Lt. Gen. Larry James, Air Force Deputy Chief of Staff for Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance, briefed industry leaders about the service’s ISR future during the Aviation Week Defense Technology, Affordability and Requirement Conference here, Feb. 15.
The Air Force provides distinctive global ISR capabilities to its joint, interagency and coalition partners and must remain at the cutting edge of technology to remain successful, James said.
With current fiscal constraints looming, the Air Force looks to improve upon existing capabilities which have been successful in supporting the warfighter in Iraq and Afghanistan and improve ISR capabilities as it focuses on a changing role in the Asia-Pacific region.
“We must look beyond the permissive environment we have been using in Afghanistan where you can fly Predators and Reapers with impunity because there is no aerial threat,” James said. “In the future we must be prepared to operate in a different environment where there is an air threat.”
As the Air Force prepares for its future needs and requirements outlined in the national defense strategy, it must find new ways to combine and deploy emergent capabilities, James said.
A key future goal for the Air Force ISR enterprise is to combine information obtained from a variety of air, space and cyberspace assets into an integrated network that can provide a single source of full spectrum, actionable data to analysts around the globe. This would go a long way toward ensuring more efficient and effective support to combatant commanders and other ISR customers, James said.
The force must also decide which future collection vehicles it will need to maintain technological superiority given today’s austere fiscal environment, James said.
“We took some decrements in terms of the ISR budget and we had to make some tough decisions,” James said. “I would offer that in this budget, and if you look at the future, ISR will fare as well as if not better than most areas of our budget simply because of the understanding of the importance of ISR.”
Continuing to utilize the U-2 because it could meet the mission requirement, verses investing funds on the Global Hawk Block 30, was the deciding factor in plans to move away from that platform, James said.
“The U-2 currently has better sensor performance, in general, and therefore we didn’t need to invest the dollars to bring the Global Hawk Block 30 on when we could meet the combatant commander requirements with the reliable U-2.”
A lot of tough choices were made for fiscal year 2013 within the ISR enterprise, and the Air Force is already looking ahead to FY14 to understand what future requirements will be needed, James said
“This is not just your father’s imagery analyst anymore where you just sit down and look at an image try to ascertain what is there,” James said. “It is really this all-source intelligence analyst who is able to critically think and figure out the answers to some of the hard problems out there.”
To maintain the level of support Joint, Coalition and interagency partners have come to expect from the Air Force, training Airmen properly and ensuring proper equipment availability is imperative to ISR’s future success, James said.
“I think the Air Force from a Service perspective sets the standard in terms of global ISR and I think that is important as we move forward into the future,” James said.
by Tech. Sgt. Richard A. Williams, Jr.
February 23rd, 2012