air force airborne isr operator - 1A8X2
Air Force

Air Force Airborne ISR Operator (1A8X2): Career Details

Air Force Airborne ISR Operator (1A8X2) collects and provides top-secret intelligence to command.

Airborne ISR, or Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Operator, collects information about the enemy including strength, movements and activity.

This position requires individuals to be highly trained on both techniques and equipment to ensure they can gather and provide the best intellect possible.

Education, Qualifications and Training

This position requires top-level clearance and will have additional qualifications that other positions may not have.


Individuals must have a High School Diploma or GED.

They must also meet the ASVAB General Air Force requirements.


Generally, you must be a U.S. citizen to be provided top-level clearance positions.

Additional qualifications include:

  • Be 64 to 77 inches tall (no more, no less)
  • 17 to 39 years old
  • Maintain eligibility to deploy and mobilize anywhere in the world
  • Knowledge of aircraft procedures
  • Knowledge of emergency equipment
  • Complete/Pass a polygraph test
  • Complete/Pass a current Single Scope Background Investigation (SSBI)
  • No previous history of temporomandibular joint pain or joint pain disorders


Recruits will attend Basic Military Training for 8.5 weeks.

After completing Basic Training, recruits will head to Lackland Air Force Base and then Goodfellow Air Force Base.

You can find more information on the training outline and progression of this position by reading the Education and Training Plan here.

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What Does an Airborne ISR Operator do?

Air Force Airborne ISR Operator
Air Force Airborne ISR Operator specialist participate in live, virtual simulations. Image:

Airborne ISR Operator specialist must have knowledge of all U.S. and allied tasks.

They will participate in tactical mission planning.

Specialist are required to operate, evaluate and manage Airborne ISR information and any related ground-processing system that they may use.

They perform identification, acquisition, analysis and reporting of ISR tasks.

Airborne ISR Operator specialist are required to learn, demonstrate and maintain proficiency in emergency equipment use and procedures.

When specialist are in an airborne situation, they are required to process intelligence information.

Any threat-warning information that they discover will be relayed to ground commanders. 

These specialist interface with other units and are involved with mission planning.

They are in charge of maintaining currency items, assigned publications and all information obtained on current missions.

Some equipment that they may use includes:

  • Operator workstations
  • Recording devices
  • Graphical Displays
  • Computerized Radio systems
  • Direction Finding Equipment

Individuals will perform preventative maintenance on equipment.

When classified material and aircrew gear are loaded and off-loaded, the Airborne ISR Operator will supervise the transport and apply any restraints necessary to avoid movement in flight.

They will also ensure that all equipment is clean, free of hazards and is not placed in an area that could block emergency access.

These specialist conduct environmental surveys of radio frequencies, document the events, measures the parameters of the events and then compares it to previous documentations to find a source.

They work to analyze machine-based communications.

Any significant events or essential elements will be extracted and categorized as a follow-up item.

All other information will be logged and documented. 

Before and after every flight specialist will create mission reports including all of the details of the mission.

To compile the most efficient data, individuals will compare sensor data, participate/give feedback to mission planning inputs, use coordinate reference systems and create mission profile requirements.

Overall, specialist provide intelligence, complete threat warning requirements and establish situational awareness for all upcoming and current, ground and maritime combat operations including air, ground and maritime force intelligence.

 Related ArticleNavy Intelligence Specialist (IS): Career Details

What does an Air Force Airborne ISR Operator make?

Airborne ISR Operator’s base pay will be dependent on the rank and years of service.

Individuals can receive bonuses in certain positions.

You can view the table below for a reference point on Air Force base pay.

InsigniaPay GradeRankAbbreviation2020 Minimum Monthly Pay
E-1Airman BasicAB$1,733
airman first class smallE-3Airman First ClassA1C$2,043
E-4Senior AirmanSrA$2,263
E-5Staff SergeantSSgt$2,468
air force e 6 insigniaE-6Technical SergeantTSgt$2,694
E-7Master SergeantMSgt$3,114
E-8Senior Master SergeantSMSgt$4,480
E-9Chief Master SergeantCMSgt$5,473
command chief master sergeant insig smallE-9Command Chief Master SergeantCCM$5,473
chief master sergeant of the air force insigE-9Chief Master Sergeant Of The Air ForceCMSAF$5,473


In addition to the base pay above, airmen will be offered a variety of benefits.

Free to low-cost medical and dental insurance and low-cost life insurance options are available.

Airmen also receive paid sick time, paid vacation and paid retirement package.

All individuals will receive housing and food allowances.

The allowances will depend on location, rank and family status.

Individuals can receive education assistance and scholarships for certain positions.

On-base benefits include recreational activities, social events, youth programs and tax-free department and grocery stores.

Job Reviews

This position is difficult and may require a lot of travel.

Most days the job will be very engaging and the work will be satisfying.

Individuals who have held this position like the work that they do.

Generally they do not like the deployments.

The video below shows the position from multiple points of view, and gives a good outlook on what a day could be like.

Civilian Career Opportunities

This top-level security position allows individuals to develop skills in research, analysis, information and administration.

It is hard to find a truly comparable position because of the large scope of responsibilities individuals have, but there are positions that closely match the responsibilities of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance. 

Civilian career positions include:

  • Intelligence Data Science and Analytics
  • Radio Frequency Engineer
  • ISR Tech Director
  • ISR Advisor
  • Targeting Analyst

Most of these positions are higher paid positions and offer great benefit packages.

Having experience in ISR in the Military will give individuals preferred positioning among other candidates.

 Related ArticleAir Force Operations Intelligence (1N0X1): Career Profile


Air Force Airborne ISR
Air Force Airborne ISR Operator specialist aboard a C-12 King Air aircraft. Image:

Air Force Airborne Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) Operator is in charge of gathering, evaluating and dispensing top level security information.

These individuals gather information on the ground and in the air, ensuring the safety of the mission.

They provide information to customers, store data for future use and let commanders know of immediate threats.

This high-security position has very specific qualifications that individuals must meet in order to be considered.

Specific qualifications include height requirements and passing multiple background/clearance checks.

Individuals in this position will be paid based on rank and time of service.

They will also be offered the generous benefits that are provided to Airmen.

This position may come with a lot of travel, but is an exciting and fast-paced career field.

Experience in this position allows for many opportunities in civilian jobs.

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