Not So Non-Traditional ISR

Intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance capability has experienced a paradigm shift since the end of the Cold War—turning from a fleet of platforms to a network of sensors that are hyper responsive to commanders’ needs, an Air Force planner said yesterday. “Optimizing the kill chain requires rethinking the old intelligence cycle and making it more accessible,” Col. Dash Jamieson, director of ISR transformation on the Air Staff, said Jan. 23 at the Precision Strike Association’s winter symposium in Washington. “ISR no longer supports operations, it is operations.” She said the ISR enterprise must continue to evolve to reflect the new environment by having a minimal footprint, projecting power as part of an “information mosaic,” and having global effects. By leveraging space assets, increasing data-transmission distances, and expanding the payloads of fighters and unmanned aerial vehicles, the ISR enterprise now crosses into new territories in which it participates in force protection and strike operations as well as data collection, she said. The evolution of the Predator UAV is an example, she said, noting that when it was first deployed in the mid 1990s, it was modeled to use traditional imagery systems. But its real advantage was achieved only when it was integrated with kinetic weapons—Hellfire missiles—and operations and when datalinks were added to connect it to ground forces in the field and operators back in the US, she said. In addition, she said, nearly all fighters in theater are now equipped with targeting pods for non-traditional ISR use, but she took issue with the latter term. “The fact that a fighter or aircraft is a collector doesn’t change the nature and the source of ISR. So why is it non-traditional?” Jamieson asked. This approach wrongly equates platforms with effects, she said, adding that political, funding, and oversight reasons for putting these kinds of capabilities in a box are not productive toward solving the low density/high demand problem that the Air Force is grappling with in the ISR realm.