By Marina Malenic

Defense Secretary Robert Gates last week approved another package of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) initiatives, which includes 30 more C-12 Huron aircraft and more personnel to process battlefield surveillance gathered from the many new spy planes to be fielded this year, Pentagon officials said.

The new effort, which will come in the form of a request to Congress to reprogram funds from lower priorities in fiscal year 2009, is the result of recommendations made by a task force Gates established to expedite fielding of additional ISR capabilities.

Adm. Michael Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said earlier this summer that the Pentagon did not move quickly enough in developing ISR capabilities prior to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and must still do more to provide soldiers with better tools (Defense Daily, June 24). Gates created the task force in April to address the deficiencies.

Congressional defense committees last month approved a July 11 request to reprogram $1.2 billion in fiscal year 2008 funds for ISR capabilities, and the Defense Department has released those funds, Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Patrick Ryder told Defense Daily last week.

The specific efforts that will receive funding from that package include:

  • 21 manned C-12 twin-turboprop Huron manned aircraft equipped with sensors and video cameras;
  • an unspecified number of Scan Eagle unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) detachments for the Marine Corps;
  • additional contractors to operate the Army’s RQ-7 Shadow UAV; and
  • various infrastructure improvements in theater and in the United States to allow for the exploitation of intelligence gathered via UAVs.

According to Ryder, Gates recently approved ISR task force recommendations on FY ’09 reprogramming for several additional ISR capabilities. He would not comment on the cost of the second package, but Pentagon sources with knowledge of the task force said it will be worth approximately $1 billion. Congressional defense committee approval is required before any spending execution.

Capabilities being sought for FY ’09 include:

  • sustainment of airborne and unmanned ISR capabilities and infrastructure funded in the FY ’08 reprogramming action;
  • 30 more C-12 aircraft; and
  • additional personnel for processing and dissemination of intelligence in response to the growth of collection capability.

Of the 51 C-12 aircraft included in the two packages combined, approximately 75 percent will be purchased by the Air Force; the Army will buy the remainder, according to a Pentagon official.

In the mean time, Ryder said, actions already being taken to increase ISR support to troops in Iraq and Afghanistan include: additional contractor-operated aircraft being modified for ISR for delivery within four to six months and new Predator UAV combat air patrols arriving almost monthly.

"Looking forward, Task Force efforts will seek to shift toward executing identified solutions," Ryder explained in an Aug. 7 email.

The group is expected to continue its work at least through the fall, according to several Pentagon officials.