Although all three parts of the system must be working in coordinationto maximize the benefit to the user, the tasker is often concerned primarilywith the employment of the air vehicle and coordination with other units.Collection requirements, airspace coordination, and the basing locationsof the Predator must all be considered.
As theater assets, Predator systems constitute a vital part of the overalltheater intelligence collection capability, but do not function as stand-aloneexploitation centers. It will be the responsibility of the JTF/J-2 to convertthe collected data from Predator into exploited information for productionand dissemination. Exploitation facilities used for this purpose are notconsidered part of the Predator system, but rather an essential missionsupport element provided by the theater customers. Planning of individualmissions will be determined by the J-2 and J-3 in accordance with collectionpriority, asset availability, and airspace deconfliction. Execution of theendurance UAV role in the Joint Force Commander's (JFC) campaign plan willbe the responsibility of the Joint Force Air Component Commander (JFACC), who will command, coordinate, deconflict, and synchronize UAVs withinthe three dimensional battlespace.
Basing decisions must be carefully considered prior to deployment ofthe Predator. The tasking headquarters must consider the transit time tothe target area as part of the mission planning process. The location ofthe UAV airfield depends upon the ability of the US State Department toacquire basing rights and satellite landing rights within a foreign country.Additionally, the base must be within a reasonable range of the intendedtarget area and must include airfield facilities. Logistics and securityconcerns must also be addressed. It is these considerations that will dramaticallyaffect aircraft availability and system responsiveness.
The means for implementing Predator mission support is the Air TaskingOrder (ATO). The JFACC tasks Predator sorties through the ATO to accomplishspecific missions and to provide data in sufficient detail to enable thejoint forces to execute other missions. The support element must be capableof generating the mission plan within the time constraints of the ATO cycle.Typically, the Air Operations Center (AOC) issues the ATO which is validfor a specified period, normally 24 hours. The AOC's Combat Plans Divisionwill determine Predator's route and/or orbit location based on prioritizedcoverage requirements, communications connectivity with supported units,and survivability considerations. While the ATO itself covers a specificperiod, the ATO planning, coordination, and execution process is continuous,much like land force planning. Additionally, because of Predator's longflight time, a mission may span across more than one ATO periods. This mayrequire special attention by mission planners in the Combat Plans Division.
Tasking requirements and airspace coordination must be considered whenplanning individual missions. Initial deployments of the Predator had thesystem based separately from the tasking headquarters and the airspace coordinationagency. Therefore, reliable three-way communications between the Predatordetachment, the tasking headquarters, and the airspace coordination agencyare required. To minimize coordination requirements, the tasking headquarters(or representatives with collection management authority for airborne reconnaissancecollection requirements) should be located within the airspace coordinationagency as occurred in Nomad Endeavor. Proper coordination of tasking andairspace requires liaison officers from the Detachment be assigned to thetasking headquarters and the airspace coordination agency as depicted inFigure 6.
The tasking authority depicted in Figure 6 is the JTF J-2. While requestsfor Predator support have originated from both US and non-US sources, taskingof the Predator has always remained in US channels. The airspacecoordination agency would normally be the JFACC (as the Airspace CoordinationAuthority (ACA) if so assigned.) The Predator detachment will normally providean intelligence liaison officer to the tasking authority and an air liaisonofficer to the airspace coordination agency.
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Figure 6 - PREDATOR LIAISON
Direct support missions require supported commanders to determine theirrequired coverage area, effective employment times of coverage, and sensorpriorities. These requirements (including requests for Wide Area Surveillanceand other imagery products) will be pre-planned, with the requests beingforwarded by supported elements through the normal collection managementprocess. Details on tasking are provided in the subparagraphs below.
a. Tasking Considerations
The key point for clarity of mission tasking is to ensure that sufficientdetails regarding the desired target are passed to the mission planners.The payload operators will then know exactly what to image as the air vehicleenters the general vicinity of the target. For example, a mission whichdesignates a set of coordinates and a mission task of "observationsof military activity" is not sufficient description of the missiontask. A clear mission task is "look for a specific type (by name) ofweapon platforms which normally hide under bridges".
b. Prioritization of Tasking
Finally, the tasking agency should articulate when possible the rationalebehind their tasking priorities. The advent of NRT video to multiple usershas whetted the appetite of potential users for imagery products that answerspecific essential elements of information. However, in the case of a theateror JTF asset such as the Predator, users must acknowledge a hierarchy oftasking dictated by the JFC. This hierarchy for collection is spelled outin the Commander's Priority Intelligence Requirements (PIRs). All taskingmust trace back to one or more PIRs. Each component requesting Predatorsupport must request operations in consonance with established, theater-widerequest protocols.
The commander's PIRs generate intelligence collection missions and priorities.As a collection platform, Predator missions will be prioritized by the JTF/J-2.The JTF's JFACC, when appointed, will plan and coordinate ATO targets forcollection at the Joint Targeting and Coordination Board (JTCB) or its equivalent.The JTCB or its equivalent will advise on the best use of the collectionplatforms. Conflicting component requirements and competing collection needswill plan for optimal, integrated use of all available reconnaissance assets.The JTCB or its equivalent will employ the resources of the Joint IntelligenceCenter (JIC) and make recommendations on missions and priority of targetsfor reconnaissance assets. Membership in the JTCB or its equivalent includesJFC Staff and Component representatives and is led by the JTF/J-2's collection manager and his chief of targets. Requests for data willbe handled within the existing requests for information (RFI) architecture.RFI's will be passed to the JTF/J-2 collection manager for coordination,prioritization, and tasking based upon the CINC's PIRs. The J-2 will workclosely with the JTF/J-3 for operational planning and the JFACC for sortietasking to fulfill RFIs. For integrated collection capabilities, UAV operationswill be coordinated with other collection platforms in theater as well asground-based sensors.
c. Tasking Process
(1) General. The Predator is designed to be a theater and a Joint Task Force Commander level resource. Although the Predator may be employed in a combined operational environment and the imagery is releasable to the coalition warfare partners, such as NATO, tasking of the Predator has remained in US channels. As such, it is tasked by the Theater or JTF J-2 or delegated by the Commander of the JTF to a subordinate entity. A generic tasking process is depicted in Figure 7.
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Figure 7 - TASKING PROCESS - Generic JTF Case
The tasking process varies according to theater-specific procedures or SOPs. The most important point relating to tasking in any specific scenario remains: At any given time, only one entity can task any given collection platform. Normally the tasking entity is the highest headquarters present since they consolidate all intelligence and reconnaissance requirements from subordinate commands and have operational control over all collection assets.
The tasking process begins with the guidance of the commander, complemented by the submission of intelligence requirements by subordinate elements of the theater or joint task force. The overall collection plan reflects the commander's guidance on intelligence requirements and the collection manager prioritizes the requests and assigns collection missions to various sensors. The assignment of collection requirements to specific sensors is based upon several factors. These factors include the best means of satisfying the requirement and the availability of the sensor during the time frame that the information is required. Depending upon the local airspace coordination procedures, the tasking for any given day could be assigned up to four days prior to execution of the mission.
Ad hoc tasking and "re-rolling" is handled in a similar fashion with coordination between the tasker and the airspace coordinator occurring on a real-time basis. If the ad hoc targets are within airspace previously approved for Predator operations, the process is much simpler because the air vehicle can be diverted simply by notifying the airspace coordinators and the pilot. If the ad hoc targets are out of previously approved airspace, then approval to transit and operate in that area must be obtained prior to diverting the air vehicle. In any case, the transit time to the ad hoc targets must be considered in conjunction with the priority with the priority of the pre-planned targets which the ad hoc mission will negate. The servicing of ad hoc targets of unknown intelligence value may displace an equal or greater number of pre-planned targets of known intelligence value. Figure 8 provides a generic ad hoc tasking process showing the Ground Component Commander as the requester of the information.
(2) Routine Tasking. Tasking of imagery collection is accomplished through the JTF Collection Management Process via the ATO. Tasking comes in two formats: the ATO and execution cell ad hocs. The ATO, developed by the Combat Plans Division of the AOC, details the products required. It takes into account the limited exploitation capability of the GCS and the expanded production capability of the major intelligence production centers. The ATO specifies types of products needed to fill user requests and when those products are required. It also directs the number and frequency of visits and reconnaissance, surveillance, and stare options based on Predator's system capability. Requested target types are also detailed and are important to mission planning and exploitation process. These types include point and area targets as well as lines of communications. The ATO may direct sensor use that can most appropriately capture the desired information.
(3) Ad Hoc Tasking. Ad hoc tasking originated by the J-2 at the request of operators is approved by the execution cell in the Combat Operations Division of the AOC. Execution cell direction is supplemental to the ATO and it is used to modify UAV tasking to support changing mission objectives. This tasking may include time sensitive changes to the ATO regarding Predator tasking or may require an entirely new mission. It contains the same type of information included in the ATO. Due to the dynamic nature of the Predator system, the ground control station will likely receive some ad hoc tasking during the mission. UAV liaison officers will normally be assigned at the JFACC level to provide information to requesters and to evaluate and filter ad hoc requests. These actions will, of course, be accomplished with JTF coordination and approval, which may be delegated to the air component commander.
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Figure 8 - AD HOC TASKING PROCESS
d. Target Lists and Target Decks
The collection manager has access to the "target deck" whichlists all the intelligence target requests and the target data. Througheffective use of the target deck, the collection manager tracks the targetsthat have been serviced, the results of the service, and determines whetherfurther or continuing action is required. The target deck is maintainedas "encyclopedic" data. Data on each target is updated by eachflight viewing that specific target or area.
As the collection manager assigns collection requirements to the Predator,the Predator Intelligence Liaison Officer (at the tasking agency) must notifythe detachment to commence planning the mission. In addition, the PredatorAir Liaison Officer (at the airspace coordination agency) commences airspaceplanning. Because initial planning of missions occurs up to four days priorto execution, there are several missions in various planning stages at anygiven time. Coordination of the mission being executed will take precedence,but the coordination requirements for the missions in the planning stagesmust be considered. Mission planning and airspace coordination mustbe conducted concurrently with frequent interface between the intelligenceand air liaison officers from the receipt of tasking throughthe conclusion of the mission.
e. Airspace Coordination
The airspace coordination process is fairly standard worldwide. Theater-specificguidance will dictate procedures in all cases. Overflight rights of sovereignnations are not discussed in this guidebook since they are negotiated betweenthe governments involved.
The introduction of UAVs into airspace with manned platforms is not newbut is still viewed with reservation by airspace planners and coordinators.Therefore it is imperative that the Predator Air Liaison Officer addressairspace coordination issues in a definitive, concise, and proactive manner.For the Predator to be successfully integrated with manned aircraft, theairspace coordination procedures must be meticulously followed and the systemhas to be shown to be as safe or safer than manned aircraft. All airspacerestrictions and operational and safety procedures imposed by the agencycontrolling the airspace must be observed. The Predator Air Liaison Officermust know the timelines associated with the air tasking message or air taskingorder and abide by them.
The Predator Air Liaison Officer must work closely with the airspaceplanners, the detachment mission planners, and the Predator IntelligenceLiaison Officer. Before the first mission is flown, ingress and egress corridorsfrom the basing site to the entry point of the target area must be established.These corridors are established, along with the climbing and transitingaltitudes allowed, for use on subsequent Predator missions.
To simplify the daily airspace coordination process, the Predator AirLiaison Officer should seek approval for blocks of airspace and altitudesthat provide coverage of areas of high interest and maximize coverage ofstanding target requirements. Once approved, these blocks and altitudesbecome recurring items on the air tasking message or air tasking order.Additionally, corridors between the approved blocks need to be establishedso that it becomes a simple matter to gain approval to transit between blocks.Consistency in requesting and assigning UAV altitudes, corridors, et cetera,also builds confidence in the pilot and airspace coordination community.Knowing where UAVs are regularly flying relieves much of the misgivingsin sharing airspace with manned aircraft.
Prior to the initial submission of airspace requirements for a specificday, the Predator Air Liaison Officer must coordinate with the PredatorIntelligence Liaison Officer. Once the mission is received, it is plottedon maps to determine which pre-approved blocks are affected. If the missionis not entirely within the confines of a pre-approved block, the particulardetails of the mission are coordinated separately. In any case, the PredatorAir Liaison Officer will request airspace to fulfill the assigned mission.Continuous communications among all parties is essential.
Once the mission is approved, it is published in the air tasking messageor air tasking order. Special Instructions are provided as appropriate.As the planned mission is being flown, ad hoc tasking may be received.
In all cases, the general rule is when conducting tasking,coordination, and integration activities, treat UAVs as manned aircraft.
f. Air Vehicle Vulnerability
Although the radar cross section of the Predator air vehicle has neverbeen definitively measured, based on the estimated size of the return, theair vehicle may be vulnerable to tracking by early warning radar. The relativelyslow air speed of the air vehicle may fall outside the velocity gates ofsome radars. Because the engine exhaust is dispersed by the propeller, thedanger from heat-seeking missiles is thought to be minimal. Predator alsohas low noise and visual signatures which vary somewhat according to localconditions. The greatest danger to the Predator is probably from anti-aircraftfire when the air vehicle is flying at low altitudes. For high value missions,the air vehicle is considered to be attritable, but the tasking authoritymust consider mission necessity versus loss of a valuable asset.
g. Lost Link Procedures
Loss of link control with the air vehicle may occur during flight operationsand must be treated as an in-flight emergency with all cognizant agenciesnotified. Control of the Predator air vehicle may be recovered by "climbto cope" pre-programming in the Predator system, or a "return-to-force"flight profile, also pre-programmed. In each flight evolution, lost linkprocedures as detailed in the Predator operations manual must be briefed,and recovery procedures must be coordinated with the mission tasking/airspacecoordination authority.
Procedures to establish the data link when lost vary depending upon factorssuch as which data link (C band, UHF, or Ku band) is being employed andthe altitude at which the link loss occurs. Depending upon the particulardata link being employed, the timing of the procedures vary. In any case,the autopilot initially flies the air vehicle based upon the last inputcommands received. If the link is not re-established, the air vehicle willbank and climb to the altitude and waypoint pre-programmed in the emergencymission. Upon gaining that altitude and the initial waypoint, the autopilotwill proceed with the emergency mission as pre-programmed. In all cases,eight hours after initiating the emergency mission (or if out of fuel),the autopilot initiates flight termination and deploys the parachute (ifinstalled).