Air Force needs to better manage satellite data

The Air Force has a problem with the data it collects from satellites: the service lacks the tools to automatically organize and interpret it.

Two Air Force generals said the service will be seeking the help of industry to deal with this problem.

“We have great connectivity with satellites and collect all kinds of data,” said Brig. Gen. Jay Santee, vice commander of the 14th Air Force, based at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. He spoke Dec. 5 at the Air Force IT Day sponsored by AFCEA in McLean, Va. “But we never thought about putting space data in a centralized location and turning it into usable information to retask and reallocate space assets in real time.”

Currently, satellite tasking is performed on a weekly cycle. “We are barely able to keep heads above water in terms of seeing what we need to see,” Santee said.

Developing analytical capabilities and exploiting space data is one focus of the Air Force Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Agency. Brig. Gen Jan-Marc Jouas, the agency’s vice commander, wants greater connectivity among systems so that different data can be pulled together to create actionable intelligence.

“That way you don’t need signal intelligence experts sitting next to imaging experts and others to make sense of it all,” he said. “The system works but it would be so much easier if machines could do it.”

Jouas noted that machine-to-machine protocols that allow disparate systems to talk to one another are in the works. “We need to be able to sit down at a laptop and get whatever intelligence is necessary for particular unit. We need the capability to transfer incredible amounts of data and sift through it.”

Santee’s vision is to manipulate data to better position space assets for the tactical user.

“The goal is to enable the warfighter to link to the Global Information Grid and receive whatever he needs to accomplish his day-to-day mission,” he said.

Buxbaum is a freelance writer in Bethesda, Md.

About the Author

Peter Buxbaum is a special contributor to Defense Systems.

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