By U.S. Army Chief Warrant Officer 3 Bill Sutherland
and Staff Sgt. Jack W. Carlson III
BAGRAM AIR FIELD, Afghanistan – Task Force ODIN-Afghanistan is one of the most technologically diverse and modern aviation units the U.S. Army has deployed under one command.
The task force’s name, which stands for Observe, Detect, Identify, and Neutralize, was first established in Iraq, denoting the unit’s unique capabilities and assets.
“Task Force ODIN, an Intelligence and Security Command forward-deployed unit, is the largest single aerial intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance unit ever deployed,” said Lt. Col. Paul Rogers of Sparta, Mo., TF ODIN- A commander.
Consisting of four specially-equipped, highly-skilled aviation and intelligence companies and several detachments, the task force operates the latest sensor technology on a variety of aerial platforms. Soldiers and civilians use the latest software to process, exploit and disseminate critical mission data.
This data is collected 24/7 over thousands of square miles of hostile territory, then networked and distributed worldwide.
“My job is to ensure the systems are used to their maximum potential, essentially completing the ‘last tactical mile’ in the process of employing them effectively,” said Rogers.
Task Force ODIN aircrews fly in all weather conditions, conducting ISR missions and are capable of on-demand kinetic strike missions and continuously push mission data to signals, imagery, and intelligence analysts. ODIN analysts train for months following their military occupational specialty schools, specifically for the TF ODIN mission.
“These are the best of the best, soldiers at the top of their game,” said Maj. Jerry Brennan of Beaver Creek, Ore., a commander with TF ODIN-A. “I affectionately refer to our aircrews as 'Jedi Knights,' because of the combined 130,000 flight hours of experience our pilots brought with them to this deployment.”
Aerial sensor operators, the enlisted personnel onboard all manned ISR missions, collect intelligence for U.S., European, and theater ground-based processing, exploitation and dissemination cell analysts. The analysts then process and send their products out in near real-time for supported ground units to take action.
Forty-seven Army National Guard soldiers make up ODIN’s B company, 306th Aerial Exploitation Battalion, augmented with active-duty aircrews from all over the U.S. operating Medium Altitude Reconnaissance Surveillance System aircraft. The MARSS aircraft B Company operates in Afghanistan are commercially-available King Air 300s equipped with advanced mission sensor packages.
“Company B is essentially an ad-hoc unit comprised of state flight detachments and volunteers from 11 states,” said Brennan. “Our aerial sensor operators have been hand-selected for this mission based on having successfully completed seven weeks of highly-specialized training required to accomplish this mission.”
Company B aircrews and their assigned aircraft make up just a few of the assets and capabilities assigned to the specialized Army aviation task force.
Task Force ODIN operates a variety of additional fixed-wing airplanes with an array of capabilities. However, what makes it unique is its blend between operating manned and unmanned aircraft systems to support a variety of classified mission sets.
“Task Force ODIN is a mix of aerial ISR systems that comprise some of the most technologically advanced sensors of their kind,” said Rogers. “These systems, in many cases, don’t exist anywhere else.”
Task Force ODIN aircrews, analysts, and staff are also developing tactics, techniques and procedures using this unique mix of technology to assist the Army in applying unmanned systems to future armed conflicts, peacekeeping operations, and civil support missions.
“The Warrior Alpha unmanned aerial surveillance company is compiling and pushing lessons learned from our experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan to incoming UAS units,” said Capt. Harold Turner of Newport, Vt., TF ODIN- A.
Their groundbreaking efforts assist ongoing initiatives to develop and refine military doctrine and domestic policy concerning UAS operations in the national airspace system.
ODIN has repeatedly demonstrated the value of integrating manned and unmanned assets to accomplish their missions. This “unblinking stare” capability has contributed to the seizure or elimination of hundreds of high-value objectives, IEDs and dangerous weapons caches and bomb-making materials.
“By passing on ‘lessons learned’ to incoming UAS units we will significantly reduce the spin up time once they arrive in theater,” said Turner. “We are specifically working with the Army’s incoming Grey Eagle UAS program while they field this latest and most capable system.”
Unmanned aircraft systems and their advancing technological capabilities are evolving at a rapid pace, assisting not only military units, but civilian law-enforcement organizations as well.
Opportunities exist for unmanned aircraft to support a variety of operations such as border security, search and rescue, natural or man-made disasters, consequence management, highway and pipeline patrol, wildlife and fishery management and forest fire control. As an example, the Department of Homeland Security Customs and Border Protection’s fleet of unmanned aircraft are conducting a number of these operations along the land and maritime border regions of the United States.
As combat operations in Afghanistan wind down, the demand for ODIN’s unique capabilities has not diminished.
“The demand for TF ODIN’s unmanned assets is absolutely increasing,” said said Maj. Eric McKinney of Dedham, Mass., operations officer with TF ODIN- A. “The drawdown of U.S. forces in Afghanistan lends itself to increased UAS operations in theater because of the remote operability and reduced manning requirements.”