JOINT BASE LANGLEY-EUSTIS, Va.
As tools and tradecraft evolve, older technology is retired to make way for more advanced training and equipment to aid the warfighter in executing the mission.
Such is the case with the Airborne Cueing and Exploitation System Hyperspectral (ACES HY) sensor. On December 10, 2018, the ACES HY sensor officially sunset as a package attached to the retiring MQ-1 Predator.
The ACES HY sensor made its debut at the Distributed Ground Station-1 at Langley Air Force Base in August 2013, collecting and processing information across the electromagnetic spectrum to discover illicit material such as active oil stills and homemade explosives in support of operations against the Taliban in Afghanistan. Team ACES HY’s primary objective was to prevent IED attacks against both coalition forces and the local populace. During the following two years, analysts of Team ACES HY single-handedly discovered over 200,000 pounds of illicit material, resulting in countless lives saved.
In 2015, the ACES HY sensor shifted to support operations in Iraq. Current U.S. Air Force Airmen in DGS-1 who worked with the ACES HY sensor reflected on their experience with it and the unique capability it brought to the intelligence mission.
“I’m proud to have been a part of such an impactful mission,” said U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Jarod, DGS-1 sensor planner. “We would find thousands of pounds of illicit material via this sensor, then provide those details to decision makers and witness the destruction of the material within 24 hours. The quick feedback made the ACES HY mission that much more satisfying to work.”
Maj. Brandon, DGS-1 director of operations, continued Jarod’s story.
“Having the ACES HY sensor attached to a full motion video aircraft with munitions is what provided the quick destruction of discovered illicit material. The combination proved to be one of the most effective capabilities in the Air Force.” He applauded DGS-1 Airmen, stating, “My most memorable mission was when we located a large boulder the intelligence community [had] not yet assessed was nefarious until one of our analysts saw it move. Thereafter, we found 1,000 pounds of illicit material and destroyed it in 45 minutes as well as determined ISIS connections in a nearby mosque.”
Robert, DGS-1 exploitation team shift lead, reminisced on his most successful mission.
“It was an unbelievable night when I and two other young Airmen executed the ACES HY mission over an area in Iraq unknown to us. The precision of the ACES HY sensor aided in the discovery of 2,000 pounds of illicit material at a production facility. The story got better when the material and facility were destroyed in addition to a high value individual.” He concluded by noting, “I can’t believe this special sensor is retiring. It brought so many great effects to the battlefield. It was by far the most underrated sensor on the MQ-1 Predator.”
The ACES HY missions included contractors who worked behind the scenes to confirm proper equipment and software functionality, ensuring the success of this pivotal mission. One contractor who worked this unique mission from the beginning provided his perspective on the first mission in Iraq.
“My most memorable mission was the first night in Iraq where the entire crew had to step up to complete this new task and, with the help of the sensor’s great capabilities, we found 3,000 pounds of illicit material at a school. This finding led to material destruction and the identification of an ISIS network at a volatile location,” said Cody, DGS-1 contracting field service representative.
In addition, a program manager and executor of ACES HY missions for three years, Senior Airman Lauren described the impacts of the ACES HY sensor. “I loved working with this rare capability because I got the satisfaction of knowing my work directly contributed to the protection of Coalition Forces from IEDs. I got to save lives.”
By the sunset of the MQ-1 in December of 2018, Team ACES HY was responsible for the discovery of 600,000 pounds of illicit material in both Iraq and Afghanistan.
From day one, the Airmen of DGS-1 were given a monumental task: to learn a science that few other Airmen before them had mastered. This select group of contractors, shift leads, ACES HY geospatial analysts, mission commanders, and sensor planners answered the call and surpassed every expectation set before them.
During ACES HY’s five-year tenure inside the DGS enterprise, these Airmen learned skills often reserved for graduate students, including data cube exploitation, spectral algorithm testing and evaluating, and sub-pixel spectral analysis. The MQ-1 Predator along with the ACES HY sensor may be retired but its capabilities will be replaced by a new sensor with similar capabilities as a package on a different Air Force platform to continue to defeat threats against friendly forces abroad.