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Intelligence wing supports Gustav efforts

by Master Sgt. Steven Goetsch
Air Combat Command Public Affairs

9/2/2008 - LANGLEY AIR FORCE BASE, Va. (AFPN) -- Even though Hurricane Gustav made landfall hundreds of miles away, Airmen from the 480th Intelligence Wing here are playing a critical support role.

The same intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assets that are used to support contingency operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, also play a valuable role during natural disasters like Gustav.

At Beale Air Force Base, Calif., the ability of the intelligence specialists at the 9th Reconnaissance Wing to transition from their traditional roles of exploitation in Iraq and Afghanistan to natural disasters is made possible by the versatility of the different 480th IW components.

"The flexibility of the architecture, and the way we are able to shift missions within the 480th Wing is almost like a national treasure," said Col. Dan Johnson, 497th Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Group commander. "Where we can shift live combat missions from Beale Air Force Base to here at Langley so they can pick up this operation out at Beale Air Force Base is just a testament to great communications pipes and the ability to move missions."

In addition to the reconnaissance aircraft provided by the 9th RW, the 30th Intelligence Squadron deployed three imagery analysts as part of the 1st Air Force "Fly Away Team." These imagery analysts have spent the last few days building "collection decks," which begins the collection process now that the imagery aircraft are flying. A collection deck is a prioritization of critical areas such as highly populated areas, refineries or airports.

The focus of these Air Force ISR Agency and Air Combat Command Airmen is on the pre-and post looks of these critical areas and to provide a compare-and-contrast snapshot to the agencies that require this information, like the Department of Homeland Defense and Federal Emergency Management Agency.

These agencies turn to Air Force experts for this critical imagery because of the speed the intelligence community uses to generate these products.

"As soon as the imagery gets taken, within single-digit minutes, our Airmen have the ability to exploit the pictures, depending on the degree of exploitation that is required, they may be able to turn that image and disseminate it out to local authorities, disaster response folks or whoever needs it," said Lt. Col. Brendan Harris, 30th Intelligence Squadron commander.

This quick-turn ability comes down to the same training and experience that the Air Force brings to the battlefield.

"The damage that a hurricane brings rivals what we would see in combat. We have the advantage of covering more area, so more collections targets; we have the advantage of analysts who are experienced in doing this and of rapidly turning this into a product that is useable by a variety of different customers and getting it out in single-digit minutes," said Colonel Harris.

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