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Tackling Big Data With Small Projects

August 1, 2014
By George I. Seffers
E-mail About the Author

The U.S. Army moves toward the intelligence community common environment.

  • The Enhanced Medium Altitude Reconnaissance and Surveillance System is a multi-intelligence platform scheduled to begin limited user testing this month.
  • In the future, soldiers at a forward operating base may be able to access data from national satellites, aircraft flying overhead and any other sensor in the vicinity.

U.S. Army officials envision a future in which ground and air platforms share data and where soldiers at a remote forward-operating base easily can access information from any sensor in the area, including national satellites or reconnaissance aircraft flying overhead. To achieve this big data vision, the service has initiated three pilot projects designed to provide Google-style access in a tactical environment to the lowest echelon without overwhelming soldiers with unnecessary data.

The biggest challenge in the intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) arena is data management, says Stephen Kreider, Army program executive officer, intelligence, electronic warfare and sensors (PEO-IEW&S). “It’s all about big data—how to process it in terms of the fusion and the algorithms for continuity and the meshing of different sensors, how to transport it to the sites that need it, and how to get it down to the lowest level at the tactical edge,” Kreider declares.

Modern-day warfighters are accustomed to having information at their fingertips when using Google or smartphones, but providing similar capabilities to warfighters at a remote forward-operating base is a challenge. “Google, Amazon and cellphone systems don’t have the requirement to do that in a disconnected, intermittent, limited—or what we call a DIL—environment down to the tactical edge. They rely on a very robust infrastructure, which we don’t have the privilege of having in contingency operations around the world,” Kreider points out.

To wrestle with the reams of data and get the information where it is needed when it is needed, the service has kicked off a series of pilot programs, all of which are part of the move toward the Intelligence Community Information Technology Enterprise (ICITE). The enterprise moves the entire intelligence community from an agency-centric information technology architecture to a common platform that enables the easy and secure sharing of technology, information and resources. The intention is to make the community more efficient while fostering innovation and improving security.

The first pilot is a partnership between Kreider’s office and the Army Intelligence and Security Command, Fort Belvoir, Virginia. The team is drafting a requirements document for the second increment of the Distributed Common Ground System–Army (DCGS-A), which may include ICITE capability. The DCGS-A is the Army’s primary system for posting data, processing information and disseminating ISR information about the threat, weather and terrain to all components and echelons. The system provides commanders with the ability to task battlespace sensors and receive intelligence information from multiple sources. Each military service as well as special forces has its own version of DCGS.

The Army currently uses the first increment of DCGS-A, which includes three releases. “We’re in the process of analyzing it to see how we can bring ICITE into the DCGS-A’s next increment. Increment 2 will be a late 2016, early 2017 start,” Kreider reports, adding that the Increment 2 request for proposals should be released in mid-2015.

Kreider’s team also is working with special operations forces on a smaller, more mobile version of the DCGS known as DCGS-Lite. The idea is to put a DCGS capability onto a laptop. “It is now on its second deployment. We are looking to do an assessment of that roughly in the September or October time frame, after the unit that has it comes back from deployment. And we’ll go back to our user to determine the benefits of it and how we want to modify it or how we bring it in officially to the tactical-edge portion of the DCGS,” Kreider offers.

The second major pilot program is a partnership with the Program Executive Office for Command, Control and Communications–Tactical to “bring the same ICITE architecture to the front-line soldier,” Kreider says. Part of the challenge is determining the right interface and which information is most critical, because the individual soldier will not have access to large amounts of bandwidth. The project will provide technology for evaluation in the Army’s next Network Integration Evaluation exercise, which takes place this fall.

A third pilot program involves a teaming arrangement with the Defense Information Systems Agency and the Army Cyber Command to provide a regional data center for greater information assurance, including a “focus on the insider threat,” Kreider says. It is a six-month project scheduled for completion in September. “Rather than every organization having its [own] servers, all of the data is going through a central place so that we’re more efficient and everybody’s not buying their own servers, and we don’t have issues with different configurations on the information assurance side of the house or the insider threat side of the house,” Kreider explains.

The PEO-IEW&S office also has completed a pilot project that built a data-processing, exploitation and dissemination site at Fort Gordon, Georgia. “Now all Army data from aerial sensors is processed at Fort Gordon, and that is working really well,” he reports.

Kreider predicts that multi-intelligence platforms—both air and ground—will be a game-changer for future warfighters. He cites the Enhanced Medium Altitude Reconnaissance and Surveillance System (EMARSS) as an aerial platform example. The system is designed to quickly gather, integrate and disseminate intelligence information in real time. It includes an integrated suite of cameras, sensors, communications and signals intelligence-gathering technologies and a datalink with ground-based intelligence databases. “We’ve got the first four systems delivered. They’re just finishing up testing here at Aberdeen as we speak, looking to go to a limited user test in the August-September time frame,” he offers.

Kreider also cites the Prophet system, formerly a signals intelligence platform, as a multi-intelligence system on the ground. “We adopted the Prophet system, which is primarily a signals intelligence system, and we combined that into a new program called Terrestrial Multi-Intelligence Collection System. We’re creating a multifunction team within the intelligence community that will be able to provide the commander with human intelligence, signals intelligence and communications intelligence all in a two-vehicle set. The first 24 have already been bought. The first deliveries of those are occurring later this year, and we’ll start training up the teams,” he states.

The Terrestrial Multi-Intelligence Collection System integrates Prophet, the Counter Intelligence Human Intelligence (HUMINT) Automated Reporting and Collection System, biometrics, DCGS-A and other capabilities. It is designed to allow the insertion of new technologies in a matter of hours rather than weeks, according to Army documentation. It operates in vehicle-mounted, manpack and fixed-site configurations and enables soldiers to detect, track and quickly report high-value targets. It also enables commanders to achieve greater flexibility in mission planning and decision making.

Providing multiple forms of intelligence via a single platform offers several benefits, including greater situational awareness and lower costs. “As opposed to looking through a sensor at a single modality—for example, full-motion video—you take a full-motion video plus signals intelligence, plus other kinds of intelligence and give a picture to the soldier that combines and enhances all three. That’s a real game-changer in terms of the fusion and the integration of the data,” he continues. “Rather than sending three different aircraft, we can send one aircraft that has three different sensor modalities to support each other.”

Service officials also intend to improve cross-platform data sharing, which will enhance situational awareness and improve force protection and aircraft survivability. Currently, an aircraft will receive threat data from whatever sensors it has onboard but not from other aircraft or ground systems. “It doesn’t get the data from the DCGS-A, which incorporates all the other sensors from the ground or from space to help improve its understanding of the threat environment. One of our thrusts is to do that cross-environment, cross-portfolio data sharing,” Kreider says.

But it is not only aircraft that will benefit. “Same thing applies to force protection. Let’s say a Gray Eagle aircraft that’s got a signals intelligence or a full-motion video sensor flies over a forward-operating base—the forward-operating base doesn’t see that data,” he says. But the Army is working to ensure that any sensor that comes into the area—even inadvertently—can be accessed, if necessary. That could include data from national satellite systems or aerostat data for troops leaving the forward-operating base.

The PEO-IEW&S office has provided significant support to warfighters. In the past two years alone, the office has fielded more than 45,000 systems, including reconnaissance aircraft and aerostats. Under Task Force ODIN (Observe, Detect, Identify and Neutralize), the team provided 112 aircraft at one time. At another point, the team had provided 32,000 vehicle-mounted Counter Remote Control Improvised Explosive Device Electronic Warfare systems, which are commonly referred to as CREW systems. The office also has fielded numerous aerostats, which have proven instrumental in the combat theater. “As a PEO, I have had the largest support contingency downrange. Today, I still have 1,200 people downrange,” Kreider says. “We’ve been busy.”

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