Illusions of Prescriptive Control: Understanding Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Operations

  • Lieutenant Colonel Chad J. Hartman

This research project argues that the Air Force should modify its current doctrine to strike an adaptive balance between centralized and decentralized control of Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) operations. An examination of contemporary context reveals a need for ISR agility due to a complex and dynamic environment full of networked and ever-changing threats. A detailed analysis of ISR operations reveals an inherently decentralized network of platforms, sensors, communications, exploitation nodes and analytical centers the orchestration of which involves more than just efficiently managing low-density/high-demand aircraft. Recent ISR operations also reveal an initial paradigm shift from a centralized and bureaucratic theater collection management process to the mission command inspired delegation of ISR authorities. An investigation of modern enemies indicates a hybrid mix of regular and irregular adversaries that increasingly offer only ambiguous and fleeting targeting opportunities. The study concludes by recommending three proposals designed to optimize ISR operations: adaptive control; the use of mission-type orders to focus the ISR enterprise on theater lines of effort; and the creation of expeditionary ISR support teams.