Countering the threat and operating in a complex WMD environment: Enhancing and Integrating Early Warning

Countering the threat and operating in a complex WMD environment: Enhancing and Integrating Early Warning

Last year while driving my daughter home from school during some rainy weather in San Diego, both of our iPhones simultaneously alerted us to a Tornado Warning (yes, in Southern California!). After my initial surprise and disbelief, I noticed that the sky was in fact unusually dark in front of us and made a decision to slow down and further evaluate the situation.

I subsequently received a text from a friend who is a former Air Force meteorologist, asking about a tornado alert he had seen about San Diego (he lives in VA). Later forensics revealed that there had been a real tornado threat less than three miles from where I was. My phone tracked where I was, where the threat was, and immediately informed me of the danger. I also received additional information to support the notification. It wasn’t a perfect report, but it at least offered me a trigger to study the situation and make a ‘low-regret’ decision to be careful before proceeding. I am sure many of you have also experienced similar warnings about weather and even traffic delays when your smart phone accesses your calendar, compares your location to where you need to be at a certain time, and recommends that you leave earlier than planned.

In recent technology demonstrations, we have seen many similarities with the current state of smart phone integrated capabilities. Seamlessly integrating information in a CBRN environment would increase commanders’ awareness of impending threats and allow for faster associated protective actions. In a biological threat environment, where the consequences are even more difficult to identify because of latency of effect, commanders should be provided with options that easily explain the threat, its impact to the mission, and any recommended defensive actions (heightened MOPP status, avoidance of threat/denial of movement, etc.). Even if a solid determination of threat cannot be made, a quantifiable probability level of a threat or even the ruling out of a particular CBRN threat would be valuable to a decision-maker.

The Maneuver Support Center of Excellence (MSCoE) at Fort Leonard Wood, MO recently published an Early Warning White Paper that discusses how the Joint CBRN Defense community is fundamentally shifting its view of “how the integration of sensors (CBRN and non-CBRN) provides WMD Situational Awareness (Proliferation Prevention/ Counterproliferation) and Situational Understanding of CBRN Hazard Activities (CBRN Defense/CBRN Consequence Management) to provide WMD Early Warning”. [1] It describes a holistic approach to the problem, which focuses on the CBRN Enterprise providing a functionally integrated WMD Early Warning framework that networks joint ISR solutions (away from platform centric capabilities) while encouraging integration and innovation to support rapid and sound decision-making. The paper further examines the temporal components of WMD Early Warning. Figure 1 displays a nominal timeline with decisions, based on level of awareness and understanding, that can occur over time with increasing confidence and impact.

Adjusting the time components is what future capability development should concentrate on to achieve a best-case situation as depicted in Figure 2, which would (1) maximize information gathering pre-attack and (2) minimize time to situational understanding.

Pre-attack information is mainly intelligence related but will also include background environmental and medical surveillance data. This information must be continually collected to provide not only warning but also baseline data that will be critical for comparison and analysis after an attack, especially in a biological incident. It is imperative that all of this information be assimilated and understood quickly so that commanders can make quicker and better decisions so that optimal courses of action (COAs) can be pursued.

The challenge in developing this integrated architecture is not only collecting all of this information in real time from a network of sensors and other data sources, but also enabling the commanders to get the ‘so-what’ to make informed decisions and not become paralyzed by an excess of data. Granted, the staff planning/advising function will never be replaced, but in a dynamic threat environment where tactical commanders need to make rapid protective decisions, there must be a reliable and almost automated decision support capability that facilitates, at a minimum, low regret/low risk decisions that he/she might not otherwise have the time to consider in the middle of an operation.

With recent technological advances in CBRN detection/sensor technology, the improved ability to rapidly and seamlessly network and share information across current disparate information systems, and development of smart algorithms to provide decision-makers with more quantifiable and reliable analysis, we are at an optimal time to provide the warfighter with enhanced capabilities to counter the CBRN threat. If our smart phones can figure out how to data mine information from disparate applications and give us credible and effective recommendations, we should be able to pursue similar capabilities for the warfighter operating in a CBRN environment. GSE currently supports the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) in this mission space and looks forward to providing innovative technological solutions for the warfighter.

[1] Joint Concepts for Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction: Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) Early Warning White Paper, Maneuver Support Center of Excellence, February 2017

Joint Concepts for Countering WMD Early Warning White Paper, MSCoE Feb 2017

Written by Mike Midgley

One Reply to “Countering the threat and operating in a complex WMD environment: Enhancing and Integrating Early Warning”

  1. Great article! Thank you for sharing your insight into this complex challenge problem and the opportunities ahead to address it.

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