RQ-4 Global Hawk maintenance Airmen with the 380th Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Squadron go through pre-flight servicing while preparing a Global Hawk for a combat mission Feb. 12, 2010, in Southwest Asia. More than 4,100 airmen, civilians and contractors making up the 480th Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Wing handle a flow of approximately 700 gigabytes of information daily from aircraft like the RQ-4. (U.S. Air Force photo/Master Sgt. Scott T. Sturkol)
This image from an RQ-4 Global Hawk shows passable and obstructed roads in Haiti following the earthquake there. The image, taken by a Global Hawk from Beale Air Force Base, Calif., and analysts from the 480th Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Wing at Beale AFB, provided assessments to assist in all aspects of recovery and relief. (U.S. Air Force photo)
by Tech. Sgt. Matthew McGovern
Defense Media Activity - San Antonio
3/17/2010 - RANDOLPH AIR FORCE BASE, Texas (AFNS) -- Members of the 480th Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Wing are assisting coalition forces with the expanding need for ISR data in Southwest Asia by processing, exploiting and disseminating information coming from remotely piloted aircraft.
More than 4,100 Airmen, civilians and contractors make up the 480th ISRW and handle a flow of approximately 700 gigabytes of information daily.
Wing officials expect this number to increase in the near future.
"It's a growing career field and it's definitely the wave of the future for the Air Force as far as intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance," said Col. Dan Johnson, the 480th ISRW commander.
It's very popular right now, it's in high demand and 2,000 more billets will be added within the 480th ISRW, he said.
Members of the 480th ISRW examine information from multiple platforms including the U-2 Dragon Lady, the RQ-4 Global Hawk, MQ-1 Predator, MQ-9 Reaper and now Project Liberty, Colonel Johnson said.
"At each one of the units in Afghanistan we have an officer and enlisted Air Force ISR liaison officer working side by side with Army Soldiers, Marines and coalition partners," Colonel Johnson said. "In addition to that we have our line crews who are working with each one of those forward units."
The line crews, or intelligence analysts, are located at five different core sites, one each in Virginia, California, South Korea, Hawaii and Germany.
"Our line mission crews, we call them "deployed in place", have been running these line missions non-stop," Colonel Johnson said. "These folks form a bond working together in chat rooms. They describe to the coalition forces on the ground what ISR platforms are in the air around them."
"From Beale Air Force Base, (Calif.), an Airman was talking to a Marine just about to go out on convoy," he said. "The Airman tracked the entire line of operations for the convoy to make sure it went safely. This Airman was able to get ISR surge to that operation and found that there were eight possible (improvised explosive devices) identified, three caches were confirmed and identified and one was a confirmed IED."
"This is (a senior Airman) talking to somebody forward that's directing ISR in support of the mission on the ground," the colonel said. "That's the empowerment that we've been given in our weapon system and it's the folks that work the line crew that should be given all the credit."
"When an IED is discovered that I had a hand in identifying, I definitely feel a sense of accomplishment and, of course, an element of relief that it was discovered in a manner that did not harm our forces," said Senior Airman Andres Morales, the multi-source analyst at Beale AFB who located the IED.
"Those types of discoveries are more reminders of why you must remain vigilant at all times since enemy forces are constantly challenging our Airmen on a daily basis when they go about hiding and targeting our forces with these types of weapons," Airman Morales said.
Analysts at the 480th ISRW review approximately 820 hours of full-motion video daily and exploit more than 1,000 targets per day.
"The (remotely piloted aircraft) gives us an unblinking eye," Colonel Johnson said. "It gives you a real world image that can't be modified, so you're looking at exactly what the guys on the ground are facing."
Analysts also can look at the history of enemy activity in a particular area and relay that info to coalition forces on the ground.
"Within our organization, we can store (full motion video) up to 30 days and we can retrieve it within seconds and we work with the National Geospatial Agency that (has stored) FMV since 2003," Colonel Johnson said.
480th ISRW members also used these resources to aid with U.S. humanitarian efforts.
"We just recently supported a Haiti operation where we did a lot of Global Hawk exploitation," the colonel said. "We were very fortunate to have pre-shots prior to the earthquake, and so we were able to do damage assessment in support of the relief effort that was down there. A lot of it was targeting relief areas, looking at massing of populations, and we looked at where we can do infrastructure projects that needed to be worked on.
"It was a little reversal of the tradition combat operations that we support, but it was the same skill set that we use on a day-to-day basis," he said.