The Aerial Exploitation Battalion at NTC

by Captain Guy M. Burrow

This past August, the 15th MI Battalion (Aerial Exploitation) deployed to the National Training Center (NTC) at Fort Irwin, California with the 104th MI Battalion in support of the 4thBCT, 4th Infantry Division (Mechanized) (4ID(M)). Short of the Division Advanced Warfighting Experiment (DAWE), the intelligence architecture for this rotation represented one of the largest ever sent to NTC. Of particular success was the combination of the 15th MI Battalion (AE) Hunter UAV and Improved Guardrail V (IGRV) with the Common Ground Station (CGS) providing Joint STARS MTI information. Together, these aerial intelligence systems validated their ability to rapidly develop and confirm the enemy situation, while demonstrating the future potential of the Guardrail Common Sensor II (GRCS II) to complete the Force XXI “aerial intelligence” capability.

Intelligence Architecture

Normally a III Corps asset, the 15th MI Battalion (AE) adapted tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTP) to support a brigade task force in an early entry scenario. With the 4ID(M) Analysis and Control Element (ACE) remaining in garrison at Fort Hood, Texas, the concept incorporated split-based and tactical tailoring concepts. The architecture for both the UAV and the IGRV platforms had to be flexible and redundant, especially the communications, in order to maximize the effectiveness of both systems in the 4BCT fight.

 In addition to the 15th MI Battalion (AE) systems, the 104th MI Battalion’s intelligence assets included the All-Source Analysis System (ASAS), TRQ-32 TEAMMATE, TLQ-17 TRAFFICJAM, along with the TROJAN Special Purpose Integrated Remote Intelligence Terminal (SPIRIT) II (TS II). The 104th MI Battalion also provided the personnel for the CGS, Analysis and Control Team (ACT), ACE, and the Ground Surveillance Operations Center (GSOC).

Guardrail Concept of Operations. The mission of Guardrail was to conduct communications intelligence (COMINT) collection and processing operations throughout the depth of the battlefield, focusing on the communications nets of enemy reconnaissance, maneuver, artillery, command and control (C2) and air defense artillery. Initially, the Guardrail Company was poised to support a maximum of two five-hour missions per day from Southern California International Airport (SCIA). By the last mission, Guardrail stood ready to support 24-hour continuous operations by maximizing pilot availability and aircraft maintenance to support continuous relief on station.

The IGRV architecture called for the Collection Manager at the ACE to perform technical tasking and mission management based on 4BCT intelligence requirements received from the ACT via Mobile Subscriber Equipment/Nonsecure Internet Protocol Router Network (MSE/NIPRNET). During mission execution, the analysts in the Integrated Processing Facility (IPF) processed raw intercepted COMINT data and issued technical reports on an ASAS Remote Workstation Version 1 (ASAS-RWSv1) to the ACE via TS II. The same capability existed at the GSOC, ensuring redundancy.

At Fort Hood, ACE soldiers analyzed the technical reports to produce a single-source (SS) picture of the enemy situation. After integrating the SS picture on the All-Source ASAS, the ASAS-RWS analyst updated the current enemy situation and posted the new dynamically digital distributed overlay (DDO) to the 52d ID ASAS-RWS in the “Star Wars Building” on Fort Irwin, California. After approval for release by an O/C, all ASAS- RWS users across the MSE network received the current enemy situation.

Due to the dynamic nature of the brigade tactical fight, the 15th MI Battalion (AE) developed a second, more responsive reporting procedure. As the IPF analysts detected critical “combat information,” they sent SALUTE (size, activity, location, unit, time, and equipment) spot reports directly to the Tactical Commander’s Terminal (TCT) at the 4BCT Tactical Operations Center (TOC) and the Improved Commander’s Tactical Terminal (ICTT) at the GSOC.

Communications between the IPF, ACE, and the 4BCT TOC were critical due to the physical separation of all three unit locations (see Figure 1). Redundant communications supporting this architecture included: Digital Non-secure Voice Telephone (DNVT)/MSE/Dial Central Office (DCO) connectivity, TS II satellite communications, TCT secure voice ultrahigh frequency (UHF), and secure satellite communications (SATCOM) between the 4BCT TOC and the IPF. Perhaps the most critical link was the MSE network that allowed the only voice and digital link between the 4BCT TOC and the ACE. Without MSE, the ACE could not pass the updated enemy picture to the Brigade. Furthermore, the ACT could not transmit the priority intelligence requirements (PIR) to the ACE, denying them the information needed to provide IPF operators with technical taskings prior to mission execution. In this scenario, IGRV intelligence would be limited to SALUTE reports directly to the 4BCT TOC via SATCOM or TCT.

Hunter Concept of Operations. The mission of the Hunter UAV was to provide live video imagery to the ACT at the 4BCT TOC to confirm and identify critical enemy activity, location of high-payoff targets (HPTs), and the disposition of obstacles. The Brigade S2 directed UAV coverage times and collection focus in the Reconnaissance and Surveillance Plan. The ACT executed the collection plan through mission management and dynamic retasking of the UAV based on indicators from other sensors.


The Hunter UAV Company established a launch and recovery (L/R) site at Bike Lake and deployed a forward detachment with the 4BCT TOC. During mission execution, the L/R crew launched the UAV and transferred control to the Ground Control Station (GCS) with the forward detachment. There the Mission Planning Station (MPS) at the ACT controlled the video downlink for the 4BCT battle staff. Battalion-level users deployed with remote video terminals (RVT) to receive direct video downlink (see Figure 2).

Again, communications proved essential to ensure a safe handoff of the UAV from the LIR site to the forward detachment. A total of four different communications means were planned to include DNVT/MSE/ DCO connectivity, high-frequency (HF) communications via a relay station on Teifort Mountain, SATCOM, and line-of- site UHF. Communications between the forward site and the Stars Wars Building became critical to secure airspace for the UAV, requiring 24-hour advance notification.

Joint STARS and the UAV. To maximize the value of the Joint STARS and the UAV, the CGS provided a Joint STARS MTI display directly beside a live UAV video feed over the 4BCT battle staff map board. Enhancing dynamic capabilities, the CGS operator controlled the Joint STARS MTI display from the map board, while a UAV representative provided a direct communications link to the UAV operators, providing immediate retasking and camera control. Completing the link between the two systems, the CGS display included a UAV icon with an imagery-coverage fan using telemetry data from the UAV. With this architecture, MTIs from Joint STARS served to cue the UAV under the direction of the 104th MI Battalion ACT in concert with the 4BCT intelligence requirements.


The first eight days of force- on-force exercises included a Meeting Battle, Defense, and a Deliberate Attack. During this phase, the UAV, IGRV, and Joint STARS platforms proved their utility as the 4BCT members familiarized themselves with the TTP to maximize the usefulness of these systems. The information provided by the UAVs and the Joint STARS MTI gave the 4BCT a timely and accurate display of the OPFOR, while Guardrail reports completed the enemy picture through the dedicated efforts of the IPF operators.

Meeting Battle. The first battle occurred in the early morning hours following deployment into the maneuver area. After an initial administrative grounding due to airspace deconfliction with other aircraft in the area, the UAV provided significant intelligence to the 4BCT. Based on cues from the Joint STARS MTI display, the UAV confirmed and tracked the two lead battalions of the OPFOR 1st echelon, followed by trail elements of the main body. The UAV maintained a broad focus throughout the mission; however, the impact of the live UAV feed coupled with the Joint STARS MTI display was obvious, allowing a real-time intelligence picture for the 4BCT battle staff.

The IGRV architecture received a major setback as the MSE network failed to become operational, and would remain down for the majority of the force-on-force phase. With the link between the ACT and the ACE broken, the ACE was not able to produce technical taskings for the IPF operators. Furthermore, IGRV intelligence from the IPF was restricted to voice-transmitted SALUTE reports directly to the 15th MI Battalion (AE) Liaison Officer (LNO) at the 4BCT TOC.

To overcome this obstacle, IPF operators conducted an environmental signal survey, establishing echelon, then type of unit. The operators then developed their own technical taskings based on PIR received directly from the 15th MI Battalion (AE) LNO. After performing normal COMINT intercept and direction-finding (DF) operations, the IPF soldiers conducted hasty analysis of the information to generate the final SALUTE reports. Once the ACT received the reports, they incorporated the information into their ASAS-RWS enemy picture and forwarded critical information to the Brigade S2. Guardrail sent 15 “combat information” reports to include an enemy call-for-fire on friendly units. While the effectiveness of the Guardrail system was limited, the truly dedicated efforts of the soldiers in the IPF ensured the best possible suport given the circumstances. The IPF operators had set the stage for success during the follow-on missions.

Defense. The next force-on-force mission saw continued development of UAV, IGRV, and Joint STARS intelligence. During the Defense, UAV and Joint STARS displays provided an almost complete picture of the OPFOR’s location and movement. The battle staff had begun to rely on these two platforms, and fought the “intelligence” battle based on their information. As a result, an OPFOR MRB was able to move almost undetected, using terrain masking in the northern areas of the maneuver corridor, where the Joint STARS MTI capabilities were limited.

In review of the Guardrail reports received during this mission, the 15th MI Battalion LNO at the 4BCT TOC recorded three separate SALUTE reports of a suspected MRB conducting a flanking maneuver to the north. Unfortunately, due to the dynamic and sometimes overwhelming nature of operations at NTC, these reports never found their way into the battle staff picture of the enemy. While the UAV and Joint STARS systems provided a substantial enemy picture, IGRV provided the intelligence needed to complete the situation for the battle staff.

Mission Accomplishments. The force-on-force phase of operations saw the UAV identify hide and ambush sites, track important enemy units, and identify truck- mobile infiltration units. UAV imag- ery generated numerous calls-for- fire and cued aviation assets to HPTs. L/R efforts at Bike Lake, under sometimes extreme environmental conditions, provided maximum UAV coverage within the NTC rules of engagement, logging more than 100 flight hours in support of the 4BCT.

After initial communication difficulties, Guardrail reports quickly became more focused and limited only by the speed of SATCOM and TCT transmissions. By the last battle of the Deliberate Attack, the ICTT moved from the GSOC to the 4BCT TOC, allowing printed reports to go directly to the ACT and Brigade S2. IPF SALUTE reports identified the location of essential C2 nets and HPTs leading to numerous calls-for-fire during the last two battles. The RC-12D aircraft mission hours totaled more than 230 over the 10-day period. Most importantly, the outstanding efforts of the IPF operators ensured that Guardrail intelligence was effective throughout the battle.

The Keys to Success

UAV TTP Familiarization. While the Joint STARS display provided an excellent picture of the brigade battlespace, the live UAV video feed often lured staff members to dictate the focus of the UAV. At one point, the UAV tracked a single vehicle for almost 45 minutes. During these instances, control of the UAV decentralized, taking away a valuable tool from the ACT to verify MTIs from Joint STARS as well as other intelligence cues. Only with a battle staff trained and familiar with the TTP for UAV usage can we realize the full impact of the UAV.

Communications. Voice and digital communications proved difficult, yet critical to mission accomplishment. The first focus of any operation should be communications, which must be operational before deployment into a field environment. The effectiveness of aerial intelligence platforms relies heavily on voice and digital communications for coordination and intelligence dissemination. While communications were limited, the redundancy of the architecture ensured overall mission accomplishment for the 15th MI Battalion (AE).

IGRV and the ACE. The complete success of the IGRV platform still hinges on the capability of the ACE to provide information to the IPF, receive reports from the operators, and send an analyzed product to the end-user. In the digital information age, handwritten SALUTE reports cannot maximize the utility of the vast Guardrail capability. The IPF operators are far from the tactical battle and must have both the friendly and enemy situation information in order to properly focus their collection efforts. During the rotation, the ACE soldiers overcame the initial communications difficulties and were able to answer much needed requests for information from the IPF operators, greatly enhancing the effectiveness of the IGRV support.

Future Applications

With an eye toward force mod- ernization, the fielding of the GRCS II (scheduled for late 1999) will further enhance the impact of Guardrail-derived information. This system will provide signals intelligence (SIGINT) directly to the CGS. As with the MTI from Joint STARS, GRCS II targets will appear on the CGS display, greatly reducing the dependence on MSE to relay the Guardrail picture. The addition of the GRCS II will permit a more complete and redundant picture of the battlefield, cross-cueing and verifying Joint STARS and UAV information. If the CGS monitor had displayed the Guardrail DF information during the Defense mission, it would have alerted the 4BCT battle staff to the presence of the MRB in the north, possibly changing the mission outcome.


The result of NTC rotation 98-10 again established the effectiveness and verified the need for the UAV, Guardrail, and Joint STARS aerial intelligence platforms. With the CGS receiving reports from both Joint STARS and the GRCS II, coupled with UAV imagery, three separate intelligence mediums will combine to produce a dynamic, relevant, and complete battlefield picture for the Force XXI commander. In an effort to dominate the information requirements of the future, Military Intelligence depends on the continued development and success of these systems.

Captain Matt Burrow commands Bravo Company and was a Battalion Plans and Operations Officer at the 15th MI Battalion (AE). His previous duty positions include Executive Officer and Platoon Leader in a Theater General Support Aviation Company. CPT Burrow is a graduate of the United States Military Academy with a Bachelor of Science degree in Electrical Engineering. Readers can contact him at (254) 287-7854, DSN 737-7854, or via E-mail at