Thursday, July 26, 2007

The Shadow Knows

The Shadow is an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) that is flown by battalion tactical operations centers (TOCs). These small remotely piloted drones allow the batallion's officers to keep an eye on events occurring on the ground in their area of operation.
Often, on the TOC screen next to the Shadow screen, will be a down-link from a Predator. The Predator can be used as an eye, but it can also launch missiles. There might also be a down-link from an F-16, which can deliver devastating attacks in addition to eyes from above.

...At battalion level, maybe ten soldiers sit in front of these and other screens. One soldier will be the S-2, or intelligence. Another will monitor counter battery radar. Another will communicate with those who operate the UAV, which often is launched and controlled from elsewhere. The battalion can “task” the UAV, but an outside unit actually maintains, launches and flies it. The more high-flying UAVs might be operated from back in the United States.

The larger the unit, the more control stations in the TOC. Whereas company-level TOCs generally are limited to little more than a radio and a map, those at the battalion level are more like nerve centers which actually help coordinate battles, hence the person in charge is called the “Battle Captain.”

The next level up is the brigade and the 30 or so officers and soldiers at a brigade TOC will be clustered around computers and monitors at different stations, often three rows deep. In something reminiscent of the early NASA days, the Battle Captain sits up front in the first row, with computer screens wrapped around cockpit-like. At the next highest level up, the Division HQ, the TOC really looks like a NASA control center.

...The F-16 and Shadow both beamed down live images of the house where the terrorists had hidden after firing on U.S. forces. Now was option time. Which weapon to use? There were so many choices: mortars, missiles, and cannons of various sorts, among others. With the enemy hiding in the building, an F-16 and a Shadow orbiting in the black above, both peering down on thermal mode, the Battle Captain asked the Air Force experts, (the JTACs) what weapons the F-16 was carrying. As a JTAC started ticking off a long list, I was thinking, “How in the world to do those little jets carry all that?” In fact, I believe they were reading down the list for two jets flying in the same package. They carry a mixture of weapons cross loaded between the jets so that they might have the black magic needed for a likely situation.

[snip]...The idea is to get the Iraqis to run their own cities but most of the old leaders are gone, and the new ones are like throwing babies to cow udders. Many just don’t know what to do, and in any case, most of them have no natural instinct for it. So our soldiers are mentoring Iraqi civil leaders, which is a huge education for me because I get to sit in on the meetings. The American leaders tell me what they are up to, which amounts for free Ph.D. level instruction in situ: just have to be willing to be shot at. (The education a writer can get here is unbelievable.) Meeting after meeting—after embeds in Nineveh, Anbar, Baghdad and Diyala—I have seen how American officers tend to have a hidden skill-set. Collectively, American military leaders seem to somehow intuitively know how to run the mechanics of a city.

When Americans move into Iraqi buildings, the buildings start improving from the first day. And then, the buildings near the buildings start to improve. It’s not about the money, but the mindset. The Greatest Generation called it “the can-do mentality.” It’s a wealth measured not only in dollars, but also in knowledge. The burning curiosity that launched the Hubble, flows from that mentality, and so does the revenue stream of taxpayer dollars that funded it. Iraq is very rich in resources, but philosophically it is impoverished. The truest separation between cultures is in the collective dreams of their people.

When I listen to people in these civil administration meetings inventorying the obstacles, giving detailed and passionate speeches about why the things that need to happen cannot, often next comes the tired lament, “You can do these things because America is rich.” This seems like a chicken-egg argument, but it’s not. They will stare at you like a bird. Blinking. Blinking. As if waiting for an answer to a question that seems to forever loop back on itself. “But you are rich! You put a man on the moon!”
Michael Yon

And so on. Defeating the military enemy is only the beginning. Then you must defeat the third world defeatism that is endemic in so much of the middle east, Asia, Latin America, even Russia.

While islamists continue to send their children out dressed in explosives belts, westerners are trying to master the genome, develop nano-assembly of consumer goods, find ways to harvest the riches of the solar system, and so on--further in and further out.

It is a matter of orientation. Third worlders are oriented toward the past--religions, feuds, petty tribal antagonisms and rivalries, etc. Westerners--other than stagnant socialist oriented westerners--are oriented toward a better future, a future of constant change, innovation, and empowerment of the individual.

The psychological battle is larger and more decisive than the military battle, in the long run. A lot of it is tied in with the "youth bulge."

More on that later.

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