WASHINGTON: In the lead-up to the summer fighting season in Afghanistan, the Defense Department is focused on helping troops counter the threat of makeshift bombs, employing among other things, cameras to catch insurgents in the act of planting explosives, a senior department official said last week.
The military has been using elevated, line-of-sight cameras as part of its intelligence, reconnaissance, and surveillance counterinsurgency tactics, Ashton B. Carter, Undersecretary of Defense for acquisition, technology and logistics, said during an April 2 conference on defense logistics modernization at the Center for Strategic and International Studies here.
The cameras, which show an aerial view of a stretch of roadway, “are kind of what you see every morning when you turn on the television and look at the traffic report,” Carter said.
“We are going to be, this summer, increasing many-fold the number of aerostat-borne cameras,” he added. “They’re terrific.”
Carter noted he’d visited Kandahar, Afghanistan, a few weeks ago. Defense officials have identified the city and its surrounding area as a likely site for an upcoming NATO counterinsurgency campaign. A camera installed over the city shows a surrounding area of several blocks in each direction, he said.
“Every person of ill will in Kandahar thinks that camera is looking at them,” he said. “Every person of good will thinks that camera is protecting them.”
Carter said the cameras “provide for those people, under their own control, the same functionality that a fancy [unmanned aerial vehicle] would have,” but are substantially less expensive.
“I knew I couldn’t double the number of UAVs in Afghanistan this summer,” he said, “but I’m going to [increase] the number of these elevated, line-of-sight aerostats.” The number may increase as much as twentyfold, he added.
The department also is trying to counter improvised explosive devices with increased training of U.S. and other international troops on the distinctive nature of Afghan insurgency explosives, and also is providing more equipment such as mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicles to U.S. troops and allies, Carter said.
The undersecretary called the IED threat a “triple problem,” that threatens not only the lives of international and Afghan forces, but also negatively impacts the mission by hindering the movement of troops.
“If people can get outside the wire, military and nonmilitary, then they can do the mission assigned, which is the [counterinsurgency] mission,” he said. “If they can’t get outside the wire, then they can’t.”
Speaking more broadly about how acquisition, technology and logistics aid the war effort, Carter noted the challenge of managing the high number of contractors — 107,000, mostly Afghans — in Afghanistan. That amounts to one contractor for every 0.7 servicemembers, he said, compared to one contractor for every 1.2 servicemembers in Iraq, one contractor for every five servicemembers in Vietnam, and one for one in World War II.
The department is working to improve oversight of contractors in Afghanistan, increasing the number of contracting officers. With 84 percent of posts filled so far, they’re providing better training and systems such as using electronic payments to replace the flow of cash to help reduce fraud, Carter said.
Also in the past year, he said, 10 general officer positions have been added to oversee contracting at the two- and three-star level, he said.
Carter said his office is trying to maintain a balance “to be excellent stewards of the taxpayers’ money on one hand, and be agile and do what is required in Afghanistan now on the other hand.”