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ASOG Members,

Are there any math gurus out there. I need your help on this question. “How many active Airborne Sensor Operators (Civ/Mil - Manned & Unmanned) are there in the World?”

Based on several days of research, I couldn’t find any stat./data regarding this question, i.e., No Joy! Does anyone have source data or on how to come up with a Rough-Order-Of-Magnitude (ROM) number?...I only took one stat course at university...many years ago. Any thoughts or inputs would be a great help!...this will help formalize the profession.

Thanks, Everyone!


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  • Hi Wayne,

    You’re right. So far I’ve categorized Aerial Broadcasters under Aerial Photographers/Cinematographers. Like you said, they operate different TTPs and support a specific end-user, i.e., they could have a stand-alone ASO Career Path & Training Guide.  

    Again, super catch Wayne!



  • One other categoy that I forgot to include is news and media agencies.  Most of them have some sort of aerial surveillance asset, normally rotary wing, with an operator on board to run the camera. 

    Another is the "Eye in the sky" shot from sporting events.  Those are normally from some fort of fixed platform (Blimp/dirigible), but drones are increasing in frequency, especially for large, outdoor sporting events.  The Winter Olympics coverage is what made me consider that this group might need its own category.



  • Hi Stephan,

    Excellent feedback and inputs! I agree…as you said, when the time comes, we’ll adjust the regional boundaries by:

    - Geopolitical considerations

    - Language

    - Culture

    Plus, let the regional community (plus, specific industry sectors) shape how to turn the ASO occupation into a global profession.

    Ref Language: You’re right, English is the core language for ASOG because of the aviation aspect and being the core business/ common academic language. To validate your point, based on my discussions with Spanish, German, French, Arabic, etc. ASOG members, we’ll be able to network and engage at a deeper level regarding our trade-craft with the ability to have information translated….I’ll take a look at “Epic Action.”…Super tip!

    Again Stephan…Super feedback and perspective!

    Thank you!


  • Hi Wayne,

    I hope you had a good weekend! Excellent inputs! I’ve been running the same thoughts on grouping.   As you said, I also think that the baseline functional areas for the regions should be what you described…but with no walls, i.e., a Mil ASO who wants to move over to aerial surveying can easily watch, learn and engage with that aerial surveying group.

    Like always Wayne…Danke Schone!


  • Patrick,

    That breakdown should work for now but of course expect to refine that as the group populates.  I would allow the regional leads the ability to refine by functionality based on their own realities. Those functional groups outlined by Wayne Dahlke certainly would give the regional leads a starting point of their own and the opportunity for them to nominate their own folks to head up those areas simplifying the workload as needed.  Empowerment to the people.

    Looking at the regions you currently have listed, for now they would provide a rational starting point but in the not too distant future I could see merit in considering a futher breakout as outlined below.

    Breaking Africa into a crescent, potentially from Morroco to Egpyt as one region within Africa and the rest in the other African region due to significant differences in culture, language and perceptions between those two parts of Africa.

    Asia might be worth breaking up into two parts being ASEAN nations on one hand and the Northeast Asia nations on the other.  Northeast Asia would be Japan, Korea, China and potentially include the eastern "stans" and Taiwan.  There might be some politics involved in the China v Taiwan arena to consider.  I would even consider just naming that Greater China and it would not necessarily politicize the issue or alienate anyone.

    Russia would be the odd country in a sense as it reaches from Europe to Asia but I would consider grouping it with Europe for the interim.

    Over time we could finesse it further based on need and practicality.  At the end of the day, the members do not have to be isolated in discussions by region or language.  They should have access to all forums.  English is the recognized language of global aviation so that would only make sense that it would be the standard for the time being.  That said, there is more and more software out there that can provide automatic translation on a page by simply toggling an icon between your native tongue and another.  This could allow for say a Chinese forum to have it's discussion in Manadarin and an English speaker could simply toggle it to auto translate into English.  His posts in response to what he reads could then be auto translated to Mandarin or even Cantonese.  I have been using this capability in a chat platform managed by "Epic Action" and while it has its ups and downs it is becoming more and more accurate in getting the intended message across between users.


  • Breaking them out functionally within the region would have merit as well.


    Infrastructure (Railroad, Energy, Oil/Gass)

    Law Enforcement


    Search and Rescue/Emergency response



    Just a thought

  • Hi Stephan, Spot-on...strength through numbers. Ref regional would you regionalize ASOG's operations. Based on my soft ASOG strat plan, I broke out the regions as:

    • Europe
    • North America
    • South/Central America
    • Africa
    • Middle East
    • Asia
    • Australia/NZ

    Besides Geo Regions...How would you group by language? Like you said, this is not a short-term effort!


  • Wayne, great job on breaking that down into a "start point".

    One way to help capture the data in the future is to break down into regional groups where the leads of each regional area would be able to work with their respective communities and begin to develop the numbers.  This is certainly not an easy task for one person to achieve so delegating it down to the functional members of the community is a way to achieve that over time.

  • Hi Wayne,

    Outstanding breakout! I think your methodology is spot-on for an initial estimate of the global ASO community. FYI: I was just about to go through the AFA USAF Almanac to do a spot estimate.

    ---Break, Break,---


    Like Wayne said, what are your spot estimates regarding community/region of the world, i.e., Aerial Law Enforcement in Europe, Aerial Mapping & Surveying in Australia/New Zealand, Maritime SAR in Spain/South America etc.



  • On the US military side, start with a count of all active Air Force Combat Systems Officers created since 2007ish.  They are all sensor operators of one stripe or another (MC/AC-130s, B-1/B52 Radar Navs, AC-130 Fire Control Officers, MC-12/RC-46/PC-12 sensors, All Electronic Warfare officers, etc).  Basically the entire 12X career field for the Air Force, plus the enlisted sensor operators on RC-135, AC-130U, E-3, E-8.  For the Navy/Marine Corps, all Naval Flight Officers (NFOs).  For the Army it gets trickier, since they do not have a specific career field that is tasked as  flying (manned or unmanned) sensor operators.  Typically they take 35G and 35P/N intelligence people (GEOINT and COMINT/SIGINT, respectively) and turn them into non rated crew members.  On the UAS side of the Army, it can be any mix of 35T (Maintenance) or 35G/N/P.  Total probably 5000ish.

    The other side of the military coin is the Civilian defense contractors (like myself) who operate manned and unmanned systems at the behest of the defense department.  This number fluctauates wildly depending on the needs of the various Combatant commands, and the number of new development projects that are in the pipeline at any particular point in time for the various services. Total probably 1500-2000ish.

    For the Coast Guard, I do not have a good feel for how many Navigator/CSO/NFO types they have.  They do not have many fixed wing assets, so probably not very many...less than 200.

    For the Department of Homeland Security, you have to account for the CBP efforts along the borders, which is a mix of Fixed (aerostat), unmanned, and Manned (fixed and rotary wing).  Probably not over 500 total.

    The Drug Enforcement Agency, FBI and other TLA's (Three Letter Agencies) all have some sort of capability in this realm, however getting hard numbers would be problematical, due to classification issues and the secretive nature of their work. Total probably less than 1000.

    Next is the Law Enforcement arena.  Most counties have access to some sort of aerial sensor platform for, and most major urban centers have a dedicated set of aerial surveillance crews.  Total here is probably less than 1000 in the US.

    Next is civilian survey companies.  This is a growth part of the industry.  The numbers are growing daily, especially the light, unmanned systems for measument and photogrammetry in the resource mapping and geography industry sector.  Also included would be railroads, oil and gas companies, or any other industry that has to inspect or survey infrastructure that spans large distances (powerlines, pipelines, roads, etc).  I could not even guess at this number, since i do not have a good feel for the industry sectors in question.

    That seems to be all of the general categories I can think of for the US.  Most of these categories would also apply on a worldwide basis, but I have no way of even estimating the total number of possible sensor operators.

    All of the numbers I have listed are "back of the napkin" types of calculations, with no real hard data to back them up.

    Lets hear from the rest of the group on their thoughts for other areas I might not have listed, especially any hard data on total numers in our shared profession.



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