Sensory overload: Military is dealing with a data deluge

Too much data inhibits analysts' ability to unearth meaningful intelligence

“We don’t need any more sensors! We have enough sensors,” Army Brig. Gen. Thomas Cole complained to an audience of military and industry players at a recent AFCEA International gathering.

It was a rather unsettling statement from the program executive officer for intelligence, electronic warfare and sensors. And no doubt many in the audience would disagree with him on the grounds that forces in Iraq and Afghanistan need all the help they can get.

But Cole was making a point: Sensors do provide invaluable information to the warfighter, but they also produce an enormous amount of data. Before that data can make it to the tactical level, it has to be filtered and disseminated through layers of machinery and humans. The flood of data is threatening to breach the levees, Cole said. In this case, the levees are the troops who must process all that vital information needed on the ground.

Others have echoed Cole’s concern. “We’re going to find ourselves in the not-too-distant future swimming in sensors and drowning in data,” said Lt. Gen. David Deptula, Air Force deputy chief for intelligence, reconnaissance and surveillances (ISR), as reported by National Defense magazine.

No one is certain yet what the lifeline will be, but it will require innovative technology and enterprise-level incorporation of better data structure, experts agree.

Sensors are incredibly powerful tools that provide a thorough operational picture. They are mounted on everything from Defense Department-issued helmets, where they monitor for head trauma, to unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) drones that patrol the war zone across southwest Asia.

With sensors, “we can focus on the task at hand — [getting] a complete understanding of what’s going on on the battlefield, down to the lowest levels,” Cole said.

But the military has millions, if not billions, of sensors in place that provide all-seeing reports of the combat environment. That data is fed into various systems operated by Army, Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps personnel who then push the information down the chain of command to the tactical level, where it’s then used to formulate plans and strategies for execution.

In the military, it’s called situational awareness; and almost anyone in a military uniform will tell you that you can’t have enough of it.

“I cannot see a situation where someone is going to say, ‘Hey, I can do with less of that,’ ” James Clapper, undersecretary of Defense for intelligence, said of the data emanating from military ISR assets, as reported by National Defense.

But the military is quickly reaching a point of information saturation. In the Air Force alone, UAVs churn out 39 video feeds, 24 hours a day — a figure that could jump to 3,000 feeds as airborne surveillance programs proliferate. That’s in addition to manned Air Force aircraft and the Army’s UAV surveillance programs.

Army Maj. Gen. Mark Bowman, director of architecture, operations, networks and space at the Office of the Army Chief Information Officer, said maximizing sensor capabilities requires the integration and correlation of data at the enterprise level. From there, events or pieces of information — no matter which service they come from — can trip a reaction all the way down the chain.

That integration of aggregated data, if properly harnessed, could have caught the Nigerian would-be bomber who boarded a Detroit-bound flight on Christmas Day — before he even got past the security checkpoint.

Maj. Gen. Bradley Heithold, commander of Air Force ISR, said automating the process is essential to managing the data flood, and he challenged industry to design smart technologies that enable machine-to-machine communications to sort data.

That kind of software might not yet exist, but the foundation is in place. According to the New York Times, Raytheon has designed a new $500 million computer system for the Air Force that will help sort through images and feeds coming from sensors and even provide some basic data tagging.

Heithold made it clear that manpower alone isn’t going to do the trick. “In DOD…it’s easier for me to get money than it is to get manpower," he said. "We’re going to have to use technology, smart systems that cipher through the intelligence.”

About the Author

Amber Corrin is a former staff writer for FCW and Defense Systems.

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Mon, Feb 8, 2010 oh10101

"Too much data inhibits analysts' ability to unearth meaningful intelligence" What technology does poorly, humans are exceptional meticulous experts. What humans do well, technology does methodically better. Human-analyst handle data very poorly. Cyber-analyst handle data exceptionally well. Human-analyst handle content-in-context exceptionally well, and data very poorly. Cyber-analyst handle content-in-context as filed data, not actionable value. Human-analyst ability to unearth meaningful intelligence is exceptional. Cyber-analyst ability to harvest, catalog, aggregate ... data is exceptional. Human-analyst should not be performing Cyber-analyst task. Cyber-analyst should not be performing Human-analyst interpretation. The question is always, what should be Cyber-analyst automated to maximize Human-analyst value? Obviously not near enough is automated, for knowledge management and information sharing. The human I/O is based on five senses connected to a decades in development information processor with significant exact, abstract, and hallucinatory holographic storage and retrieval capacity. The current in-use cyber I/O and processor, though impressive, is very limited and primitive, but appropriate for doing all menial cataloging, metadata tagging, and data/content management and discovery task. Make Intel IT-Services far better by making work far less miserable and mundane for the human-analyst.

Fri, Feb 5, 2010

This is good news. As with all information systems, integration, cross-communication, and standardization are essential. Time is of the essence and there is no room for proprietary systems that are redundant or unfriendly to aggregation.

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