More intel resources needed for cyberspace, says head of Air Force ISR

Superiority in new domain will require substantial ISR investment

Intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance have long been central to combat missions on land, sea and in the air, but now the military must find ways to apply critical ISR capabilities to cyberspace, a top Air Force official said.

“ISR in the cyber domain is an area that needs more attention, and an area where we’re starting to see more investment,” Lt. Gen. Larry James, Air Force deputy chief of staff for ISR, said Feb. 23 at the Air Force IT Day in Vienna, Va. “We certainly don’t achieve cyberspace superiority without intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance.”

With orders from as high up as the president and the defense secretary to boost ISR and cyber capacities, James said the picture of existing capabilities needs to evolve to meet future needs.

“Today we’re fairly stove-piped. If you look at how we do intelligence, especially across the various platforms out there, a lot of these systems a lot grew up separately,” James said, citing examples such as the U-2 high-altitude reconnaissance aircraft and light detection and ranging. “The vision we have is something that is seamless, platform-agnostic, networked, real-time and all-sourced.”

Building up communications infrastructure for new capacity, developing new toolsets for cyber intelligence analysis and dealing with the data deluge spurred by the copious use of sensors are all other areas that also will need particular focus for cyber ISR, according to James.

“From a cyber IT perspective, we have to get our collective arms around it,” James said. “What does 'multi-int' mean for cyber? We need a roadmap for the toolsets we’re going to have to create to handle this data, make sense of this data, fuse this data and…produce actionable intelligence.”

That will also involve developing new types of skills in within the service’s workforce, he noted.

“This isn’t the traditional intelligence tradecraft. We have to figure out how to develop these skill sets,” James said. “This is not your father’s imagery analyst anymore.”

James cautioned that this is just the beginning for cyber ISR, adding that the Air Force will be working to build a roadmap over the next six to 12 months to determine the best way forward.

About the Author

Amber Corrin is a staff writer covering military networks for Defense Systems.

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