One of the most important lessons to emerge from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is the importance of airborne intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR). Increasingly, U.S. forces are dependent on information acquired by and relayed from airborne platforms. The ability of ground troops to call on airborne ISR has increased their capacity to find and track insurgents. In Iraq, overhead ISR is considered absolutely indispensable to the movement of U.S. forces. This has had the effect of making U.S. forces less conspicuous and more precise in their ability to engage insurgents. In addition, airborne ISR has been critical to defeating the networks behind the improvised explosive device threat.
Airborne ISR platforms are crucial to maintaining U.S. superiority in the battle space. These platforms will also play an increasing role in the U.S. military’s future network-centric operations. Airborne ISR, especially when coupled to advanced sensors such as Gorgon Stare, is well-suited for the kinds of challenges that the Office of the Secretary of Defense believes will predominate in the near and medium-term.
The Air Force recently released its Unmanned Aerial System (UAS) Flight Plan. The vision articulated by the UAS flight plan merges the unique characteristics and capabilities of UAS with Air Force core functions and joint force priorities. The flight plan sees a future marked by global, distributed ISR operations. The UAS flight plan demonstrates that the Air Force “gets it” when it comes to airborne ISR.
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