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AFCENT innovates Targeting Ops, saving time with new ideas

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Dominic Tyler
  • Ninth Air Force (Air Forces Central)
AL UDEID AIR BASE, Qatar – As Lt. Gen. Alexus G. Grynkewich took command of Ninth Air Force (Air Forces Central), he stated that a key component to maintaining security and stability within the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility was innovation: the design and implementation of new technologies, processes and approaches.
As offensive cyber threats and defensive cyber challenges continue to proliferate, an Airman within the 609th Air Operations Center Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance Division—part of the Combined Air Operations Center at Al Udeid—recently implemented new tools and processes to assist the target development cell with their mission of providing full spectrum targeting data to the commander and ensuring clarity on the best decision-making strategies available in response to any ongoing threats within the CENTCOM AOR.
According to Tech. Sgt. Bradley Balster, 609th AOC target development cell production supervisor, a foundational focus on software development and malware analysis drove his development of processes that support daily tasks, save man-hours, and enhance the quality and accuracy of targeting operations.
“Providing targeting information is comprised of multiple tasks including information analysis, coordination research and so much more,” said Balster. “I’ve found that every team has various tasks they must accomplish on a daily basis that require little more than simply putting in the time. These are the things we can eliminate by having the computer solve the problem.”
Balster’s process significantly decreases the amount of time analysts need to create presentations by writing a programming script that verifies the information is properly formatted. This expedites multiple aspects of the process, from data collection, to informing senior leaders for possible adversary engagement.
“Originally, this quality control [formatting] process could take an entire day per product,” said Balster. “With this new script, the time required has been reduced from hours to minutes. Furthermore, it allows our analysts to better focus on the essential content, rather than the more tedious aspects of the product itself.”
Along with formatting, Balster also implemented a script to save analysts time during research stages of creating the target data, which consolidates necessary information for engagement options.
Targets are defined as entities or object that perform functions for an adversary being considered for possible engagement or action.
“During the search phase, our analysts review multiple reports per day, some of which contain multiple coordinates that have to be copied out one at a time and processed into other tools for further analysis,” said Balster. “This new script automates that process, extracting the coordinates from the report and generating a visually displayed geographic point that can be loaded into various tools at the analyst’s convenience.”
A new dashboard management function was also created to highlight, collect, compare and archive data providing the target development cell with increased information sharing capability, boosting workflow transparency within supporting CENTCOM components such as U.S. Army, Navy and Marine Central Commands, as well as, with coalition and regional partners.
Overall, these new tools and processes have saved AFCENT personnel the equivalent of a 12-hour workday per week. The processes are currently being reviewed by CENTCOM as and may result in implementation across the Air Force.
Grynkewich says innovative processes like these are key emphasis areas as AFCENT continues to build relationships with coalition and regional partners within the AOR while deterring aggressors around the globe.
“We've got some work to do but we've also got the best Airmen, Guardians, Soldiers, Sailors, and Marines in the world that are part of our air component. I'm confident they'll be able to figure it out, if we support and empower them to get after the problems,” he said.
As enemy tactics, systems and technologies continue to advance, Airmen charged with providing commanders a full spectrum of targeting information must continuously evolve to meet the challenges of tomorrow.
“Innovative Airmen like Technical Sergeant Balster are absolutely critical to continuously pushing the envelope and moving the needle forward,” said Maj. Justin Briggs, 609th AOC chief of targets. “His tools allow the shop to automate the tedious aspects of the job, so the team can focus on the in-depth analysis of targets.”
Balster concluded with his thoughts on how his organization sets its sights on this mission while cultivating an environment focused on innovation and gave some advice for other warfighters aiming to posture their units for tomorrow.
“The largest barrier to innovation is the mindset,” finished Balster. “This is my first time in a targeting role, which has allowed me to view the processes here with a unique perspective. If there is an emphasis on questioning how things are done, especially by new teammates, this will likely have the greatest impact on finding new and innovative ways of doing business.”