Airman brings Reaper, ISR capabilities closer together
By Lori A. Bultman, 25th Air Force
/ Published November 29, 2017
JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO – LACKLAND, Texas (AFNS) -- Among the exceptional Airmen of the 25th Air Force are many inspirational leaders, motivators and innovators. Staff Sgt. Nick, 526th Intelligence Squadron noncommissioned officer in charge of Distributed Mission Site Flight Operations, is one of those unique Airmen.
Through his observations and insight, Nick drew upon expert knowledge and past experiences to use common, nonstandard tools and applications as a means of identifying and tracking potential adversary movement.
Nick saw a way to maximize a capability and established a process to utilize that capability in a way that provides real-time exploitation and dissemination of MQ-9 Reaper aircraft-collected and derived data without the use of standard imagery analysis equipment, said Master Sgt. Alphonso Green, 526th IS superintendent.
This was a game changer for Reaper training scenarios.
“Through his experience at previous exercises and events, Nick determined the Reaper’s full complement of capabilities could be used to maximize its capacity,” Green said. “He collaborated with one of the weapons squadrons at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada and was able to develop a procedure to overcome a long-standing, full-motion video exploitation limitation during the U.S. Air Force Weapons School’s 17A Integration Phase training.”
Nick led a team of three other analysts to verify proof-of-concept during a live training exercise, where they were able to overcome degraded communications with a Reaper’s crew to identify previously undetected targets, Green said.
“(Nick’s) innovation was vital in processing intelligence and integrating critical full-motion video data into a complex dynamic targeting scenario,” Green said. “His unique methodology ensures additional collection capabilities are available to future advanced training scenarios and better prepares Airmen for the next generation fight.”
Nick said the idea came to him during the Weapons School Integration exercise in May 2017.
“I began conversations with one of the other squadrons here at Nellis (AFB) in an effort to see if they would allow us to incorporate our idea into the ISR (Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance) portion of the exercise,” said Nick. “At the start of WSINT, my squadron was tasked to provide signals and imagery intelligence from several high and medium altitude ISR assets, however, this did not include the MQ-9s due to their strike asset role in the mission.”
After several conversations, it was brought to Nick’s attention that his squadron had in fact exploited MQ-9 data as recently as a few years ago, therefore, an agreement was made allowing his analysts to utilize some of their unused terminals, Nick said.
“Next, we discussed what capabilities their unit had, along with what we would need to best feed intelligence into the fight without obstructing MQ-9’s strike mission,” he said. “By the end of WSINT, we had ironed out the shortfalls and the missing pieces that we encountered throughout the several missions, which lead to a rejuvenation of this capability.”
One month later, the MQ-9s were participating in Red Flag 17-3 as a strike asset, again, with no plans for ISR in their mission, so Nick had another conversation about their previous success during WSINT.
“It was agreed that we could set this capability up once again, however, the visiting exercise participants from one of the Air Force’s Distributed Ground Station would be the analysts, while we would merely focus them on the exercise’s objectives,” he said. “This resulted in the first time DGS participants contributed ISR reporting via MQ-9 data during a Red Flag.”
Nick’s innovative thinking and persistence in improving operations created an inroad for future exercises, enabling ISR units to train and develop more capable analysts, he said.
“We will also be able to provide the MQ-9 crews with additional analysts, which will relieve them of the burden of providing analysis during their missions and allowing them to focus on keeping the asset safe while operating in a contested environment.
“Having ISR Airmen able to reach out to MQ-9 crews during an exercise will increase that aircrew’s knowledge of how they can best plan for and support the ISR community when they perform their primary role during a real-time mission using kinetic and non-kinetic weapons against an adversary,” he said.
The 526th IS’s mission is to showcase ISR testing, tactics development and advanced training. The squadron is aligned under the 365th Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconissance Group of the 363rd ISRW, whose mission is to provide the Air Force with premier precision targeting, special operations ISR and full-spectrum analysis, while also providing operations planning to major commands, component-numbered air forces, and theater air operations centers.