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Reconnaissance Office Transforms Space ISR

By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Oct. 4, 2004 – The National Reconnaissance Office serves as the nation's eyes and ears in space. And while other organizations are working to transform military intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance on the ground, the NRO is looking at that transformation with a bird's-eye view.

Air Force Brig. Gen. Irving L. Halter Jr., deputy director for national systems operations with the Joint Staff and deputy director for military support at the NRO, said his organization is not your typical intelligence agency. The NRO is very systems-focused.

"We do not produce intelligence products," Halter said during the ISR Transformation Government Symposium in Denver last week. "We don't make the intelligence you get. We make the intelligence you get better," he said, making a play on the advertising slogan for the BASF audio and video company.

This, he added, is done through close ties with other intelligence agencies like the National Security Agency, National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, and U.S. Strategic Command. Not only does NRO serve the intelligence community, but it also is at the nexus of the Department of Defense.

The NRO focuses on two main areas: ISR and space.

When dealing with Strategic Command, Halter said, he has to ask one defining question: "Is this a space question or a is this an ISR question?"

"It is very important that when we deal with STRATCOM that we always know under which area we're working, because our systems are at once ISR platforms (and) space platforms -- and that makes them unique in both cases," he said.

STRATCOM, according to information on its Web site, "controls military space operations, computer network operations, information operations, strategic warning and intelligence assessments as well as global strategic planning." In addition, the command "is responsible for both early warning of, and defense against, missile attack and long-range conventional attacks."

Halter led the Operation Iraqi Freedom Phase I "lessons learned" effort after the initial major combat operations had concluded, he said. Officials worked to reflect on what had been learned, especially in comparison to Operation Desert Storm.

"As you know, General (Norman) Schwarzkopf and others came out of Desert Storm decrying the fact that the national systems had not supported him at a level where he needed them to," Halter said. "Part of the reason my organization and others were created in NSA, NGA and other places was to make sure that didn't happen again.

"The NRO systems, in ways that are acknowledged and unacknowledged, are part of the way we break things and kill bad guys."

The bad news to all of this is it's expensive and unforgiving, he said. It comes down to "Can we?" "Should we?" "May we?"

"Can we?" is the jurisdiction of the NRO. It is the organization that determines whether the technology and the architecture available. "Should we?" falls is the military and intelligence communities and is a strategic decision. "May we?" is a policy and law question.

Dealing strictly with questions of capability and availability, Halter said he has to remind his "new friends in the space world" that being choosy is the best way to go.

"Be careful what you choose to want to do from space. Don't choose to do it just because we can," Halter said, "because we can't afford to do everything we can do from space. We have to do the right thing from space."

The expense of gathering information from space has led to the death of the single-customer, single-system situation. The only way around exorbitant costs is through shared architecture, he said.

"There is no way that we can any longer afford to have a single customer for a satellite system," Halter said. "These are going to have to solve lots of different people's problems. And again, it's architecture that can do that.

With multitasking space systems that gather incredible amounts of intelligence comes the need to share that data, Halter said. Nothing should be withheld from anyone with proper clearance, he said.

While he realizes that this proposition would set some people's teeth on edge, he also realizes that as important as it is to give the agencies access to each other's data, it's not entirely possible.

But what could happen if this paradigm shift is not seen is something to think about, too, he said.

"We have to think about what we lose when we don't do what I just said. Murphy's Law applies," he said. "The one piece of data that you thought you shouldn't share with anybody, I guarantee you, it's going to be the thing that would have led to the operational success we needed.

"We have learned the lesson," he added. "So we have to share, and we have to share everything."

Contact Author

Air Force Brig. Gen. Irving L. Halter Jr.

Related Sites:
National Reconnaissance Office
U.S. Strategic Command

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