Defense Department, People, tech

Human Terrain System's transitional pains

I’ve conducted a number of interview on the Army’s HTS this week, for a story I’m writing for C4ISR Journal. While that article will focus on the technical aspects of the program, which I’ll review briefly here, the program gets most of its attention from the controversy surrounding the idea of sending social scientists to assist the military in its mission by providing actionable sociographic and cultural information — in other words, using applied social science to reduce conflict with the locals in Afghanistan and Iraq, and to better interact with them in negotiations, interviews, and general interactions so there’s less likelihood of making people want to support insurgency.

There’s also something of a bump over how the program is handling its key assets–the people in the field. The Army unilaterally decided in the last month, using the SOFA (Status of Forces Agreement) with Iraq as the reason, to convert the Human Terrain Team members from contractors to government employees. The deadline for converting was originally February 18, and was extended to yesterday. It’s not clear whether those who chose not to convert are going to be cut loose right now; I’m working on reaching the HTS program manager.

The way it’s been handled has not exactly given many of the people involved the warm-and-fuzzies. Chuck Thomas, the vice president and general manager for Systems Engineering Solutions at BAE Systems, told me, in regards to the changes:

I won’t say there hasn’t been some consternation inside of our own organization, but no real pushback. By that, I mean from the start the management here made the decision that we’ll support the government with whatever it wants to do on this, if that’s what will help war-fighting. And we have–if you’ve heard anything, it’s been at the individual employee level, which is only natural, because ultimately there was a lot of churn and ambiguity and uncertainty about what it meant for everyone, for each person, and that. . .but at the management level, the goverment told us what they wanted to do, we saluted and said we’ll do it. Didn’t like it much, but we’d do it.

All contractors in Iraq are facing the same problem — there’s uncertainty over how they’ll be treated by the Iraqi government

The change is for HTT members both in Iraq and Afghanistan, which has had its own SOFA agreement for some time now. Thomas said he believes the vast majority of the HTT members will take the conversion, because, he said, they’re in the program for “altruistic reasons” more than the money — which may be a good thing, as the move from contractor status to a government employee pay slot between GS-12 and GS-15 may come as something of a shock.

On the technology side, HTS has been trailing behind its deployment. Initially, the only way for the HTT members — the majority of whom do not have security clearances, just like the majority of the troops deployed in Central Asia–could only file field reports using email. The program has since moved to using TIGR for collection, and Microsoft Sharepoint servers for aggregation of data at the Brigade Combat Team level.

That doesn’t exactly provide much integration of data, and in the past it’s been difficult to share data beyond the brigade level. Information from HTTs can be pushed out to soldiers through TIGR, but the long term goal is to deploy a system called MAP-HT to the human terrain teams and to civil affairs units. The problem — the system that MAP-HT is based on is the Distributed Common Ground System-A workstation, and it’s currently a classified system, working only on SIPRnet, the DOD’s classified network. The MAP-HT development team at the Army’s CERDEC is working toward a declassified version of the system, which will allow for analysis and fusion of information pulled in from TIGR.

MAP-HT won’t be out in the field as the Afghanistan “surge” starts. It’s entering limited user testing this summer, and if all goes well it will start being deployed by November.

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