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RIC provides picture perfect intelligence to ONW commanders

By Senior Airman C. Todd Lopez

INCIRLIK AIR BASE, Turkey (Oct. 26, 2001) -- The right weapon systems and the right people are important when dealing with the adversary. But knowing your enemy is just as important. That's the role of military intelligence.

The Royal Air Force's 41 Squadron, Reconnaissance Intelligence Center is one such example of military intelligence, and it is key to the Operation Northern Watch mission.

"We're tasked by an element of the C-2 [Intelligence Directorate] in the Combined Air Operations Center. They decide on a daily basis what targets the Jaguars are going to fly against to produce imagery," said Squadron Leader Peter Hughes, 41 Squadron, RIC, Coltishall, England. "It is our role to look at that imagery and to exploit it and report on what we see."

Hughes heads up a team of about eight individuals whose job is to extract information recovered from reconnaissance missions over Iraq. The Jaguar aircraft perform these missions, carrying with them a special information package attached to their underside.

"The Jaguar Reconnaissance Pod is a digital pod that creates an electro-optical image recorded onto tape. When the airplane lands, the tapes are pulled out, rushed into the RIC and downloaded into the system," said Hughes.

The JRP scans the ground under the aircraft much like a desktop scanner reads information off a photograph - one line at a time. The information is recorded onto tape for processing on the ground, Hughes said.

The advanced system the RIC uses to process imagery is called the Ground Imagery Exploitation System. It is a combination of high-powered computers and video equipment built by the same company that built the JRP.

RIC team members load tapes taken from the JRP into the GIES. With the system, team members can scan through video footage, zoom in on portions of the footage and analyze what they see.

"We are looking for dispositions of Iraqi forces in the north of Iraq to monitor what they are doing. We can see armored vehicles, tanks, and air defense equipment," said Hughes. "Additionally, we are looking to assist with force protection of ONW assets."

"It's best when you can see air defense weapons, if you find a weapon firing against our aircraft," said Sgt. Kevin Smith, 41 Squadron, RIC, an intelligence analyst.

Using the controls of the GIES, Smith scans across a continuous image of Iraqi ground space while a separate monitor shows the corresponding digital map. There are mere dots on his imaging screen, hardly identifiable as anything more than rocks. But Smith can identify them like he identifies nearly everything else on the screen.

"We can tell these are people," Smith said, as he points out the way they cluster together and how long their shadow stretches. "We can't tell if they are male or female though."

Based on the needs of ONW commanders, the RIC can rapidly relay photographic intelligence information to the CAOC. In addition, the unit puts together a more detailed final product, produced on a daily basis. That report is a combination of text and images and is sent out to the multi-national forces participating in ONW.

"In a lot of ways, we are the eyes of the command. We allow them to see what is on the ground, and that assists with how they manage the operation," said Hughes.