ISR chief outlines future programs

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. J.G. Buzanowski
  • 380th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs
While visiting deployed Airmen April 15-18, Brig. Gen. John Horner addressed the future of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance mission programs.

As Air Force Director of ISR Capabilities, Horner spent a few days with Airmen of the 380th Air Expeditionary Wing to view the work of the many people supporting ISR requirements. Between its U-2 and RQ-4 Global Hawk aircraft, the wing is responsible for all of the high-altitude ISR data gathered for warfighters in the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility.

"We on the staff want our people in the combat zone set up for success, so it's extremely beneficial to talk with them in person to find out what their issues are and identify how we can improve their quality of life and mission effectiveness," Horner explained.

For example, because U-2 pilots spend up to 12 hours in a cramped cockpit flying at the edge of space, they are at great risk for decompression illness. Recent advances to the design of their cockpit pressurization system eliminates the chances that pilots will experience the various effects DCI can have on the body in the future, Horner said.

The visit gave ISR platform crews and maintainers the chance to talk with the general and discuss those cockpit improvements as well as other concerns, like career progression for remotely piloted aircraft operators.

"We have to make sure we're developing RPA pilots and sensor operators by giving them opportunities for professional military education, developmental tours and staff jobs," Horner said. "We've made some significant strides in striking that balance between their operations -- currently in such very high demand -- and career development. It comes down to creating a fulfilling, viable career path so they are ready for leadership positions in the future."

Because the 380th AEW provides so much critical data to leaders throughout the AOR, it was also good for Horner to meet with representatives of the host nation.

"The capabilities the 380th provides are vital to stability and security in the region," he said. "I greatly enjoyed meeting face to face with officers of the host nation. We talked about opportunities to cooperate now and work together in the years to come.

"We're fortunate to have them as a security partner and should work toward continued partnership in future endeavors," the general added.

Horner stressed the importance of preparing for the future of ISR programs. He said a current challenge is sifting through the abundance of data collected by the different ISR platforms used throughout the Department of Defense.

"The ISR enterprise is about more than just airplanes with cameras and full-motion video; we gather ISR data through a variety of means," Horner explained. "Further, we must leverage new technologies to cross-reference a variety of databases and to help us import, process and disseminate the intel gathered. We also need to ensure ISR communications are as secure as possible while being accessible to and integrated with our planning and weapons systems."

Horner also cautioned against making assumptions with regard to the current proposed budget and the continued operations of various ISR missions.

"People had a lot of questions about specific platforms, especially the Global Hawk," he said. "We should remember that the budget has yet to be finalized, so for now, Airmen should continue operations as normal in order to meet current mission requirements and allow our senior leaders to engage national leadership with our security strategy as a backdrop to identify the appropriate future force structure."

The goal remains to "turn raw data into decision-quality information for combatant commanders and warfighters on the ground," Horner said.

"Airmen at the 380th play a vital role in our engagement in the Arabian Gulf region," the general said. "It's amazing to come here and meet the people who make such a difference in regional stability. Our national intelligence community depends on them to discern any potential adversary's capability and intent, contributing to security.

"It's been a great opportunity for me to spend time with the highly-motivated Airmen deployed here," Horner added. "Regardless of the tools and training they have, it is ultimately their commitment and character that leads to our success."