The commander of the Air Force Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (AFISRA) Agency, Maj. Gen. Jack Shanahan, USAF, took the stage at the chapter’s February luncheon to discuss the history and accelerating evolution of the ISR mission. From its World War II beginnings in the Golden Age of code breaking to the blossoming of the Air Force Security Service and space-related technologies, Gen. Shanahan said, the ISR mission became increasingly entrenched in 20th century defense philosophy and war-fighting tactics. But true integration of capabilities in the international theater has become apparent only in the years and conflicts that followed the September 11 terrorist attacks.
“In my opinion, when the books are written on [Operation Enduring Freedom], you could easily label it the ISR War,” he said, noting that Gen. David Petraeus, USA (Ret.), and every commander to follow him have advocated for every possible ISR asset they could get, and that former Defense Secretary Robert Gates, in his recent biography, catalogued the incredible explosion of ISR capabilities during the Bush and Obama administrations. But fast-forwarding to the present, Gen. Shanahan said, he is troubled by the question: Do we have an Industrial Age weapons system in the Age of the Information Environment? He proceeded to lay out the evidence: insufficient and shrinking budgets, proprietary components and lack of enforcement of data standards, unacceptable upgrade/modification/acquisition timelines, a lopsided sustainment-to-modernization equation and ways of doing business that are not even close to keeping par with industry, or even the National Security Agency (NSA).
The Air Force 2025 vision calls for improvements in many areas, including truly integrated systems, teams and partnerships; standards-based approaches to information technology adoption; opportunities-based approaches to doing analytics; and an ozone-widget framework, which the NSA has been using for years. Gen. Shanahan also spoke at length about the value of cyber operations for the ISR mission, comparing the two to an interconnected strand of DNA. The issue is one of mission versus domain, he said, noting that ISR is an underpinning for all cyber operations. Additionally, one of the challenges that Air Force leaders are thinking through is how to give young airmen sufficient experience with both ISR and cyber to create model leaders for the future. Meanwhile, AFISRA faces the strategic “Pivot to the Pacific,” which as a technologically contested environment requires new approaches and ways of thinking. “It’s not going to be Afghanistan. We have put more ISR over the top of Afghanistan than any other war in history,” he said. “We have to learn how to fight without all this intellectual equipment, because [in the Pacific] it’s going to go away.” Gen. Shanahan spoke prior to Chief Master Sgt. Maurice James, USAF, command chief master sergeant, 59th Medical Wing, who spoke about the challenges of merging disparate medical networks; the daily and monthly tasks and challenges facing his medical command; and the value that military medical personnel bring to the San Antonio community.