Defense Department

Is HTS headed for end-of-lifecycle?

I’ve filed my story on the Human Terrain System–I’ll link to it when it’s published. But I filed just as some interesting related news popped up. The Wired Danger Room blog reported on a Military Review article by Marine Corps Major Ben Connable, former lead on the Marine Corps’ Cultural Intelligence Program, which ripped into HTS as:

…a quick-fix layer of social science expertise and contracted reachback capability to combatant staffs. This “build a new empire” proposal is based on the assumption that staffs are generally incapable of solving complex cultural problems on their own. The HTS approach is inconsistent with standing doctrine and ignores recent
improvements in military cultural capabilities.

This may be, as someone commented on Danger Room, an interesting example of interservice rivalry. But it’s also a sign that some in DOD agree there’s questionable utility in sending social scientists out into the field in camouflage, undertaking operations that would otherwise fall under the realm of Civil Affairs. Interestingly enough, the MAP-HT system that’s being developed by the Army’s CERDEC was demonstrated to the Army’s Civilian Affairs and Psychological Operations Command as well, and they’re in line to get the same gear. CAPOC also has access to the TIGR collection gear already.

So, the question is, will the HTS program fade away, or fade into background as a supporting element of CAPOC ops, or will it continue?

Dan Wolfe, the technical director for the HTS program, has a grand vision of integrating all of the sources of human terrain data into an HTS knowledge management center down at Oyster Point in Newport News, using the facilities built for the Joint IED Defeat Organization. And work is underway to create the Subject-Matter Expert network (SMEnet). If that vision is realized, HTS may become institutionalized within DOD, either with or without the HTTs, as a clearinghouse for all human terrain knowledge.

But how long a life does JIEDDO have?

Also, the Associated Press has begun a series on Michael Bhatia, a Human Terrain Team member who died in Khost Province, Afghanistan. Three HTT members have died since the HTTs were deployed starting in 2007. The article by Adam Geller is a deep dive into the life of the HTS.

On a side note, I heard back from Dr. William Stuart at UMd — see the updated post–and he corrected some of the interpretations I made of what he said. (Thanks, Bill–open source and peer review’s one of the advantage of open journalism practices.)

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