A long-term improvised-explosive device neutralizing program, relied upon daily by many units on the ground to keep their Soldiers and partners safe, has been permanently committed to continued service in support of U.S. and International Security Assistance Forces in Afghanistan.
Saturn Arch, an aerial IED-neutralizing platform, has been made an enduring program as its services have been transferred from the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency to the U.S. Army Intelligence and Security Command.
Col. Adam R. Hinsdale, commander of Task Force Observe Detect Identify Neutralize-East, assumed the mission on behalf of the U.S. Army and INSCOM from Frank Cooper, former director of the NGA's Saturn Arch program, following a ceremony at Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan, March 1.
The transition, which marks the first full transfer of mission from a national-level intelligence agency to the conventional Army, began several months earlier with elements from the 513th Military Intelligence Brigade, the Army Geospatial-Intelligence Battalion and Task Force ODIN-E.
"From NGA leadership to pilots, maintainers and the extraordinary imagery analysts and scientists, Saturn Arch has always sent their very best into theater," said Hinsdale. "The program's phenomenal accomplishments are a result of its outstanding, professional and extremely competent personnel."
The Saturn Arch Program began in 2010, with an effort to implement intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities to a special aircraft fitted with state of the art sensor technology to identify and assist in removing IEDs from the battlefield in Afghanistan.
"I was able to witness an impressive group of operators and analysts using amazing technology to make a difference," said Cooper, director of Saturn Arch from November 2012 to March 2013. "So from my perspective, I believe the SA Program will continue to provide invaluable contributions not only in Afghanistan, but around the world."
Since the beginning of the program, however, the support provided by Saturn Arch personnel has grown beyond an IED-defeating mission. With more high-tech tools at the fingertips of today's Saturn Arch veteran, the mission has become the pursuit of making the battlespace as safe as possible for service members and international partners, while providing them with as clear a picture of the battlespace as possible before they even step out of the wire.
According to Hinsdale, Saturn Arch is able to provide this support through the use of constant intelligence collection, rapid distribution of their intelligence products and support to the men and women supporting U.S. and ISAF forces with boots on the ground. New technology has been integrated into the mission, allowing brigades and the Afghan National Security Forces daily access to tools and visibility at an unprecedented level.
"We now have faster ability to cross cue Saturn Arch intelligence collection with other internal ODIN-E [multi-intelligence] assets," Hinsdale explained. "We have better and faster intelligence collection, dissemination and feedback from supported battlespace owners."
Technological innovation paired with creative imagination served to spur the evolution of Saturn Arch over the years with Soldiers and technicians on the ground playing a major role in the growth of the program's future capabilities. According to Hinsdale, however, the greater value in the relationship between technology and human innovation is found in the resilience and experience of Saturn Arch's Soldiers and technicians.
"Soldiers and civilians have made innovation come to life," said Hinsdale. "The equipment is great, but without great people supporting the mission it won't be of much help to anyone."
As a result of the steady evolution from 2010 to today, Saturn Arch now serves as the capability in the sky for not only IED threats, but other hostile enemy action or intent. When Saturn Arch sees the threat, it's communicated directly down to the headquarters and units on the ground.
"Actionable and timely intelligence to Soldiers on the ground is creating a safer battlefield for our Soldiers by countering and locating enemy efforts," said Capt. Curtis I. Ivins, program detachment (forward) officer in charge, Kandahar Airfield, 513th Military Intelligence Brigade.
The program now boasts a much wider network of aircraft and platforms to expand valuable ISR support even further across the combat zone.
According to Hinsdale, the program's future growth includes facilitating the migration of ISR capability collection distributed processing, exploitation and dissemination into reachback operations at sanctuary locations in the U.S. in order to better meet future worldwide intelligence needs for combatant commanders.
During the past year, TF ODIN-E -- in coordination with defense industry and program manager partners -- has transitioned a majority of individual sensor collection DPED to sanctuary locations.
With the implementation of DPED in reach, TF ODIN-E support to the engaged battlespace owner and ANSF partners has improved.
During the next few months, TF ODIN-E intends on reaching fully operational capable status for all DPED in reachback in concert with their theater intelligence brigade partners and by fully integrating their premier analytic capability, Distributed Common Ground System -- Army into their global DPED enterprise architecture.
"The TF ODIN-E legacy is not about the past year -- it's about how they have impacted and shaped the future of A-ISR and its agile, tailorable and operational focus in support of the combatant commanders' intelligence information requirements," said Hinsdale.
For Hinsdale, the greatest asset the program has is the cumulative knowledge, experience and expertise of Saturn Arch personnel and ISAF partners, as the program garnered support from commonwealth partners including Great Britain and Australia during its years under NGA leadership.
With the experience and expertise of military intelligence minds collected across the globe, the Saturn Arch Program has benefitted from a diverse variety of thought and new approaches to develop the program in innovative ways.
"The transfer of mission provides a way ahead for the program that will encourage its evolution into a more effective and efficient source of intelligence for our Soldiers on the ground," said Ivins.
Those involved in the program remain convinced that INSCOM will take the Saturn Arch program and continue to build upon the success of NGA's efforts.
"Saturn Arch will continue to grow with its success and will meet worldwide combatant commanders' requirements with minimal forward footprint," Hinsdale said.