The 14-month-old, once-classified Army outfit is called Task Force ODIN, for “observe-detect-identify-neutralize.” It was first disclosed in May. But now, additional details about ODIN are emerging. And the Task Force’s “success has led Army officials to expand it and to bring its tactics to Afghanistan,” Kris Osborn reports in this week’s Defense News.
The unit generally begins its work in the air, high enough for sensor-laden C-12s [reconnaissance planes] and UAVs [unmanned aerial vehicles] equipped with electro-optical/infrared cameras to remain undetected from the ground.
“Without these technologies, we might never see [the insurgents], because they often plant IEDs [improvised explosive devices] at night,” a senior Army official said. “With manned-unmanned teaming, Apache pilots are on alert while the UAVs find targets. It is crucial to remain undetected, because as soon as you show yourself, [insurgents] take off and get lost in the urban terrain. Now, we track them, follow them, and quietly process targets.”
The images are broadcast to One System Remote Video Transceivers (OSRVTs) on the ground or in command-and-control aircraft. Built on a Panasonic Toughbook laptop computer and a multiband radio receiver, the 20-pound OSRVT can receive video feeds from several varieties of UAVs at the same time. The Army has more than 400 of the terminals, delivered by Textron’s AAI unit under a $70 million deal signed in 2006. They are installed on Strykers, Humvees and A2C2S (Army Airborne Command and Control System) UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters.
In an August interview with DANGER ROOM, Gen. David Petraeus didn’t mention Task Force ODIN by name. But he did talk about how the unit, run out of the 25th Combat Aviation Brigade, was proving just how effective network-centric warfare could be. By connecting together drones and copters and ground forces, the Army was able to attack insurgents with previously unheard-of speed and an efficiency.
OK, we’ve got a UAV overhead. It sees guys planting an IED, now what do you do? OK, well you have to be able to command and control: maybe attack helicopters, maybe ground forces, maybe armed UAVs, maybe F-16s. How do you tie all that together? …We’re really doing it here, in real detail. Three to five times a day that scenario is playing itself out, that one scenario right there.
Colonel A.T. Ball, commander of the 25th Combat Aviation Brigade, has a shockingly detailed official article on ODIN’s promises and challenges:
The task of integrating numerous non-standard aircraft, several exploitation systems, and dozens of civilian contractors while performing management and oversight for the contracts in place for TF ODIN is incredibly challenging for a unit deployed in combat and supporting brigade combat teams in the daily fight. This unique task force requires a systems integration officer, contract officer representatives, and government flight representatives in order to ensure that minimum infrastructure and oversight are in place…
TF ODIN also faced complex technical issues pertaining to distribution of full-motion video transmission and broadcast throughout theater. In broadcasting full-motion video across the theater, bandwidth is always a limiting factor.
Others issues smaller in scale, yet equally as critical, such as ensuring that commercial off-the-shelf avionics and radios were compatible with Army communications security requirements also needed solutions… This is the first time that an entire battalion-sized aviation task force was developed around the concept of using all non-standard material solutions to directly support ground forces in contact.