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Air Force Seeks Sharpest Needles in Data Haystack

June 26, 2012
By Beverly Schaeffer

With names that could have come straight out of 1960s-era sci-fi television, the U.S. Air Force is employing new sensors/systems that not only gather data, but also seek to harvest it more efficiently. In this issue of SIGNAL Magazine, Maryann Lawlor's article, "Air Arms Around Intelligence," covers the flood of new sensors the Air Force employs to collect data. One priority is to determine how best to process, exploit and disseminate that information now and in the future. The Reaper remotely piloted aircraft, for example, carries "Gorgon Stare," a wide-area motion imagery capability that can videotape a 4-kilometer radius of a surveillance area from 12 angles. Efficiently processing that abundance of data is the challenge. Future architectural designs also must consider that information collected today will be used to future train intel personnel. Lt. Gen. Larry D. James, USAF, the Air Force deputy chief of staff for Air Force intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, which includes the Air Force Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Agency (ISR), says his organization needs tools to fuse and format information using technology that enables data sharing even in hostile physical or cyber environments. Another priority is on improving intelligence command and control (C2) to execute current and future ISR applications, processing, exploitation and dissemination. The Distributed Common Ground System is the foundation of C2 operations, Gen. James relates. The service also must develop ISR in new domains. The Air Force recognizes that to take advantage of innovative capabilities, its people must be constantly well-trained as tools become available-developing future ISR professionals will remain a significant service strategy. Gen. James also believes commercial-sector expertise can be useful in discovering effective ways to process data overflow and to create the communications infrastructure to handle it. The service is interested in how to fuse data in appropriate formats so machines can do 90 percent of the sifting. The speed at which new technologies are being introduced into the field requires new approaches to training, as well, the general emphasizes. First, the Air Force must decide on educational tools and techniques needed for this new generation of warfighter:

An 18-year-old doesn't learn or use the technology the way I do. When it comes down to the end of the day, how fancy the hardware or technology is doesn't matter-somebody has to make sense of it, execute it and provide it, and that's the people.

These technology tools also should be able to identify valuable data that analysts then would further investigate and pass on to commands and warfighters. Can the Air Force fine-tune its data collection/dissemination capabilities in the face of overwhelming info overflow? Is the service taking the right path, or can existing technologies be adapted for its purposes? Share your thoughts here.

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