The intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance community is facing a time of change, of both platforms and missions, and it is coming in an age of budget austerity. This requires a change in thinking, top ISR officials from all services said at the closing of the C4ISR conference this afternoon.
Service branches are going to need to work more closely together as they face new mission challenges, including a shift to the Pacific and the draw down in Afghanistan, while analysts and operators used to working in permissive environments will need to adapt to working in possible anti-access, area denial situations.
“You’re going to see more integration and more sharing, and that’s going to drive our solution set overall,” said Vice Adm. Kendall Card, the director of the Office of Naval Intelligence.
For the past decade, intelligence gathering has largely focused on what’s flying above, with unmanned aircraft and other air frames such as the manned MC-12 Liberty providing surveillance largely free of danger, and providing that information in “mall security" type video feeds.
“As we think about where the strategy is taking us in the future, which is in contested environments ... and focusing on broader areas of the Pacific, it really requires different thinking and different capabilities,” said Lt. Gen. Larry James, the Air Force deputy chief of staff for ISR.
A necessary change in thinking will be to move away from a focus on the solely on the air frames, who is flying them, and how often they are flying. Instead, the focus needs to shift to the capabilities that can be provided to the troops on the ground when they are needed.
“We have to stop measuring capability in terms of input measures,” said David Deptula, a retired Air Force lieutenant general and moderator of the discussion. “The soldier, sailor, airman, Marine does not give a hoot about the number of (combat air patrols) or orbits that are airborne. They care about do they have an increase in their situational awareness that is provided by something.”
Additionally, the focus needs to increase on the ground level and the military increases its focus on areas such as Africa and South America, officials said. This includes more emphasis on human intelligence and expansion of programs such as the Distributed Common Ground System-Army.
“It’s a huge mission,” said Lt. Gen. Mary Legere, the deputy chief of staff of the Army for intelligence, of Africa. “There’s huge opportunities from the non-traditional ways of getting at things.”