By Brandon Pollachek and Maj. Jurelle J. Mendoza – May 12, 2023
1973 was a unique time in American history. The Vietnam War was ongoing, gas shortages were causing long lines at the pumps, “Tie a Ribbon Around the Old Oak Tree” by Tony Orlando and Dawn topped the music charts, and NASA launched the Mariner 10 to observe Mercury. At the same time, the U.S. Army began exploring capabilities across the Department of Defense, establishing a materiel need for “Tactical Requirements for National Level Reconnaissance,” resulting in the birth of the Army Space Program Office (ASPO). Renamed to the Tactical Exploitation of National Capabilities (TENCAP) in 2013, the office continues to deliver critical intelligence to the battlefield.
The genesis of Army TENCAP began a few years prior to the establishment of ASPO. Founded by combat arms officers who understood the operational imperative of controlling the “high ground”, they sought to leverage capabilities outside of the Army to gain an advantage. To achieve effective superior Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities, the Army chartered TENCAP to partner with both the Air Force and Navy to evaluate and influence strategic and national intelligence assets for use within tactical formations.
Dr. Richard Haley, (then) Chief Scientist for the Department of the Army, conceptualized ASPO as an entity that serves as a unique technical and fiscal interface to the National program offices, and as the manager for materiel acquisition primarily focused on delivering capabilities that meet the tactical needs of the Army. In this regard, ASPO became the centerpiece for space-based capabilities for the Army.
With a team of approximately 20 personnel, ASPO partnered with the Army Security Agency (now Intelligence and Security Command), initially tackling Signal Intelligence requirements. Within three years, the team conducted its first successful National systems experiment with Real-Time Interactive Processor (RTIP), as part of a joint exercise Bold Eagle ’76, at Camp Irwin, CA.
The successful RTIP demonstration transitioned to the first Army force fielded system, the Electronic Processing and Dissemination System (EPDS).
Following the early success of multiple programs, Congress found the Army’s approach to leveraging national capabilities effective, and mandated the other services to establish similar programs.
While still in its infancy the ASPO/TENCAP office began to witness a positive evolution within the Intelligence Community (IC) surrounding a combination of technological advances as well organizational practices.
“What we were doing during that timeframe was modernizing those early capabilities – moving away from the original generation of ISR satellites – where everything was in a black program, very sperate and you had to custom build all of the hardware,” said Matthew Cro, TENCAP Technical Director (with the ASPO/TENCAP since 1987). “We started using more modern and commercial standard components to eliminate the need to have custom builds.”
The new technologies created efficiencies in how information collected through TENCAP could be digested easier and increased the ability to conduct exploitation operations.
“In the Mid-80’s we introduced the ability to do soft copy analysis,” said Cro. “We no longer had to roll out the films collected from satellites to look at them, which resulted in the first generation of soft copy exploitation where we could digitally manipulate the products and use them.”
The ability to operate with soft copy products coincided with a concerted effort across the Joint Forces to leverage the technology economy at scale and make a leap forward with the system capabilities.
Desert Storm/Desert Shield
As Saddam Hussein and the Iraqi forces invaded Kuwait, the Army’s attention turned to operations in the Middle East. With a need to quickly understand the landscape, the Army found TENCAP capabilities so vital that it was an ASPO system that was amongst the very first pieces of equipment moved into the region. Throughout Desert Storm, TENCAP systems provided the majority of targeting support for deep operations and imagery for Intelligence Preparation of the Battlefield (IPB).
Although most systems were dedicated to Europe and Cold War efforts, due to the similar requirements for Desert Storm, the systems were rapidly adapted to support a new Area of Operations.
“For Desert Storm, we leveraged the same information sources, but shifted the focus: because the IC also shifted to collect information in the Middle East, the transition was easier – we just needed to get the information down to the Army units that were deploying and getting ready for the operations.”
Post Cold War – 1990s
With the fall of the Berlin Wall leading to the end of the Cold War the APSO/TENCAP team was able to expand its focus beyond the European theater, with a new emphasis on the Pacific and the Middle East
“For ASPO it wasn’t really a matter of peace breaking out in Europe and then not having anything to do, as we had capabilities across the globe,” said Cro, “With the focus of the Cold War gone, it allowed the TENCAP mission to broaden its horizon.”
Changes in IC focus along with initial Lessons Learned from Desert Storm led to an increased emphasis of providing TENCAP capabilities at lower echelons. Part of the new key enablers were the growing geospatial intelligence capabilities.
Global War on Terror
As the Army became engaged in the Global War on Terror (GWOT), adapting to counterinsurgency (COIN) operations became paramount. In 2001, ASPO platforms were not designed to support Soldiers engaged in COIN, highlighting the need to develop capabilities at even lower echelons to be effective.
“The large systems we had at Corps-level could not be forward deployed –so we had to develop the ability for reach back operations along with our INSCOM partners,” noted Cro. “We started to shift capabilities to become more fixed site and network centric. The TENCAP team was looking at how we are federating capabilities to operate with Soldiers who are down range. We were looking at different sources of data and this is really where we started to enable distributed PED (Processing, Exploitation and Dissemination).”
By the time the Army ended operations in Afghanistan, TENCAP had modified their systems for use by more Soldiers than ever before. Products made discoverable via the Distributed Common Ground System-Army (DCGS-A) and a reduction of stove-piped technologies throughout the IC has increased the value of products beyond the Corps-level.
50 Years Later
As Army TENCAP marks the 50th Anniversary, the current mission and team has drastically transformed from its humble beginnings into an organization that continues to thrive within a persistent technologically advanced and ever-changing global environment.
“Space is no longer the frontier battleground of some future timeframe. We are fighting daily to maintain the high ground – with our success vital to Army operations around the globe not only today but into the foreseeable future. Recognized as the fourth dimension of warfare (i.e. Land, Sea, Air, Space), we must continue to leverage space-based capabilities to compete and win in a world where our adversaries are already operating” said LTC Nick Forlenza, Director for TENCAP. “Both the access to space-based capabilities and knowledge of their limitations is critical to not only enhancing performance across the full spectrum of Army operations, but winning on the modern battlefield.”
Digital linkage via orbiting satellites already enhance situational awareness, force protection, and precision firing solutions for the execution of deep fires and maneuver of forces on the modern battlefield. The medium of space and space products are increasingly a critical consideration for leaders and planners at all levels.
“The Army must continuously influence and leverage systems and technologies that our partners across other Services and the IC are developing and have deployed,” said Forlenza.
Today, Army TENCAP’s mission is to enable the Army to rapidly exploit and influence National capabilities and architectures. Further, TENCAP conducts advanced development and rapid prototyping to enhance, inform, and modernize Army capabilities and CONOPs to pace the threat.
While Army TENCAP excels in the use and integration of space-based systems, the data collected from space and made available on the ground by TENCAP systems integrates with data from aerial and terrestrial sensors, integrates into a common picture for the commander. The overarching objectives for evolution of TENCAP systems is to reduce ground segment size, weight, increase modularity, commonality, and information throughput to enhance responsiveness to the warfighter.
The lineage of the RTIP of the 1970’s is found in systems such as DCGS-A, Operational Ground System (OGS), Advanced Miniaturized Data Acquisition System (AMDAS), Remote Ground Terminal (RGT) and Air Vigilance. The next chapter of the TENCAP story is the incorporation of capabilities into the Army’s future ground station, the Tactical Intelligence Targeting Access Node (TITAN). Assured access to data from the rapidly growing and evolving constellations of space-based sensors is more important than ever: enabling TITAN’s support to Multi-Domain Operations (MDO), Joint All-Domain Operations (JADO), and Long Range Precision Fires (LRPF) for Multi-Domain Deep Sensing, Analysis and Processing, Exploitation, and Dissemination (PED).
The Electronic Processing and Dissemination System (EPDS) was the first Army force fielded system by the TENCAP office.
The Tactical Intelligence Targeting Access Node (TITAN) Pre-Prototype will provide assured access to data from the rapidly growing and evolving constellations of space-based sensors.
Digital Imagery Test Bed (Photo Credit: U.S. Army)