Saturday, September 26, 2009

Calling the Department of Defense

Informed Americans think about our troops all the time, read the newspapers and pay attention to what is happening with our military. These patriotic Americans occasionally have good suggestions for the Defense Department. Is it possible that our DoD is really too busy to even tell us to "go fly a kite?"

Meanmesa's attempts to reach an operational “suggestion box” anywhere in the Department of Defense have led to the conclusion that those boys are simply not interested in any advice they haven't contracted and compensated. In fact, the closest MeanMesa ever got to actually making a suggestion was a rather hefty set of “Contractor Identification Forms” a non-com was kind enough to issue as a reply to our inquiry. Naturally, as far as even a careful reader could get with those babies was that, once completed and approved, an authorized contractor ID number would be issued.

Of course, the forms couldn't be submitted for processing without the contractor ID number which would be assigned only after they were successfully processed. Any MeanMesa visitor who has served in the nation's military can easily understand such a humorous conundrum.

So, we'll just post a couple of suggestions here on MeanMesa. Perhaps one of our visitors will be impressed with it enough to figure out a way to forward to the DoD.

Suggestion 1: Additional, Low Cost IED Suppression

A modified crop duster – something the military might actually not have, but they're cheap – can overfly miles and miles of roadways in Afghanistan spraying an extremely light coating of a metallic trace mist which will cover the entire roadway. The result would be a uniform coating which covered all the areas in question, but, without sensing equipment would remain largely invisible to a possible insurgent approaching the area on the ground. A subsequent over flight by a UAV – or even a satellite – could rather dependably detect any areas of the coating which had been disturbed during one of the nightly “bomb burying adventures” by the bad guys.

Once the location of such a disturbance in the metallic spray was detected, during the over flight, the information could be relayed to our military folks who would investigate. Will such a program detect every IED? Of course not, but a robust stream of timely, interesting possible clues as to the whereabouts of these buried killers might be well worth the trouble and expense.

Now, once the adversary picks up on the general idea, we can expect him to be making false disturbances right and left. To exploit and counter this behavior, the mist which was previously sprayed on the road way could have the additional quality of being a lasting, permanent, ultraviolet dye. Whoever was doing the digging – whether planting an IED or just creating a bothersome false call – would unavoidably contaminate himself with some of the “spy spray.” For a few days, he would be detectable among the locals in the area where it occurred. Our military might be interested in figuring out who he was and talking with him about his digging habits.

The crop duster could stay busy all year round, even when the roads were covered with snow. If the mist being sprayed were just a little oily, it could be designed to withstand wind and dust storms. Because of the low cost of the crop duster and the spray material, road coverings could be refreshed frequently, creating a constant “heads up” especially in suspicious areas where someone might be likely to want to plant an IED. This program could be remarkably cost effective and quickly and easily implemented on a trail basis.

MeanMesa is tired of US military personnel being injured and killed by IEDs.

Suggestion 2: Tracking the Taliban

We hear frequently about the problem posed by the mountainous border with the problem areas of Pakistan. MeanMesa thinks that there might be a rather inexpensive, high tech solution.

Here, we can follow the effective example used by the Moroccans when they were facing a seemingly undetectable stream of insurgent Arabs who were gaining entry into the country from the East, across the desert. The government there deployed a large number of “tell tales,” small monitoring devices, all along the border. These little “eyes” could detect – via infrared scanning – nearby surface motion through the rather long, desert “back door.” When anything suspicious was detected, an automatic message code was transmitted to the Moroccan military, allowing them to dash right out to the scene and determine what was going on.

The Moroccans deployed so many of these little “tell tales” that the insurgents found it more and more difficult to sneak through the electronic barrier without being detected. There were other high tech components of the Moroccan “desert fence,” but the scattered, solar powered detectors were among both the most cost effective and easily managed.

Now, Afghanistan's insurgent migration problem is, granted, a little more complex. However, the fact that Taliban fighters can “disappear” while crossing those rocky mountains has become one of their foremost tactical advantages. An effective military program to neutralize that advantage makes good sense.

So, how could this work?

We would need to start with a bit of technology. Nothing new, mind you, just a new combination of some pretty much “off the shelf” items. What was avoided in cost and complexity would be counter balanced by simplicity and quantity. A single “tell tale” would duplicate many of the features the Moroccans found so effective.

Each of the little devices would require a “hard wired” code which could specifically identify it as the source during any of its communications with the “central” detection system. It would have GPS capacity so it could locate itself after deployment. The devices could be dropped from a low flying plane, each one making a safe descent with a small, biodegradable parachute. The plan should provide for the deployment of very many of these little “spies.” How many? Thousands, or, even, millions of them!

Even after DARPA is through complicating matters, each device should have a manufacturing cost of less than, say, a hundred dollars. A million of them would set the DoD back $100,000,000. That seems like a lot of money, but good intelligence rolling in constantly from such disbursed “tell tales” might prove to be worth the tab. Our extraction of operable intelligence from the Afghans, although impressive, hasn't really “blossomed” in our favor.

Once a device landed, it would deploy a small solar panel to charge its equally small battery. It should be able to operate effectively for a few days without much sunshine. Its first task would be to use its GPS capacity to locate itself. Once it had good coordinates, it could call the central computer and place itself in operation. Communications could actually be quite simple, perhaps no more than a beep every time it sensed something warm moving through its infrared scanning range. Lots of beeps would indicate that something interesting might be unfolding at that distant, deserted, dark mountain pass.

The Taliban would be motivated to find and disable the tell-tales, wherever they could, but even that would send a message to military commanders that something was going on. If a million, well camouflaged little devices were scattered without any particular pattern, we can assume that it would be almost impossible to eliminate enough of them to open an undetecteable corridor or otherwise seriously hamper the program's data gathering.

Some of these little machines would fall down under trees, between rocks and all sorts of other places where they could not function, but a myriad of others would find themselves perched all over the place. The mountains and plains between Afghanistan and the Pakistan border could gradually be saturated with so many “tell tales” that the possibility of an unseen insurgent column moving through the region would become less and less likely. The system could not be defeated by some of the devices falling into enemy hands, there are no expensive, high tech secrets incorporated in any of them.

The command procedure would be fairly straightforward. A main frame could easily maintain a field model which showed all the locations of devices which had successfully landed, identify each one by its unique code number and display the whole data set on a topographic map with aerial photographic details. When messages were received via satellite from the “tell tales,” additional observations could be ordered immediately. Guns and other metal weapons show up very distinctly from aerial surveillance – even at night.


Lynn Montrose in his timeless text War Through the Ages, gave example after example of the tactical benefits of denying an enemy his combat advantages. In Afghanistan, the enemy values more than anything else his ability to sneak around, showing up without warning. MeanMesa doesn't recall whether or not Mr. Montrose mentioned anything about Defense Departments having "suggestion boxes."

It's time to take this advantage away from our enemy. There are not really any very good excuses for the continuing losses the United States is suffering in the Afghan -- Pakistan theater.

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