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U.S. Navy SPEAR: 30 Years of Threat Assessments for Naval Aviators

By Cmdr. Grahame Dicks
Director, Strike Evaluation and Anti-Air Research

Spear_30th_Anniv_PatchThis 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.

PHILIPPINE SEA: An F/A-18E Super Hornet assigned to the "Eagles" of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 115 launches from the flight deck of the Navy's only forward-deployed aircraft carrier, USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76). (U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Nathan Burke/Released)
PHILIPPINE SEA: An F/A-18E Super Hornet assigned to the “Eagles” of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 115 launches from the flight deck of the Navy’s only forward-deployed aircraft carrier, USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76). (U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Nathan Burke/Released)

 

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 Historical documents show that as far back as WWII, Adm.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.

A U.S. Marine Corps MV-22B Osprey assigned to Marine Aviation Weapons and Tactics Squadron One (MAWTS-1) refuels during Weapons and Tactics Instructor course (WTI)1-17 at Yuma, Ariz., Oct. 20, 2016. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Danny Gonzalez)
A U.S. Marine Corps MV-22B Osprey assigned to Marine Aviation Weapons and Tactics Squadron One (MAWTS-1) refuels during Weapons and Tactics Instructor course (WTI)1-17 at Yuma, Ariz., Oct. 20, 2016. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Danny Gonzalez)

 

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 SPEAR Logoto 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.

PHILIPPINE SEA (Oct. 3, 2016) An MH-60S Sea Hawk, assigned to the "Golden Falcons" of Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron (HSC) 12, takes off from the flight deck of the Navy's only forward-deployed aircraft carrier, USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76). (U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Nathan Burke/Released)
PHILIPPINE SEA (Oct. 3, 2016) An MH-60S Sea Hawk, assigned to the “Golden Falcons” of Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron (HSC) 12, takes off from the flight deck of the Navy’s only forward-deployed aircraft carrier, USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76). (U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Nathan Burke/Released)

 

ATLANTIC OCEAN (Sept. 13, 2016) An E-2C Hawkeye attached to the "Bear Aces" of Carrier Airborne Early Warning squadron (VAW)124 prepares to take off from the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush (CVN 77). (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Brianna Bowens/Released)
ATLANTIC OCEAN (Sept. 13, 2016) An E-2C Hawkeye attached to the “Bear Aces” of Carrier Airborne Early Warning squadron (VAW)124 prepares to take off from the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush (CVN 77). (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Brianna Bowens/Released)

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.

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