AFCO evolves ISR training for today’s tech savvy Airmen

  • Published
  • By Lori A. Bultman
  • Twenty-Fifth Air Force

Note:  Some last names have been removed for security reasons.

The Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Airmen in today’s Air Force are much more technologically savvy than their predecessors, and the Air Force Cryptologic Office at Twenty-Fifth Air Force is revolutionizing the way modern Airmen learn to win the fight.

The Airmen of the millennial generation are accustomed to having a plethora of knowledge at their fingertips through their cell phones.

“They are able to pull information quickly, multi-task using technologies, socialize in virtual environments, and solve problems through gaming,” said Chip von Heiland, Intelligence Force Management and Training chief at AFCO.

“Considering this, and our ever-changing workforce, we had to initiate a systematic approach to designing and developing training, which led to us creating easily accessible, visually enhanced training through virtual reality and computer-based resources; something previous generations only dreamed of,” he said.

Staff Sgt. Alan, an analyst at Twenty-Fifth Air Force, wishes he had experienced more visual training methods when he entered the military.

“I remember back when I was in training, how much I would have preferred to see and visualize things rather than just read books about it,” he said. “Using virtual reality to train the Airmen coming through now is a great idea. This generation is really good with technology. They have grown up with it, so that is what they know.”

In contrast to Alan’s one-dimensional analysis education, the new tools AFCO provides to ISR technical schools like those at Goodfellow Air Force Base are revolutionizing analysis training and, contrary to belief, not all these innovations are expensive. Future analysts are using cardboard VR headsets and utilizing cell phones to learn how to visually identify aircraft.

“It is exciting, and it is engaging. The training just pops out at you; you are right there,” said Master Sgt. Oneika, an intelligence analyst at Twenty-Fifth Air Force who spends much of her time briefing pilots on visual recognition of enemy aircraft. “This type of technology will pull Airmen in so they will want to learn more.”  

Another addition to the ISR training revolution is OCTANE, or the online critical thinking and analysis environment, an electronic library of information and products that help analysts enhance their critical thinking skills.

“OCTANE is a repository for all military analysts and the intelligence community, and it is available anywhere, anytime, and in any environment,” von Heiland said.   

The repository is full of information, short courses, applications and games to help analyst build critical thinking skills, something that requires frequent engagement, he said.

“The benefit of OCTANE’s collaborative vault of knowledge is having the vast amount of data in one place, where users and contributors can learn from each other,” he said.

OCTANE is designed for today’s learners, and keeps users on their toes with daily competitive challenges where analysts from across the globe go head-to-head, building their skills. It also provides gamified apps and a collection of courses which is forever growing.

Even though the site contains mass amounts of information, von Heiland said users can choose what and how to utilize that information, allowing them to gather what they need in more bite-sized and manageable segments.

“This is the first time a collaborative effort has brought together the best work from both the military services and the intelligence community,” von Heiland said. “It is this partnership that makes OCTANE possible and successful in revolutionizing analysis.”

Building on their efforts to revolutionize and modernize ISR analysis capabilities worldwide, AFCO’s personnel are continuing their search for the best way to train Airmen, in the way they can best learn.

“The past few years have forced us to innovate to continue meeting the warfighter’s demand for rapid collection and distribution of ISR information around the clock and across the globe,” von Heiland said. “Just as we have met that challenge, we will continue to promote force development and training innovations, promote partnerships in ISR education, and most importantly, capitalize on our greatest asset, our Airmen.”