U.S. Air Force leaders are alarmed at the erosion of a fundamental Air Force skill – targeting – that surfaced in a recent Air Combat Command review.
“As we conducted operations in Libya, we found that that we were running out of targeting capability,” says Lt. Gen. Larry James, the service’s deputy chief of staff for intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR). “So we’ve begun to look at what we need to add. We are looking at all the precision guided munitions we have, the fact that all the operational plans rely on PGMs and the need to target each one of those. Frankly, we have let some of that capability slip in terms of just having the resources.”
The atrophy of USAF targeting capability is primarily the result of specialized personnel – mainly trained targeteers – being pushed out to the combatant commanders who then assigned them to other tasks in between operations. Those lessons from Libya and what is needed for the future will be in the Fiscal 2014 budget plans.
The target problem is one of several being compounded by massive ISR data collection – such as 1,000 hr. of full motion video each day – that is creating a block to rapid analysis and tactical response. The Air Force ISR capacity has increased by 4,000% over the last decade, James says. In fact, the creation of advanced sensors has outpaced the ability to field new aircraft and train operators to manage them.
The downside of this proliferation is that “we continue to create sensors that are adding more and more data into the system,” James says. For example, a new system called Argus could “create the equivalent of 80 years of high-definition movies every day. We have to change the way we’re handling all this data. Just getting the data feeds off the satellites, on to the communications paths and into processing is extremely challenging. Our investment strategy involves how to handle the big data, how to do processing on platforms and how to determine the minimum to ship off.”
A recent Air Force study looked at the amount of data coming into its ISR channels and matched it to how the service currently conducts processing, exploitation and dissemination. Researchers extrapolated the expected growth of ISR collection to 2016 and predicted that today’s force of 5,500 Air Force analysts will explode to over 100,000 people, a number that will be impossible for service leaders to afford.