SOUTHCOM, AFRICOM Chiefs: More ISR Always Better

AFRICOM commander Marine Corps Gen. Thomas Waldhauser and SOUTHCOM commander Navy Adm. Craig Faller testify before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Feb. 7, 2019, in Washington. DVIDS screenshot.

The military needs more eyes in the sky to effectively stem the flow of drugs from South America, the head of US Southern Command told the Senate Armed Services Committee this week.

Intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance resources are stretched thin around the globe, with many aircraft busy in the Middle East and an ever-growing demand for information needed to make combat decisions. SOUTHCOM commander Navy Adm. Craig Faller characterized ISR assets as part of a too-small chain of military systems required to find and intervene with drug traffickers, noting a need for more ships as well.

“We do have gaps,” Faller said at a Feb. 7 hearing with the SOUTHCOM and US Africa Command chiefs. “We mitigate those gaps with different sources of intelligence. We are deficient in our ISR for the counter-narcotics mission. … Record cocaine [production in Colombia] is going to mean record drug flows and we’ve got to stop it along the way.”

US drug interdiction efforts are nudging but not moving the needle enough, he added.

Across the ocean, AFRICOM is reliant on partner nations like France to bolster ISR availability. While coverage is “satisfactory” and “adequate” for the current missions, Marine Corps Gen. Thomas Waldhauser, the AFRICOM commander, still believes the area is under-resourced.

“We do make the best and the most of what we have, certainly, with reconnaissance assets, ISR assets, [medical evacuation] assets,” he said. “As any COCOM would say here, we would prefer more ISR for our counter-[violent extremist organizations] fight.”

Intelligence-sharing agreements with partner militaries have helped the US better understand the situations they face in Africa over the past year, Waldhauser added. But he said there will never be enough resources available to truly satisfy the need, particularly for human intelligence operators who covertly collect kernels of information.

In 2016, Waldhauser noted during his nomination hearing AFRICOM could use more ISR assets to develop targets.

“A lot of the ISR is devoted to [US Central Command], and rightfully so,” he told senators then. “But if we wanted to strike at various times, and we want to provide intelligence to the partner nations and let them do their job, then ISR would be something that would be a valuable addition.”