Is the Air Force Serious about Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance?
Bottom Line: The U.S. Air Force has an deep history of intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR). It also has an unfortunate habit of abandoning ISR operations for long stretches of time. As the Air Force looks to bring ISR into the 21st century, it should maintain a consistent commitment to this crucial operation.
The Air Force has a plan to modernize ISR.
In August 2018, the Air Force released the Next Generation ISR Dominance Flight Plan, a strategy to harness "new and disruptive technologies," like automated aircraft and machine learning, to support more ISR while using fewer people.
Historically, the Air Force abandons ISR after making improvements.
Thanks in part to the "fighter pilot mystique" – the idea that a soldier would rather shoot at things than take pictures of them -- the Air Force tends to focus on ISR only when necessary.
This has led to a cycle where the Air Force rushes to expand its ISR capabilities on the eve of a conflict, abandons ISR when the conflict is over, and begins again after the next conflict starts. This cycle was somewhat broken during the Cold War, when the Air Force "ceded its core ISR mission to the CIA."
It's time to break the cycle.
ISR is crucial to Air Force operations -- including the combat missions that ISR operations are usually dismantled in order to fund. The Flight Plan offers the Air Force a chance to commit to ISR as a pillar of our national security environment.