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USAF’s ISR vision of Full-Spectrum Awareness for Distributed Targeting, Space Control and Cyber Warfare

Intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities enable the U.S. Air Force (USAF) to be aware of developments related to adversaries worldwide and to conduct a wide variety of critical missions, both in peacetime and in conflict. It involves a networked system of systems operating in space, cyberspace, air, land, and maritime domains. These systems include planning and direction, collection, processing and exploitation, analysis and production, and dissemination (PCPAD) capabilities linked together by communications architecture.

US Air force has released “AF ISR 2023: Delivering Decision Advantage,” that lays out a strategic vision of “Full-Spectrum Awareness” and “World-Class Expertise” which combine to the ultimate vision of “Delivering Decision Advantage.” AF ISR Vision 2023’ demand for an “…ISR enterprise that seamlessly ingests data from an even wider expanse of sources, swiftly conducts multi- and all-source analysis, and rapidly delivers decision advantage to war fighters and national decision makers.”

ISR is one of the Air Force’s five enduring core missions along with air and space superiority, rapid global mobility, global strike, and command and control. AF ISR is integral to Global Vigilance for the nation and is foundational to Global Reach and Global Power.

“We will not be able to maintain the size and composition of the current ISR force, yet we must prepare for operations which will range from humanitarian assistance to major contingency operations in highly contested environments. This strategic vision enables us to achieve national goals while tailoring our ISR force to best meet future challenges.”

Intelligence gathering in future will also involve monitoring and mining social media in real time via an automated artificial intelligence is another way the Air Force and other military branches can obtain information, said the head of the service. The Air Force on some level does monitor social media already. The service’s only non-offensive air operations center, known as “America’s AOC” at Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida.

But social media is just one aspect, said Col. Robert Bloodworth, chief of combat operations. It is also the technology of “refining the analysis” through AI to reach the operator, pilot or airman in a decisive and streamlined way is what the Air Force desperately needs to conduct missions in the future. “Before you get to artificial intelligence, you have to get to automation, and what does that mean? It means we’re really developing algorithms, so we then have to build trust in the algorithms,” said Lt. Gen. VeraLinn “Dash” Jamieson, the service’s deputy chief of staff for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance on the Air Staff  during an interview.

AF ISR 22023

The challenge for AF ISR is to maintain the impressive tactical competencies developed and sustained over the past 12 years, while rebuilding the capability and capacity to provide the air component commander and subordinate forces with the all-source intelligence required to conduct full-spectrum cross-domain operations in volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous environments around the globe.

Our ability to provide dominant ISR depends on well-trained, well-led professional Airmen who have strong analytical skills along with a high state of readiness, agility, and responsiveness. These characteristics, along with continued innovation and integration of technological advancements, will combine to make our Airmen experts in their trade.

Additionally, we will not rely solely on our own capabilities; it is imperative that we fully leverage the vast array of national capabilities along with those of the Total Force, our sister Services, the Intelligence Community (IC), and our international partners.


World-Class Expertise

Providing world-class expertise as an integral part of air component and joint operations requires ISR Airmen who are masters of threat characterization, analysis, collection, targeting, and operations-intelligence integration. Empowered to innovate, ISR Airmen will lead the way in the development of tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTP) that will compress OODA loops, produce actionable intelligence, and provide the intelligence needed to complete the kinetic or nonkinetic targeting equation.


Delivering Decision Advantage

The fundamental job of AF ISR Airmen is to analyze, inform, and provide commanders at every level with the knowledge they need to prevent surprise, make decisions, command forces, and employ weapons. Maintaining decision advantage empowers leaders to protect friendly forces and hold targets at risk across the depth and breadth of the battlespace—on the ground, at sea, in the air, in space, and in cyberspace. It also enables commanders to apply deliberate, discriminate, and deadly kinetic and non-kinetic combat power. To deliver decision advantage, we will seamlessly present, integrate, command and control (C2), and operate ISR forces to provide Airmen, joint force commanders, and national decision makers with utmost confidence in the choices they make.


Distributed Targeting

Over the past two decades, our deliberate targeting competence has stagnated. To ensure AF readiness across the full range of military operations, we will refocus on satisfying the air component commander’s air, space, and cyberspace deliberate targeting requirements by: adopting a distributed targeting concept of operations and TTPs; integrating and automating targeting capabilities across the enterprise; integrating kinetic and non-kinetic targeting TTPs; and establishing more comprehensive targeting training. Targeting is a critical enabler of Global Vigilance, Global Reach and Global Power; we will ensure that AF ISR is ready to provide this highly perishable skill when required.


Multi- and All-source intelligence

In addition to the tactical intelligence mission, the AF ISR force of 2023 must also conduct strategic intelligence collection in peacetime—Phase 0—and provide world-class, multi- and all-source intelligence in highly contested, communications-degraded environments across all domains.

Since 9/11, there has been an explosion in space and cyberspace capabilities, with corresponding prominence on the national stage. Additionally, the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan resulted in renewed, sustained emphasis on human-derived intelligence (HUMINT and open sources) by all of the Services. To execute the AF ISR mission, we must be better collectors, enablers, and integrators of information derived from space, cyberspace, human, and open sources


Cyber Warfare

Cyberspace, a relatively new and rapidly evolving operational domain for the Department of Defense (DoD) and the military services, is defined as “a global domain within the information environment consisting of the interdependent network of information technology infrastructures, including the Internet, telecommunications networks, computer systems, and embedded processors and controllers.”

ISR sensors can be augmented by the ability of cyber information to provide geolocation information and movement information on adversarial and friendly systems. This capability can allow sparse assets to be deployed elsewhere or to obtain information more effectively, allowing rapid, minimal observations.

There is a multidimensional relationship between the ISR and cyber missions and capabilities. There are three missions from a cyberspace perspective: support, defense, and force application. ISR is a crosscutting capability that can be applied holistically with other core functions to enable cyberspace missions. Conversely, Cyberspace Superiority supports and is supported by all of the other Air Force core functions. In the case of the Global Integrated ISR (GIISR) core function, these relationships could be characterized as “Cyber for ISR” and “ISR from Cyber.”

The “Cyber for ISR” relationship is illustrated by the mission assurance requirement for the cyber domain in support of an ISR mission. Cyberspace mission assurance ensures the availability and defense of a secured network to support a military operation.

Conversely, the “ISR from Cyber” relationship is illustrated by considering how ISR can be executed during cyberspace operations, particularly during cyberspace force application (exploitation). This can be characterized as situational awareness during and in support of cyberspace operations.

By 2023, AF ISR and cyber forces will be an integral partner to the joint team that operates in cyberspace to meet air component commander, joint force commander, and national needs. We will also forge service-specific cyber capabilities that provide specialized applications across the domains.

Computer Network Exploitation (CNE) will continue to be a crucial enabler for Offensive Cyber Operations (OCO), Defensive Cyber Operations (DCO), and Department of Defense Information Network (DoDIN) operations, but ISR will also be a prominent and critical product of those operations, meeting Air Force, joint, and national decision maker requirements.


Space Control and Protection

AF ISR relies heavily on space-based assets for collection and global airborne ISR operations; ISR collected from space greatly enhances our ability to characterize the battlespace through all domains and is critical to success across the full spectrum of operations.

In the early stages of conflict in a contested, degraded environment, ISR from space may represent our most viable collection capabilities. But the space domain is increasingly congested and contested. Therefore, to maintain this capability, we need to identify non-kinetic and kinetic threats to space assets and architecture; identify adversary intent and capabilities to use space; and conduct target analysis that enables offensive and defensive counterspace operations.

Protecting space assets is critical to AF ISR operations and the nation’s full spectrum joint operations. Purposefully developing ISR Airmen who understand ISR for and from space is the initial step we will take to ensure this critical capability. To solidify the value of space ISR, we will also broaden and improve our ability to integrate space-based ISR capabilities across the AF ISR Enterprise.


USAF ISR enabled by data science

The  characteristics of the intelligence environment since 2000 suggest fundamental change is occurring: an ever-larger volume of data; widening variety (classic intelligence sources, new sensors and types of data, and open sources); increasing velocity (more data and information in motion, every day); and more complex veracity (data duplication, identity, authenticity, and the resolution of each).

The ability of Air Force ISR analysts or “Analyst Airmen,” to deliver in this new era of intelligence analysis will be predicated in great part on a strategy to shape AF ISR Big Data into a manageable form to meet tactical, operational, and strategic mission needs.

The IC Cloud is a main feature of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) “IC IT Enterprise” (IC-ITE) program which represents a mass migration of IC data to a common ecosystem. Described by the ODNI, “…IC-ITE moves the IC from an agency-centric IT architecture to a common platform where the Community easily and securely shares information, techAs the AF ISR community integrates into ICITE,

Joint Information Environment (JIE), Defense Intelligence Information Environment (DI2E), and simultaneously maintains its own large enterprises that collect, exploit, and disseminate data, the Data Science discipline and the need for imbedded talent will become more important. Technological advances in live data streaming and correlation allow for realtime decision making on a scale never before experienced in AF ISR. We now have the ability to ingest disparate data sets, put relevant conditions and rules in place, and derive insights and prescriptive intelligence in an unprecedented fashion.

By managing and providing the Community’s IT infrastructure and services as a single enterprise, the IC will not only be more efficient, but will also establish a powerful platform to deliver more innovative and secure technology to desktops at all levels across the intelligence enterprise.”This transformation presents both challenges and opportunities for AF ISR in adopting a Data Science strategy and capitalizing on the wealth of information available from the IC Cloud.



References and Resources also include:

Capability Planning and Analysis to Optimize Air Force Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance Investment, National Academy of Sciences.


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