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ISR: A critical capability for 21st century warfare

WASHINGTON (AFNS) -- The progressive adaptations and breakthroughs made in the intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance arena have changed the way wars are fought, and the way commanders think about the battlespace.

“Whether we have Airmen exploiting full motion video data or serving downrange in the (Central Command) area of responsibility, these individuals make up an enterprise of 30,000 trained ISR professionals who provide tailored intelligence for immediate warfighter operations,” said Capt. Alea Nadeem, the deputy action group chief for the ISR deputy chief of staff.

There are two systems working in tandem to provide combatant commanders with a real-time overview of the battlespace, and allow for the rapid mobilization of ground forces or precision weapons.

“(Remotely-piloted aircraft) deliver long-endurance ISR capabilities over the battlefield,” Nadeem said “They provide tactical and strategic leaders real-time imagery, enabling full-spectrum analysis and decision making in response to existing and emerging threats.”

The Air Force Distributed Common Ground System is a globally-networked ISR enterprise that receives, processes exploits and distributes data from ISR sensors, Nadeem said. The DCGS enterprise consists of total-force Airmen, and delivers direct support to the joint force commander via a network of distributed operations.

“We bring more than 3,000 reservists to support intelligence, not only in the Air Force but in the joint community,” said Col. Mark Montee, the Air Force Reserve Command ISR director. “From analysis to imagery, we present the capability in classic associate units, which are very efficient. We partner with our active-duty members – we operate in their spaces as an integrated team.”

The integration of total-force Airmen provides a seamless operation and mission capability to combatant commanders and coalition forces, he said. Twenty percent of Reserve Airmen are full-time reservists, working with their active-duty counterparts. The other 80 percent of the force is the surge capability.

“When a crisis comes up, we can surge very quickly,” Montee said. “In 72 hours, we can provide folks that are supporting the mission. We’re providing analytical support through 11 different squadrons nationwide – everything from supporting DCGS, which is helping out in the current fight with (the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria), to providing technical intelligence.”

The imagery and data analysis provided by ISR professionals have changed the face of warfare, and the capabilities of coalition forces in today’s contested areas.

“The evolution of globally-integrated ISR has fundamentally changed how America fights wars,” Nadeem said. “Today, the Air Force has embraced globally-integrated ISR as one of the Air Force’s feature calling cards. ISR is much more than a support function; it is the foundation upon which every joint, interagency and coalition operation achieves success – it is operations.”

Providing commanders with a big-picture overview of the battlespace, coupled with real-time target identification, allows for more rapid and accurate decision making, Nadeem said.

“Air Force ISR has been able to identify and assess adversary targets and vulnerabilities with greater accuracy than ever seen in the history of warfare,” Nadeem said. “Globally-integrated ISR allows forces to carry out functions with fewer risks to the warfighter, and at a lower cost to the American taxpayer.”

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