Coordinating ISR Across Military, Agency Boundaries

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BOSTON — The Pentagon had two choices for meeting the growing demand for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) data, according to Air Force Maj. Gen. Mark Welsh. One approach would have been to seek a tremendous increase in funding for collection and processing hardware. The second option was to reorganize the way ISR data is collected and distributed to speed its delivery to the people who need it.

With funding as tight as it always is — and increased spending probably the wrong answer to begin with — the decision was made to reorganize, creating a Joint Functional Component Command (JFCC) for ISR under U.S. Strategic Command. “We don’t think there’s enough money in the universe to solve the problem that way,” said Welsh, who now serves as the organization’s deputy commander.

The JFCC-ISR is headed by U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Michael Maples, who also serves as director of the Defense Intelligence Agency. The JFCC-ISR is co-located at Bolling Air Force Base in Washington with the Defense Intelligence Agency.

The budget for the organization comes from a variety of classified and unclassified accounts, and the total number is classified, Welsh said. The JFCC has currently filled about 60 of the 106 positions that are allocated to the organization, and is working on filling the remaining posts, he said.

Not included in those 106 positions are the personnel detailed from various military intelligence agencies and services, which will ultimately bring the total “mission team” to about 200, Welsh said.

The military’s ISR activities take place in a variety of places across the Defense Department, including agencies like the Defense Intelligence Agency, the National Reconnaissance Office, the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency and the National Security Agency. The military services also have their own ISR organizations and assets.

The JFCC-ISR is capable of looking across those organizations to ensure ISR planning and execution is well coordinated within the Defense Department and with U.S. allies, according to a Strategic Command fact sheet. ISR includes imagery, signals intelligence and other data collected by satellites and terrestrial means as well as human collection of intelligence data.

Bringing together the various organizations that have a role in ISR can help ensure that all perspectives are addressed at the onset of planning and decision-making, Welsh said. Addressing concerns that an organization may have up front, rather than later in the decision-making process, can help things run much smoother, he said.

Welsh said the JFCC for ISR is able to address such issues as ensuring that increased use of ISR is addressed in training at the service level, he said.

The JFCC’s planning work includes assessing potential risk or gaps associated with options under discussion for ISR collection, and recommends solutions to deal with those issues. It also entails synchronizing the use of global ISR assets on particular areas of interest.

The organization also works to ensure that as data is collected and processed, it is made available as widely as possible among military planners, operators, and analysts, according to the fact sheet. The organization also looks at collected data and suggests improvements for the future.

The JFCC-ISR was created by Marine Corps Gen. James Cartwright, commander of U.S. Strategic Command, in March 2005 along with similar organizations dedicated to space, global strike, missile defense, computer network operations, and weapons of mass destruction as a way of handling the various new missions that had been assigned to the Omaha, Neb.-based command in recent years. Cartwright has described the new organizations as a way of breaking with a military chain of command structure that has existed since Napoleon’s era that can at times slow decision making and close of sources of good ideas.

The JFCC-ISR was not created because the Pentagon was performing poorly in this area, but rather because there was a recognition of room for improvement, Welsh said. Adversaries today are making decisions and conducting operations at a far greater speed than in the past, requiring the Pentagon’s ISR activities to adapt to stay ahead of them, he said.

Following North Korea’s test launch of a long range ballistic missile July 4, Cartwright told the JFCCs that he wanted to see a greater focus on coordinated global intelligence collection, Welsh said. The JFCCs are now working together so that the ISR assets used to support one activity, can be used when available and appropriate to support another activity, like missile defense, he said.

Welsh acknowledges that while he has relied on ISR products “as a demander of service” from an operational and planning perspective in past jobs, he lacks a direct background in the field. But being what he describes as an “idiot” in ISR can work to the JFCC’s advantage, as it enables him to ask questions that others may not have thought of that lead to new approaches, Welsh said.

“I’m not tied to any construct or way of doing business because I don’t know it,” Welsh said. “I am able to ask some pretty stupid questions sometimes and open some doors that maybe people didn’t open, not because they didn’t want to, but because they’re in the habit of doing things a certain way.”

Welsh said that there has been “some friction” between the JFCC and officials who have spent long careers in the ISR field, primarily because of the tension that comes with breaking tradition. As the JFCC demonstrates the value of a new approach, Welsh said he expects officials will embrace it.

Forcing the Pentagon’s current ISR infrastructure to adapt to the JFCC’s ideas can be a tougher challenge than bringing the personnel on board with the concept, Welsh said. In some cases, organizations did not design their classified computer and phone networks in a fashion that made it easy for other military and intelligence users to connect to those systems later, which could make it difficult to foster a more collaborative environment for planning and information sharing, he said.

One area of ISR collection that is becoming an increasingly large part of the JFCC’s portfolio is space, Welsh said. When the JFCC first stood up in 2005, it focused on the use of airborne and maritime assets during planning, he said. However, it has found that as it attempts to address the needs of ISR users, space systems need to be considered from the beginning of planning even if they are not part of the final solution, he said.

This has led the JFCC-ISR to work on improving its awareness of satellite-based capabilities, and establish better lines of communications with intelligence agencies that deal with space collection like the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency and the National Security Agency, Welsh said.

JFCC-ISR at a Glance

Mission: Develops integrated strategies and plans for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance activities in global support of combatant commanders and national-level decision makers.

Parent Organization: U.S. Strategic Command

Top Official: U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Michael D. Maples

Deputy: U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. Mark A. Welsh

Year Established: 2005

Location: Bolling Air Force Base, Washington

Current Budget: Classified

Personnel: Currently about 60; expected to grow to 106