ISR has changed for the better

  • Published
  • By By Lt. Col. Karen Rolirad
  • 315th Training Squadron commander
It's been almost sixteen years to the day since I drove through the gate at Goodfellow Air Force Base and entered the 315th Training Squadron for the first time.

The dust had just settled from the fall of the Berlin Wall and the ending of Operation Desert Storm. Our nation's foremost objective was maintaining the northern and southern no-fly zones in Iraq, while also monitoring and assessing the effect of former Soviet Union weapons sales to countries around the world. There was limited access to the internet and the personal computer was primarily used for word processing. Intelligence training was conducted on antiquated maps and acetate.

At this time, the 315 TRS' intelligence officer training was specialized into two courses. The first emphasized supporting flying operations with mission planning, imagery, targeting, and weaponeering.

The second, focused on supporting the national intelligence community by learning traditional intelligence disciplines of signals intelligence, electronics intelligence, human intelligence and measures and signatures intelligence.

Both types of intelligence officers were pertinent to supporting national defense, but their paths often remained separated with little cooperation and interaction after graduation. In fact, an intelligence officer could spend an entire career with little to no interface with their counterparts, after leaving Goodfellow.

The Global War on Terrorism changed how intelligence is conducted by the national community and the Air Force. Threats are not solely from a single nation, now multi-state terrorist networks and non-traditional combat are the norm. Advanced technology and the rise of the internet hastened the speed in which intelligence is collected, processed and disseminated. The analog world of my early career transformed into a high speed network filled with instantaneous full motion video. Thus, the first question that came to my mind, as I returned to Goodfellow and the 315 TRS, is: "How has intelligence training changed to meet today's challenges?"

The first difference I noticed was that the definition of Air Force intelligence had changed.

In the past, Intelligence was perceived as only supporting operations. With the introduction of unmanned aerial vehicles and high tech sensors carried on almost every AF flying platform, the AF has recognized intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance as indivisible.

Consequently, intelligence is no longer a function supporting operations--Intelligence is operations.

As Deputy Chief of Staff for Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance, Lt. Gen. David Deptula often explains that it took "thousands of hours of ISR to find Abu Musab al-Zarquawi, but only ten minutes to kill him. Now, which part was the operation?"

Today, the 315 TRS graduates Intelligence Operators. These graduates must think multi-dimensionally, across the domains of air, space and cyberspace. They must wield their core expertise precisely, but exercise the ability to leverage the full complement of America's and Coalition ISR capabilities.

Another change is the gap existing between intelligence operations and applications officers has closed. The threat environment is the most dynamic since the end of the Cold War and an often-ambiguous enemy makes every effort to deny our ability to operate within our functional domains. This requires a greater demand on what intelligence Airmen must know and apply before they leave Goodfellow.

No longer do intelligence Airmen live within formally stove-piped realms and disciplines. Our training reflects this sentiment. Our intelligence arsenal is vast, ranging from distributed theater ISR operations, national intelligence collection, political analysis, foreign tactics, geospatial, targeting, space and cyber. We expect our graduates to understand the greater context.

Operation Lonestar is an effective demonstration of emphasizing this mentality as we call upon our pending graduates to embrace a larger perspective by integrating with multiple graduating courses and disciplines.

The goal of this capstone exercise is to create an environment that fosters teamwork, a strong sense of professional confidence in one's abilities, and to drive home the need to think multi-dimensionally.

Sixteen years has seen tremendous change and opportunities for the intelligence profession. The community has confronted breaking through pre-existing stovepipes and worked together across air, space and cyberspace in order to overcome the effects of an ambiguous enemy. Consequently, intelligence training has changed and so has the 315 TRS.

Today, we strive to provide the most realistic and relevant training environment in order to ensure the next generation of Airmen are prepared for their future.