A Holistic Approach to Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance

By Anderson, Dagvin R. M. | Air & Space Power Journal, Winter 2011 | Go to article overview

A Holistic Approach to Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance


Anderson, Dagvin R. M., Air & Space Power Journal


I was in a strange city, much of it foreign to me and my guide, who was leading our convoy. Moving through crowded, winding passages, I thought it would not be possible to meet our rendezvous time. The guide, however, seemed quite relaxed as he linked to the communications satellite and Global Positioning System (GPS) constellation with his handheld device. On the moving map, he identified our location, showing where we had made the wrong turn, and found our objective in moments. Tfexting the other half of our party at the rendezvous location, he immediately established a new meeting time. Then, pulling in the latest video feeds on the same device, my guide confirmed that the planned route was clear. Another vehicle joined our convoy en route, and we rendezvoused silently as the GPS device updated both of our locations in real time on the moving map. As we neared our destination, he used the same handheld device to check the latest intelligence postings for the area, noting that his buddy had been here a couple of days ago. His friend had left a posting, warning him to avoid the place on the corner across from our destination, and had marked several other postings showing not only shops with helpful owners but also places to avoid. I was amazed at the amount of data available at his fingertips, easily accessible in near real time.

Of course, all of this transpired on his smartphone, and we were merely trying to maneuver three cars across Boston to meet some friends at a local restaurant. Nevertheless, I was struck by the seamless integration of multiple forms of what I termed intelligence (but what my civilian friends called common information). Starting with several independent applications, they easily integrated full-motion video (FMV), human intelligence (HUMINT), signals intelligence (SIGINT), and communications into a single, intuitive device with a common display- a feat that many people in the military would envy.1 That amount of information, shared so easily and constructively, made me wonder what it would take to provide the same kind of integration for our forwarddeployed forces. What prevents us from developing an intuitive program that would allow the user, a Soldier on the battlefield, to acquire needed information?

To do so, we must treat intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) holistically. The Department of Defense (DOD) should empower a sinele aeency to address the development and deployment of new technology, consider the overall architecture and standards, examine service culture as it relates to ISR, and work with partner nations to advance their ISR capabilities in a manner that augments the overall intelligence picture. These actions can improve our ISR posture and position us to better incorporate developing technology as new sensors, processing equipment, storage devices, and means of dissemination become available.

Background

One of the most common questions heard at senior levels in the military is, Why is ISR still a high-demand, low-density capability after several years of needing it? We have done much to boost the number and quality of assets in combat, such as flying more sorties on the battlefield and standing up the ISR Task Force within the DOD to expedite the fielding of ISR platforms and sensors. Since 2009 the number of ISR sorties in Afghanistan alone has quadrupled, and in just the last year the Air Force has fielded wide-area surveillance systems such as Gorgon Stare that represent a leap forward in technology, taking ISR from the proverbial "looking through the soda straw" to maintaining surveillance across an entire city.2 The Air Force has even developed an independent training pipeline for operators of remotely piloted aircraft to help address the demand for their surveillance platforms. Despite this effort, the Air Force still cannot meet the demand.3

The service is addressing the imminently correctable shortage of physical assets even if the results are not as forthcoming as many would like.

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