Air Force Nearing Completion Of ISR Plan

The U.S. Air Force, which is writing a report on how it hopes to improve its intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities in the coming years, plans to finish the document in “early spring,” a key general said Jan. 4.

The “Next Generation ISR Dominance Flight Plan” will be “pretty comprehensive,” addressing “all things for ISR in all domains,” said Lt. Gen. VeraLinn “Dash” Jamieson, Air Force deputy chief of staff for ISR. “It’s not just how do I modernize. It’s really how do I transform and where does our next generation of ISR really need to be.”

An armed MQ-9 Reaper taxis down a runway. Photo: U.S. Air Force

An armed MQ-9 Reaper taxis down a runway.
Photo: U.S. Air Force

The Air Force intends to give industry representatives a classified briefing on the plan Feb. 2 at the National Reconnaissance Office headquarters in Chantilly, Va.

To stay ahead of potential adversaries, the Air Force wants ISR systems that are flexible enough to perform multiple types of missions, Jamieson said at a Capitol Hill event sponsored by the Air Force Association’s Mitchell Institute.

For example, the general suggested that an MQ-9 Reaper unmanned aircraft system (UAS) and the airmen who operate it should be able to easily move back and forth between close-air-support (CAS) and ISR missions.

“We schedule it do CAS, we schedule another group to do ISR,” she said. “We’re saying, that’s old-think. Let's break that down and say let's put on the [air tasking order] we're on multi roles and ensure that when there are troops in contact -- let's just say in Syria -- that it operates in an attack CAS role. When there isn't, it's scheduled for ISR."

The Air Force also seeks increased automation so it can quickly sift through and fuse a vast amount of information from multiple sources and share it across a wide range of platforms. Air Force analysts struggle to process the growing reams of data they collect.

“As you look at where we’ve come, we’ve done things very manually, with adding airmen to tackle issues,” she said. “And we can’t continue to do that.”

Jamieson’s remarks came a day after Aurora Flight Sciences, recently acquired by Boeing [BA], announced that it has received a $48 million contract from the Air Force to continue developing the Orion medium-altitude, long-endurance UAS, which is designed to stay aloft for over 100 hours while carrying over 1,000 pounds of ISR payload.

Aurora said the new contract will lead to a certified version of Orion that could deploy anywhere in the world. Orion holds the current UAS world endurance record with a flight of over 80 hours in 2014.

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