29 March 2010

Fixing Intel: Implementing MG Flynn's SOICs

Now that several months have passed since MG Flynn published his "Fixing Intel" report, I thought it might be an opportune time to examine how his concepts/ideas are being implemented on the ground in Afghanistan.

One of the key components of MG Flynn's proposed strategy to improve intelligence support to full-spectrum counterinsurgency (COIN) operations was the creation of several Stability Operations Information Centers (SOIC) at the RC level - whose mission would be to write and maintain "meaty, comprehensive descriptions of pivotal districts throughout the country" and organize/share/disseminate all of the information and intelligence gathered in the field across various units, agencies, and partners. Essentially, MG Flynn's intent for the SOICs was to serve as a one-stop shops for a particular district/province, providing assessments that fuse a wide array of lethal and non-lethal intelligence data.

While it's easy to agree with MG Flynn on the need for improved fusion, analysis, and dissemination of lethal and non-lethal intelligence, it's much more difficult to actually operationalize his directive in the complex operational environment (OE) in Afghanistan. A recent report written by the RC-West SOIC Director provides an excellent summary of their efforts to stand up one of these SOICs in Western Afghanistan.
Stability Operations Information Center - 09 Mar 2010

The report, aptly entitled "Comprehensive Understanding for Comprehensive Operations," begins with an excellent explanation of the criticality of information management. Explaining the importance of giving the commander a "timely and comprehensive flow of relevant information," the article explains that this feedback can (and will) come in many forms - including academic assessments, KLEs, surveys, source operations, or tribal engagements. The author bluntly explains the existing lack of processes and organizations to capture, fuse, and assess this information, thus highlighting the need to change the way we do business.

One of the most informative and eye-opening sections of the piece is Part III (Why change is needed), which traces the evolutionary steps that we as a military have taken to improve our intelligence processes and systems in COIN operations. This really hit home for me, perfectly capturing the different "stages" that we went through before grasping the importance of understanding all of the dimensions of the complex and adaptive operational environments in COIN - fusing "hard" and "soft" power disciplines. The author's description of Step 2 is spot on and probably accurately reflects where most conventional forces are still at - emphasizing the importance of the "meat eaters" (S2/S3) over the "leaf eaters" (CA/PSYOP/HTT). In the spirit of being brutally self-critical, my unit probably spent the majority of our last deployment to Mosul (from 2007-09) in Step 2. Although we understood the importance of fusing lethal and non-lethal, we never truly institutionalized the process - at least at the BN level. Which brings up another interesting point: although the SOICs are focused at the RC level (DIV), the imperative to synch the meat eaters and leaf eaters extends all the way down to the company-level. Therefore, units at all echelons must develop processes and systems to do so, relying on the SOICs as the initial point of entry and "clearinghouse" for all data.

Another critical section of the paper that merits further consideration and debate is the explanation of the "Population-Centric COIN Targeting Cycle" - UD3A. As you can see in the graphic below, this cycle is a modified version of the widely-used F3EAD lethal targeting cycle (Find, Fix, Finish, Exploit, Analyze, Disseminate).

In contrast to the F3EAD methodology, which is designed primarily for lethal targeting, the UD3A is more comprehensive and aims to more effectively synchronize kinetic and non-kinetic effects - something that we have traditionally done poorly in the past. The most important (and often the most difficult) step of the process is "Understand." This is also the step which the SOICs are designed to facilitate, fusing and analyzing large volumes of data to provide improved situational understanding for the commander or decision-maker. As you can see in the graphic, the "Understand" step includes a full Intelligence Preparation of the Environment (IPOE) cycle with an emphasis on understanding the aspects of PMESII and ASCOPE (various non-lethal factors).

Once the commander has a rich contextual understanding of the operational environment, he/she can make an informed decision (in the "Decide" step) about which targeting methodology to utilize and develop a comprehensive collection plan to fill any intelligence gaps (in the "Detect" step). Once the established trigger has been met, the commander then determines the desired effect and the best option to "Deliver" that effect, whether that be a lethal operation (raid, cordon/search, etc.) or a non-lethal operation (key leader engagement, shura, etc.). This is where we see the true power of the UD3A methodology - flexibility. Armed with a deep appreciation and understanding of the situation, refined through focused intelligence collection and analysis, the commander is empowered to deliver tailored effects in order to impact his/her operational environment. Transitioning seamlessly to the "Assess" step, the commander (and staff) then digest the new information learned and use it to further refine their understanding, feeding the next targeting cycle in a continuous loop.

When used effectively to synchronize and focus all operations (both lethal and non-lethal) in a particular OE, this process is extremely powerful. Although this is the first time I've seen the steps laid out and detailed, I'm sure there are units (at multiple different echelons) out there already using it. As always, I'd be very interested in hearing feedback/ideas from those who have used this methodology. In particular, I'm interested in hearing how tactical units at the BCT and below level have operationalized this process (or another similar process) to fuse their lethal and non-lethal targeting efforts. As we continue to conduct COIN operations, this will remain a critical component of maximizing our effectiveness.

Finally, I would love to hear any feedback (positive or negative) from those in the field who have worked at or with the various SOICs that are being stood up. How have the SOICs tied in with the existing fusion cells across theater? How are the SOICs (which sit at RC/Division level) interfacing with BCTs and BNs? How are we integrating partner and local security forces and overcoming classification issues?


  1. Great takes!

    I am researching whether MG Flynn's vision and the dynamics of information sharing and how they impact the 2nd/3rd order effects of actions/decisions. More specifically, will this subject-matter translate appropriately into a smart game for military training, comparable to UrbanSim, another project I work on.

    If you would like to have a dialogue, post back your preferred method to chat and I'll get in touch.

  2. DW, I'm the aouthor of the SOIC paper, I can be reached at letoilejoe@gmail.com