global activities.2 The ability to carry out monitoring on a global scale will drive the importance of and dependence on intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) for our nation in the future.3 The range of ISR capabilities will expand to monitor terrorism, support irregular warfare, support power projection into anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) environments, monitor weapons of mass destruction and support arms control, defend our homeland, and provide support for response to natural disasters.4

Fiscal challenges, as always, will drive the need to allocate defense resources as efficiently as possible. This is especially true with respect to future ISR investments, because ISR touches all elements of the national security infrastructure as well as the nation’s commercial infrastructure. Today’s ISR capabilities consist of a mix of Cold War systems; modern air, space, and cyberspace systems; and a set of quick-reaction capabilities that were designed for specific point solutions. As the nation looks to the future, a key challenge will be how to integrate these existing capabilities with new capabilities to monitor the uncertain threats of the 21st century. The United States will continue to lead global efforts with capable allies and partners to ensure access to and use of the global commons. The fact that the United States operates in an integrated world and fights wars jointly and in coalitions drives the paramount need for coordinated and fully integrated ISR capabilities. The desired end state of a fully integrated ISR system drives the need for improved interoperability, commonality, and modernization overlaid on a set of standards, protocols, security, and open architectures.

Since September 2001, ISR capabilities have grown in importance and use by the Department of Defense (DoD) and the intelligence community (IC), in part because these capabilities provide information to the warfighter that serves as a force multiplier. This shared information enables better and faster decisions, precision effects, and lower risk for the commander in the field. Under the U.S. national security umbrella, the Air Force has a significant role in the acquisition, operation, and support of many ISR capabilities because it is simultaneously a user, a provider, and an operator in the Joint and coalition contexts. Air Force ISR capabilities deliver


2Although these threats need to be addressed by the Department of Defense, including all of the military services, the intelligence community, and the Department of Homeland Security, the focus of this research is directed particularly at Air Force intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance.

3“ISR” is defined as “[a]n activity that synchronizes and integrates the planning and operation of sensors, assets, and processing, exploitation, and dissemination systems in direct support of current and future operations. This is an integrated intelligence and operations function.” SOURCE: DoD. 2010. “Department of Defense Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms (Joint Publication 1-02). 8 November. As amended through 15 October 2011.” Available at Accessed February 6, 2012.

4DoD. 2012. Sustaining U.S. Global Leadership: Priorities for 21st Century Defense. January. Available at Accessed February 29, 2012.

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