Role of US Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Division in Fight Against ISIS
brings big data to the battle with the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
By Air Force Staff Sgt. Charles Rivezzo, U.S. Air Forces Central Command, edited by Warfare.Today
As the air war against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria expands, so does the amount of data and information collected, including swaths of terrain, patterns of life, historical data and real-time discovery.
ISRD at the Speed of War
Adapting to the speed of war is the objective placed upon the Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Division at the Combined Air Operations Center here. They enable the air war against ISIS.
ISRD provides a common threat and targeting picture key to planning and executing theater-wide aerospace operations to meet the objectives of the commander of the combined forces air component for U.S. Central Command. They are also the means by which the effects of air and space operations are measured.
“The 609th Air Operations Center is the CFACC’s lead intelligence team to discover and develop target networks critical to [ISIS’] ability to project power,” said Air Force Lt. Col. Abraham Jackson, the ISRD deputy chief. “As such, ISRD is the operational command and control lead for the CFACC’s ISR enterprise. ISRD’s command and control includes all aspects of ISR planning, analysis, and target development working with experts operating 24/7, 365 days per year from around the world. Our expertise and intelligence tradecraft from across the CFACC’s ISR enterprise is truly second to none.”
In a campaign reliant upon information, ISRD is a pivotal component that provides context for understanding the adversary’s intentions and supports the application of predictive battle space awareness — a multi-dimensional understanding of the environment in time, space and effect, regardless of the enemy’s location, weather or time of day.
This knowledge of the operational environment, in concert with command and control, enables the coalition to anticipate future operational conditions, establish priorities, exploit emerging opportunities and act with a degree of speed and certainty that is unmatched by adversaries.
Developing ‘Big Data’
With an array of collection, assessment and analysis tools, ISRD works to develop “big data” into actionable strike targets.
Big data refers to extremely large data sets that may be analyzed computationally to reveal patterns, trends and associations, especially relating to human behavior and interactions. This is a skillset that falls squarely within the ISRD’s remit.
These airmen are on the frontlines of big data. Their objective is to streamline a myriad of information in a way that decision makers can quickly understand and process to execute strikes against ISIS targets. This is the essence of delivering decision advantage to all airmen.
However, without a centralized hub of information, the decentralized network of analysts was often conducting duplicative analysis. What they found was that they were working parallel efforts, developing targets on the same actionable intelligence instead of integrating their efforts.
The ‘Terminator’ Social Network
“We weren’t de-conflicting information until much later in the development process,” said one ISRD official. “We have many different components trying to find [ISIS] in Iraq and Syria, and it can be difficult not to venture into other lanes being worked simultaneously.”
This discrepancy led to a self-developed, in-house program created by ISRD airmen here — known simply as “Terminator.”
“The most impressive aspect of ‘Terminator’ is that the prototype for the program was created in-house,” the ISRD official stated. “Our airmen literally put brain bits and code into this program. They recognized a problem and sought a solution. The innovation of today’s airmen is remarkable.”
After the successful development of the prototype, the project was turned over to professional program developers who further developed Terminator into a sustainable version and met the specifications requested of ISRD officials.
Once the application came online, ISRD airmen input more than 3,000 targets into the system within 96 hours.
The overarching concept of “Terminator” is that hundreds of intelligence airmen across the service can integrate their efforts from geographically separated locations on a single platform. But the power of “Terminator” is that it is not only usable by airmen, the development team is on the cusp of making it a joint, coalition partner accessible program.
Essentially, it’s a social network for the intelligence community.
Similar to a social media newsfeed, “Terminator” encompasses thousands of ISIS targets and points of interest for intelligence officials. With the click of a button an analyst can pull up “real-time” information and actionable intelligence that is being worked by airmen across the enterprise.
“What really bridged the gap here is that the program provides the analysts with a layout they are familiar with,” Jackson said. “Today’s young analysts grew up in the social media era and relate to this model. It allows them to extrapolate information in an extremely efficient manner, allowing our airmen to operate at the speed of combat. It also makes big data digestible — a key aspect to ensure airmen stay laser focused on the enemy.”
“Shortening the Kill Chain”
Since its inception in mid-2016, the program continues to develop. Its capability has already expanded beyond the combined air operations center, as it possesses the ability to relay information to “warfighters on the ground, squadron intelligence airmen and even to aircraft that are flying real-time sorties within a specific region.”
Jackson said that a variety of open source information, targeting pod imagery and ISR collection are all fed into the “Terminator” program.
“It gives us a really unique way to command and control target development,” Jackson said. “We’re shortening the kill chain, while at the same time improving the quality of the intelligence we provide our decision makers.”
“We’ve come a long way in just the last year,” Jackson said. “ISRD is an enemy-focused team, and ‘Terminator’ is one tool that ensures we deliver decision advantage to airmen every day.”
Further Information: US Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Division webpage
Photo: Intelligence, Surveillance, Reconnaissance US Air Force graphic.