Operationalizing Joint Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance for seamless teamwork

A Canadian military member points to a white board while other military members sit at computers and take notes.
Canadian Armed Forces members conduct a brainstorming session during a realistic scenario as part of Joint Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance training in Kingston, Ontario on April 13, 2018. Photo: DND/CAF.

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By Ashley Black, Canadian Joint Operations Command Public Affairs

Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) operations are most successful when CAF members have the right tools and skills to work together seamlessly. This is a quality that the joint intelligence branch of the Canadian Joint Operations Command is improving through Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR) training conducted at the Canadian Army Simulation Centre in Kingston, Ontario.

ISR is an operations and intelligence activity in support of the planning and execution of military operations. It involves collecting information about events occurring near operations and providing it to the right people at the right time. ISR is closely linked with targeting, which is the process of prioritizing targets on operations in order to select kinetic or non-kinetic responses to them.

For example, once a commander has been assigned an area of operations, the ISR team initiates collection operations by tasking assets to gather further details. Then, the ISR team would pass on their findings to target development analysts who would analyze the information and intelligence collected. Next, targeting specialists would decide which steps should be taken to address the situation.

Recognizing a training deficiency, the CAF recently partnered with Raven ISR Consultancy, a company from the United Kingdom, to educate sailors, soldiers, and aviators from across the CAF about ISR and their roles within the enterprise.

“We’re here to build a sustainable Joint ISR work force for Canada,” explained Neil McCall, a former Royal Air Force officer and the chief instructor with Raven ISR Consultancy. “Working with the CAF, we’ve designed a Joint ISR training package that is developing a strong knowledge of Joint ISR operations throughout the air, land, and maritime components, and Joint organizations.”

The training is divided into two courses. First, there is a five-day orientation which comprises mainly lectures and theory-based education designated for all ISR-related trades. The second is designed for ISR collection managers and will eventually evolve into a pass-or-fail course. During the four-week course, students must apply what they’ve learned in theory to a realistic scenario.

The focus of the course is joint ISR, which refers to the multi-trade, multi-service and multinational environment in which ISR often takes place. One main observation made on operations is that effective joint ISR is extremely important to success. This training allows for students to exercise appropriate responses to multiple scenarios in which they must decide when to task assets to go out and collect information. Students also train how to focus on specific areas of information that are needed for targeting and for commanders to make key operational decisions.

“It’s helping bridge the theory side to that really practical side,” said Lieutenant Rachel Benjamin who recently attended the training. “It’s really been a wonderful experience to take the theory and make it concrete.”

Students ranging from Privates with limited experience to Master Warrant Officers and Captains with decades of ISR experience can all walk away from the training with an understanding of new processes and increased knowledge.

Warrant Officer Denis Charron is an experienced Intelligence Operator in the CAF. He recently attended the course to stay updated on ISR processes. “For me, this course was important to keep my skills fresh given that I manage the intelligence collections plans of my unit,” he explained.

The training challenges students to focus on the areas in which they may have limited experience and pushes them to reach new heights in their trades. “I’m proud of when I gave an impromptu brief to my Commanding Officer as she came through,” explained Corporal Connor Mcleod. “That was a challenge for me, but I was told it was a good brief so I’m very happy with that.”

The training is still in its early stages and continues to evolve as more requirements are identified. However, it is already a big step in the right direction for the CAF and the broader ISR enterprise, central to the targeting enterprise.

“Canada has the right approach,” said Gareth Tennant, a reservist in the British Armed Forces and an assistant instructor with Raven ISR Consultancy. “The quality of work I’ve seen here is equal, if not better, to what I’ve seen on operations in real life. What’s really great here is that it doesn’t really matter what rank or what level of experience the students have got here; the quality of work seems to be in-line across the board.”

The training will be institutionalised as a permanent training requirement and is available to CAF members of ISR-related trades by contacting the Canadian Joint Operations Command, J2 Capability Integration. The training is also available to civilian employees of National Defence in ISR professions.

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