by Staff Writers
Wright-Patterson AFB OH (SPX) Mar 23, 2016
Manned and remotely piloted aircraft and systems routinely fly over the Middle East, collecting information, however it takes intelligence analysts to identify threats and confirm targets and monitor people for patterns of activity.
U.S. Air Force intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance is critical in countering state and non-state actors such as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria group. As part of the operations, all this data collected is turned into intelligence through analysis which is the job of intelligence professionals, and when there is a crisis like the rise of ISIS, the demand increases for these analysts.
The Air Force Reserve provides surge capacity with analysts who can plug into a 24-hour operational schedule, often with short notice, and fill in critical gaps, working side by side with their active-duty counterparts. Once finished with their duty, these Citizen Airmen are off of the federal payroll, providing a cost-efficient manpower solution.
About seven years ago, the Reserve established units with this cadre of Citizen Airmen. Today, the total across the Air Force Reserve ISR enterprise is about 2,500 intelligence analysts, 1,500 of whom are in various government organizations and many of whom have first-hand experience in the Middle East.
"Our Citizen Airmen have been involved in the Middle East for more than 22 years," said Col. Douglas Drakeley, commander of the 655th Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Group at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio. "These analysts provide a cost-efficient and unique depth of skill sets to the mission, bringing defense and industry leadership and experience to the Air Force, in many cases at levels not commonly seen in the military."
The number of Reserve intelligence squadrons has increased from two to 11, while the number of Citizen Airmen involved in the ISR mission has grown from 38 to about 1,000. Now, the 655th ISR Group will change command for the first time since its inception in September 2013. On Sunday, Drakeley will relinquish command to Col. John McKaye.
As data flows into the Air Force's ISR warehouses for processing, Maj. Marcus Laird, an operations mission director in the 50th Intelligence Squadron at Beale AFB, California, and other Citizen Airmen like him create products that are distributed to a number of customers.
They do more than examine satellite imagery. They provide "fused analysis," which is information taken from multiple sources, usually processed by multiple analysts, and combine them into a single package. That package may include information intercepted from radio communications, satellite images, one-on-one conversations with leaders in villages and video from a remotely piloted aircraft all wrapped up into one product.
Laird said the Reserve comprises some the most respected Citizen Airmen in the world and will continue to innovate new ways in vital areas of defense to protect the U.S.
"As Citizen Airmen, innovation is in our DNA," he said. "We identified multiple human-in-the-loop process inefficiencies that led to overwhelming hours spent in product re-work, ultimately delaying delivery of decision-quality information to our customers."
Laird, who as a civilian works as an outbound area manager at Amazon, was able to recommend several process improvements, driving increased efficiencies, increasing product throughput, reducing delivery timelines from 27 hours to 1.5 hours in one case, and ultimately reducing analysts' frustration and workload burden.
As the supply and demand for ISR data continues to increase and war is waged more in the information battle space, the need for increased support from the Air Force Reserve is greater than ever. Drakeley said the 655th continues to grow and is in the process of adding three more squadrons and about 300 additional Citizen Airmen.
Two of the units are cyber intelligence squadrons, and the third a targeting squadron standing up at some point after October.
Drakeley said cyber is a growing requirement for the nation to be able to both defend against and potentially determine the correct response to a threat in the cyber world.
"Our new squadrons will focus on intelligence to support the cyber world," he said.
For those who may be interested in joining the 655th ISR Group, Drakeley said the best part of the story is most of the organization's assignments are based in the United States. Citizen Airmen can work a shift in an operations center and return to their civilian job or college campus the next day. "It's a good fit for the Air Force Reserve", he said, "and a hedge against the risk of the growing gap between warfighting demand and available capacity as the active-duty Air Force shrinks."
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