By Cmdr. Grahame Dicks
Director, Strike Evaluation and Anti-Air Research
This year, we celebrate a key milestone in our organizational history and, as the director of SPEAR (Strike Evaluation and Anti-Air Research), I want to share with you what SPEAR does.
The air warfare division within the Nimitz Operational Intelligence Center, commonly known as SPEAR, is celebrating our 30th anniversary of providing tactically relevant threat assessments to naval aviation and our partners. The organization has come a long way in the past three decades but remains focused on its original charter of informing the warfighter and the foundational concept of having operators embedded in the intelligence community brings unique perspective to our work.
The concept of placing fleet aviators into the intelligence community wasn’t born with SPEAR in 1986. Historical documents show that as far back as WWII, Adm. Ernest King approved the concept of placing naval aviators side-by-side with intelligence officers to provide better assessments of enemy aircraft and their tactics. This concept was furthered in 1948 with additional aviator billets to other organizations, ultimately leading to then N88 chartering SPEAR in 1986. Regardless of the age of the concept, it remains unique within the U.S. intelligence community and SPEAR remains the only intelligence organization where aviators have a primary responsibility of providing intelligence products and services.
King’s approval of a single aviator to join a new intelligence organization in 1943 has grown significantly and today SPEAR is billeted for 21-military and four civilian personnel. Of the 21-military, 18 are fleet experienced naval aviators representing almost every aviation community whether strike, maritime patrol or rotary-wing aircraft. This includes a post-command aviator as the director, as well as two U.S. Marine Corps pilots. Platforms represented in our current manning include: F/A-18, EA-18G, E-2C/D, P-3/8, EP-3, SH-60B, MH-60R, MH-60S, MV-22B and the AV-8B. Our remaining three military include an air-defense savvy surface warfare officer to give us perspective on threat naval air defense capabilities and tactics and two intelligence officers, one each from the Navy and Marine Corps. With the standard rotations of military personnel, it is our civilians who provide the key tradecraft expertise and knowledge that has allowed SPEAR to successfully inform the warfighter for three decades. Three of the four current civilian intelligence professionals in SPEAR are prior naval aviators with operational experience in the H-60F/H, F-4 and E-2C. The leadership and mentorship provided by SPEAR’s civilian personnel remains essential for the success of the division.
Other blogs related to SPEAR’s history have praised the accomplishments of the organization in its early years during the first Gulf War and the years immediately following. While SPEAR’s current generation faces a different threat than that of our predecessors, the core of our analysis remains focused on potential adversaries, whether those are the professional militaries of competing nations or the irregular forces of non-state actors. We have organized ourselves into cells/teams regionally focused on the major combatant commanders and established a vulnerabilities cell to take our understanding of the threat to the next level. Much like previous SPEAR members, these regional and functional cells continue to provide tactically relevant written products to be digested by a wide audience ranging from the fleet operator to the most senior uniformed and civilian leadership of the U.S. military.
We continue to engage directly with ready rooms and staff across the fleet by traveling to brief them in person, providing the latest assessments and intelligence on potential adversaries. For these threat briefs and written products on potential adversaries, our goal is to not only provide the “what” but the “so what” and the “why.” We feel it is our role and mission, based on the combination of operational experience and intelligence training/tradecraft of our analysts, to provide the fleet with more than just basic capabilities, orders of battle and tactics of potential foes. We want to provide that basic information with deeper understanding, assessments and predictive analysis so that our aviators are equipped with the latest intelligence to bring them safely home from every mission. This mantra has driven the stand-up of our vulnerabilities cell that seeks to “operationalize” intelligence and scientific principles to find and exploit vulnerabilities in threat air and air defense systems. Our efforts have led to the development of mission planning tools— in coordination with the Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force centers of excellence—being used by aviators across the fleet and some joint partners.
The professional aviators, intelligence officers and government civilians who are the current generation of SPEAR (Strike Evaluation and Anti-Air Research) are an impressive group and continue the great work of previous generations. We’re dedicated to serving the fleet and the greater aviation community of interest to ensure every aviator flies their mission with a knowledge advantage over any potential adversary and returns home safely.