JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO – LACKLAND, Texas — As the sun sets and twilight reigns over another picturesque Nevada desert night on Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., a group of warriors, who traditionally work in the shadows and are new to this unique battlespace, prepare for conflict.
Armed with some of the military’s latest technologies and defined objectives in mind, these Airmen begin to process, exploit and disseminate intelligence to an extent and level never achieved before. They do this as part of a continuing campaign that prepares fighters for the future, a war game called Red Flag.
The 526th Intelligence Squadron at Nellis AFB, under the 70th Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Wing, part of the Air Force ISR Agency, ensured ISR became an essential part of Red Flag this year. The 526th IS stood up one year ago to fully integrate ISR into all aspects of Red Flag 13-3, Feb. 25 to March 15. Red Flag is the Air Force’s premier aerial warfare training exercise, and the 526th IS is now a permanent part of it.
“We are really excited this year because this is the first time that we’ve been able to bring real-time intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance together here at Red Flag from start to finish,” said Maj. Gen. Robert Otto, Air Force ISR Agency commander.
In the past, intelligence platforms and sensors have been a part of Red Flag, but all the ISR pieces had not fully participated before.
“If you think of this as a five-piece band and each of the musicians is playing a different song all at the same time, there’s a tremendous amount of dissonance and you’re not making sense of what’s going on,” said Otto. “Really for ISR we need to bring together, not just the platform and the sensor, but also the analysis and the communications paths upon which the data travels, and then the data transport and storage. It’s only by the intersection of all five of those pieces that come together like five musicians playing in harmony on the same song when we really bring the product that we want to affect the battlespace.”
More than two dozen ISR professionals flew into Nellis AFB to augment the 526th IS for the exercise. For many of them, it was the first time they sat through a mass briefing with all of the aviators, space experts, cyber experts and other key personnel who support the fight and execute combat operations.
“They are going to get a holistic understanding of just what needs to come together to be effective,” Otto said. “Then we’re going to have, within the intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance area of this, people who have a chance to be a package commander and who will be in charge of bringing this ISR force to bear. At the end of the day, this is all about a better understanding of the battle space and then providing targeting, so that the aircraft can be effective in their mission.”
This is the first time Blue Force, or “friendly force,” capabilities were integrated into Red Flag, along with much more robust scenario development, tactical mentoring, and in-depth tactics analysis for rated and non-rated operators. All of this equates to an extremely valuable training experience, according to the intelligence squadron commander. He also said it is about something more.
“First and foremost is ISR integration, and for the ISR professional this isn’t as much about training as it is integration and education,” said Lt. Col. Christopher Reiz, 526th IS commander. “The 526th IS isn’t focusing on particular area of responsibility requirements, pivots, or specific threats, but rather providing an opportunity for our Airmen, who executed counter insurgency and counter terrorism operations successfully for so many years, to prepare for contested and degraded major combat operations.”
The ability for both ISR and Combat Air Force rated and non-rated operators to integrate in the same location provides a fantastic opportunity to prepare for tomorrow’s fight, according to Reiz. Red Flag is now giving ISR warriors a chance to train, learn, fight and win along with their colleagues in combat.
“Since inception of war, intelligence has been deemed one of the most important facets for victory, and, as General Otto said, ‘Nellis is the center of the universe for tactics, and prepping operators for the fight,’” Reiz said. “Bringing the Air Force ISR Agency and Blue Force ISR operations to Nellis is a key breakthrough for not only the ISR community, but also combat operations and training. Coalition successes in future conflicts, crisis, or humanitarian activities, will rely heavily on the training, education, and tactics, techniques, and procedures development we do here today.”