Joint STARS Support to Special Operations Command

by Captain Bruce A. Niedrauer

Along with the many other milestones that the Joint Surveillance and Target Attack Radar System (Joint STARS) accomplished during its time at Operation JOINT ENDEAVOR, for the first time its unique capabilities were in direct support of Special Operations Forces (SOF). To promote this support, a Medium Ground Station Module (MGSM) deployed to the Special Operations Command (SOC) Implementation Force (SOCIFOR).
This Ground Station Module (GSM) provided near-real-time access via satellite communications (SATCOMs) to Joint STARS imagery being collected in the Operation JOINT ENDEAVOR area of responsibility. With the GSM, the SOCIFOR could perform wide-area collection and surveillance, including moving target indicators, fixed target indicators, and synthetic aperture radar (SAR) imagery. In addition to the GSM prototype, a time-critical targeting aid (TCTA) remote workstation prototype also deployed.
To make this historic Joint STARS SOC venture work, it required collaboration and initiative from both sides. The distinctive needs of SOCIFOR exacerbated the already complex employment of Joint STARS in a peacekeeping operation. SOF missions are characterized by covert, small-unit operations. The challenge was to employ fully Joint STARS' wide-area surveillance potential in support of the dynamic and complex SOF mission requirements. (Figure 1 depicts Joint STARS-SOF connectivity in Operation JOINT ENDEAVOR.)

Lessons Learned

Phase one of the deployment was to familiarize SOCIFOR personnel with Joint STARS' capabilities and limitations. These initial orientation briefings proved essential. No supported command can exploit Joint STARS potential unless it has a firm comprehension of the system's capabilities. All new systems, Joint STARS included, must sell themselves to the user. Systems that are not understood are under- or misused. Once the J2 and collection manager had the briefings, the SOCIFOR's all-source collection plan integrated Joint STARS.
One of the first lessons learned was that initial orientation and familiarization briefs must take place as early as possible. As soon as the deployment warning order is issued, a Joint STARS liaison officer (LNO) must be sent forward to the supported command. This allows Joint STARS inclusion in the command's initial entry collection plan.
Another valuable lesson derived from the SOCIFOR Joint STARS relationship is the merit of a full time LNO. The Joint STARS GSM crew cannot show up and just say here we are, use us." Rather, the LNO and crew must arrive with a draft strategy on how they can support the command. The supported command should not be expected to unilaterally develop the Joint STARS plan. The LNO must fully understand all Joint STARS capabilities, collection management, and the mission and intent of the supported command. His tasks include facilitating Joint STARS employment, assisting in the development of the requirements, and interaction with the GSM crew.
Once Joint STARS was understood, the next step was developing a viable collection plan. To do this, we used the procedures discussed in FM 34-2, Collection Management and Synchronization Planning. The most important component of collection management is to accurately develop the requirement. Collection management's major purpose is helping the commander make decisions. To do this, the proper questions (priority intelligence requirements, or PIR) must be inquired and ultimately answered during the collection process. For example, the SOCIFOR commander's number one PIR dealt with possible Mujahideen and Iranian terrorist threats. The challenge was to develop a comprehensive Joint STARS collection strategy that would help answer this PIR and provide input for the commander's decisions.

Eight-Step Methodology

The J2 staff and the Joint STARS LNO collaboratively developed an eight-step methodology to help answer this PIR. The first step was to identify all known or suspected locations of terrorist elements. Ultimately, using all-source intelligence databases, we identified well over 50 training camps and similar facilities. Most of these locations were between Tulsa and Sarajevo and had been cataloged prior to the Peace Implementation Force (IFOR) deployment by U.N. personnel. (See Figure 2.)
Step two entailed separating the more than 50 sites based on their Joint STARS collectability. Criteria used to divide the sites were threefold.
First, does the collection platform have line of sight (LOS) to the target area? Using terrain analysis, a radar visibility assessment was made. We rejected camp sites masked by terrain. The second criteria determined whether the site was near towns or villages. If the camps were in proximity to an urban center, the collateral civilian traffic would preclude attributing vehicle movement to the terrorists. Joint STARS identifies moving targets, not the allegiance of those moving vehicles. We hoped that by focusing on sites in remote areas, we could exclude most civilian traffic.
Finally, for the same reason discussed in criteria two, we dismissed sites located near major roads or other lines of communication (LOCs). Rejection of camp locations did not imply presence or absence of terrorist activity, but rather the inability of Joint STARS sensors to accurately collect against them. The final tally reduced the total number of target locations to seven. After reduction of the target list, we gathered archived intelligence data of each site to provide an all-source snapshot. This included intelligence reports, photographic imagery, and other data. This information provided the GSM operators (96H military occupational specialty) with a better idea of where and on what to focus their surveillance. They compared imagery to the existing electronic maps installed on the GSM consoles. The GSM operators identified and marked ingress and egress routes, allowing precise tracking.
With a historical all-source picture developed, the next step entailed updating this information. The Joint STARS SAR capability provided still radar images of each location. This furnished near-real-time updates to each of the target databases and immediate feedback on recent changes. The near-real-time updates provided J2 analysts and GSM operators with insight to current conditions. For instance, if access to a suspected camp was via a bridge, analysts could quickly ascertain the status of that bridge by having a SAR image shot. Thus, if on days one through three, there had been noticeable movement into the terrorist camp and then on the fourth day the movement abruptly stops, a SAR showing a dropped span on the bridge would explain the absence of activity.
Identifying traffic pattern norms was the essence of this collection mission. We monitored movement of traffic into, through, and out of each target location and placed this data into a histograph that depicted movement norms for each site. Once a pattern was established for a camp, the pattern was analyzed for correlation to outside influences.
Particular emphasis was placed on tracking organized convoys. Consistent intervals, common speed, and apparent driver discipline distinguished convoys from random traffic. Convoys departing terrorist camps represented the greatest overt threat. The GSM operators correlated the traffic pattern norms with several outside factors including
Joint STARS alone could not determine whether this collected data represented an active Mujahideen camp or coincidental civilian traffic. Only systems which are eyes on can confirm specific terrorist activity.
However, we observed discernible traffic patterns within several of the suspected camps. Two particular camps were in ideal areas for Joint STARS collection. Both were in isolated areas and had relatively good LOS. If these areas were in fact occupied terrorist camps, the presence of Mujahideen fighters would likely deter civilian traffic. However, if the camps were unoccupied or used sporadically, other possible explanations for movement may include civilians hunting or wood cutting, black marketers avoiding standard LOCs, government army patrols, or IFOR units. The next step was to determine the common destination and start points for possible terrorist traffic. Ideally, this would have been a critical step in the process; however, the mountainous terrain precluded an accurate tracking of vehicles to and from their destinations.
Joint STARS imagery and the associated databases cross-cued other tactical collection platforms. The SOCIFOR collection manager used all available national and theater assets to confirm the information Joint STARS had collected. This was crucial in the process. Joint STARS simply indicated that movement was occurring; an eyes-on system had to confirm the source of that movement. Finally, we incorporated the entire process into a usable mechanism for force protection. Once the GSM crew cataloged each location's traffic norm, they established indications and warning criteria. Substantial deviations from the norm indicated a potential threat to IFOR personnel and interests.
Generally, the alarm criterion was double the normal traffic flow. For example, if the traffic at Camp X on Wednesdays between 1800 and 1900 averaged three vehicles, and on this Wednesday at 1825 seven vehicles departed, then the GSM operator would alert the J2 for cross-cueing.


In addition to real-world collection, the Operation JOINT ENDEAVOR deployment provided an environment for research into future Joint STARS support to a variety of SOF missions. We developed mission profiles for Joint STARS support to several SOF missions, including
During the deployment, we also conducted an examination of Joint STARS equipment capabilities for future SOF applications. The prototype TCTA remote workstation provides ample capability for most SOF missions, while at the same time significantly reducing the personnel and equipment footprints. Rather than be tied to an established package, the TCTA enables the SOF commander to tactically tailor his Joint STARS support slice.
The scope of future Joint STARS support to SOF missions is only limited by the imagination and initiative of the planners. Its unique capability can fill a current void and provide long-duration wide-area surveillance. Nurturing a habitual relationship, including comprehensive rehearsals and training missions, will ensure successful Joint STARS support to future SOF operations.
Captain Niedrauer is now working in systems automation at the Army War College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania; his most recent assignment was instructing at the Intelligence Center and Fort Huachuca, Arizona. He served as the Joint STARS LNO to SOCIFOR early in Operation JOINT ENDEAVOR. Captain Niedrauer has a bachelor of arts degree in History from San Jose State and Master of Education degree from the University of Phoenix. Readers can contact the author via E-mail at 76355,[email protected]