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U-2 aids in Katrina relief

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class George Cloutier
  • 9th Reconnaissance Wing Public Affairs
The reconnaissance mission here has long been the cornerstone of providing critical information to commanders worldwide, but after hurricane Katrina that mission has moved much closer to home.

For almost two weeks, the 9th Reconnaissance Wing here has supported relief efforts by flying U-2S missions over the Gulf Coast area in support of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Even though the U-2 flight might be over, developing and analyzing the imagery has only begun. The 9th Intelligence Squadron has been providing critical intelligence to agencies participating in the relief and rescue efforts.

“When a U-2 lands, the film is sent here to the 9th IS where we develop and duplicate the images,” said Lt. Col. Christopher Kubick, 9th IS commander. “Images that we are producing are going into a library that is accessible to federal and state agencies that are helping in the relief effort.”

Along with the 9th IS, the 480th Intelligence Group and 27th Intelligence Support Squadron at Langley Air Force Base, Va., were key components in the Air Force's efforts to rapidly collect, process, exploit and disseminate time-sensitive imagery products.

"Our folks worked around the clock and in close concert to synchronize a never-before seen mixture of national, (air reconnaissance) and commercial sources of data to support the relief efforts," said Col. Judy Chizek, 480th IW commander.

While some people were enjoying their Labor Day weekend, Airmen with the 9th IS were busy at work supporting the relief effort by doing what they do best.

“So far we have processed about three-and-a-half miles of film,” Colonel Kubick said. “We have developed pretty much the entirety of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and parts of Florida.”

To accomplish this task, many hands are necessary to provide the necessary processes that will ultimately produce the final product.

“We currently have 22 trained photographers who process our imagery,” said Senior Master Sgt. Mark Cormier, 9th IS superintendent.

Though giving up a long weekend may not be everyone’s idea of fun, the 9th IS Airmen know what they are doing is for a good cause -- saving lives.

“I haven’t heard a single complaint from anyone here,” Colonel Kubick said.

Though much has been accomplished already, work continues in support of the relief effort and will continue until further notification.

“We have been instructed to fly a mission every three days, and will continue to do so until we hear otherwise,” Colonel Kubick said. “This is the only type of capability that exists for this type of application. The optical bar camera is the only one of its kind in the U.S. military.”

While there are other sources available for imagery, such as satellite, the imagery provided by the U-2 optical bar camera is best suited for this type of scenario.

“So far we have photographed over 130,000 square miles,” Colonel Kubick said. “Our cameras are capable of capturing a large area while still providing the necessary detail for close analysis.”

Additionally, more than 400 files have been produced, including large amounts of commercial and national imagery and images from Air National Guard RC-26 reconnaissance aircraft, as part of the overall operation.

The 27th ISS acted as the critical dissemination piece in the operation, uploading hundreds of images daily to both secure and nonsecure military Web sites, allowing greater access for military and relief organizations in the field.

By capturing these images, senior decision makers now have the ability to monitor the progress of certain areas as well as examine the extent of destruction of specific structures.

“The imagery we provide allows analysts to simply reanalyze existing imagery, and not have to go back and rephotograph the specific site,” Colonel Kubick said. “Our goal is to have answers before people have questions.”

"Our skilled professionals have done a fantastic job of making imagery available to support the hurricane relief operations while still maintaining the normal high operations tempo required in our (operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom) support," Colonel Chizek said. "We are proud to contribute to operations on both fronts."

As long as services are needed, the people here will continue to provide essential imagery to aid in the reconstruction and humanitarian effort of the Gulf Coast. (The 480th IW public affairs office contributed to this article.)