Two of the U.S. military’s smaller combatant commands require additional intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities to better fulfill their mission requirements, officials told lawmakers Jan. 30.
U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) and U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) both require more resources to keep ahead of the growing presence of Russia and China in their areas of responsibility, as well as their respective missions, SOUTHCOM Commander Adm. Craig Faller and AFRICOM Commander Army Gen. Stephen Townsend said at a Thursday morning posture hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC). The hearing took place ahead of the fiscal year 2021 presidential budget release, which is currently scheduled to be delivered to Congress Feb. 10.
“We need more intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance,” Faller said, calling it “a key area to look at” that will help the command apply leverage on its partner nations to increase participation in drug interdictions, among other mission areas. Overall, SOUTHCOM is detecting about 25 percent of ships trafficking drugs through its area of responsibility but only has the resources to interdict about 9 percent, he noted. The lack of ISR capability “turns into the ability to interdict,” he said.
SOUTHCOM, for its part, is only fulfilling about 20 percent of its ISR goal, with the majority being gathered by the Department of Homeland Security, Faller said. The Defense Department’s portion is closer to about 8 percent, he added.
“We recognize the global challenges and we do the best with what we have,” he said. “I think there’s some advances in machine learning and artificial intelligence that we should pursue.”
Townsend, who took over the command of AFRICOM about six months ago, acknowledged that every COCOM commander will advocate for additional ISR capabilities, but told SASC members that his command was only meeting about 25 percent of its known validated requests for ISR as it looks to counter violent extremism across the African continent as well as keep track of Russian and Chinese activity in its AOR.
AFRICOM also wants to accelerate counter unmanned aerial system (C-UAS) technologies in its region to “improve local domain awareness and provide an additional layer of warning and force protection while also improving capabilities across the joint force,” Townsend said in advance testimony documents.