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Aerial Tactical Reconnaissance--A Necessity
CSC 1993
SUBJECT AREA - Intelligence
Title:   Aerial Tactical Reconnaissance--A Necessity
Author:  Major James G. Braswell, United States Air Force
Thesis:  The U.S military lacks a tactical reconnaissance plat-
form that can provide the commander with real-time imagery of the
Background:   Ever since the Wrights invented the airplane, mili-
tary commanders have realized its importance for tactical recon-
naissance of the battlefield.  In World War I and II and Vietnam,
aerial tactical reconnaissance provided commanders the "eyes" to
see the enemy.  By the end of the Vietnam War, the U.S. had the
most efficient and effective tactical reconnaissance system in
the world.  However, after Vietnam, the system atrophied due to
the perceived capabilities of strategic systems and loss of
priority in DoD.  During the Gulf War, tactical reconnaissance
was a mere shadow of its former self.  Unfortunately, the strate-
gic systems, such as the TR-1/U-2R, JSTARS, and satellites, could
not provide commanders the timely reconnaissance they needed in
the ever-changing tactical battle.  Also, tactical systems, such
as RPVs, the Navy TARPS, and the lone RF-4C squadron, could not
handle all the requests for imagery.  The lack of tactical recon-
naissance contributed to two of our commander's greatest com-
plaints--the lack of battle damage assessment and slowness in
receiving tactical imagery.  The Advanced Tactical Aerial Recon-
naissance System (ATARS) will fix those problems.  The ATARS is a
sensor pod that can be fitted on current generation jets.  The
system transmits image data directly to the commander in near
real-time.  The system gives the commander the ability to get
imagery almost on an on-call basis.  Yet, the ATARS is only part
of the solution.  Because of the complexity of the tactical
reconnaissance mission, the military needs to put the ATARS in
dedicated squadrons for reconnaissance.  This combination will
make sure that tactical reconnaissance will fill the commander's
needs in the future.
Recommendation:  To fill the reconnaissance gap, the Department
of Defense (DoD) needs to purchase the Advanced Tactical Recon-
naissance System (ATARS) for dedicated reconnaissance squadrons.
Thesis:  The U.S military lacks a tactical reconnaissance plat-
form that can provide the commander with real-time imagery of the
battlefield.  To fill this reconnaissance gap, the Department of
Defense (DoD) needs to purchase the Advanced Tactical Reconnais-
sance System (ATARS) for dedicated reconnaissance squadrons
I.	Importance of tactical reconnaissance in past wars
     	A.  	World War I
     	B.  	World War II
     	C.  	Vietnam
II.  	Lack of tactical reconnaissance in Desert Shield/Storm
     	A.  	Reconnaissance assets used during the war
          		1.  	Strategic platforms
          		2.  	Tactical platforms
     	B.  	Intelligence failures due to reconnaissance platforms
          		1.  	Timely reconnaissance
          		2.  	Navy TARPS failures
          		3.  	Battle damage assessment failures
III. 	Options for filling the tactical reconnaissance gap
     	A.  	Improved Remote Piloted Vehicles (RPVs)
     	B.  	More satellites
     	C. 	ATARS--the best option
          		1.  	ATARS is suitable, feasible, and acceptable
          		2.  	ATARS must be employed in dedicated reconnaissance
     	Many have written about the success of Operation Desert
Shield/Storm.  So, it is difficult to be critical of a military
operation that was such a one-sided victory.  Yet, as Lieutenant
General Charles Horner, Joint Forces Air Component Commander for
the War, recently said, "We must be critical of our mistakes to
prevent them from recurring." (10)   One of our mistakes was
tactical intelligence.
     	Mayor General William Keys, Commander of 2nd Marine Division
during Desert Storm, said, "At the strategic level, [intelli-
gence] was fine.  But we did not get enough tactical intelli-
gence--front-line battle intelligence." (l6:C-1)  The tactical
intelligence problems during the war were multi-faceted, and
space does not allow a detailed analysis.  Therefore, this paper
will concentrate on the need for tactical reconnaissance.  The
U.S. military lacks a tactical aerial reconnaissance platform
that can provide the commander with real-time imagery of the
battlefield.  To fill this reconnaissance gap, the Department of
Defense (DoD) needs to purchase the Advanced Tactical Air Recon-
naissance System (ATARS) for dedicated reconnaissance squadrons.
     	First, to analyze this problem, the importance of tactical
reconnaissance to commanders in past wars will be highlighted.
Second, the lack of tactical reconnaissance in the Gulf War will
be revealed.  Third, several options for solving the problem will
be discussed and, finally, the preferred option will be present-
ed.  To begin, commanders in World Wars (WW) I and II and Vietnam
considered tactical reconnaissance a key for success on the
     	In WW I, despite the more romantic interests in the feats of
the air aces, reconnaissance was the most important function of
the military air arm. (11:35)  Reconnaissance aircraft played a
key role in spotting the split between two German Armies ap-
proaching Paris and paved the way for the Battle of the Marne,
which stemmed the German tide in 1914. (3:192)  In fact, what
historians often overlook is that the combat aircraft evolved so
rapidly in 1915-16 mainly because it became essential to hamper
the other side's aerial reconnaissance capability. (19:20)  Yet,
why was tactical reconnaissance so important to the commander?
     	Knowledge of an enemy's dispositions and movement had always
been a key to success in a war. (19:17)  According H. A. Jones in
the official history of the Royal Flying Corps in World War I:
     	Air reconnaissance was now in the nature of a routine insur-
     	ance against surprise.  Broadly speaking, it settled to two
     	kinds--tactical and strategical.  Tactical reconnaissance
     	may be said to be confined to the immediate battle area to
     	locate and examine trenches, gun emplacements, reserves and
     	rail heads, chiefly to satisfy the corps or divisional
     	commanders who wish to know what there is to their immediate
     	front, as well as changes that may take place from day to
    	day.. . . (19:23)
With the marriage of the camera and airplane, military commanders
no longer had to rely on the limited view from the "high ground."
(11:35)  In truth, air reconnaissance--or lack of it--was a
critical factor in the major ground battles of the war. (4:34)
     	In WW II, tactical reconnaissance again proved its impor-
tance to the commander, but not before aviators learned old
lessons again.  Between the world wars, Army aviation had lost
the skills and ideas of how to execute tactical reconnaissance.
Before the war, the U.S. had down-sized to only a few reconnais-
ance squadrons.  These units contained outdated planes and oper-
ated with outmoded tactics. (11:66)
     	Once the Army Air Corps and the Allies established a stable
concept and organization, tactical reconnaissance proved invalu-
able to the commander during WW II.  For example, when the Allied
Armies went ashore on D-Day, the territory over which they fought
was as familiar as their training grounds in Britain.  Tactical
reconnaissance aircraft had photographed every inch and those
photos provided the basis for highly-accurate scale models of the
beachhead areas.  Also, the infamous "Dambusters" achieved their
spectacular success because every detail of their difficult
targets was revealed by repeated tactical reconnaissance mis-
sions. (19:44)
     	After the Allied Armies established a lodgement on the
continent and began to fight eastward toward Berlin, reconnais-
sance missions became more and more important to the ground
commanders.  During the Battle of the Bulge, the 155th Night
Photo Squadron won high praise.  The squadron supplied night
photography of the enemy' s position to the beleaguered forces at
Bastogne, Belgium.  During the advance across France and Germany,
planes would fly photographic and visual reconnaissance missions
every day.  Aviators flew these missions  from the front lines to
75 miles into enemy territory.  The U.S. subjected all photos to
a three-phase interpretation.  The first phase was immediate
delivery of the pictures to the commander who needed them for on-
the-spot decisions.  Then, the various higher headquarters did
second-phase and third-phase interpretations. (11:94-95)
	During WW II, tactical reconnaissance provided our command-
ers with the "eyes" to see the enemy's battlefield.  In Germany,
Colonel-General Baron von Fritsch predicted, just before the war
started, that: "The next war will be won by the military organi-
zation with the most efficient photographic reconnaissance."
(19:38)  His prediction proved right.  By the end of the war, the
U.S. Army Air Corps had developed a photographic system unmatched
by any other in the world. (11:99)
     	In Vietnam, the U.S. military got a taste of unconventional
warfare--guerrilla war.  Again, tactical reconnaissance supplied
the commanders with crucial intelligence of the enemy.  Aerial
reconnaissance was vital to the USAF fighter-bombers for various
reasons.  It revealed enemy location and heading and  determined
whether an air strike had been successful or if another strike
was necessary.  Reconnaissance squadrons gave target photos to
the strike crews so they would know what the target looked like.
In short, without reconnaissance the USAF would have been "blind"
in Vietnam. (11:245)
     	Many leaders felt tactical reconnaissance was a vital mis-
sion in Vietnam.  General William W. Momyer, Commander Seventh
Air Force in Vietnam from 1966-68, wrote in Air Power in Three
     	For day-to-day operations, I depended upon the tactical
     	reconnaissance force.  Although details on specific targets
     	often came from national intelligence agencies, this infor-
     	mation was slow in reaching the field and had little influ-
     	ence on the hourly decisions of how best to strike the
     	targets...the RF-4 was the most flexible tool for reconnais-
     	sance that I had.  We could change missions while airborne
     	and attain transitory target information more readily.
The most sophisticated tool introduced for tactical reconnais-
sance in Vietnam was the USAF RF-4C Phantom.  It carried optical,
infrared, and electronic senors enabling it to accomplish the
mission day or night and in all weather.  Within minutes of a
photo sortie, the information would be in the hands of the com-
mander on the ground. (19:87)
     	Moreover, one of the convincing signs of the importance of
tactical reconnaissance came from the enemy.  The U.S. and Viet-
namese held peace talks in Paris in 1968 in an attempt to end the
war in Vietnam.  It came as something of a shock to the U.S. when
the North Vietnamese Minister of State, Xuan Thuy, demanded, as
prerequisite for any negotiations, the cessation of all recon-
naissance flights over his country.  Better than any other fac-
tor, this emphasized the valuable work of the reconnaissance
units operating above Vietnam. (19:87)
     	By the end of the Vietnam War, the U.S. had refined and
modernized tactical reconnaissance into the most efficient system
in the world.  However, during the long years of the Cold War,
the system slowly atrophied.  This atrophy was primarily due to
two reasons.  First, Air Force leaders never put tactical recon-
naissance high enough on their priority list in the Program
Objective Memorandum (POM) to get adequate funding for moderniza-
tion.  Second, as the capabilities of strategic reconnaissance
systems improved, many military and civilian leaders felt there
was no longer a need for manned tactical reconnaissance.  These
decisions came back to haunt the military in Desert Storm.
     	During the Persian Gulf War, the U.S. assembled the greatest
air armada since WW II.  However, tactical reconnaissance was
conspicuously absent.  To highlight this absence, I will examine
the strategic and tactical reconnaissance assets (and their
limitations) used by the U.S. during the war.  Then, I will
spotlight the intelligence failures attributed to reconnaissance
     	The U.S. employed a variety of strategic reconnaissance
systems during Desert Shield and Storm.  The Air Force TR-1/U-2R
carries electro-optical and long range optical sensors.  The
system transmits image data to the ground in near real-time.
Also, it carries a side-looking radar useful in identifying fixed
installations. (17:735)
     	However, the TR-1/U-2R could not fill all the commanders'
needs for tactical reconnaissance during the war.  It had a
limited depth of coverage due to its vulnerability to Surface-to-
Air Missiles (SAMs) .  Therefore, it had to operate south of the
Iraqi border.  Also, the system's imagery products were highly
classified making distribution to battlefield commanders diffi-
cult.  Further, due to its high altitude flight profile, bad
weather at medium to low altitude often degraded the platform's
optical capability. (17:735)
     	A new system introduced in the war was the Joint Surveil-
lance and Target Attack Radar System (JSTARS) .    It uses syn-
thetic aperture radar combined with Moving Target Indicator (MTI)
for identifying ground targets.  The system can detect troop
movements, monitor battles and obtain fairly clear imagery of
sites behind enemy lines. (17:735)
     	The JSTARS was a key reconnaissance system in the war.
However, it had the same range limitations as the TR-1/U-2R due
to its vulnerability to SAMs.  Also, because it could not distin-
guish between tracked and wheeled vehicles, it was of limited
utility for Bomb Damage Assessment (BDA) .  Further, its products
suffered similar distribution problems as with the TR-1/U-2R.
     	In addition, satellites added a new dimension to reconnais-
sance in Operation Desert Shield and Storm.  One source calculat-
ed that Coalition forces derived intelligence from more than 30
Western military and commercial satellites. (2:50)  The work-
horses for U.S. strategic reconnaissance during the war were a
few imaging satellites.
     	Satellites are very capable systems that can produce de-
tailed images under ideal weather conditions, but they have many
limitations.  First, satellites of the current generation are far
better suited to strategic uses than the quick-changing tactical
battlefield situations. (6:26)  Second, a satellite normally
passes over a given area only once or twice a day.  This fact
severely limits its contact with the tactical battlefield.
(10:27)  Third, satellites are difficult to task because of their
high level of control in the government.  Finally, satellite
image products are highly classified, making them difficult to
     	Besides the strategic systems, the U.S. used several tacti-
cal systems in the theater.  The Marine Corps extensively used
Remotely Piloted Vehicles (RPVs) to image and map the obstacle
belt on their front.  However, the Marine Corps' RPVs had a short
range (60 miles) due to being limited by radio line-of-sight from
vehicle to ground control.
            The Navy Tactical Air Reconnaissance Pod System (TARPS)-
equipped F-14s provided tactical reconnaissance for the fleet
during the war.  The pod carries optical and IR sensors that are
film based.  The F-14 TARPS gives the commander a deep penetrat-
ing reconnaissance platform.  However, the Navy flies the TARPS
mission as a tertiary mission for the F-14 and only several crews
per squadron are qualified in the system.
     	During the Gulf War, General Horner's air campaign planners
found it difficult to task the F-14 squadrons for a reconnais-
sance mission.  The Navy nearly always used the F-14 on higher
priority missions such as air defense and strike escort.  Also,
the TARPS pods were a limited asset in the carrier battle groups.
     	The Air Force RF-4C provided General Horner with the only
long range reconnaissance platform that could image any target in
the theater.  The jet carries both optical and IR sensors that
are film based.  RF-4C squadrons fly only dedicated reconnais-
sance missions and deploy with their own imagery processing and
interpretation facility.  Also, the RF-4's imagery products are
of a lower classification, enhancing distribution.
     	However, the RF-4C system has some limitations.  First, it
often takes two-to-three days for commanders to receive their
photos because of processing time.  Also, the Air Force designed
the system to provide intelligence reports--not hard copy photos
that most commanders request.  In addition, the aircraft is old
and hard to maintain   Finally, tasking missions with many targets
compounds processing and interpretation time often resulting in
lost targets. (17:735)
     	Even with these assets available during the Gulf War, there
were major reconnaissance failures.  The biggest failure was the
lack of timely tactical reconnaissance.  General Horner said that
photos taken by the RF-4 and TR-1/U-2R reconnaissance aircraft
often took too long to process and analyze.  Tactical reconnais-
sance could not keep commanders abreast of the rapidly changing
situations on the battlefield.  "Our tactical intelligence is too
slow," he told the Senate Armed Services Committee after the war,
"taking hours and sometimes days" before the intelligence system
delivered the product to units in the field. (1:27)  Unfortunate-
ly, the U.S. deployed only one RF-4C squadron (12 aircraft) to
theater to handle the thousands of reconnaissance requests during
the war.  General Horner's staff had assured him before the war
that he would not need RF-4s.
     	Other sources confirmed General Horner's statements.  Sena-
tor John Glenn said officers he visited during the war told him
RF-4C imagery processing often took three to four days.  "Timeli-
ness becomes a critical factor in battle," Jeff Richelson, an
analyst at the National Security Archive, an independent group in
the study of military programs and foreign policy. (1:27)
     	The Navy TARPS also took its lumps.  Rear Admiral Thomas
Brooks, the director of naval intelligence said, "TARPS was
totally inadequate in providing sufficient and timely BDA and
tactical reconnaissance during Operation Desert Storm."  The need
for greater numbers of tactical reconnaissance assets is a key
lesson learned from the Gulf conflict.  Those assets must be
modern, says Admiral Brooks. (18:190)  The TARPS imagery required
film development, often delaying distribution of intelligence to
tactical commanders. (18:190)
     	Besides the lack of timely reconnaissance, the Pentagon
postwar report said gathering intelligence on BDA was difficult.
The weather was a limiting factor for most of the strategic
systems.  Yet, RF-4s could get under the high overcasts on some
missions.  With more tactical reconnaissance assets in theater,
war planners could have devoted more missions solely to BDA.
Also, with more tactical reconnaissance assets, headquarters
could task missions with fewer targets.  However, the lone RF-4C
squadron had to provide information on troops, airfields, and
Iraqi SCUD batteries. (17:736)  Also, it provided surveillance of
the Republican Guard divisions and provided pre- and post-strike
photos for the air interdiction campaign.
     	Obviously, the lack of tactical reconnaissance was a problem
in the Gulf War.  Strategic systems could not provide all the
tactical intelligence the commanders needed.  Also, tactical
systems were too few to fill a fraction of the reconnaissance
requests.  Yet, the U.S. can solve this problem in the future.
I'll briefly discuss two options, then discuss a third option in
     	Improved RPVs might solve the tactical reconnaissance prob-
lem.  RPVs offer many advantages for tactical reconnaissance.
First, they are small, hard to intercept, and inexpensive to
produce and operate.  They do not endanger their pilots and the
tactical commander can have direct access to them.  The Unmanned
Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) Joint Program Office in the Pentagon
currently is pursuing the development of a medium range (700km)
UAV to support the Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps.  However,
RPVs have their drawbacks.  They cannot carry full-size, full
capability sensor packages or powerful high data rate, secure
data links. (5:56)  Therefore, RPVs cannot fill the reconnais-
sance gap by themselves.
     	Another option that has been considered to have merit in-
volves the launch of more satellites specifically for tactical
reconnaissance.  Satellites have many advantages.  First, they
can produce highly detailed imagery.  Second, they can data-link
imagery to ground stations located with the battlefield command-
er. (2:47)  Third, they are not very vulnerable to most type of
attack.  Yet, as noted before, they are cumbersome to task and
difficult to exploit.  Also, it is difficult to distribute their
information and they are expensive.  These limitations fail to
solve the problem even if the U.S. deploys more satellites.
     	The third option may qualify as an acceptable solution for
the problem.  It is suitable; it can solve the problem.  It is
feasible; it can be implemented within existing available re-
sources.  And it is acceptable; it is worth the cost/risk.  I
believe the solution is for The Defense Department to purchase
the ATARS for dedicated reconnaissance squadrons.
     	The ATARS is a podded system integrating electro-optical
(EO) technology with IR sensors mounted on current-generation
aircraft.  The system can transmit near real-time imagery direct-
ly to who needs it.  The underlying technology combines high and
low altitude electro-optical seekers packaged together in a
common module.  Also, the module includes IR line scanning, and
the means to record and transmit what has been imaged.  Infrared
line scanning allows more efficient recording and larger field of
view and is therefore ideal for use on high speed aircraft.  It
has been exploited extensively by the British Royal Air Force,
where it has become standard equipment aboard reconnaissance
Panavia Tornados. (8:45)  The ATARS can meet General Horner's
demand for real-time reconnaissance.
     	The ATARS is feasible as well.  Because DoD already has
invested a considerable amount of money in the system, one might
think the tactical reconnaissance problem has been solved.
However, the system is in development and has encountered techni-
cal problems.  With rapidly shrinking defense budgets, the ATARS
could become a casualty of defense cuts.  Nevertheless, to en-
hance the system's feasibility, the Air Force plans to mount the
pod on F-16s now in the inventory.  The ATARS has undergone
extensive development trials, involving flights from both the F-
16 and RF-4. The Marine Corps plans to mount ATARS on their F/A-
18s and the Navy on their F-l4s (replacing the TARPS) . (8:46)
     	Finally, the ATARS is acceptable because no other system can
fill the tactical commander's need for accessible. real-time
imagery of the battlefield.  The ATARS will be with the command-
ers in the field.  It will give them the situational awareness to
fight the deep, close, and rear battle with confidence.  However,
the ATARS is only part of the solution to the problem.
     	The military must employ ATARS in dedicated reconnaissance
squadrons.  It would be disastrous to make reconnaissance a
secondary or tertiary mission for a fighter squadron.  The Navy
has organized their F-14 squadrons that way and, frankly, they
don't execute the reconnaissance mission well.  In three world-
wide tactical reconnaissance competitions, the Navy TARPS teams
came in last place.  The including of this statistic is not meant
to degrade Navy pilots.  It is meant to point out how difficult
it is to perform the reconnaissance mission well when it is not
the primary mission.
     	Unfortunately, the Marine Corps is going in the same direc-
tion as the Navy.  The plan is to give the ATARS and the recon-
naissance mission to F/A-l8 squadrons who are already performing
close air support, deep air support, and anti-air warfare.  Now,
squadrons have to devote a lot of training for its pilots to
maintain proficiency in these missions.  If a squadron neglects
any mission, history suggests that it will be the reconnaissance
mission.  The Air Force appears heading in the same direction.
It plans to give the ATARS to its multi-mission F-16 squadrons.
     	In conclusion, this paper has tried to convey that tactical
reconnaissance is important to the commanders in the field.  In
past wars, tactical reconnaissance has contributed significantly
to the outcome.  However, the intelligence problems of Operation
Desert Shield and Storm reveal the consequences of neglecting
tactical reconnaissance.  The military needs a tactical recon-
naissance platform that can provide future commanders with real-
time imagery of the battlefield.  Finally, the ATARS for dedicat-
ed reconnaissance squadrons may be the largest part of a solution
to the problem.  Therefore, the Secretary of Defense needs to
purchase the ATARS for the military.  The bottom line is that
this system will save American lives on the battlefields of the
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