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    Q+A with Lt Gen Otto about the ISR community and its future

    Q+A with Lt Gen Otto about the ISR community and its future

    Photo By Master Sgt. Darnell Cannady | U.S. Air Force Lt. Gen. Robert Otto, Deputy Chief of Staff for Intelligence,...... read more read more



    Story by Tech. Sgt. Darnell Cannady 

    480th ISR Wing

    U.S. Air Force Lt. Gen. Robert Otto, Deputy Chief of Staff for Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance, visited the 480th ISR Wing and 497th ISR Group for the last time, October 5, 2016 at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va. General Otto is scheduled to retire from active duty this month and has been a part of the ISR community as a U2 pilot, Director, AF ISR Capabilities Office, AF ISR Agency Commander and has been in his current position for the past three and a half years. He sat down for a question and answer session to share his experiences and thoughts about the ISR community and its future.

    What changes have you seen in the 480th ISRW in the last five years?

    I’ve seen a tremendous amount of change in the 480th, and much of it has been in focus and the ability to integrate immediate analysis into solving warfighter’s problems. What we’ve seen is the growth and acceptance of the DCGS Analytical Reporting Teams, and the warfighter now seeking that kind of fusion for immediate support in ways that were just ideas when I first came on the scene. The other thing is the trust that the warfighters have that the 480th can solve their vexing problems. We really are starting to get commander’s intent and then looking to the 480th and the Distributed Common Grounds System in order to solve those problems. If we go back about four years ago, we started to talk about mission type orders and now we’re seeing that as a much more accepted thing today. We talked about sensor tasking authority and how there’s more trust in the 480th to do that sort of thing. We’ve also seen the explosion in growth of the amount of missions we are doing through the 480th versus five years ago. We’ve gone from just growing out our capacity and capability to the point today where the 480th is at capacity and stressed. That’s what I’m messaging to the senior leaders: if we need to do more missions, then we need to have more Airmen. Finally, the variety of mission we’re handling is vastly different. The 480th has gone from processing nothing but high altitude work from the U-2 many years ago to five years ago doing U-2, a little bit of Global Hawk and some medium altitude. Now, we have a much greater variety of platforms and sensors to include the MC-12, Gorgon Stare, ACES Hy, and GMTI.

    How did the 480th ISRW mission support your mission as the Deputy Chief of Staff for ISR?

    Our mission, broadly, in ISR is about delivering a decision advantage through intelligence to the Component Numbered Air Force and Major Command commanders and the Combatant Commanders. What’s clear to me is that the 480th is absolutely dedicated to delivering a decision advantage. When men and women show up for a mission and take their pre-mission brief, they are thinking about how they can provide the support that will make the difference today. I saw that in high altitude, medium altitude, in the DART, and in our CLS Airmen - and that is a neat thing to observe as the head of ISR for the Air Force.

    What did you learn from the 480th ISRW Airmen you met today?

    A couple of things learned: first, we are using open source intelligence to a greater degree than I have understood before. I‘ve also learned quite a bit about some Wing initiatives that will allow the 480th to do a better job supporting our Combined Forces Air Component Commander around the planet. The agility and ingenuity that is resident in the 480th Wing is honestly legendary and it continues apace. It’s just neat to see the motivation and the tremendous drive from so many spectacular Airmen.

    What is the most important aspect of the ISR mission?

    The people are the most important aspect of the mission. We can have the right collection platforms, the right sensors, the right communication paths and all of the exploitation tools, but the secret sauce is the analysis and the critical thinking, and that comes from our Airmen. There is no way we can create a specific recipe—it’s not like baking a cake where if you follow this recipe you’ll have a perfect cake. Every situation is different. It’s the ingenuity and drive of our Airmen versus an adaptive, agile enemy that is trying to stay alive, and it is a competition every day. I believe the Airmen that we have doing Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance are hitting doubles, triples and home runs on a near daily basis.

    ISR and cyber support are inextricably linked as a mission set –Would you like to share your thoughts about the Communication Logistics Sustainment Airmen who maintain the weapon system?

    I think we have an implicit understanding that the capability comes not just from the analyst, but it’s a holistic capability that also requires the extremely important communication paths to be effective. I remember visiting one of our Distributed Ground System sites and we were looking at a certain signal. Fairly soon after we tried to remote it, the signal wasn’t all that good so I questioned the CLS folks on that. They said “Hey sir, we’ll get back to you real soon” and they worked and improved that signal while I was still on the visit. What I learned from that were a couple of things--how critical they are to providing the best quality data to our analyst for exploitation and also, what incredible professionalism and pride they take in their jobs. That’s what I’ve seen from them that really stands out. They not only want to do a good job but they want to do a good job now and that kind of responsiveness is very refreshing and important.

    Where do you see the ISR mission going in the future?

    We need to carve out some ability to train against high end fights--anti access area denial type fights--because the ability to do that decreases the likelihood that we’ll actually have to fight those fights. I believe it could have a deterring effect. I see the demand for ISR continuing to increase and becoming increasingly multi-domain. Today, if we look at the DCGS, many of the platforms and sensors we are exploiting are airborne platforms, but in the future--and especially in the contested environments--it will likely include platforms and sensors in the space and cyber domains. Oftentimes, the analysts shouldn’t particularity care what the source of the data is so long as that source helps them to answer a priority intelligence requirement. We need to focus on providing the resources to allow them to access that data.

    As you look into the future - what skillsets do you think ISR Airmen will need to develop in order to perform the mission as we go forward?

    Well I think we are going to have many of the same skillsets and then we’ll add to it. The flavors may change…for example today we have a large number of Geospatial Analyst--1N1s--who are looking at and analyzing Full Motion Video. As we create the ability to use tools and computer power to automate aspects of that, we might be able to decrease the numbers of 1N1s…but at the same time we’ll need more 1N4 all source analysts. If we’re looking at integrating the space, cyber and air domains there’s probably a greater need for all source analysts. And that’s going to include Open Source Intelligence because just as the United States has become more connected, so too are our potential adversaries. There’s just a tremendous amount of data that is available through open source today that never used to be available before. Having our Intel Airmen with the skillsets and tools to be able to access open source information to inform their analysis will be an area of emphasis in the future.

    What is the last message/piece of advice you have for the 480th ISRW?

    My message is simple….thank you! Thank you for the dedication that our Airmen put in every day to solve vexing problems that our warfighters are facing. Thank you for saving the lives of Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines through the diligence that we put forward through the DCGS. And thank you for volunteering to serve when so few Americans have chosen to do so. Our Airmen are absolutely our asymmetric advantage against our potential adversaries. We have the finest people in the United States Air Force and of the Airmen we have in the United States Air Force, our ISR Airmen constantly are bringing home the trophies from Airman Leadership School and Noncommissioned Officer Academy because they are always at the top of their class. That means we are not only accessing strong talent but we are breeding good leaders out of that pool. So I say ‘thank you’ for the work and’s making a difference.

    As you prepare to retire from Active Duty -- Do you have any last comments you'd like to share with Air Force's ISR Airmen?

    I have ended most of my e-mails and talks with Airmen by saying simply “It’s an honor to serve” and I don’t normally give the context behind that. The context was seeing a video of Jeremiah Denton, who was a POW for more than 7 years in Vietnam, climbing down the steps of a C-141 in the Philippines and saying it was an “honor to serve”. That has stuck with me and I do believe that it’s an honor to serve our country that has provided so much opportunity. It’s easy to get lost in all of the political debates about what America doesn’t do right but the neat thing is: we’re self-correcting and we continue to improve. I believe it’s truly an honor to serve this nation of ours.



    Date Taken: 10.19.2016
    Date Posted: 10.02.2019 17:33
    Story ID: 345582

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