Syria is a ‘Laboratory’ for the Air War of the Future

A boom operator, assigned to the 340th Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron, prepares to refuel an aircraft from a KC-135 Stratotanker above Southwest Asia, July 20, 2017.

 

US airmen are rapidly developing and remixing new technologies and techniques in the fight against ISIS, but sometimes you can’t beat the tried and true.

ISIS doesn’t have an Air Force, but the Syrian skies are nevertheless a rapidly evolving “laboratory” for air warfare, said U.S. military leaders, who described how the U.S. is fusing cyber attacks with real bombs and using open-source intelligence to find and strike targets.

Lt. Gen. Jeffrey Harrigian, who leads U.S. Air Forces Central Command, described a “dynamic targeting tool” that lets analysts and airmen at al Udeid Air Base in Qatar send the latest targeting information to airborne pilots and ground-based commanders alike. “The tool pulls together everything from the intelligence background to show me all the data on that target. Where did that target generate, how many times have we looked at it? And how do we communicate that, ultimately.”

Developed with the Defense Innovation Unit Experimental, the targeting tool replaces “a bunch of different applications,” from publicly available (but modified) apps like Google Earth to more exotic ones. Crucially, it runs on a single computer, replacing apps that ran on several physically separate PCs. Analysts and airmen “basically had to go air-gapping from one system to another. You can imagine the amount of risk we were buying with respect to coordinates being passed, elevations, that sort of thing, that are critical to executing the actual execution of a target” said Harrigian.

A much more agile data targeting system is essential as the Air Force incorporates a greater variety of data into targeting and mixes live fire with cyber operations. “One of the things we’ve talked about — we have to accept it’s out there now — is how do you use that publicly available information” for targeting and operations in real time, said Harrigian. “I can tell you inside the [combined air operations center,] we are being very aggressive about monitoring what’s happening in social media and then leveraging that from a reporting perspective or do some analysis about what’s going on with the enemy.”

The Phone Where the United States Calls the Russians

Technology aside, the air mission over Syria is also growing increasingly complicated as Russian and Syrian forces converge on ISIS’s remaining strongholds. Over the weekend, a Russian fighter targeted a group of Syrian Defense Forces working from the same base as U.S. advisors. The strike prompted an urgent phone call from U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.

In Syria itself, a single telephone — the “deconfliction line” — remains the main tool for averting catastrophic collisions with Russian forces On Monday, Harrigian gave a rare glimpse into life next to Putin’s army, which gets better or worse depending on whether the Russians are replacing seasoned troops with newbies.

Full article: Syria is a ‘Laboratory’ for the Air War of the Future (Defense One)

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