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Air Force official discusses 21st century ISR challenges

by Chuck Paone
66th Air Base Wing Public Affairs

6/11/2009 - HANSCOM AIR FORCE BASE, Mass. (AFNS) -- In an environment marked by ever-increasing threats, Airmen must enhance an already-sharp focus on information gathering and sharing, a top Air Force official said during a forum held June 10 in Burlington, Mass.

Lt. Gen. David A. Deptula, the Air Force deputy chief of staff for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, said that in air, space and cyber, "U.S. dominance may no longer be assumed."

He called on the ISR community to step up its game to meet evolving asymmetrical threats and challenges posed by fifth-generation technologies that near-peer nations are now developing.

"The 21st century challenge before us is to create and harness a synergy of precision in information across the joint force, and at all levels of warfighting, that our adversaries can't match," General Deptula said. "The No. 1 thing Airmen will bring to the joint fight is the ability to rapidly acquire, develop and share information, so we can apply precision to achieve our desired effects."

That precision, he said, is critical.

"The pursuit of precision in war has always been at the heart of the Airmen's challenge," General Deptula said. Now, the evolution of modern warfare has made it even more essential.

"Without precise fixing, there can be no finishing," he said, noting the challenges of striking elusive, highly mobile targets, as well as fixed targets within densely populated areas. This increased precision cannot be achieved by adding more people to the target mensuration process, he said. It must be automated.

The general asked Electronic Systems Center and industry representatives to help build and refine tools that provide automated precision. He also asked for help countering fifth-generation threats and providing information fusion capability.

"Advances in air-to-air and surface-to-air systems are challenging our legacy ISR systems," he said. "The sensor alone used to be good enough, but not anymore. Now range, reach, endurance, survivability and stealth must be integrated as part of the sensor's capability."

General Deptula warned that the U.S. should not continue to take air superiority for granted when conducting ISR.

"We're dangerously dependent on the full-motion video we get from (MQ-1) Predator and (MQ-9) Reapers, but that won't be available in denied environments," he said.

He spoke of the new axiom that every shooter must also be a sensor and vice versa. Lightning pods on F-16 Fighting Falcons and sensor packages aboard the F-22 Raptor and F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter, things which had been considered "nontraditional ISR," must now be integrated as critical components of an indivisible operations and intelligence nexus.

In terms of information fusion, the general said that today's main ISR challenge is not too little but rather too much information.

"How do we find the relevant nuggets?" he asked, adding that U.S. warfighters are generally no longer searching for a needle in a haystack.

"We're searching for a needle in a needle-stack," he said.

The bottom line is that, as smart as today's systems are, even smarter systems are required.

General Deptula asked the audience to "imagine operating in a denied environment with fifth-generation threats where they're jamming our satellite links, and that we're pursuing a mobile target where collateral damage limitations demand a mensurated coordinate within seconds."

The ability to get the target, and just that target, under those conditions is the desired ISR end state, General Deptula said.

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