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Acquisition official outlines challenges facing ISR community

by Chuck Paone
66th Air Base Wing Public Affairs

9/16/2008 - HANSCOM AIR FORCE BASE, Mass. (AFPN) -- Command, control, computers, communications, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, collectively referred to as C4ISR, is a very large business, Martha Evans told a government-industry crowd that assembled here Sept. 11.

"When you look at the portfolio for C4ISR, it's only slightly smaller than the entire budget for the nation of Georgia, and it's a lot bigger than the entire [gross domestic product] of a lot of other small countries in the world," said Ms. Evans, who is the director for Information Dominance Programs within the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition.

Her main point was that defense leaders aren't just talking about C4ISR, but are also putting a lot of money into it.

"We have the responsibility to spend that money wisely," she said, addressing a luncheon crowd at a forum sponsored by the Lexington-Concord Chapter of the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association.

Speaking of the ISR surge called for by Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Ms. Evans said that the Air Force currently has 60 percent of its unmanned aircraft systems deployed to the area of responsibility. She also noted that, while other services have UASs, only the Air Force turns its over to the joint force commander, since the Navy's assets are ship-bound and the Army operates its UASs within its own battalions.

Regardless of how systems are operated, though, all U.S forces have to work jointly, Ms. Evans said.

There's an insatiable demand in theater for full-motion video imagery produced by the Air Force's high-flying, loitering craft. But there is also great demand for other forms of ISR, she said, noting that the Air Force is buying 37 RC-12s.

"They want them quickly; they want them now, so we're going to have the first seven of them out there within four months."

Using these small aircraft to do ISR is a whole new mission for the Air Force, she said, adding that "it won't stop there."

"You know as well as I do that there will be a need for more and better sensors."

The Electronic Systems Center is uniquely positioned to help fill these and other needs, according to Ms. Evans, who spent more than 20 years of her own career managing ESC programs. She cited increased standardization between, and integration among, manned and unmanned platforms, to enhance utility and efficiency, as prime examples. Enhancements that better enable ISR assets to provide precise location and target identification data to shooters will also be very helpful.

"How do we do that? How are we going to continue to update that?" she asked. "Those are the things we're going to have to be looking at."

Ms. Evans also discussed the ongoing challenge of turning all available data into useful information, or what is often called actionable intelligence. Everyone involved in these efforts needs to keep thinking about ways to enable better, faster and easier processing of data.

"And it's not just the processing; it's the dissemination," she said. "We've got to get the data out to the people who need to make decisions, and that's all about how you develop the architectures, all about how you put the command and control together."

During the course of her presentation, she noted on several occasions that, while so much discussion is focused on UASs, existing platforms such as Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar Systems and Airbone Warning and Control Systems "are in the fight right now." These systems, she said, will also be a big part of the future, and will continue to be upgraded to play increasingly important roles.

"Everyone has to remember that, when we're talking about ISR, it's not one piece that matters," Ms. Evans said. "It's all the pieces. It's making them all work together."

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