U.S. News & World Report: The 480th operates one of many hubs the Air Force uses to receive, process and disseminate intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance information from spy aircraft it flies, known in military jargon as a Distributed Common Ground System. It works with all branches of the U.S. military and with some allied countries, and receives requests from all levels of the chain of command for the detailed intelligence it provides, such as images, videos or live information.
Right now, U.S. troops are embedded with the land component of the Iraqi army to teach its fighters how to file an efficient request for the Air Force’s information.
[Air Force Gen. Herbert “Hawk” Carlisle, the commander of Air Combat Command] points to the intense difficulty of managing so much information about environments as ethnically complex as the Middle East, a task some say is further hampered by the mandate passed down from President Barack Obama: No U.S. combat troops will be deployed to Iraq or Syria. That includes Joint Terminal Attack Controllers, or JTACs – special operations forces who work in deep enemy territory to help find targets and call in airstrikes from above .
“It does make it more difficult” to develop intelligence without human sources on the ground, said Jennifer, a senior master sergeant, who like many of her fellow analysts could not reveal her last name for security reasons. A personal perspective can lead to much stronger intelligence.
“They’re the ones feeling and smelling and tasting better than we can,” she said. “The closest thing to human intelligence we have is the embassy.”
These analysts instead must rely on seasoned veterans with multiple tours of Iraq – many of them now back home and serving in the Air Force Reserve – to provide some on-the-ground insights.
The number of clear targets in the conflict also may be shrinking. U.S. warplanes have conducted more than 9,500 flights over Iraq and Syria since Aug. 8 when combat operations began, 950 of which have resulted in direct strikes. But the Islamic State group has quickly learned it can no longer operate out in the open, waving its ominous black banner. Fighters now must hide themselves among innocent civilian populations that fear them. [Continue reading…]