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Advanced Warfare: New Technologies and Their Application in Civil Reconnaissance

By Kyle Povio

Photo: AT&T, 2018, COW Drone mid-flight during an employment exercise with the Network Recovery Team.


When I was in my sophomore world history class, my teacher assigned us to watch the 1964 film Fail-Safe to give my peers and me a better understanding of the Cold War. After watching the movie, there is still one scene that stands out. Two nuclear bomber pilots are playing pool at the recreation center; the older of the two begins to become frustrated because of all of the new equipment and technology in the aircraft and how it creates a virtual boundary between the pilots and the rest of the crew. The younger pilot then exclaims to the older one, “Well, that’s the new policy, eliminates the personal factor, everything’s more complicated now, reaction times are faster, you can’t depend on people the same way anymore.” The veteran pilot then turns and asks, “Then who do you depend on?”

This question is relevant today because in seemingly every facet of society and within the military, technology seems to be augmenting human decision making and removing the need for human oversight. This paper and research aim to highlight and determine which potential technologies can coexist with the human role that occurs in civil reconnaissance and which technologies increase success. Before examining this set of technologies, let us first explore and describe what Civil Reconnaissance is and how nuanced technologies can be implemented within the Civil Affairs (CA) community.

Civil Reconnaissance

To understand how to enhance Civil Reconnaissance with technology, we must define what civil reconnaissance is. According to the U.S. Army doctrine for Civil Affairs, FM 3-57, Civil Reconnaissance (CR) is a "targeted, planned, and coordinated observation and evaluation of specific civil aspects of the environment for collecting civil information to enhance situational understanding and facilitate decision making. Potential sources of civil information include areas, structures, capabilities, organizations, people, and events (ASCOPE) assessments."[1]

One applied example can be CA's actions during Operation Unified Response in 2010. During which operators of the 95th Civil Affairs Brigade (Special Operations) (Airborne) conducted CR to collect initial damage assessments to address the local population's needs after the devastating 7.0 magnitude earthquake in Haiti.[2] Another notable example was the deployment of CA forces during the NATO-led Implementation Force (IFOR) in Bosnia and Herzegovina. In support of IFOR, a selected group of CA forces monitored landmine contamination's effects on impacted populations. These soldiers also used these missions as an opportunity to disseminate landmine awareness messages on comic books and soccer balls to vulnerable children in these landmine infested areas.[3]

Emerging Technologies as Force Multipliers

Going back to doctrine, CR allows commanders to meet specific critical information requirements and any request for information through the operations process. The ability of a CA team to accurately collect and disseminate information on the civil component is one of the most critical steps in the Civil Information Management (CIM) cycle.[4] However, commanders of CA forces must give their personnel as many resources as possible to be successful in their mission and help achieve the unified action force's overall goals. Here are some great up and coming tools that can help give CR more long-term success.

1. Snapshot Hyperspectral Imaging

With the unaided eye and regular digital cameras, we can only take in three visible light forms on the electromagnetic spectrum (EM). While this is useful for recording and observing the civil component while conducting CR, hyperspectral imaging (HSI) takes it to the next level. HSI uses a multitude of light detectors that take in all parts of the EM. These images create great civil data products because it allows us to detect problems we could not originally discover with average cameras. A notable example we can find is in the agriculture industry.

One unique feature of HSI is its application in agriculture, for it uses the EM to analyze risk management factors farmers face daily. Some of these factors are soil nutrition, irrigation capability, pest and crop disease, and the overuse of land and pesticides.[5] This example gives CA a rare proactive approach to how we address food security in host nation populations. Now, CA teams can utilize a rapid response capability to assess the operational environment and observe changes in the civil component.

A prime example of HSI’s application in the civilian sector is the Swiss company Gamaya. Gamaya created an extremely versatile HSI platform supported by machine learning to address sugarcane yield issues. With their product, farmers have increased their yield by ten percent, reduced thirty percent of all pesticide usage, and reduced the losses from irrigation issues by fifty percent in just one season.[6] This calculation has been accomplished with only the created images without the need for invasive testing on soil and crops. This capability on an initial evaluation through CR can not only help incubate long term local economic development, but they will also be able to provide long term solutions for food security and the food production pipeline in a host nation.

Fig. 1: USGS, 2016, Hyperspectral image showcasing geographical details of a military staging area in Al-Basra, Iraq. [7]

2. Cell Tower Unmanned Aircraft System

Back in 2017, AT&T created the Flying Cell on Wings (COW) to support its customers caught amid a manmade or natural disaster. The COW is connected to a power station trailer, the drone is then deployed, and once airborne, it broadcasts 4G LTE and cellular signals. After COW's inception, it was attached to AT&T's Network Recovery Teams to figure out how it can assist first responders. The recovery teams created an application for the drone by using it to help geolocate firefighters battling wildfires in the Pacific Northwest and facilitate communications between the suppression teams and an emergency operations center.[8] The COW can be airborne within a minute and be operational nonstop for twenty-four hours with a range of fourteen square miles. The COW has also been redesigned to be more durable to endure multiple weather changes, including visibility, windspeed, and temperature within its AO. This capability gives teams a great communications capacity without creating a large footprint like the one you would see from a regular tower.[9]

While this technology's firm use has not been created for a military application just yet, this has great potential for integration into the Army's Warfighter Information Network-Tactical (WIN-T). Within an Area of Interest (AI) that does not already have an established network infrastructure, the commander's top priority should be creating a network in real-time on the battlefield. This is where the creation of the Mobile Ad hoc Network (MANET) comes into play. According to David Barker, a MANET is a self-configuring, infrastructure-less network of mobile devices connected by wireless links. He states that these networks and their equipment must be rugged to withstand the harsh battlefield environment and must be Size, Weight, and Power (SWaP) optimized because it will be carried by soldiers or deployed in combat vehicles.[10] With more development and insight into a military application, the COW drone can easily meet these requirements. The COW again provides an excellent opportunity to bridge the gap between timely information from a CA team to the Civil Military Operations Center (CMOC), which can significantly sway the Civil-Military aspect of your mission in a successful way.

Fig. 2: AT&T, 2018, COW Drone mid-flight during an employment exercise with the Network Recovery Team. [11]

3. Counter Unmanned Aircraft Systems (C-UAS)

UAS systems are a double-edged sword in the race of technological dominance against near-peer threats. Non-state actors and near-peer adversaries have a great opportunity to exploit UAS systems as a cost-effective and low profile means of conducting ISR and strike missions. One of the most prominent examples is the Islamic State's use of drones to fight coalition forces during Mosul's battle in 2016-17. IS fighters released propaganda videos showcasing over a dozen times the use of commercial drones and their ability to drop small munitions on Iraqi forces and the local civilian population. You see this again later in the video where militants use commercial drones to identify targets and routes for Vehicle-Borne Improvised Explosive Devices (VBIED) to detonate to produce the most devastating effect possible.[12] These drones are typically not visible to most anti-aircraft systems due to their small size and flight altitude, making them an extremely decisive threat against U.S forces. It would be naive to believe that near peer-threats with better manufacturing capabilities and access to off the shelf UAS assets would not use this. The Russian Defense Ministry even told newspaper Izvestia in 2019 that they will start equipping their troops with small UAS systems that can drop small munitions because they saw how effective they were when in the hands of ISIS.[13]

Fig. 3: Associated Press, 2017, Iraq army officer holding a captured drone that was used during attacks in Mosul. [14]

Due to the CA team's size and how they carry out CR, small drones pose a grave danger to these operators. Thankfully, there are multiple types of C-UAS products that provide protection, like the Light Marine Air Defense Integrated System (LMADIS). The LMADIS is attached to two Polaris MRZR all-terrain vehicles. When deployed, the system can from thousands of yards away disable the connection between a drone and its pilot, forcing the drone to go into an uncontrolled freefall. The best use of the LMADIS was seen when in 2019, the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) used it to disable an Iranian drone conducting surveillance on the USS Boxer in the Strait of Hormuz.[15]


All these new technologies and the products created from them can help a CA team conduct CR. However, these products still possess their own weaknesses and can create some challenges for those who use them. These issues come in the forms of training, support, and funding. Training from my perspective seems to be the most significant issue with introducing these new technologies for CR. While most of these technologies have had actual use in their respective fields. The integration of civilian capabilities and crossing them over into the CA community will need a tremendous amount of reconfiguration. CA teams would require ample time to learn and understand this equipment to use it, let alone field it. This then widens the training CA teams will have to complete during training, such as at JRTC and NTC rotations to practically apply the equipment.

While the fifth truth of SOF is that most special operations require non-SOF support, there can always be too much support. CA teams and units are by design smaller units made to carry out missions that will better support the commander's broader mission during Unified Land Operations. Many of these missions, while not clandestine, are done with a relatively small footprint. These new products for CR induce a need for people outside the units, such as contractors and conventional forces, to provide support. Many operators, especially those in four-person CA teams, do not have time for these groups to deploy due to an ever-changing situation on the ground. When new technologies are used, we also introduce the risk of delaying missions and services if, for example, one of them breaks, and now you must wait on support personnel to fix the product.

Like many other aspects of the military, funding is a massive point of contention. These three products provide a large burden of extra cost and expenses that each unit will have to meet. This includes the products themselves, maintenance support, and the price of training to deploy them properly. The reallocation of these funds gives a risk of underfunding other necessary items units need to provide for their operators.


The application of new technological products is a very uncertain and delicate learning process. Especially when these products can sway the entire success of a mission positively or negatively. But in the end, all CA missions contain some aspect of risk, and in order to steward this profession, one must be able to put some trust into their gear. CA teams have a great opportunity to take these three products and convert them into force multipliers. With the right support and optimism, we can start taking a calculated risk and start employing these products to enhance civil reconnaissance missions.


1. The United States, FM 3-57 2019: Civil Affairs Operations § (2007).

2. David R. DiOrio, Operation Unified Response Haiti Earthquake Case Study, JFSC, 2010.

3. Edward Byrne Lescher, How Effective Was Civil Affairs in Bosnia, 2013,

4. Ibid., pp 2-3.

5. Jung, András, René Michels, and Graser Rainer. “Portable snapshot spectral imaging for agriculture.” 2018.

6. Gamaya. 2015. Canefit – Smart Solution for Sugarcane Cultivation.

7. USGS, Al-Basra, Iraq, 2016.

8. Pregler, Art. 2017. When COWs Fly: AT&T Sending LTE Signals from Drones. AT&T Technology Blog.

9. Pregler, Art. 2018. Extreme Connections. AT&T Technology Blog.

10. Barker, Dave. 2018. Bringing Mobile Ad Hoc Networks to the battlefield using COTS open standards. EECatalog.

11. AT&T, 2018, COW Drone mid-flight during an employment exercise with the Network Recovery Team.

12. Rassler, Don. 2018. “The Islamic State and Drones: Supply, Scale, and Future Threats.” Combatting Terrorism Center at West Point, (July), 24.

13. Ioanes, Ellen. 2019. “Russia wants to arm its troops with small drones that drop bombs because ISIS did it.” Business Insider, July 16, 2019.

14. Associated Press, 2017, Iraq army officer holding a captured drone that was used in attacks in Mosul.

15. Mizokami, Kyle. 2019. “This Is the ATV-Mounted Jammer That Took Down an Iranian Drone.” Popular Mechanics,

The opinions, conclusions, and recommendations expressed or implied above are those of the authors and do not reflect the views of any organization or any entity of the U.S. government.

About the Author

Kyle Povio is an Army ROTC Cadet at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, FL. He is currently pursuing a BS in Global Conflict Studies with concentrations in Homeland Security and Terrorism Studies. CDT Povio has done research in the fields of post-election violence in Kenya, insurgencies in the Caucasus, and human rights violations in Syria. He hopes upon his initial time in service as a lieutenant to attend the Civil Affairs Assessment and Selection (CAAS) to fulfill his dream of becoming a CA Officer. To contact CDT Povio, email him at

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