Interview with gen. Fronda (Tactical Information Brigade): "we provide the information to be able to operate effectively"

(To Andrea Cucco)

Our Army is made up of departments that often operate in silence and are almost unknown to the general public. While not having the visibility of other more iconic and famous assets, they are not infrequently of fundamental importance for the success of operations. Among these realities is the Tactical Information Brigade, under whose command - since last November - General Maurizio Fronda has been placed.

An officer with important experience abroad, he made himself available to explain to our readers the great unit.

General Fronda, what is the "Tactical Information Brigade"?

La Tactical Information Brigade represents the “centralized” solution of the Italian Army for the optimal use of its highly specialized resources in the various Intelligence disciplines, guaranteeing unity of command and direction towards the specialized units employed, both in the operational and training fields. In particular, it encompasses all the main capabilities of tactical information collection and enhancement of the Armed Force, such as the Electronic Warfare assets, instrumental surveillance of the area of ​​operations, and the collection of information from human sources. These are flanked by specialist departments for the integrated analysis of the collected data and for operational support for Electronic Warfare.

The brigade prepares the assets of the dependent units for use outside the national territory with the task of conducting collection activities on the basis of the information needs identified by the commander of the contingent and contributes, right from the preparation phase of the supported unit, to the activities of planning with the establishment and making available of articulations of analysis, management of information collection, geospatial data analysis, coordination of Electronic Warfare activities and those relating to Human Intelligence.

Ultimately the mission of the Tactical Information Brigade Command is to guarantee the correct implementation of the Intelligence cycle through its own separate articulations in favor of the command that receives them in reinforcement for the specific need.

The department has undergone profound transformations over the years: what are the differences compared to the previous RISTA / EW or the Electronic Defense Center? Are the changes still ongoing? 

Today Tactical Information Brigade it is the result of gradual changes dictated above all by the identification of new information needs. The brigade was formed in November 2018, from the transformation of the RISTA-EW Brigade, established in 2004 and in turn originated - as you rightly pointed out - from the pre-existing Electronic Defense Center established in Anzio (RM) in 1963.

La RISTA Brigade EW was established on 1 June 2004 with the aim of conferring unity of command and programmatic direction to the instrumental surveillance assets of the battlefield, Electronic Warfare and the collection of information from human sources of the Armed Force. All in support of the operations conducted by the Defense in modern operational scenarios where the knowledge of the environment in which it operates and the understanding of the dynamics between various social groups and actors is essential for the fulfillment of the mission and for the minimization of the risk for the our staff. To this end, it has the task of enhancing the information collection capacity of the Armed Force by training the staff of the sector in the use of the means and materials available, the experimentation of new technologies, the acquisition of new systems, the study of new modes of action.

La Tactical Information Brigade keeps unchanged the mission of the RISTA-EW Brigade which is that of provide the operations commander with the information necessary to be able to operate effectively.

Finally, on the subject of change, the brigade is today at the center of an ambitious transformation and enhancement project aimed at increasing the ability of the commanders of the maneuvering units to operate in the main domains of modern operating environments. It is expressed through integration into the re-named Multi Domain Maneuvering Brigade of the assets of the Tactical Information with those dedicated to Information Operations and those destined to operate in the domain cyber.

What is HUMINT? How is the staff trained for this type of Intelligence? Do you need special skills or can anyone learn? 

La Human Intelligence it is, literally, the collection of information elements by exploiting them from human sources in order to satisfy the information needs identified by the commander.

The Army General Staff has provided for a particular process for the feeding of the HUMINT regiment which begins with the verification of certain requirements for the employment of personnel participating in ordinary or extraordinary searches for the settlement of "operational specialist" organic positions and the evaluation the psycho-attitudinal profile necessary for the examination of aspects inherent, for example, to motivation for specific work, resolution of problems of a different nature and in heterogeneous contexts (problem solving), self-control and stress management skills (stress management), ability in verbal communication etc.

The personnel thus selected are then sent to attend a series of courses, the overcoming of which is a necessary condition for assignment to the department. The latter take place at the Tactical Information Training Center of the brigade and at the Joint Intelligence and Electronic Warfare Training Center of Defense. The traditional ways of exploiting human sources are now accompanied by the necessary ability to understand and maximize the use of social media (CD virtual humint), which requires the acquisition of new skills.

What is the current size of Electronic Warfare compared to 20 years ago? 

If one lingers only on a superficial analysis of the definition of Electronic Warfare, one might get the feeling that nothing has changed in the last 20 years. In fact, Electronic Warfare is still defined today as the set of military activities that exploit the electromagnetic spectrum to help define awareness of the situation and obtain offensive and defensive effects.

Now as then, our Electronic Warfare specialists work to protect the electromagnetic spectrum used by friendly forces and to deny its hostile use to the adversary. What has drastically changed in the last two decades is the way in which the electromagnetic spectrum is used, which by now represents an essential room for maneuver for the control of the operational environment and, consequently, for the success of any military operation.

Its management is characterized as a enablers for military operations in all domains because none of them is possible without superiority in the electromagnetic spectrum. The latter is also indispensable for the effects that are generated within the cyber domain or through it. However, in recent decades we have witnessed a drastic and exponential increase in the use of devices capable of radiating wireless signals, even at low cost, for social, commercial but also hostile purposes.

The electromagnetic spectrum has therefore become extremely congested and contested and, in parallel with the development of low-cost civil technologies, the Armed Forces of most countries have increased their dependence on it, increasing their vulnerabilities as well.

In this context, Electronic Warfare is, in fact, the "combat instrument" of Electromagnetic Operations: it allows maneuvering in a parallel or transversal domain (electromagnetic environment), synchronizing with those who conduct the maneuver in the other domains. Not surprisingly, in the immediate future, Electronic Warfare will be one of the key elements of the new multi-dimensional approach, developed by the Army General Staff, whose management will continue to be centralized in the constitution. Multi-Domain Maneuvering Brigade destined to be born on the framework of Tactical Information Brigade.

The need to operate effectively in such a complex operational scenario is felt not only by Italy, but also by NATO. For some years now, the latter has introduced the concept of Electromagnetic Operations which, in addition to Electronic Warfare, also include other disciplines operating in the electromagnetic environment, such as Navigation Warfare and Spectrum Management.

Twenty years ago the national and NATO Armed Forces were mainly employed outside national borders, in crisis scenarios that entrusted the EW units with the task of contributing to the Situational Awareness to prevent any asymmetrical attacks and to prevent the effective use of homemade explosive devices activated with radio controls. Current crisis scenarios, often portions of complex geopolitical chessboards influenced by the action of stakeholder and regional powers, on the other hand, require an adjustment of Electronic Warfare in order to integrate the typical tasks of recent decades with others, compatible with the potential occurrence of different scenarios. 

What does RAIT do? In operations outside the national territory, can colleagues from other Armed Forces be replaced or is the work generally "Joint"? 

Il Integrated Terrestrial Analysis Department it is a structure of the brigade responsible for feeding the organizational elements to be grafted, if necessary, within the information branches of the commands used in operation. It can provide specialist personnel indifferently in the context of a component command (Army) or inter-force (Joint).

It is responsible for the registration of the information elements collected, their categorization by homogeneous topics, archiving in graphic and electronic form. It guarantees the analysis and processing of the data and information available referring to the areas of operation. It develops ad hoc cartographic products based on information needs. It ensures the development of the process of collecting the information necessary to conduct the operation, together with the management of the specific information needs related to the individual areas of interest.

In order to carry out these tasks, RAIT accesses the data of interest through classified systems, even in the permanent office, guaranteeing support in the tactical information sector to the units of intended operational use, even in “operational stasis”.

In operations, has technology replaced human material? 

The concept ofInternet of everything, one of the reflections of the technological innovation that permeates every moment of our life, is also present in an important way in military operations. Particularly for a unit like the Tactical Information Brigade, which is the cornerstone of maneuver in ensuring the cognitive superiority of the operating environment, the evolution of technology, in particular applied to the sensors it uses, represents a multiplier of success. That said, the human element underlying the use of this technology remains and will remain irreplaceable.

On the other hand, a fundamental element of change with respect to the past is constituted by the increasingly pressing need on the one hand to specialize and qualify the personnel who work in the disciplines relating to the information environment and on the other hand to increase awareness of leadership at all levels of relevance of the cd information maneuver in modern usage scenarios. In fact, in practice and in operational use, we increasingly notice the need to have adequately trained personnel in order to fully exploit the potential of the technological tools available.

Photo: Online Defense / Italian Army