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.)
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
- Day of the week.
- Time of day.
- IFOR operations.
- Political events.
- Unfolding of the Dayton Peace Accord.
- Freedom of movement holidays such as Ramadan.
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,
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.
- Combat search and rescue.
- Noncombatant evacuation operation.
- Direct action.
- AC-130 Specter targeting.
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] compuserve.com.