Air Force's New Intelligence Chief Explains Vision for Future of ISR

Maj. Gen. VeraLinn Jamieson, director of Intelligence, Air Combat Command, Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va., visited the 552nd Air Control Wing and the Oklahoma City Air Logistics Complex. (Air Force photo/Kelly White)
Maj. Gen. VeraLinn Jamieson, director of Intelligence, Air Combat Command, Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va., visited the 552nd Air Control Wing and the Oklahoma City Air Logistics Complex. (Air Force photo/Kelly White)

Like her nickname, Lt. Gen. VeraLinn "Dash" Jamieson is taking her ideas for the Air Force intelligence community and running with them -- full speed ahead.

Jamieson -- who in November became the service's deputy chief of staff for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance on the Air Staff at the Pentagon, known as the A2 -- has begun a developmental phase she believes will take intelligence gathering, and ISR missions involving platforms such as the MQ-9 Reaper, the Distributed Common Ground System (DCGS), and the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, well into 2030.

"I think [what] I'm actually addressing, I'm starting with the 'I' in ISR," Jamieson said in an interview with on Feb. 15. "I came up with a vision that encompasses where I think we are, and how do we support the [Air Force's] strategic master plan, the [defense] secretary's national strategy, and address our [major command] concerns. I'm a simple person: Win today, prepare for tomorrow. And I thought all of the airmen could understand, 'What does that mean?' [The plan] addresses how do we enable and become successful in today's fight, while not ignoring tomorrow's ... [threats]."

Jamieson's ideas include an open architecture structure to data sharing; streamlining and threading together battlespace intelligence; as well as a fusion warfare concept, or merging capabilities within space, cyber, DCGS and signals intelligence communities and "integrating them into tomorrow's mission planning," she wrote in a 2015 thesis published by The Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies.

She is the first female intelligence officer to be a director of ISR for the Air Force in more than a decade, and the first intelligence officer to hold the A2 position.

"It's quite an honor," she said during the interview at the Pentagon. "I'm breaking a lot of glass that way -- and why do I think that? Because there had never been one," she said of her intelligence background.

Airmen know Jamieson as Dash. "Everyone assumes it's a fighter pilot call sign. It's not," she said. As a baby, "I was late to walk, about 15 months, and my father said, 'Oh my gosh, there goes our little dash!' Because I just stood up and ran for the first time. No little step here and there. I just ran."

Jamieson spoke with about the importance of analysis; young, but seasoned airmen; and even artificial intelligence beyond the Air Force. Her comments have been edited for clarity and brevity.


What are some immediate changes airmen may notice in the ISR community in your first few months in the position?


The A2 does not have a senior analyst. It has not had a senior analyst to dialogue [with] the [intelligence community] and with MAJCOMs for a couple of years. So I hired a senior analyst.

And we're hiring Air Force mission managers to look at the "four-plus-one" threat -- Russia, China, North Korea, Iran, and [violent extremist organizations] -- and then some, that's regionally aligned, and the Air Force core mission area, the functions that we have to do in a joint war fight. So that we would have threat expertise from that to establish Air Force mission managers to drive sound analysis so that we could enable effective targeting, so that we could identify the collection gaps to maximize our operations and intelligence operations endeavors.

And we have to do that with a clear infrastructure. I've sent all that out to the field for comment, and I've gotten very positive comments. And I have said, "It's not that we're going back to basics, but as one of you, as a 14N intelligence [officer] professional, analysis is the foundation that's going to drive everything." Let's ensure that we have the tools, the ability … and the critical thinking skills to actually drive everything with analysis.


With mission managers, how does that change the scope of operations?


We have not had an Air Force mission manager that says, "Here's all the analysis that the Air Force is doing in addition to what the intelligence community is doing -- such as [Defense Intelligence Agency], [National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency], the [Director of National Intelligence] -- here's how we could identify gaps and submit collection requirements based on Air Force needs to do our part of the joint mission." So we're going to broaden that and make sure that we … can have functional Air Force mission managers.

Roughly three weeks ago, in the reorganization of the team, I created for our "win today" [motto] the MAJCOM support cell [at the Pentagon], which we've never had before. [Pacific Air Forces], [U.S. Air Forces in Europe], [Air Force Special Operations Command], [Space Command], Global Strike -- all now [have] a team that they can call if they can't find in their own way, "How do I find some collection help?" We can now help them from a holistic view instead of them trying to go on their own. They now have a reachback center that can take their questions through the entire Air Staff, A2, A3 [Operations, Plans and Requirements], A10 [Strategic Deterrence and Nuclear Integration] … and ensure that we are supporting the MAJCOMS entirely.

We've passed out the phone numbers, we've passed out the IP addresses, chat room [destinations] so that they at any time reach out. Great example: North Korea launches a missile. We can say, "Here are the products the Air Force has put out, the Joint Staff has put out, the NGA has put out," so they don't have to go searching, they just get it … We had to get airmen like a "1-800 MAJCOM" so it's easy and everybody remembers it.


How do you expect intelligence airmen to train for the next high-end threat?


Culture change is going to drive actual training [of airmen]. Because the way we train now is, if you're assigned to a space wing, you're going to find out about that space mission ... you don't really look at, "Is there a network of systems approach to this?"

For example, fifth generation. It's not just one penetrating aircraft. It is a network of penetration ... from space, air and cyber together. If we can get there, then we are going to be able to fuse things together inside the adversary's decision loop cycle at a time and place of our choosing because we're going to spread that data and have a common-knowledge sight picture. Because we're thinking three-dimensionally, multi-domain integration -- where right now, we're not quite there.

And when I say fifth generation, I'm also not just talking fighters. I'm talking space, cyber, command and control, penetrating ISR -- it's all of that. It's how do we really share at the tactical edge and also back for strategic insights, how are we fusing this data for lethal or nonlethal effects that we want to create to cause confusion … to our adversary.

For example, [I talked to this] radar analyst airman … he is a 9S professional [Scientific Applications Specialist], which is not intelligence, more scientific and mathematical. But ... because of all that's going on in the Middle East, and what's going on in North Korea with the nuclear launch[es] there, and the [Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action] on Iran [nuclear deal], seven weeks ago [he] took the initiative and signed up for nuclear engineering classes to make sure, "I have the right analytical skills and scientific skills which could enable me to grow and dedicate to the mission." The field is hearing and seeing the focus that we're putting on [our airmen].


You've mentioned in your paper the idea of a "combat cloud" to uplink information for the Air Force to collectively share. How would that work?


I think of it more now as a … data lake. And we have to make sure that everyone has a fishing pole that can go into the lake to catch the fish. The fish are the data. So you have to have a common operating infrastructure where the data can reside so that you can pull out the data that you need.

Our approach has been, "I'm going to build a sensor and it's going to collect a specific thing. It's going to watch, it's going to be [full-motion video-like]." That's what you build. Well if you're only watching, you don't hear anything, you don't see signals, you don't have differentiation ... because you're just looking at a picture. So I take that and say, "I don't want to build a sensor. I want an open architecture where the data can reside."

And if my question is if I want to see something, I can dip in and say what do I see? But I want to go back, dip in, what did I hear? And go back, dip in, and is there a change detection I could put in to filter some things out? … Maybe over for a specific space in time?... And through automation, I didn't have to [review] this time and time and time again.


Are you pushing for an artificial intelligence that can do that?


Absolutely. Absolutely want to go there. But before you get to artificial intelligence, you have to get to automation, and what does that mean? It means we're really developing algorithms, so we then have to build trust in the algorithms. ... It's 2017 and we say algorithms, and we think we're really out there. An algorithm in the old days when I grew up -- that was called a checklist. It's how I problem-solve.

So as we build and understand what we put into the algorithm, we build trust. When we build trust, we then have a confidence level of the data we're looking at. And when we have a confidence level and we share it with our operators, then we go, we can jump over the hurdle … a confidence in what we are assessing.

So then you can go, now that I actually have machine to machine and I have a confidence the machine is actually providing what I want it to provide ... I can then go to an artificial intelligence that then can start sensing on its own because I have built the system with confidence. ... For example, ISR ops, or intelligence, or pick space, cyber, any operator of those, we sit down and go, "We want facial recognition. Here's how we're going to build the algorithm." Test it, [see] if it works. Then we can go, "Machine, here's the algorithm" … Then we can say, "Artificial intelligence, I need to take this algorithm, [plus] here was the old pattern of life, which is a projection, where are you taking this in a sensing grid?"

Artificial intelligence is really going to be linked with human and machine getting me to projections and where it can go to eliminate 20 billion faces, let's say, to the one in the nanosecond.


How independent would the A.I. be?


Remember R2D2 [from "Star Wars"]? In the future, you'd have a little R2D2 because you have fed everything into [the machine] and as you are conducting your mission -- at the tactical edge or the analysis -- it's then saying, "Here's where we are, this is what I'm assessing, here's the next thing." But it's the human-machine interface. Because the human's going to be the decision maker.

Where we're talking -- I would say this is 2030. But to bring it back to our airmen today, it all starts with analysis and critical thinking, and we have to value that and value our airmen because the science tells us in this interconnected world that our peers and near peers have got technology edge. In 2030, there may not be a technological advantage. But I firmly believe there's always going to be a human-enabled advantage -- and that takes form in our airmen.


What's your outlook for airmen looking to begin a career in intel?


I think it's an absolutely exciting time to be in intelligence. The first thing that comes to my mind is social media [these days] because we all have access to social media. And how do we -- not just from an intelligence perspective -- but how are humans now communicating? Social media is, "How do we enable everyone to communicate?"

That helps you look at getting your mind to the future -- we're sharing, communicating, floating up ideas and innovating so quickly, it's exciting. The Millennials, when I explain the data link [to airmen ages 18 to 34], they're already there. They get all of this. They live … on all the access to data that is out there. There's so much more out there to really get an analytic mind around to help our nation's security.

-- Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at Follow her on Twitter at @Oriana0214.

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