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By Tech. Sgt. Nick Wilson
Air Combat Command Public Affairs
The U.S. Department of Defense receives a significant amount of its intelligence from the Air Force Distributed Common Ground System, which simply put, is an enterprise of globally networked analysts and cyber professionals linked together by a global communications architecture.
Although geographically separated, the sites work together to provide world-wide intelligence to multiple theaters of operation.
The 497th Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance Group at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia, houses Distributed Ground System-1. In daily operations, U.S. Air Force intelligence Airmen utilize the expertise of U.S. Army ground liaison officers to translate Army operational and tactical terminology and graphics in operations orders to verbiage that Airmen can understand.
“They form a critical node that ensures our analytical efforts are harmonized and synchronized with the ground scheme of maneuver and that we are contributing to the attainment of the supported commander’s objectives,” said U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Sean Piccirilli, 497th Operations Support Squadron commander. “They provide an unparalleled level of situational awareness that ensures we are able to pivot in response to the changes in a dynamic battlespace.”
In other words, Army ground liaison officers translate the warfighting playbook so the quarterbacks in the Air Force intelligence community can throw the ball right into the hands of receivers on the frontlines.
Prior to 2009, during Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom, the DGS-1 intelligence community relied on Air Force Reservists, Air Force National Guardsmen and civilian contractors to translate Army terminology into Air Force verbiage. In 2010 the 4th Battlefield Coordination Detachment moved a U.S. Army Central Ground Liaison Detachment to DGS-1 to better support joint operations in the U.S. Central Command (USCENTCOM) area of responsibility.
Additionally, the scope of DoD’s mission has increased over the last decade, which therefore increased the need for intelligence support for warfighters on the ground.
“If you go back 10 years ago, we had over 100,000 troops in Iraq and Afghanistan,” said U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Jeremy Graham, 497th OSS ground liaison officer. “The capacity of the intelligence enterprise has grown and become more complex while our troop strength downrange has decreased.”
Having U.S. Army support at DGS-1 has been key to maintaining relationships between the Air Force intelligence community and the deployed ground forces across the globe.
In addition to establishing relationships, the U.S. Army support also adds value by helping DGS-1 build and maintain trust with their supported units, which is a critical ingredient in enabling the Air Force to effectively and collaboratively tackle some of CENTCOM’s most complex intelligence problems.
“U.S. Army Central stations ground liaison detachments with fighter wings, bomber wings and air mobility wings under Air Combat Command,” said U.S. Army Maj. Nathan Gunter, 497th OSS ground liaison officer. “The ground liaison detachment at Langley is the only one assigned to an intelligence wing. We’re unique in ACC because there’s only one of us directly supporting the ISR mission.”
“While the DGS has multiple sites supporting the mission downrange, there’s only one ground liaison detachment supporting the DGS,” he continued. “We plan to support more DGS sites in the coming years with U.S. Army intelligence specialists working alongside U.S. Air Force intelligence specialists.”
An increased U.S. Army presence would also greatly benefit other elements of the U.S. Air Force intelligence community, especially within the targeting enterprise, Piccirilli said.
“ISR is one of the Air Force’s five core missions and having an embedded GLO team ensures that the Army can effectively leverage our unrivaled expertise in this area,” Piccirilli explained. “We see the intelligence we produce as a force multiplier for the land component, and it ultimately contributes to making them the most lethal Army in the world.”
Additionally, DGS-1 also enhances lethality and readiness for Air Combat Command and combatant commanders downrange.
“We help ensure our Army partners are able to use overwhelming force against an adversary, applying precision fires wherever it is required in the battlespace,” Piccirilli said. “At the same time, the Air Force is able to leverage some of the Army’s unique skillsets, including their robust human intelligence capabilities that help drive our targeting process.”
Those robust intelligence capabilities also play a role in keeping warfighters safe so they can return to their families in one piece.
“The methods we use go beyond simply processing, exploitation and dissemination (PED),” Piccirilli said. “As traditional PED’s demise is imminent, I believe the DGS’s most impactful role in keeping warfighters safe is in executing time-dominant fusion, which is a type of analysis that concentrates on identifying elements that are new or previously unknown in the battlespace in order to optimize multi-discipline collection.”
Ultimately, the U.S. Army’s ground liaison mission creates a strategic enabler for senior leaders in multiple services. They serve as the air component’s touchpoint with the land component and help ensure a multi-domain perspective is applied when planning and executing air operations.
“Say for instance, you have a pond that’s very placid and you throw a pebble in the pond,” Graham began. “What’s going to happen? It’s going to cause a ripple effect right? When we’re helping out and when we’re doing the coordination, we’re not just throwing one rock, we’re throwing fist-fulls of pebbles in there to create that ripple effect to support the larger mission. So even though it’s one small thing, together they make a much larger impact.”
This multi-domain approach provides a combatant commander with a multitude of options for the employment of forces to satisfy a variety of objectives across the range of military operations.
“The integration of joint capabilities is an operational imperative because the United States fundamentally applies combat power as part of a joint team,” Piccirilli said. “Each of the services organize, train, and equip their forces in different manners but they are employed by the combatant commander as part of an integrated whole that can effectively leverage each services’ distinct competencies and capabilities.”
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