JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO – LACKLAND, Texas --
Twenty-Fifth Air Force: 70 Years in the Fight
This final piece in the four-part series on Twenty-Fifth Air Force’s contributions to the Air Force in the last 70 years captures the Numbered Air Force’s involvement in Operation DESERT SHIELD and its influence into the 21st century.
In response to the August 1990 Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, the United States began assembling forces in Saudi Arabia — codenamed Operation DESERT SHIELD. In January 1991, the combat phase of the operation began with coalition forces from 35 nations participating in Operation DESERT STORM. During this phase, Electronic Security Command provided key intelligence support to both air and ground operations from multiple locations.
The unparalleled success of U.S. and coalition forces in DESERT STORM ushered in the age of information warfare. Superior information enabled precise air strikes, disabling Iraqi command and control systems long before the ground war began.
“Electronic Security Command marked a period of great growth for the command,” explained Gabe Marshall, staff historian, Twenty-Fifth Air Force Office of History and Research. “We matured technologies, provided unique intelligence products and embedded with combat forces on a wide scale. Our command played a key role in helping win DESERT STORM, and later bringing the Cold War to a relatively quiet end.”
In October 1991, the Air Force re-designated Electronic Security Command as Air Force Intelligence Command, merging the Foreign Aerospace Science and Technology Center, Air Force Special Activities Center, elements of the Air Force Intelligence Agency, and Electronic Security Command into one cohesive major command.
The newly structured organization provided direct intelligence support to national decision makers and field air component commanders.
As technology and missions evolved, the Air Force began re-shaping to meet the needs of the nation. This led to Air Force Intelligence Command becoming the Air Intelligence Agency, with a different focus and mission, in October 1993.
The field operating agency was directly under to the assistant chief of staff for intelligence and gained the flexibility to increase support to the warfighter, while also meeting the greater need for precise, instantaneous intelligence to conduct operations across the entire spectrum of conflict.
Between 1993 and mid-2007, the Air Intelligence Agency supported customers from nearly every governmental department, agency and service in every major military contingency operation.
“Air Intelligence Agency saw our organization move from being a major command to being a field operating agency. Nonetheless, our products and services did not diminish in their importance to the warfighter in a volatile post-Cold War world,” Marshall said.
The Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks further signaled the need for an information operations capability, and Operation ENDURING FREEDOM began the next month against the Taliban regime and Al Qaeda terrorists in Afghanistan.
Beginning in March of 2003, Air Intelligence Agency personnel collected, controlled, defended and exploited information to achieve superiority on the battlefield in operation IRAQI FREEDOM. This marriage of superior airpower and an unparalleled, all-encompassing information operations capability changed the nature of modern warfare.
By 2005, the Air Intelligence Agency had become a valued partner in the Global War on Terrorism. In August 2006, the Air Force Chief of Staff directed a change in Air Force Intelligence, stressing intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities. As a result, the Air Intelligence Agency became the Air Force Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Agency.
“Since 1948, our foundation has been in signals intelligence,” said Marshall. “With our re-designation as the Air Force ISR Agency in 2007, we began a rapid move to become the Air Force’s first multi-intelligence discipline organization.”
Between 2007 and 2011, the Air Force ISR Agency changed its focus from the sole mission of signals intelligence to multiple intelligence disciplines, including: geospatial intelligence, human intelligence, measurement and signatures intelligence, open source intelligence, scientific and technical intelligence and counter-intelligence.
Along with these disciplines came the new airborne assets of Project Liberty, Blue Devil, Gorgon Stare and Shadow Harvest, as well as tools and techniques to sift through the vast amounts of data they produce.
As with any organization, the nature of progression is continuous transformation, so in late 2014, the Air Force underwent another restructuring, placing Air Force ISR Agency under Air Combat Command as a Numbered Air Force.
Re-named the Twenty-Fifth Air Force, the NAF provides a full-spectrum decision advantage to warfighters and national leaders through globally-integrated ISR, electronic attack and information operations.
After 70 years of continuous service, Twenty-Fifth Air Force is the linchpin for all things ISR, Marshall said. The legacy of the organization continues to be a pillar of excellence within the U.S. Intelligence Community, and its “silent warriors” work diligently to develop new innovations, delivering powerful ISR more efficiently to worldwide consumers in an effort to secure America’s freedom through vigilance.