Flying in the Shadows: Forging Aerial Intelligence for the United States Army Review

flying in the shadows

By Thomas N. Hauser
Fort Belvoir, VA: U.S. Army Intelligence and Security Command, 2023
ISBN 979-8-98939-490-6
Maps. Illustrations. Notes. Bibliography. Index. Pp. xiv, 190.

Thomas N. Hauser captures the essence of a unique but significant synthesis of Army aviation and intelligence that has had a major impact on tactics, strategy, and policy for over sixty years as only a practitioner and historian can accomplish. Full disclosure—this reviewer piloted the subject special electronic mission aircraft (SEMA) for the first sixteen years of a twenty-four-year career in the U.S. Army. Several of the great protagonists of this story were considered mentors. In short, this is the story of the people who fought with courage to achieve their vision to advance aerial intelligence in the Army.

Hauser’s purpose is to trace the development of aerial intelligence for the Army while capturing its utility during the Vietnam War. Along the way, we learn about the complexities leading to the establishment of the Army’s Intelligence and Security Command (INSCOM) in 1977. Hauser captures the struggle that visionary leaders, their brilliant engineers, and operators experienced at the hands of their own chain of command, as well as the life and death struggle of the brave soldiers who operated the weapon systems against the elements and in combat. Although military historians may have a clear sense of the strategies, campaigns, and battles that shaped the “watershed” years of modern aerial surveillance from the 1960s through the 1980s, most historians, and certainly those with general military interest, will find this book of interest.

Colonel Carlos Collat, USA-Ret., provides an outstanding foreword that captures his everlasting intensity for creating actionable warfighter intelligence. The Army aerial intelligence story told by Hauser opens appropriately with its origins. Here, readers find an excellent indication of the level of detail in painstakingly researched unit nomenclatures, heraldic patches, and glossy color illustrations.

Chapter Two provides both a compelling and understandable explanation of the impetus, design, and operation of the first operational Airborne Radio Direction Finding (ARDF) system. Another admitted potential bias of a trained SIGINTer, but when reading about the need (requirement) for aerial direction finding in Vietnam that resulted in the capabilities, readers with an engineering background might visualize the systems engineering “V” in action. Here we begin to see Hauser’s commitment to the soldiers and civilians who created this significant aerial surveillance capability.

Chapter Three documents the courageous progress of the Army GUARDRAIL program still in existence today. In many ways, GUARDAIL’s early evolution, as documented by Hauser, is a product of the forces that shaped the entire post-Vietnam military, not only in the austere acquisition environment but from an intelligence community that fell into political disfavor. The first GUARDRAIL aircraft looked and performed nothing like the GUARDRAIL aircraft commanded by this reviewer at Fort Hood (now Fort Cavazos), Texas, in the mid-1990s, but the pilots and aircrew who operated them all performed their missions incredibly well, often at mortal risk.

Chapters Four and Five capture the establishment of INSCOM and its immense impact on aerial surveillance while focusing on the rapidly evolving GUARDRAIL program, as well as the OV-1 Mohawks operating in South Korea. In these chapters, the arc of the story builds to its crescendo. Knowing most, but not all the specific details of the history, this reviewer was captivated, especially by the impact collective aerial surveillance intelligence information had on U.S. policy.

While Flying in the Shadows is an enjoyable book, not all the illustrations include informative captions and may leave readers wanting for information.  This is a very minor criticism given the magnitude of the work. Hauser’s volume in this field captures an important operational and technical evolution in the Army whose story should be told. He explains this is the first of three books in a series but goes no further to define the future content of the series. This Army intelligence aviator anxiously awaits the next two publications in this series.

Lieutenant Colonel Max J. Corneau, USA-Ret.
Poetry Ranch, Texas