Stalk the enemy

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Shawn Ayers
  • 11th Intelligence Squadron Commander
It’s after midnight and four, highly specialized intelligence analysts sit on a dimly-lit operations floor. The full-motion video analyst diligently stares at his computer screen for hours, monitoring a compound located thousands of miles away for any activity associated with the target. A second FMV analyst watches her computer screen while simultaneously creating tailored products for the supported Special Operations Forces located in theater. Behind these two analysts sits the geospatial analyst, tediously developing detailed products used by SOF for mission planning. In charge of the crew is a fourth analyst, the screener, who remains in constant communication with the ground commander in theater and the aircraft pilot. Calmly, these analysts sit, observe and communicate throughout the mission.

After hours of observation, suddenly everything changes. A male that the analysts quickly identify as “the target,” walks into the compound with a weapon slung over his shoulder. They have been stalking and analyzing “the target” for months and know his daily routine. The multi-source analysts in the fusion cell, co-located on the operations floor, provide amplifying signals intelligence to aid in the confirmation of “the target’s” identity. The ground commander positively identifies “the target” based on the intelligence provided. After much coordination between the entire crew – the analysts, the ground commander, and the pilot – the decision is made to strike “the target.” The analysts’ moods shift from calm to one of deadly precision—each one has a job to do to ensure the correct target is struck. Minutes later, a missile is fired and successfully impacts “the target.”

One hour later, the sun rises at Hurlburt Field indicating the time for crew changeover. Their mission is over but these Air Commandos of the 11th Intelligence Squadron will return in exactly 12 hours to do it all over again.

Deployed-in-garrison, these Air Commandos provide an unblinking-eye to SOF operators by exploiting FMV collected from manned and unmanned assets operating globally, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The mission entails surveillance of adversaries often located in borderless gray zones and involving proto-state organizations with members of different cultures, customs, dress, weapons and tactics. Continuous training is required to maintain a combat-ready force able to rapidly adapt to new enemies, new targets and new operating areas in order to hold a decisive intelligence advantage.

In developing a combat-ready force, the 11th IS provides analysts with specialized training in SOF missions along with intense study of the adversary’s culture and tactics. The unit devotes up to four months to develop each imagery and intelligence operations analyst into a combat and mission-ready Air Commando trained and mentally prepared to execute combat operations.

They begin their training at the 371st Special Operations Combat Training Squadron. The multi-source analysts attend the Air Force Special Operations Command Intelligence Formal Training Unit, where they receive a broad-brush introduction into everything AFSOC. The FMV analysts attend the Distributed Ground System-SOF IFTU for an introduction into SOF-specific analysis. This training is followed by three weeks of mission-qualification academics at the 11th IS, where analysts view training videos to develop their skills and gain exposure to the realities of SOF operations. They then transition to the operations floor and train alongside an instructor on real-world SOF missions. This segment of their training can last anywhere from a few weeks to two months, depending on how quickly the analyst is able to successfully prosecute a variety of targets and provide the time-sensitive, actionable intelligence needed to facilitate the kill and capture of high-value targets.

Once certified in their crew position, each Air Commando receives hours of continuation training each week to stay abreast of changing adversary tactics, operating locations and product requirements. Based on taskings during each shift, an analyst may support several missions operating on different continents with very dissimilar adversaries and product requirements. Through their training and indoctrination, these Air Commandos are able to mentally refocus at high velocity to provide the specialized intelligence they have been trained and equipped to do. The 11th IS delivers and employs combat-ready Air Commandos to stalk the enemy – any time, any place.