Secret Program used in Afghan for Real Time Intel to Trps

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  1. ODIN Alerts Assault Teams To Hidden Dangers

    By Paul McLeary
    Bagram AB, Afghanistan

    The camera didn’t catch the helicopters landing, or see the soldiers piling out and securing the landing zone. The unblinking eye attached to a U.S. Army Warrior Alpha unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) circling thousands of feet above the Afghan countryside was too busy keeping watch over the high mud walls of a compound the soldiers were preparing to assault.

    The soldiers only began to appear as tiny black smudges in the real-time images that flashed back to the ground control station when they converged on the compound. It was at this point that 22-year-old Army Pfc. Joshua Carter and a civilian contractor monitoring the action miles away at Bagram Air Base, charged with guiding the UAV and manipulating its camera, heard the first static-filled instruction from the commander on the ground: “Sparkle the corner of the northeast wall.” Carter grabbed the joystick on his console and pressed the button to laser the corner so it would show up in the team’s night-vision sights. “Good sparkle,” crackled the reply.

    The UAV and the crew flying it is part of Task Force ODIN-Afghanistan, a largely classified U.S. Army program that deploys manned and unmanned aircraft to spread an intelligence and surveillance blanket over everything they overfly, providing real-time intelligence to ground troops while keeping watch for insurgents planting roadside bombs.

    First deployed in Iraq at the behest of Gen. George Casey in 2007, ODIN—an acronym for observe, detect, identify and neutralize—is now in Afghanistan, staffed mostly by enlisted soldiers trained to fly UAVs with an assist from contractors hired by General Atomics, the company that manufactures the Warrior UAV.

    On this late-night mission, the Warrior circled the compound like a shark for hours, mapping the “pattern of life” inside and outside its walls, giving the assault team maximum situational awareness. The crew knew, for example, that there were five people sleeping in one building and a few others in buildings throughout the compound. By remaining on station above the target, the Warrior crew had also been able to identify how many people came and went over the course of several hours, and reported that cars near one of the outbuildings hadn’t been driven on their watch. This surveillance was relayed to the assault team before the mission and continuously updated as they flew to their objective. It was a level of real-time intelligence unheard of in prior wars—and it was all generated before the first boot hit the ground.

    This real-time communication is just one part of a network that includes chatter among the ODIN crew at Bagram and the ground commander, the helicopter pilots who insert the team, officers monitoring the chatter throughout the chain of command and data analysts busily exchanging secure instant messages with the Warrior crew.
    Task Force ODIN uses unmanned and manned air assets to monitor targets.

    Overseeing the operation on the unmanned side is U.S. Army Capt. Richard Koch, a helicopter pilot who was tapped to run the team of 13 enlisted soldiers and six General Atomics contractors tasked with flying the UAVs, a team that switches off between flying the drone and operating the intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance equipment on board the aircraft.

    The manned and unmanned ODIN arsenal boasts electro-optic/infrared or synthetic aperture radar payloads, as well as laser rangefinder designators and laser target markers. The Warrior UAVs also come with two Hellfire missiles. Manned aircraft are a big part of what ODIN does in Iraq and Afghanistan. Manned assets reported to be part of the arsenal include C-12 (King Air 350) aircraft, outfitted with Aerial Reconnaissance Multi-Sensor (ARMS) or Medium-Altitude Reconnaissance and Surveillance System (Marss-II) RSTA platforms. While the manned assets are flown by Army, Army Reserve and National Guard pilots, UAVs are strictly an enlisted man’s affair, along with the contractors. The enlisted soldiers train for eight months to learn how to fly the Warrior, and rely on the contractors to do everything but takeoff and land.

    Crucial to the mix are warrant officers who coordinate between the flight crews and commanders who send down priority lists of targets or areas in need of coverage. The warrant officers brief the flight crews before each shift, and since the Warrior can fly for up to 20 hr., several crews flying 3-6 hr. at a stretch take part in any given mission.

    While Koch says the Warriors have only fired Hellfire missiles once in Afghanistan, “we’re doing a lot of designating” of targets for “a multitude of assets—Apache [helicopters], fast movers, indirect fires.” And before manned attack aircraft even come on the scene, he adds, “we’ve picked out targets so as soon as they start arriving, we’re getting lethal and doing what needs to be done.” Koch is quick to point out that during lethal missions, contractors vacate the ground control station, which is taken over by Army operators.

    While ODIN-Afghanistan may not yet be racking up the kills for which ODIN-Iraq has become famous (by January 2008, the Army was listing 2,400 kills of insurgents planting IEDs, and arrests of 141 more), ODIN-A’s single kill can be attributed to less time on station rather than a lack of will. The enlisted soldiers are tied to restrictive—and largely classified—rules of engagement that make any Hellfire shot from a Warrior one that has to go through a long approval process. Staff Sgt. Jason Irwin, who flew Hunter UAVs in Kosovo, Warriors as part of ODIN-Iraq and is now in Afghanistan, says that the long process required to fire a Hellfire, as opposed to the trust given to enlisted men to fire an M1 tank round, probably “comes down to the pilot mentality. In armor they’re used to a grunt who drives a tank, a grunt who fires a tank, but in aviation it’s a rated pilot who flies and decides when to shoot. I think it’s seeing Pfc. Carter over there on the trigger; there might be a little bit of [conflict] there.”

    While the members of TF ODIN-A do not go into specifics on the signoff process or how long it takes for the green light to launch a missile, Koch says that while he agrees that the wait to engage targets may be long, “when soldiers are in contact, each second feels like an eternity. The U.S. military as a whole, reflected in our [rules of engagement], is extremely concerned with civilian casualties in this country. This requires every shot to be scrutinized. Due to these factors, the authority for release is held at a high level.”
    Best wishes: Soldier signs a Hellfire missile on a Warrior Alpha prior to a mission.

    But not everything has to be lethal. “Just a few nights ago we were watching some guys planting IEDs,” Koch says, “and instead of striking and killing them, we followed them back to where they sleep. A few days later we rolled them up, their whole cache, all the personnel that they associated with.”

    “We’ve caught bad people doing bad things, and we’ve overwatched some pretty gnarly stuff,” Staff Sgt. Bryan Welch, one of the enlisted Warrior operators, remarks.

    But with all of these capabilities, the ability of ODIN’s manned and unmanned assets to affect the battlefield is limited by the small number of airframes they can put up—the exact number is classified—and the distances that a counterinsurgency battlefield presents. This year, the Army expects to train more than 1,400 soldiers, Marines and civilians to fly UAVs, with that number slated to reach 2,300 in 2010. Currently, with the small number of enlisted men piloting UAVs, Koch predicts that his guys will each average about 1,200 flight hours during the year-long deployment, which he compared with the record set by Black Hawk pilots in Iraq of 26,500 hr. over a tour, which averaged out to about 450 hr. per pilot.

    Still, the handful of ODIN pilots can only do so much. As Welch notes one evening before starting his shift, “These unmanned aircraft are doing great things, but you don’t hold ground with technology. It takes boots on the ground.”
  2. Thanks JJ that was very interesting. But perhaps better to have not been written at all.
  3. KabulRonin,

    Why not? It doesn't contain much in the way of specifics..
  4. I guess you're right Prior. Perhaps I was being over picky- I just think it is better to say nothing at all!
  5. rampant

    rampant LE Reviewer Book Reviewer

  6. meridian

    meridian LE Good Egg (charities)

    Or you could take the view that information is an effective weapon as a round of ammunition in shaping the battle, intimidating our enemies and influencing how they act.

    Used creatively the internet is a powerful weapon

    The more we instil in them a total fear of our ISR capabilities the more they can be influenced, more of the same I say
  7. I agree that some of them will go in total fear but others (and terrorists aren't all thickies!) will start to work out ways to seriously counter it.

    But i bow to superior wisdom.
  8. meridian

    meridian LE Good Egg (charities)

    no wisdom mate just an internet opinion and being serious I guess its a balancing act between information as an intimidator and information as an aid to the enemy but I think we are sometimes too cautious and fearful of the internet when we should be embracing it
  9. Command_doh

    Command_doh LE Book Reviewer

    How can you 'influence' an ideology that says it is the preferred choice to die serving Allah (with no evidence of a reward) against a vastly superior enemy in all encounters, all the time?

    You can't. That is why we will never win. They keep queuing up, desperate to take their places in 'paradise'. You cannot fight that resolve. Ever.
  10. meridian

    meridian LE Good Egg (charities)

    Doesnt that assume we are fighting a homogeneous enemy rather than a loose group with many motivations
  11. Wiki on ODIN

    Hardly a secret, Wiki reports on this program since 21 Jan 2008.

    As for intimidation, not so sure about that, more probably it hardens their resolve.

    Even so, I'm all for this and any other means that make the job of finding-fixing-deciding how to eliminate the adversary easier.

    I'd even say helicopters, GS, would be a great start for some armies.

    And, we're not out of work any time soon, note the final sentence in the article; it still takes boots on the ground.
  12. BuggerAll

    BuggerAll LE Reviewer Book Reviewer

    Good thing you were not around in 1939.
  13. "Terror is an effective weapon. And very cheap."

    - Attila the Hun. :twisted:
  14. Given the utter terror that UAVs inspire in the Taliban, maybe there's a good reason why it's all over the web.... (eg recent posts on Wired's Danger Room Blog)