526th IS delivers tailored ISR training scenarios to Combat Air Force Intelligence Professionals

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. AJ Hyatt
  • 363d Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance Wing

The 526th Intelligence Squadron (526 IS) pivots its mission.  
The Nellis AFB-based squadron seeks to deliver tailored intelligence training scenarios to units worldwide, expanding the reach of synthetic training to the desktops of analysts globally. The former mission of the 526 IS was to provide advanced training to AF DCGS professionals supporting Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) aircraft primarily at RED FLAG exercises. Hosted three times a year by the 414th Combat Training Squadron, RED FLAG provides aircrews a high-end training experience via intense, simulated air combat sorties in the safety of a training environment.  However, a recent study conducted by ACC revealed that approximately 10 percent of intelligence professionals were given the opportunity to participate in a RED FLAG or similar Large Force Exercise (LFE).
A December 2021 memo co-signed by both Commanders of the 480th ISR Wing and 363rd ISR Wing, recognized that future exercise participation and training requirements must adjust to meet the needs of an increased strategic threat and prepare for Strategic Competition. The Commanders asserted that the “old model” of training was “limited” and “did not reflect the way the ISR Wings would actually conduct intelligence operations in combat”.  They acknowledged a needed shift away from Air Force DCGS weapons system access/support and sustainment, to “a focus on providing robust realistic Multi-INT ‘virtual/synthetic/constructed’ training scenarios that provide exercise environments that closely resemble what AF DCGS MMTs, AETs, and other intelligence training audiences expect to encounter in conflict”.
Lt. Col. Tyrel Gibson, Commander of the 526 IS, already held this vision of change.
“The primary mission [of the 526 IS] today is to design and deliver tailored-threat experiences to defeat threats,” said Gibson, who has been in command since June 2021. “Constructive, synthetic training scenarios designed and delivered to units in-garrison, to train the ‘Rest of Squadron’ – the other 90 percent of intelligence professionals that can’t attend an LFE like RED FLAG. At the 526th, our focus is on Intel as the Training Audience.”
By creating custom-built training experiences, the 526 IS assists Weapons & Tactics and Training shops with live scenario support that streams from Nellis AFB to any location worldwide whether inside a DCGS, AOC, Intelligence Squadron, or flying unit. One of the 526 IS goals is to unburden Intel organizations from scenario creation and give that time back so units can focus on internal TTPs, debriefing, and feedback with Airmen and analytic teams. 
When the 480 ISR Wing began to change its DCGS construct to “DCGS Next” – the 526 IS found integration with intelligence personnel who support PED of ISR missions at RED FLAG and other LFEs limited. The 526 IS improvised with the idea of Constructive ISR.  “Something built to support intelligence training at RED FLAG during ISR mission cancelations and grew [it] from there,” Gibson added.
Currently, the 526 IS has three priorities: 1) Gain and maintain momentum; and 2.) Bridge to the Future and 3.) Expand its base of end uses.
Gain and Maintain Momentum is about institutionalizing synthetic training and expanding a base of end users.  “Our recent UNITGRAM and Public Affairs are helping with that – to get word out about our rapidly developing capabilities [and] to find end-users who could benefit. Providing units with true, peer-focused advanced threat system analysis and tactics using everyday analytic tools,” said Gibson.
“Our goal [with “Bridge to the Future”] is to design an environment to meet ACC’s needs for OTI for CAF Intel,” Gibson said. “Programmatically, we are currently working with [363d ISR] Wing XP for their on-going ‘Mission Analysis’ and ACC/A23T, post mission analysis, to help formalize our new direction.  Operationally, we hope to expand our current baseline training scenarios which are SIGINT, GEOINT and PAI prime for fusion analysis towards being capable of benefiting training for targeting, ULI, HUMINT, enable awareness for Cyber/IW offensive options and more.” 
“The unit’s ability to quickly scale its Constructive ISR concept, designing a delivery capability without outside resourcing, providing a first of its kind ‘Rest of Squadron’ training capability equivalent to training typically reserved for LFE events, is impressive and necessary to Win Tomorrow’s Wars today,” said Gibson.
The Airmen of the 526th have eagerly embraced the mission shift.
“Our old mission was focused on facilitating and training ISR Airmen during Red Flag and WSINT [Weapons School Integration], while also documenting lessons learned in order to incorporate them into future [AFTTP] 3-1 re-writes,” said Tech. Sgt. Adam, 526 IS SIGINT/PAI Scenario Development section chief. “One of the main issues [with the former mission] was that the ISR is not a [primary] training audience during Red Flag. We would also experience asset fallout during exercises meaning that the participants would only receive a fraction of the training and instruction they were hoping to accomplish.”
The first constructive ISR scenario took nearly six months to build. Six months later, the 526 IS has scaled operations quickly and can build 24 unique scenarios a year. The training scenarios created by the 526 IS are customer-driven and tailorable to specific, desired learning objectives.
“We consist of two flights who design and develop scenarios, one with a focus on INDOPACOM and one with a focus on EUCOM,” said Tech. Sgt. Kimberly, 526 IS EUCOM Scenario Development Section Chief. “Our scenarios can range from small, two-hour exercises, or a multi-day training experience that includes any combination of IMINT, SIGINT and PAI. It is really up to what the customer wants!”
“The challenged architecture and advancements in analytic tradecraft make it clear that sending large numbers of analysts forward in order to participate in an exercise is no longer the most effective or realistic way to train our analysts, ULI, or CAF aircrew.  We must adapt to the changes in warfare and train how our Airmen will fight in a high end contested environment utilizing distributed operations.”
“The 526th (IS) is important because we are developing training scenarios that match the operational environment as it re-aligns itself to meet the intent of the National Defense Strategy,” said Kimberly. “This is a massive change, the first of its kind in over 10 years. Since arriving to the 526 IS there have been a lot of changes. As a flight leader, I am constantly amazed by how open-minded and flexible our Airmen are. The Airmen of the 526 IS are our secret to success and they deserve all of the praise.”
For more information or to request a custom training scenario for your unit, please visit the 526 IS at: https://confluence.epms.af.mil/display/526IS/526+Intelligence+Squadron.