Objectives: Focus Air and Space ISR professionals on winning today, while preparing for tomorrow. The RTF shall pursue research to discover new and innovative ways to increase operational agility and more fully realize multi-domain integration.
More specifically, the ISR Task Force should work toward:
1) Revitalizing integration of ISR at the Squadron Level – Air, Space, and Cyber.
2) Developing Air and Space ISR professionals to lead joint operations, to include evolving composition and training of ISR organizations to deploy as a JTF HQ.
3) Reaching Next Generation ISR Dominance through exploitation of Publically Available Information.
4) Mastering ISR command and control in the multi-domain battlespace; and
5) Transforming the ISR Enterprise to perform automation, machine learning, and deep learning.
“The Joint Force should fully integrate ISR into operations, leveraging it as a force multiplier to increase the effectiveness of other military capabilities.” Martin E. Dempsey, CJCS
Description: As one of the Air and Space Force’s five enduring core missions, ISR is integral to Global Vigilance and foundational to Global Reach and Global Power. With the continuing challenges of the 21st Century, it is imperative senior leaders fully leverage the vast array of national capabilities along with those of the Total Force, our sister Services, the Intelligence Community (IC), and our international partners.
Thesis and scope: The course focuses on Air and Space Forces' ISR capabilities and joint ISR capabilities at the operational-strategic level by critically examining “what to expect,” and “what not to expect,” from intelligence. Against this backdrop, the course enhances future leader abilities to critically analyze and synthesize ISR capabilities to improve decision making.
The course provides guided study and development of research projects that meet the requirements of this research seminar, supports professional development for Air Command and Staff College and assist larger Air and Space Force requirements. The final research product is a 3,000+ word research paper.
HAF A2/6 ISR Guidance Memo
Captain Patrick Burns
Examining the military posture of NATO and Russia within the Baltics. With the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania regained their independence for the first time since 1945. Less than 14 years later all three nations were formally admitted into the NATO alliance and the European Union in 2004. To Russia, the expansion of NATO and the EU to their western border is viewed as nothing less than a direct threat. Russia does not trust the West and holds nothing but contempt for the independence of the Baltic states.
Captain Casey Riggs
The progression of Russian military cyber capability, increasing complexity and frequency of malicious cyber action, and the threat to civilian populous through cyber effects on both military and civilian architectures garners increased attention by the NATO Alliance. NATO must doctrinally change their approach to cyberspace operations in order to effectively posture forces against Russian threats in this domain. While NATO maintains a focus on information sharing and promoting cybersecurity practice in the civilian sector, NATO must adopt an active defensive posture that can project cyber effects to stop them at their source. Additionally, NATO must also be prepared to actively defend critical national infrastructure, augmenting passive cybersecurity and cyber-hygiene measures which won’t, by themselves, defend against advanced national actors. Lastly, NATO and the EU must continue to cooperate in development of legal frameworks that balance the national sovereignty of cyberspace networks while still allowing asymmetric military advantage via execution of cyberspace operations in grey space.
Captain Josephy M. Hays Jr
Russia poses a significant threat to the Baltics. Through hybrid warfare means, Russia has set the stage for invasion and occupation in Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. This paper starts by exploring the motivations and history Russia has for occupying the Baltics by primarily addressing the issues of energy dominance and the Baltics’ precedence for insurgency. The Baltic states have whole-of-nation defense strategies in conjunction with NATO interoperability which should most likely deter a full-scale invasion on the part of Russia, despite Russia possessing military superiority. However, Russia has a history of sewing dissent through information operations. This paper addresses how Russia could theoretically occupy an ethnically Russian city of a Baltic country and explores what measures Russia may take to hold onto that territory. Specifically as it pertains to a nuclear response, Russia may invoke an “escalate to de-escalate” strategy, threatening nuclear war with intermediate-range warheads. This escalation would take place through lose interpretation of Russian doctrine and policy that is supposedly designed to protect the very existence of the Russian state. This paper concludes by discussing ways forward with research, specifically addressing NATO’s full spectrum of response to Russia’s escalation through hybrid warfare.
Captain Joseph P. Dolan
Russia’s control of information and rhetoric promoting their military capabilities can be viewed as an additional component of their anti-access/area-denial strategy in the Baltics. By pushing rhetoric and propaganda relating to specific capabilities, they have the potential to deter or influence US and NATO courses of action in the region. Analysts and planners should, then, consider Russian capabilities from the Russian perspective when determining the most effective courses of action to ensure NATO freedom of movement in the area. Characterization from the Russian perspective starts with examining where a 175% increase in defense spending has been allocated to over the last 20 years, which shows heavy spending on in air surveillance and fighter procurement. Emphasis on these core functions of A2/AD is also reflected in state media which advertises weekly and annually the number of enemy aircraft tracked by the Russian air defenses, as well as the number of intercepts conducted. In 2020, Russian state-controlled media outlet TASS claimed that total number was close to 5,000, with 170 intercepts and no border incursions allowed. Russia is also vocal about the successes of its primary military exercise in the region, Ocean Shield. Results from this exercise are lauded in the media by Putin himself, praising the Russian military for integrating dozens of air and naval assets along with ground-based point defense systems in order to protect strategic SAMs in Kaliningrad. Russia makes no secret that the construct of Ocean Shield aims to counter NATO’s own regional exercise, NATO BALTOPS. Observation of how the Russians interpret this exercise, the successes they advertise countering it, and their boasting of specific capabilities should be considered along with classified reporting in order to mitigate the rhetoric arm of Russia’s A2/AD strategy.
Captain Beth Klingele
2017: War with Russia is a “future history” set after the invasion and annexation of Crimea by Russia in 2014. In the book, Russia launches a fictional invasion of the Baltic States and NATO is forced to launch a counter offensive to free the Baltics after their attempts to deter Russian aggression fail. The author, General Sir Richard Shirreff, takes a critical look at the actions and in-actions of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) prior to and during this fictional wartime scenario. Shirreff uses the scenario to bring light to a number of issues NATO must face if it is to survive a real Baltic invasion scenario, namely a lack in proper definition of an “attack on NATO” in a world of non-traditional warfare, complacency in policy towards European defense, a degradation in NATO conventional military forces, and political hurdles that could delay NATO’s reaction to a real Russian invasion. The book is presented as a warning to NATO policy makers and senior military leaders, but it contains a number of lessons learned that the command and control community can take into consideration when planning contingencies and operations against future Russian aggression.
Captain Brett Estes
Developing a quasi-AI, or advanced pattern recognition program (APRP) processes and associated technologies for the ISR realm could herald the 3rd Offset. A spirally developed open-architecture minded collection of APRPs communicating and generating targets IAW CCIRs and geographically relevant EOB could lift the fog of war for the U.S. and her allies. The process does not aim to replace humans-in-the-loop, but instead filter high volume data to increase chances or target generation to give CCDRs real-time options to maneuver against. The layout process highlights the augmentation to current practices with ways forward while calling for specific requirements. Barriers are also highlighted and drive the pragmatic approach and specificity of the model. The end game result would be to fuse data faster than operators can today. This should enable increased strategic, operational, and tactical objectives met for friendly forces. If executed ahead of peers and protected properly, this could buy the U.S. and her allies deterrence from peer threats via lightning-fast proportional and surgical strikes with the current conventional munitions we have today. He who knows where to strike first, will likely land the blow that counts.
Captain Angelo DeArco
Russia has demonstrated effective use of hybrid threats to increase its influence on global affairs. Most recently, Russia leveraged the Libyan Civil War to refine its hybrid threat capabilities to decrease Western and European influence for the benefit of the Kremlin. These hybrid threats include private military companies (PMC) and information warfare (IW). PMCs provide a physical Russian presence in Libya without the costs of active Russian conventional forces. Information warfare (IW) enables Russia to guise its agenda by leveraging preestablished media to sow pro-Libyan National Army messages and disseminate disinformation to taint the Government of National Accord’s reputation. Each of these hybrid threats have enabled Russia to gain regional political and economic influence while maintaining plausible deniability of its involvement. Lessons learned during the Libyan Civil War will be leveraged for current and future Russian foreign affairs, including increasing Baltic States.
Capt Matthew McConnell
U.S. and NATO face a growing threat of Russia on eastern European NATO countries.Priorities for NATO countries to pursue
include increased ISR capabilities and preparing for cyber attacks and media manipulation.
Captain Brian K Johnston
Russia’s reemergence on the world stage in the last two decades has been a slow but steady progress towards furthering their goals of creating a multipolar world dictated by multiple actors dominating their periphery while vying for global ambitions. Since 2008, Russia has reorganized their military to create more flexible and competent force capable of sustaining multiple military operations simultaneously. The increased scope and complexity of Russian exercises over the last half-decade showcase the success of Russian efforts to reinforce Russian influence over its periphery. Both the invasion of Georgia in 2008 and the annexation of Crimea in 2014 showcase Russian efforts of using exercises to achieve strategic goals. The previous three exercise iterations – VOSTOK 2017, TSENTR 2019, and KAVKAZ 2020 contain key principles the U.S and NATO should be aware of – Chinese participation, further integration with FSU militaries, and conducting simultaneous exercises in multiple military districts.
Capt William Theurer
The AF ISR enterprise must ruthlessly tackle institutional challenges it will face as the DoD shifts its focus away from CT efforts and towards GPC. The enterprise must address the very real manpower limitations that exist, exploitation bottlenecks and historical production standards that no longer meet warfighter needs, and in the case of a potential Baltic crisis, a lack of placement and access as well as institutional expertise due to years of limited prioritization. This white paper addresses such challenges as well as ongoing and potential future efforts that could result in a more responsive force that provides enduring relationships with regional partners and a new generation of subject matter expertise.
Ricardo D. Colón, Major, USAF
The impending wave of artificial intelligence (AI) will soon permeate every aspect of modern warfare, and its impact will be particularly sweeping in the field of intelligence. With regard to processing, exploitation, and dissemination (PED) of intelligence data, the central claim is that these technologies will take over routine, codifiable tasks that currently dominate the majority of an intelligence analyst’s time. As AI assumes these responsibilities, the analyst gains time to focus on uniquely human aptitudes requiring cognition and interdisciplinary problem solving. Preparing human analysts for human-machine teaming demands a fundamental re-evaluation of how these analysts are educated and trained, shifting the prevailing paradigm from “what to think” to “how to think.” Moreover, it requires the deliberate dismantling of the historically rigid governing structures of the DCGS, as well as purposeful movement toward a comprehensive culture change that inculcates an “analyst first” mindset within every intelligence Airman.
Andrew S. Bailey, Major, USAF
Cyber protection of weapon systems is necessary in order to avoid introducing unnecessary risk to multidomain command and control, a capability that will be critical in a battle against a peer competitor. Many systems are interconnected and a risk to one system is a risk to all systems participating in the network. The interconnectedness of weapon systems rely on cyberspace and this domain is capable of affecting the physical domain. The Air Force should use a three-pronged cyber defense initiative consisting of aircrew and intelligence operator training, improved Mission Defense Team (MDT) integration, and system hardware and/or software upgrades to ensure cyber domain protection for C2ISR assets. Doing so will help increase the resilience of our weapon systems and allow them to be safely interconnected to achieve the benefits of multidomain command and control.
Travis T. Patterson, Major, USAF
The US Air Force’s heavy reliance on space capabilities makes it vulnerable to potentially crippling asymmetric multi-domain attacks in the near future. While Air Force leaders have identified the importance of maintaining dominance in the space domain, their goal of attaining resilient and survivable systems in the future is not immediately attainable. Peer competitors and potential adversaries already possess several operational and developmental capabilities, which place critical US space assets on the losing side of a cost-exchange battle. An option to mitigate many of these risks exists in an airborne mobile-mesh network hosted initially by the Air Force’s high-altitude ISR platforms.
Christopher L. Workinger, Lieutenant Colonel, USAF
Distributed teams are a foundational element for today’s Air Force Intelligence Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR) missions, and global operations in support of combatant commands and coalition commanders are executed regularly by geographically separated teams. In the 25th Air Force more than 29,000 total force Airmen serve at 75 locations around the globe executing ISR missions for the joint force. Lt Gen David Deptula, former Air Force Deputy Chief of Staff for ISR, described this environment as a “rapidly evolving paradigm, called distributed ISR operations, links platforms and sensors, forces forward, and human ISR warfighting experience around the globe in ways that make networked combat operations routine.” Leading in a globally distributed teams environment can prove extremely challenging for myriad reasons and this environment – geographically separated and highly interdependent teams – calls for leadership theory and practice that match this paradigm.
Rebecca N. Breiding, Major, USAF and Erin K. Brilla, Major, USAF
To keep pace with changing operational requirements and dynamic threat environments, the Air Force Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR) community needs adaptable intelligence collection capabilities to ensure the warfighter is equipped with the right tool for the right fight. Historically, the Air Force has relied on two distinctly separate systems to deliver new capabilities: a streamlined process to rapidly meet urgent needs and a slower, more deliberate process to acquire all other capabilities.1 Customarily, the “rapid acquisition” programs are heralded for their ability to meet urgent ISR collection requirements in a matter of mere months. In contrast, more traditional ISR programs often struggle to meet warfighter needs and are plagued by years of cost overruns and schedule delays.2
Rodney Brickell, Col, Virginia Air National Guard
The technological capabilities of Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPAs) are converging with the state’s needs for emergency response. The National Guard can utilize RPA’s to support Domestic Operations (DOMOPS). RPA’s, although not optimal for all conditions, are valuable assets and can provide enhanced support to operations. Through an understanding of the legal approval process and their operational capabilities and limitations, a state will be prepared to weigh the costs and benefits of RPA support to any operation. States will need to practice the way they operate in an emergency by including RPAs in future exercises, thereby by improving the level of understanding and confidence in these emerging capabilities. Planning and preparation are key to a state’s improved response options. Disasters are not planned, but responses to them are. RPAs warrant consideration for inclusion and response to DOMOPS.
Michael D. Holmes, Lieutenant Colonel, USAF
The Air Force Future Operating Concept (AFFOC) identified Globally Integrated Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance (GIISR) as one of five core missions in 2035.1 The AFFOC called for “ISR professionals, with deep expertise in information fusion.”2 However, when exploring current intelligence specialties and their respective training and preparation to execute fusion intelligence, rather than moving toward professionals with “deep expertise in fusion intelligence,” intelligence specialties currently receive limited formal training regarding fusion intelligence, leaving the bulk of training and preparation to perform fusion intelligence to field units. This results in intelligence personnel with disparate baseline knowledge and abilities with an unpredictable and unreliable capability. Additionally, there is evidence that rather than creating personnel with “deep expertise,” the Air Force is creating generalists or jacks-of-all-trades. To develop the desired “ISR professionals, with deep expertise in information fusion,” the Air Force should establish a program to purposefully train select personnel who possess experience in intelligence and aptitude for advanced intelligence work in multi-source fusion intelligence, and then staff positions requiring the production of fusion intelligence with this cadre of trained personnel.
Nicholas A. Nobriga, Lieutenant Colonel, United States Air Force
The unpredictable and complex global strategic environment the United States currently faces has stretched U.S. military forces thin around the world. The 2015 National Military Strategy emphasizes the importance of adapting to the changes in the global strategic environment, by suggesting the United States cannot afford to focus on only one area at the exclusion of others or attempt to be everywhere all at once. The United States must employ its limited resources with agility and flexibility in order to counter trans-regional threats seamlessly. This is especially true for the Air Force’s fleet of U-2, RQ-4, RC-135, and E-8 intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) aircraft it refers to as Low Density/High Demand (LD/HD). Current worldwide demand for LD/HD ISR outstrips available supply and spreads assets too thinly across Combatant Commander (CCDR) Areas of Responsibility. With worldwide threats regularly crossing Combatant Command boundaries, the process for managing operational control (OPCON) for Air Force, LD/HD ISR needs modification. The Air Force needs an OPCON arrangement giving it the authorities to actively manage assets and arbitrate disagreements between CCDRs for ISR collection priorities worldwide.
Philip O. Warlick, II, Lieutenant Colonel, USAFR
According to the Joint Operational Access Concept (JOAC) published by the United States Department of Defense in 2012, “Events of recent decades have demonstrated the decisive results U.S. joint forces can achieve when allowed to flow combat power into an operational area unimpeded...and U.S. operational access during that period was essentially unopposed.” However, the next time the nation calls for US military intervention, the operational environment may not be so permissive. Many potential adversaries are developing technologies and tactics to prevent such permissive environments.
Brent J. Cantrell, Major, USMC
In 2014, the CJCS published the DOD’s ISR Joint Force 2020 White Paper detailing his vision for how the Joint Force will shape, grow, and integrate ISR capabilities to remain effective in future operations. Of the eight initiatives identified, he emphasized that the most important was the development of a joint PED architecture that will replace the multitude of currently-fielded, expensive, and inefficient service-unique, platform-centric PED architectures.
Christopher D. Crouch, Major, USAF
The draft FY17 NDAA highlights the transregional, multi-domain, and multi-functional reality of current operations.1 Congress proposed to modify sections of the Goldwater-Nichols Act to facilitate transfer of forces among combatant commands. This bold move by the military’s civilian leadership highlights their commitment to facilitate flexibility in transregional operations and should act as a charge to the military to provide similarly novel, flexible solutions. Strategic C2ISR platforms including the U-2, RQ-4, RC-135, and E-8 are inherently agile with their ability to traverse multiple geographic locations in a short time. This paper proposes to answer the military’s civilian leadership call to maximize flexibility by rethinking the assignment of operational control (OPCON) of those agile, strategically significant platforms.
Christopher R. DiNote, Lieutenant Colonel, USAF
In a February 2015 memorandum, Deputy Secretary of Defense Robert Work issued a call to the department and the military services to reinvigorate the use of wargaming across the defense enterprise. He connected wargaming directly to innovation in technology, as well as new operational and organizational concepts to avoid strategic surprise.3 The secretary’s guidance emphasized the urgency of this task, explaining that the United States faces an era of constrained resources and rapid global change.4 This essay contributes to the Air Force response to this call to action, including a game design-in-progress, from the perspective of Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR) strategic decision-making.5
Nicholas J. Hall, Major, USAF
In a contested war, the joint force will need to identify, nominate, and strike a greater number of targets in a shorter amount of time than currently required. These conditions will stress the current command and control of a dynamic targeting process characterized by lengthy target development timelines that allow for high-confidence, centralized decision making.
The traditional Air Force solution to this problem is to increase the targeting manpower and scope of responsibility at the AOC. However, the AOC will not likely achieve the desired level of “fullspectrum awareness” against a massed enemy at the speed required to support centralized decision making. Additionally, centralized decision making tends to increase decision time but also decreases risk. This essay proposes an alternate course of action that relies less on increased manpower and improved information technologies such as big data analytics, and more on decentralizing authorities to multiple, distributed entities. To shorten the dynamic targeting kill chain in a contested war, the Air Force should accept risk and adopt a flexible command and control concept that decentralizes target engagement authority by placing target identification, nomination, and strike tasking functions as close to the source of intelligence as possible.
Ezra B. Caplan, Major, USAF
The alignment of limited ISR resources against GCCs’ highest-priority requirements is a complex problem, and current processes are not ideally suited to manage operations of allocated capabilities nor do they offer essential responsiveness to the demands of a complex and dynamic battlespace. To resolve these disconnects, this research examines the current methods of assessing airborne ISR operations and feedback mechanisms, and recommends a taxonomy of ISR roles to inform a mission-centric employment model. This strategy-to-task model links the ISR Role to a given operational context and provides a structure for assessment based on accomplishing tasks, creating effects, or achieving Commander’s objectives. Effective ISR assessment compares projected outcomes with operational events to determine mission effectiveness and provide operational feedback. This assessment and feedback should inform resourcing decisions and guide future employment of ISR assets.