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DARPA at the Tactical Edge: TIGR & RAA

Marching within a Greek phalanx, a hoplite soldier could really only follow the momentum of the formation in which he strode, set in motion by the generals commanding it. He had little idea of the disposition of the enemy and no say regarding the form in which he met it.

Flash forward almost three millennia, and a parable of a far more informed, flexible soldier had become ingrained in America’s Army culture. Yet as it began to engage in Iraq and Afghanistan in the 1990s and 2000s, the U.S. Army was, in fact, a top-down organization where intelligence was concerned.

A new paradigm in which intelligence, information, and action emanated from the bottom up required new tools. DARPA took on the task of building and deploying those tools at the tactical edge.

As the situation in both theaters morphed into counterinsurgency, it was becoming obvious that something else was needed. On the complex, ever-changing ground in Iraq and Afghanistan, those with the most important, timely information were in the lowest, boots-on-the-ground echelons.

On patrol after patrol, they observed the environment, identifying the patterns of their adversaries and potential allies, and discerning the urgent needs of coalition partners. The experience they accumulated was priceless, but passing it on to their command, to new units, and to partners was difficult at best.

A new paradigm in which intelligence, information, and action emanated from the bottom up required new tools. DARPA took on the task of building and deploying those tools at the tactical edge.

 

A Virtual Notebook – TIGR

 

In 2002, Maj. Patrick Michaelis was an assistant professor at the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York, teaching a course on organizational change. He indulged his interest in the subject by running a peer-to-peer web community for Army officers then called Platoonleader.org.

Michaelis saw in it, and in a similar site called CompanyCommand, the potential to share with their peers and those who routinely replaced them the hard-won knowledge that units gained on operations. It was a break from traditional Army practice, in which the operational acumen a unit built up typically lived and died with its deployment.

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Eric Tegler is a writer/broadcaster from Severna Park, Md. His work appears in a variety...