JUST IN: Air Force Updating, Clarifying ISR Vision, Official Says

By Laura Heckmann
Lt. Gen. Leah Lauderback

Air Force photo

The Air Force’s ability to achieve decision advantage in a contested data and electronic environment will require a vision refresh of an intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance flight plan signed in 2018, a service official said.


The 2018 Next Generation ISR Dominance Flight Plan aimed to meet challenges in a “highly contested environment” and consisted of a “multi-domain, muti-intelligence, government/commercial-partnered collaborative sensing grid that utilizes advanced technology,” according to the plan’s summary.


Today, the Air Force needs to update that vision, said Lt. Gen. Leah Lauderback, deputy chief of staff for intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance and cyber effects operations at a Mitchell Institute event May 17.


Speaking on the Air Force’s ability to achieve decision advantage in a world of growing threat complexity, Lauderback said, “We've got to develop this vision. It's a refresh, really, of the vision that the Next Gen Flight Plan” outlined in 2018.


She said the vision is now connected to the Air Force Future Operating Concept, published March 7 and signed by Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles Q. Brown, Jr. 


“We wanted to attach to that Air Force Future Operating Concept,” she said. “There are six fights within that future operating concept. Intelligence is necessary for every single one of those future fights.”


She said the vision they have is still being written. “We're still in draft, and I wish that I could say today that we're going to publish it tomorrow,” she said, adding the vision will focus on the sensing grid.


The sensing grid does exist, but on a “smaller basis” and “not at the scale that we know that we need, not at the speed we know that we need,” she said.


The grid involves four elements, the first being sensors, she said.


“You’ve got to have the sensors,” she said, and not just from the airborne layer, but also the spaceborne layer, the Navy and the Army. “All of that needs to be considered a sensor.”


That includes “non-traditional ISR” such as F-16s, F-35s and the future B-21 bomber, she noted.


“An F-16 … might be able to use its [Low Altitude Navigation and Targeting Infrared for Night] pod and provide some non-traditional ISR,” she said. “We need to be able to get the information off of that, and if it's good for intelligence, then we'll turn that into intelligence. If it's just good for battlespace awareness, then we can use that for battlespace awareness or for targeting, whatever it might be. But I see those sensors as not just what we provide from an airborne layer.”


The second grid component is infrastructure, or “integration of all that data,” she said. ISR digital infrastructure has been “unable to really get the resources to start to architect that out,” until now, she said. “I am happy to say that we’ve got some money to do that now and we will be moving out on that very shortly.”


Lauderback said one of Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall’s operational imperatives — related to the service’s Joint All-Domain Command and Control initiative called the Advanced Battle Management System — is partnered “very closely with us” to develop a digital infrastructure, “because we’ve got to be able to bring all of that data together at multiple security levels.”


In addition to gathering intelligence at the highest levels of security clearance, the Air Force also needs to bring intelligence from commercial sources, as well, Lauderback said. 


The third cog in the sensing grid is orchestration, she said.


“In my mind, it’s pretty simple. I just want to be able to have all of those sensors, the right phenomenology, looking at the right targets at the right time,” she said.


The fourth element, and what she called arguably the most important of the sensing grid, is sense making, or “the human element.”


Lauderback said she has seen three different Air Forces throughout her tenure with the service, beginning in 1993 when a lack of data was a real issue. Today, in her third life with the Air Force, “we’ve got so much data, we can’t sift through all of it.” And it will only increase through the end of this decade with more sensors coming, she added.


Arming airmen with the tools necessary to manage the influx of data will require “those triple A tools,” she said, referring to automation, augmentation and artificial intelligence.


Just “a few years ago,” the Air Force’s Distributed Common Ground System started to modernize this area, she said. “And so, we just want to double down on that.”


The Air Force’s efforts are data driven but problem centric. “What is the problem that we’re trying to solve, and can we solve that in a predictive manner?” she said.


Lauderback said she is excited about the prospects for targeting capabilities that will come from building the sensing grid.


“We have the targeting organization … the wing or the group or the squadrons that support targeting, and then bringing them to [Air Operations Center] as well,” she said. “From an ISR perspective, to be able to get decision advantage, [we need] to be able to get intelligence to whomever needs to be making … the decision.”


Topics: Air Force News

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