (WASP) Air Ship aka “Blue Devil 2.” This is the third and most significant ISR. It is a traditional blimp that can stay airborne for seven to ten days and carries ten sensors. This will enable our ISR assets to over hang a wide area almost continuously while looking at the surrounding area with fused intelligence unlike any we’ve ever had before.
This system will arrive in theater late summer and will enable General Petraeus to consider replacing boots on the ground with this continuous surveillance capability, especially in remote areas.
4. Next Generation Bloc 40 Global Hawk. There is a possibility that we may be able to add the next generation bloc 40 Global Hawk to such a "surge" early. It will have the most capable airborne radar ever fielded on a remotely piloted aircraft.
It will require acceleration by the Air Force in the production schedule to get it ready earlier than they have currently planned. However it can “see” the Taliban planting IEDs or moving around the country in all types of weather and at great ranges so the risk here has a very high return for success.
In summary, now is the time for President Obama to make some important decisions about an intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance surge to replace boots on the ground and defeat the Taliban.
Yes, we will have to change and improve our rules of engagement to allow our forces to be more aggressive and to better protect themselves. However, such a “surge” will allow us to use our asymmetric advantages much better to achieve success and again most importantly reduce casualties. Our troops deserve no less!
Tom McInerney is a retired Air Force Lieutenant General and a Fox News military analyst. He is a former Assistant Vice Chief of Staff of the Air Force.
General McInerney is the founder of Government Reform Through Technology, a consulting firm that works with high-tech companies. GRTT conducts business with federal, state, city and local governments to help them introduce advanced technology into the public sector.