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Warfighters reach back to Langley


Release Date: 10/08/2003

by 1st Lt. Anna Siegel Air Combat Command Public Affairs

10/8/2003 - LANGLEY AIR FORCE BASE, Va. (AFPN) -- Each day during Operation Iraqi Freedom, Airman 1st Class Jamie O'Connell would drive home from Langley Air Force Base after fighting the war in Iraq, and with traffic, it took her about 15 minutes.

She is an imagery analyst in the 30th Intelligence Squadron, working at Distributed Ground System 1 here. DGSs provide intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, or ISR, "reachback" capabilities for deployed warfighting commanders.

The 10th and 30th IS here form DGS 1, while the 13th and 48th IS, located at Beale AFB, Calif., form DGS 2. They share the responsibility of monitoring intelligence data feeds from deployed locations, interpreting them and providing feedback to the warfighters in theater.

O'Connell and her DGS 1 team members work in trailers designed to deploy to remote locations. They process information gathered by U-2 Dragon Ladies, RQ/MQ-1 Predators, Global Hawks and other intelligence platforms. The trailers now sit in an old aircraft hangar here.

DGS 1 was deployed to Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, when the Khobar Towers were bombed in June 1996. Some of the DGS 1 troops suffered casualties, said Col. Larry Grundhauser, the commander of the 480th Intelligence Group here. While planning for Operation Allied Force in 1999, Air Force leadership realized that communication technology had significantly improved. This, added to the losses suffered by the Dhahran bombing, underscored the need to transform the way intelligence was distributed.

"If we can do our mission without putting a large number of folks in harm's way, let's do it," Grundhauser said. "We can now move digits, not people."

Conducting ISR operations from Langley and Beale AFBs has already proven its worth, according to Col. Donald Hudson, deputy director of intelligence for Air Combat Command. He estimated the savings in force protection, supply and transportation needs has saved the Air Force between $6 million and $15 million for operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom.

"(Moving ISR operations forward) would require upwards of 1,500 people for the two ground stations and 17 C-5 Galaxies per station to deploy," said Steve Lafata, the 480th IG technical director. "This takes an enormous burden off the combined forces air component commander and gives him even greater capabilities, which aren't affected by the deployment system's time or space constraints."

Being nearly 7,000 miles away from the action does not stop the DGS crews from fighting the war.

"The crew receives a pre-mission brief, including their objectives and chain of command," Lafata said. "From that point forward, they are a part of the combined air operations center. Their mindset, attitude and sense of urgency changes, like the flip of a switch."

After the briefing, the crew walks from the squadron's office to the hangar, where, depending on the mission, they will spend between six and 12 hours monitoring a live satellite feed or receiving multiple sources of intelligence. The airmen, most as young as 19 and 20 years old, use the CAOC's priority list of targets to guide their work.

"They receive the imagery, find their target and report on that target based on the CFACC's guidance and requirements," Lafata said, "whether it's (to) confirm or deny the presence of any activity or anything associated with the given target, which could be something like an airfield, compound or convoy. Most of the time that process takes anywhere from five minutes to 20 minutes."

Grundhauser called it persistent ISR that gives the commanders in theater the information faster so they can make their decisions faster.

"We achieved single-digit-minute objectives, which doesn't mean we dropped the bombs that fast, we just gave the commanders the ability to decide earlier," he said.

The communication technology is state-of-the-art and robust, said William Carlton, the 480th IG systems chief. The information flows on pre-established networks with high bandwidth, which is distributed relative to the mission requirements.

"We didn't lose one mission in OEF or OIF due to a communications system's failure," Grundhauser said.

But Air Force leaders here agree computers and satellites are not what impress them most. It is their people.

"Fortunately for us, (during OEF and OIF) it was a total force execution," Lafata said. "We had about 140 (Air National) Guard folks activated and employed through the entire process. We certainly could not have successfully accomplished those tasks, or the volume of missions, without those folks."

Rounding out the total-force effort were active-duty airmen like O'Connell. During a routine surveillance mission, she was working with an image of some Iraqi troops following the instructions given on one of the leaflets dropped by coalition forces.

"This was significant because we knew that the Iraqis were complying with our instructions," she said.

She immediately notified the analyst supervisor and mission operations commander. The CAOC in theater knew in less than 10 minutes that Iraqi forces were surrendering, which not only saved lives, but also munitions and combat sorties.

Her commander, Lt. Col. Anthony Lombardo, lauded her actions as an example of the trust the Air Force places in its junior members.

"She showed the same sense of urgency for saving Iraqis on the battlefield as she did for other time-critical targets because she was highly trained and informed," he said.

The importance of their responsibilities is not lost on the airmen assigned to the DGS, even though they fight in a virtual battlefield.

"It's nice to live normally but to know that you are helping affect the things that are happening," O'Connell said. (Courtesy of ACC News Service)

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