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SIGINT Capability as Deterrent

Despite the ambitious hopes and dreams of SIGINT professionals, the Gulf War was not the target rich environment they hoped for.  This was due in large part to the Iraqi understanding of the U.S. SIGINT collection capability.  Given that the Iraqis were keenly aware of U.S. military  SIGINT collection capabilities, the Iraqis devised communications strategies to counter U.S. SIGINT collection systems.  For example, the Iraqis relied on hard-wire buried cable communications and messengers wherever possible because the Iraqis knew the U.S. was incapable of listening to these communications methods.  This in turn grossly slowed down Iraqi communications and forced the Iraqis to cope with numerous command and control challenges.xxiv  The enduring lesson gleaned from this strange twist of events is that a mere capability can in fact be a deterrent.  In essence, because our Iraqi adversary understood our robust SIGINT collection capability, he lost his flexibility to communicate freely on the battlefield.  What is more, discreetly advertising select intelligence collection capabilities may be an effective strategy to keep an adversary off balance by forcing him to cope with multiple dilemmas.  


IMINT is a collection discipline that received a great deal of criticism during the Gulf War.  In the days following the Gulf War, Lieutenant General William C. Odom, a former director of the National Security Agency, abruptly stated, “the whole imagery intelligence area is broken.”xxv  During OPERATION DESERT SHIELD/STORM most commanders demanded detailed imagery to support their operational planning; however this became a difficult order for the imagery community to fill.  Because of the multiple challenges the IMINT community was forced to cope with, a number of enduring lessons emerged.  These lessons served to “fix” the broken system Lieutenant General Odom referred to as well as to frame the future of IMINT support to warfighters.  The lessons are best summed up in four broad areas:

The necessity for improved imagery reconnaissance capabilities at the tactical level.

The need for broad area search/surveillance systems.

A call for continued refinement of Bomb Damage Assessment (BDA) procedures.

Tactical Imagery Reconnaissance

The Gulf War battlefield was fast-paced and fluid.  Consequently, tactical units demonstrated a strong requirement for improved organic intelligence capabilities such as imagery platforms.  This is because units were simply not afforded the time or the luxury

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