Intelligence Operations: the key to airpower employment

  • Published
  • By Col. Scott George
  • 17th Training Group commander
In the more than five years since the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, both the world and the practice of armed conflict have changed in fundamental ways.

Perhaps the most important of these changes has been an exponential growth in the importance of agile and actionable intelligence at the tactical, operational, and strategic levels of war. This is so not merely because a new generation of technologies has emerged to facilitate such a change, but because the enemies we fight today-elusive, ruthless, technology-savvy, and extremist in their ideological commitment to the destruction of the United States represent a new kind of threat, one requiring a commensurate change in our practice of military intelligence.

In the wars we now fight, the Air Force has taken center stage in the Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance effort, from the employment of unmanned aerial vehicles to the exploitation and near real-time dissemination of actionable intelligence. As an example, the Air Force's Distributed Common Ground Station provides between 75 and 80 percent of all operational intelligence. Yet this huge contribution to our war effort, and to the transformation of our ISR capabilities, would mean virtually nothing without superbly-trained Airmen and other Joint partners from Goodfellow Air Force Base who perform their crucial wartime functions. The fundamental change in warfare since 2001 includes an array of challenges that lend themselves to sophisticated intelligence analysis.

In fact, the very act of striking targets in our current war on terror has become such an intelligence-dependent process that it would be nearly impossible to do anything of real value without the ISR assets and Airmen who track high-value individuals, locate insurgent camps and areas of operations, and engage in a myriad other critical actions that not only act as force multipliers, but rather are themselves the "forces" driving our tactical and operational successes. To defeat our enemies, thousands of military and civilian intelligence professionals are employing sophisticated new training methodologies, technologies, and analytical techniques, sharing sources and methods more effectively than ever, and coming together at the organizational and agency level in ways not seen since the second World War.

It is important to remember that 80 percent of intelligence personnel from the other Services, and a small but growing number of National Security Agency analysts, come through the Air Force Intelligence Schoolhouse for initial qualification training or advanced training, or both. These Airmen, Soldiers, Sailors, Marines and civilian analysts are truly "precious resources," and will ultimately be decisive in our success or failure in current and future warfare.

Based on the changing nature of warfare and the increasing importance of Intelligence Operations, we must continue to leverage leading-edge training and operational technologies in the classroom. Closely tied to this is the key requirement that we employ this equipment to train like we fight.

Our capstone exercise, known as LONESTAR is moving rapidly in this direction. It allows instructors to deliver realistic and unpredictable training that maximizes learning and allows students to profit from both good decisions and their bad ones at no cost to our troops in the field. The full court press to bring on new and appropriate training technologies, and to use them in a concerted effort to train like we fight, constitutes an effort as important as the imperative to re-create an intellectual infrastructure.

We must push hard to make our "Focus on Goodfellow" efforts a success. These include, first and foremost, attracting the most qualified, combat- tested instructors to teach the next generation of intelligence specialists, and to bring in the leadership cadre necessary to bring the larger effort together. Needless to say, this effort will fail if we do not reward these troops for their willingness to come to Goodfellow and pour their hearts, and their immense brainpower, into this vital task. The rewards must be tangible, the follow-on assignments appropriate, and the post-Goodfellow leadership opportunities attractive. Without this human talent, we will not succeed.

We must focus our efforts on creating a proper balance between preparing to fight current adversaries, while at the same time preparing students to fight future adversaries. This process is underway, with the capstone intelligence exercise soon to feature a highintensity conflict and a simultaneous lower-intensity effort. This kind of play will force students to employ scarce ISR assets with maximum effectiveness and efficiency while exposing them to the full range of real and potential adversaries. Eventually, we will have several scenarios "on the shelf" for rapid play should the international situation require a change in training focus. Finally, although it is a phrase perhaps overused here and elsewhere, training like we fight is what the initiatives at Goodfellow are all about.

To use an operational analogy, the schoolhouse is more than just a training venue; it provides opportunities for students to participate in exercises whose realism and unpredictability are every bit as great as those of the "Flag" exercises. If we are to maximize the effectiveness and efficiency of our intelligence efforts in the "new age" wars we are currently fighting - and will fight for as far as the eye can see - these kinds of exercises are key. With outstanding training technologies, superb instructors, and extraordinary teaching methodologies, the schoolhouse is excelling, and will only continue to get better.

The seamless nature of intelligence operations and its impact on success in the battlespace of today and tomorrow is clearer now than ever before. By combining a visionary and highly-effective program for intelligence training with operational fixes such as a renewed intellectual infrastructure that includes close cooperation between military and civilian intelligence organizations, we will be prepared for all threats. Intelligence operations will provide the decisive edge in future wars and ultimately the foundation for optimal security for our Nation.