New Flight Plan for Air Force Intelligence

March 2007
By Robert K. Ackerman
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A U.S. Air Force F-15E Strike Eagle equipped with targeting pods flies over Southwest Asia. The Air Force will be integrating nontraditional intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) from platforms such as these to a greater extent, but the way to accomplish this effectively is not yet clear.
Consolidation centralizes capability development.

The U.S. Air Force is reorganizing its intelligence community to connect the dots before moving information to the decision maker and the warfighter. The ongoing reorganization is eliminating bureaucratic layers and improving communication among diverse elements responsible for designing and delivering intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities.

This reorganization goes beyond redrawing box charts, however. It also aims to provide the necessary flexibility for moving new capabilities to the warfighter as conditions change and technologies improve. And, it is configured to ensure a new generation of Air Force intelligence officers for joint and national billets.

This new face of Air Force intelligence was approved by the Air Force chief of staff in December 2006. Some parts took effect with the new year, while others are coming to pass this month. Still others will take shape in the coming months.

Lt. Gen. David A. Deptula, USAF, A-2, deputy chief of staff for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR), emphasizes that “Air Force intelligence is not broken.” He expresses that instead this reorganization reflects the relative value of intelligence for operations. “The conflicts that we’re dealing with in Iraq and Afghanistan today emphasize the importance of intelligence and will continue to do so in the future.

“Intelligence is operations as we move into the 21st century.”

The general offers that a primary advantage of this reorganization is that it will eliminate delays in systems, programs and architecture arising from misunderstandings or disconnects among the elements of capability development. The biggest challenge facing Air Force intelligence today is similar to that of the rest of the intelligence community—understanding the intent, strategy and plans of a potential adversary, he says.

Gen. Deptula categorizes Air Force intelligence into three elements: ISR capabilities, organization and personnel. The reorganization’s goals translate to managing Air Force ISR from a capabilities-based perspective and as a single consolidated functional area, treating Air Force intelligence as a servicewide enterprise and developing a bench of Air Force intelligence general officers for joint and interagency positions.

The established capability model assigned capabilities to four traditional intelligence program elements: collection, processing, analysis and dissemination. The general recognized that ISR capability needed to be delineated clearly. That lack of delineation led to process seams and confused process ownership, with different people assuming responsibility for different pieces of ISR capability.

“We have a disparate number of elements that are required to come together to provide an ISR capability, and often the way programs are managed in the Defense Department, [they] lack a holistic picture of how the ‘eaches’ contribute to the whole,” the general says.

As a result, the potential for the left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing was realized more than once, the general states. He cites the Distributed Common Ground Station (DCGS) as one recent example. After its version 10.2 software was delivered, users discovered that the upgrade could not present information because it could not work with the latest version of the new sensor that the U-2 and Global Hawk would be flying. The consequence of that slipup is another $17 million and 20 months to fix the glitch.

To prevent this from ever happening again, Gen. Deptula has created an ISR integrator similar to a program manager but without the programmatic clout. The general believes that this position does not require that clout because the greatest likelihood for error comes from a simple lack of awareness. “If those folks who designed the DCGS software modification just were aware that they needed to work it to fit and accept the new sensor, then they would have done it,” he emphasizes. “I don’t need to hit them over the head with a baseball bat; I just need to make sure that all those elements are working in parallel.”

The ISR integrator will ensure compatibility through awareness rather than enforcement. A program manager would run any compatibility or prioritization decisions through that integrator. However, because that integrator reports directly to the A-2/deputy chief of staff, Gen. Deptula would be able to step in with his own clout if necessary.

The reorganization of Air Force ISR is focusing on guidance, direction, oversight and programming at the wholesale level. Gen. Deptula emphasizes that actual execution of ISR will remain the purview of Air Force operational entities—the joint force air component commanders and the individual operational units.

But a major problem within the longtime Air Force ISR organization was that internal ISR responsibilities were split among a variety of organizations, the general states. Again, the solution is to have the A-2/deputy chief of staff assume these management responsibilities. This provides a single ISR focal point and also establishes the general as the chief ISR advocate within the Air Force.

But even with the establishment of the A-2 as that ISR focal point, the organization still was too disparate. Gen. Deptula points out that the current Air Force ISR organization was born of a different era. The U.S. Defense Department did not have a separate undersecretary of defense for intelligence (USDI) or a director of national intelligence, let alone an Air Force A-2. This outdated system did not arm the A-2 with the necessary authority or information to interact with those newly established—and vitally important—intelligence entities.

“There have been a variety of different organizations that have been lashed up in a variety of different ways,” the general relates. “We arrived here over time.

“There was no single focal point for synchronization and presentation of Air Force ISR,” he declares.

Air Force personnel operate Distributed Common Ground Station (DCGS) systems for the Predator unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV). A software upgrade for the DCGS proved incompatible with new sensor technology on UAVs, which is a problem that the new Air Force intelligence reorganization is designed to prevent.
This traditional organization also had the Air Intelligence Agency (AIA) and the Air Force’s intelligence centers as principal support elements aligned under the Air Combat Command (ACC). Further complicating the picture is that the centers would report through the AIA to the ACC. “From an organizational perspective, that doesn’t seem very clear to me in terms of inducing layers of additional bureaucracy,” the general asserts.

Under Gen. Deptula’s approved realignment, those layers of bureaucracy have been removed. The AIA is becoming a field operating agency directly under the A-2. Over time, its function will evolve from largely signals intelligence to a broader focus.

And, its name is being changed from AIA to the Air Force ISR Command. The intelligence centers will report directly to the ISR Command. These steps should be finalized this month.

With the Air Force standing up a Cyberspace Command in the 8th Air Force last November, all organizations related to Air Force information operations are being moved out of the old AIA construct and into the new Cyberspace Command. Gen. Deptula emphasizes that the A-2 will retain a close relationship with that new command, as intelligence is a vital component of cyberwarfare.

The Air Force Command and Control (C2) ISR Center at Langley Air Force Base, Virginia, also is transforming. It will be absorbed into another organization, Gen. Deptula allows, but some parts of it will report to the A-2.

The personnel side of the restructuring is focusing on the lack of a high-level Air Force intelligence representation in joint, national and combatant command billets. Despite having an Air Force general heading the Central Intelligence Agency, Gen. Deptula observes that the Air Force is lacking similar representation elsewhere. For example, it has not held the Joint Staff J-2 position for several years. “That is not good for the joint, for the national, community because our combatant commanders need to be served by an air perspective,” he declares.

So part of the restructuring effort would expand the number of Air Force general officer intelligence billets. It also would train these generals to be desirable candidates for the joint, national and combatant command positions. Building this bench of senior Air Force intelligence leaders will require that they develop joint and national experience to go with their training.

Beyond general officer personnel issues is the need to reshape the Air Force intelligence force to ensure that the next generation of officers is well-prepared for the changing field of intelligence. That too will be addressed, Gen. Deptula warrants.

Gen. Deptula separates the Air Force intelligence reorganization into two timeline blocks. Many of the near-term actions already have taken place, such as organizing the A-2 as the deputy chief of staff for ISR and the shift of ISR guidance, programs and directions personnel from the A-3 to the A-2.

“We’ve already seen some benefit of having a single ISR focal point,” he reports. “We participated as the lead for the Air Force on the USDI-led battlespace awareness portfolio test case in the recent program review cycle.

“The recognition that there is a single focal point for Air Force ISR capabilities cleans up the lanes and provides internal and external agencies with a clear person to go to discuss Air Force ISR capabilities,” the general adds.

Longer term actions go much deeper into effects on intelligence operations. The traditional approach to battle damage assessment (BDA) will give way to effects-based assessment, the general says. Today’s Air Force can apply effects to a degree and at a rate much greater than those effects can be assessed using traditional BDA techniques. “We’ve got to stop counting ‘eaches’ and look at the effects and rapidly get to the commander the appropriate assessment.’’

The general reflects on how BDA in the 1991 Gulf War did not provide an accurate assessment of enemy capabilities. The Central Command had notified the Air Force that it was lagging in its duties because it had not destroyed each of its assigned 26 individual electronics targets to an 80-percent level of destruction. But 10 days before that deficiency report, the Iraqi power grid had been taken down completely, thus removing the need to destroy those other targets. An effects-based approach to BDA would help a command re-establish targeting priorities efficiently, especially when war planners want to minimize infrastructure damage.

Another key goal is to be able to process and integrate nontraditional ISR. New combat aircraft such as the F-22 and the F-35 increasingly are multirole aircraft that could carry any number of letters beyond their established F designation. These airborne platforms can conduct network-centric warfare inside an enemy’s battlespace from the start of a war, the general offers. The mission planning and execution process must take that nontraditional ISR into account. ISR collection and execution processes also will be improved as part of long-term efforts.

“We have to start thinking about using assets that have been stovepiped in the past but have enormous capability today in an ISR role,” Gen. Deptula says, adding that this is a challenge for which his office does not yet have an answer.

A related issue is to eliminate ISR shortfalls, particularly as a low-density/high-density challenge. “We have spent the past 100 years figuring out how air power could hit any target anywhere on the surface of the Earth rapidly in day, night and all weather,” the general explains. “We can do that now. The big challenge is, What is it that you want to hit? Or, what do you want to affect and how do you want to do it? That gets one to think about the relative balance in investment between sensors and shooters, and do we need to re-look that investment balance.”

Air Force intelligence constantly will need interoperable network-centric solutions, he adds. “We continue to face the challenge of getting the right information to the right person at the right time,” he says. Achieving this will require interoperable sensors that can be adapted for a variety of different platforms and that can be integrated into the service’s distributed networks. This way, users would not need to request information—it would be pushed to them.

Gen. Deptula states that he will be able to take a more proactive stand in providing requirements direction in terms of system capability and force structure to the acquisition community. This will permit him to balance requirements across the entire domain of the four intelligence elements.

“By looking at capabilities across the spectrum of the elements that provide that capability, we ought to be able to more accurately assess trends or modify approaches in response to changing requirements,” he offers. “By taking a holistic perspective, we can respond to a change on the one hand that we otherwise might not notice.”

Because this intelligence restructuring involves fundamental, structural and organizational changes, funding should not be a major problem, the general offers. If Congress cuts supplemental funding substantially, then having a single Headquarters Air Force focal point for Air Force ISR will be even more important, Gen. Deptula offers.


Web Resources
Air Intelligence Agency:
Air Force C2ISR Center:


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