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Special Operations

PREMIUM: No more gold nuggets as SSE delivers decreasing returns

18th May 2020 - 11:30 GMT | by Scott Gourley in California


After nearly two decades of continuous combat operations in counter-terror and counter-violent extremist organisation environments, US special operations planners are seeing a decreasing return on so-called sensitive site exploitation (SSE) opportunities.

Speaking last week at the virtual Special Operations Forces Industry Conference (vSOFIC), Col Michael McGuire, director of R&D in US Army Special Operations Command, described a ‘decreasing return on what we used to call exploitation or sensitive site exploitation’ in an evolving targeting environment.

McGuire defined SSE as the ability to derive useful information from objects taken from a target area or captured enemy: ‘We have to turn the tables when we conduct targeting and we have to get information about the environment [and] about the friends and enemies that are on the battlefield.’

Decreasing information from SSE is attributable partly to a higher volume of ‘partnered operations’, McGuire noted, adding: ‘We don’t always have full access to [SSE] and when we do have access to it it’s often delayed and not quite as responsive.’

Exploitation tools used by SOF have become ‘less useful tactically and more useful operationally and strategically’, said McGuire.

‘The upside, though, is that the tools that we have developed and we are developing now for exploiting things that we capture can also be used to exploit things that we collect,’ he remarked.

‘And I think we’ve made more headway over the last couple of years on exploitation of SSE than maybe we have on the exploitation of some of the other intelligence mediums, and now we’re seeing the ability of these [SSE] tools to be applied across those [intelligence] disciplines’.

It is also possible to aggregate the increasing amount of available intelligence from open and other sources. ‘The best analogy I can make for this is, a few years ago, we were looking in the targeting domain for “the gold nugget”… that ...

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