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How one tower helps support Beale’s intel community

L3 Harris Communication Systems-West personnel make final touches to the remote equipment group of the Distributed Common Ground System Distributed Surface Asset (DDSA) on Beale Air Force Base

L3 Harris Communication Systems-West personnel make final touches to the remote equipment group of the Distributed Common Ground System Distributed Surface Asset (DDSA) on Beale Air Force Base, California. (Courtesy Photo)

BEALE AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. --

Cooperation is innately difficult for humans, whether that be two siblings agreeing on a TV show to watch or a group of people deciding on a creative endeavor. This is no different in the U.S. Air Force—cooperation is key to success but difficult to manage.

One of Beale’s tenant units, the 548th Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance Group (ISRG), manages this very well, integrating so much of what they do with other missions here. An example of this was the recent implementation of a new Distributed Common Ground System (DCGS) asset.

The new asset is the DCGS Distributed Surface Asset (DDSA), said 1st Lt. Denny Yang, 48th Intelligence Squadron (IS), special missions flight commander. The DDSA will be replacing an older system called the Modularized Interoperable Surface Terminal (MIST).

“What the DDSA does is send out radio waves that are picked up by a transmitter receiver on the U-2 allowing for the two systems to communicate,” Yang said. “Additionally, the MIST was difficult to buy parts for.”

In addition to the greater availability of parts, the DDSA is also more technologically advanced, allowing for greater reliability with data links.

The importance of the U-2 and other similar systems is the real-time or near real-time intelligence they can provide with these data links, said Kenneth Lier, 48th IS deputy director of operations.

“The plane takes the image, or collects the data, and then [our operators are] able to download it quickly to be exploited,” Lier said. “They do that through the tether via satellite, or they can do it within the radius of the DDSA.”

Beale is unique in that its aircraft platforms are co-located with a DCGS, Lier said. This allows a great level of cooperation between the intelligence mission and the flying mission by helping pilots train with data link operations before going out on real-world missions.

“Satellite time is very expensive,” Lier said. “Here at Beale, they don't want to buy satellite time to train pilots, so we use our [tether] for their pilot training. It's a lot cheaper and it's easier to coordinate.”

Not only will the DDSA allow for easier pilot training, it expedites the testing of sensors before the aircrafts are deployed.

“Before they send a sensor overseas to a location where they want to fly, they want to make sure that sensor is good,” Lier said. “That's another capability that they utilize by having the colocation of the U-2 and DDSA. We can pre-check their sensors and make sure they're functional before they are deployed.”

The DDSA is only one of several systems used by the intelligence units that require cooperation with other units around Beale.

“We work really well with all of Team Beale for all kinds of projects,” Lier said.  “We need civil engineers, and we need contracting support and the Communications Squadron to make things like this happen. We feel like we're part of team Beale, and they treat us that way.”