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Published Airpower Journal - Winter 1987-88

US Air Force Operations and Intelligence

Getting It Together

Capt Brian P. Tice

ONE OF the most important priorities for the military lately is the emphasis on "jointness." We stress the need for better cooperation between us and our allies and also between our own services in order to make the most of our limited resources. Based on personal experience, I firmly believe an important issue for those of us in Air Force intelligence is "jointness" between ourselves and the people we support--those in operations.

A good operations/intelligence interface is critical in peacetime because it is critical in wartime. Such an interface provides operations people with the intelligence support they need to fight effectively in a war. It also gives operations a good "feel" for the type of information that intelligence can realistically provided them during a conflict. At the same time, it makes intelligence more responsive to operational needs while creating more knowledgeable and credible intelligence personnel. The resulting trust between both parties will serve us well in a future confrontation.

However, there are two obstacles to good interface that must be overcome if we want to make the most of our limited resources. First, junior intelligence people at the wing level often lack job knowledge, and this sometimes results in a lack of credibility. Second, the lack of unity between operations and intelligence results in unrealistic expectations from both parties because one side does not know how the other side does business. The following ideas are proposed solutions to help overcome these obstacles.

The lack of job knowledge on the part of junior intelligence people at the wing level can be corrected in several ways. First, assignment selection procedures must emphasize picking the best students from the US Air Force Academy, the Reserve Officer Training Corps, or Officer Training School who are entering the intelligence career field for wing assignments. These positions demand people who require the least supervision, yet who are closest to the cutting edge of the Air Force. Second, operations people should be sent TDY to the intelligence school to orient future wing intelligence officers on what operators need and do not need from their intelligence people before the latter arrive at the wing. Since students at the school already know where they are being assigned, the appropriate Tactical Air Command, Strategic Air Command, and Military Airlift Command operators could orient the appropriate students to make them smarter faster. This would be especially helpful in short-tour areas like Korea. This step would also force operators to think about (in a more structured way) what they really want from their intelligence people. Third, to correct the experience shortfall at the wing, intelligence personnel should be highly encouraged by the Air Force to serve two wing tours before promotion to lieutenant colonel or master sergeant. Fourth, when a new intelligence person arrives at a wing, he or she should start a training program that emphasizes three areas: the threat, our forces, and exercises.

The threat should be learned first and in depth. Knowledge should go beyond enemy force capabilities to include enemy weaknesses and how he intends to use his capabilities against our aircrew. In other words, we need to know enemy operating doctrine. Next, wing intelligence people should learn all they can about our aircrew and aircraft, along with their capabilities and weaknesses. They should be briefed by operations on how our aircrew are selected and trained, the capabilities of the wing's aircraft, and how we plan to use them (our operational doctrine). They should be given a walk around the aircraft as well as an opportunity to sit in the cockpit and to ask questions. Systems on the aircraft that deal with the threat (i.e., radar warning receivers) should be highlighted. Finally, within six months of arrival, new intelligence personnel should be sent to an exercise similar to Tactical Air Command's Red Flag. This allows them to see how their wing works with other units as part of the "big picture." It also allows them to work with the aircrew away from home station, which should facilitate relations between operations and intelligence.

A second obstacle to achieving good interface is the lack of unity between operations and intelligence. This results in unrealistic expectations because one "specialty" does not know how the other does business. For intelligence, knowing the aircrew, aircraft, and the mission is just the beginning. To break down this barrier, the squadron intelligence officer should not merely be attached to the squadron but should be assigned to it. He or she should live at the squadron, wear a flight suit, take an occasional flight, attend aircrew meetings, and have his or her officer effectiveness report written by the squadron commander or director of operations. In short, he or she should actually be a part of the squadron. By living with squadron mates, he or she will have a much better idea of how operators work and what is relevant to them and what is not. This would result in much more interesting and informative aircrew intelligence training and mission briefings. Similarly, operators would know what intelligence can do for them in both peacetime and wartime. The two "specialties" will become closer because each will understand on a regular basis how the other side does business.

For example, one of the ways intelligence supports operations is by extracting information from the aircrew during flight debriefings to learn more about the enemy. By accompanying operations personnel on simulated combat missions, intelligence people can learn what type and how much information an aircrew can reasonably be expected to provide. These simulated missions--especially those in which the aircraft is flying at low altitudes, evading simulated ground threats, and getting "jumped" by aggressor aircraft--will help give intelligence personnel an idea of what crewmembers can and cannot see or hear from the cockpit concerning the enemy. This experience will also give them a greater awareness of the physical and psychological stresses an aircrew must endure.

The Air Force constantly emphasizes that there is no substitute for an aircrew "being there" in a simulated combat environment. Is not this also true of intelligence people who must support them in a war? And yet you would be surprised how tough it is for intelligence people to fly even one such mission. One example from my own experience comes to mind. Our wing was subordinate to an air division commander who thought such flights were strictly joy rides. He believed that any Air Force officer who needed an "incentive ride" should be selling insurance for Prudential. This senior operations officer clearly did not understand the intelligence business. Otherwise he would have known that such flights would improve the chances of his crews living to fight another day. Although operations people are beginning to gradually accept this idea, we still have a long way to go in this area.

In summary, good operations/intelligence interface is critical, and there are many things we can do to improve this interface. Although the recommended proposals are not all-inclusive and some of these measures have been adopted in piecemeal fashion, they can serve as standardized guidelines for improving relations between the two parties throughout the Air Force. Working together better will make maximum use of our limited resources and give us the edge we need to fly, fight, and win!


Capt Brian P. Tice is a student at the Defense Intelligence College. From February 1982 to June 1984, he was wing intelligence officer for the 35th Tactical Fighter Wing (F-4) at George AFB, California, and was an intelligence analyst/current intelligence briefer from June 1984 to August 1987 at Headquarters Fifth Air Force, Yokota AB, Japan. Captain Tice is a graduate of Squadron Officer School.


The conclusions and opinions expressed in this document are those of the author cultivated in the freedom of expression, academic environment of Air University. They do not reflect the official position of the U.S. Government, Department of Defense, the United States Air Force or the Air University.

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