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Information Sharing Moves to Next Generation

June 2007
By Rita Boland
E-mail About the Author

 
Tech. Sgt. Blackburn, USAF (r), reviews a report from Senior Airman Phillippi, USAF, based on his analysis of U2 imagery using the Distributed Common Ground System (DCGS) at Distributed Ground Station 2, Beale Air Force Base, California.
Element of new system is put into place early, with more updates to come.

The U.S. military is moving closer to full implementation of a system that will transform how intelligence is collected and disseminated. By making raw and complete material available to analysts and others worldwide, the technology will blur the line dividing operations and intelligence.

The Distributed Common Ground System (DCGS) Integration Backbone (DIB) will create interoperability among the various DCGSs in the U.S. Air Force, Army, Navy and Marine Corps and in the U.S. Special Operations Command, allowing disparate troops and services to access the intelligence they need regardless of location. The DCGS will create a network-centric enterprise among military forces and other agencies, enabling real-time information sharing. The DIB has an open architecture and is Web based, and it will assist the accurate, timely dissemination of information.

 The Air Force is acting as the lead component of DIB implementation, although officials emphasize it is a joint effort. Maj. Guy Mathewson, USAF, director, DIB Management Office, expects formal documents making that lead role official soon. Though the DIB Management Office is not officially a joint program office, it operates as such, with representatives from every service and from the Special Operations Command. Maj. Mathewson and his team are concerned about meeting requirements from all the services.

As its name implies, the DIB is the backbone or the foundation of data sharing. Members of the intelligence community can operate on separate DCGSs and still interoperate with the DIB in place. The backbone will enable better search capability and eventually will lead to distributed data processing across various locations. According to Maj. Mathewson, the DIB will transform intelligence sharing because data will not be passed around. The warfighters will access the DIB to find the information they need without worrying about where the database is or in which database the information is situated.

The DIB will enable experts at any location to process data from any other location and will allow personnel to share workloads better because information is not relegated to a geographic area. In addition to connecting the military, separate efforts are under way to tie the DIB into national systems so civilian agencies can use its material. Other DIB projects involve integrating NATO partners into the backbone. The DIB will factor into Empire Challenge 2007, which will include military forces from the United States, Australia, Canada and Great Britain.

According to Maj. Mathewson, information on the DIB will be in specific enclaves with certain security levels so that access will be based on authorization and clearance levels. However, he emphasizes that the aim is to share information with those who need it when they need it. “The ultimate goal is net centricity and to be a net-centric program,” he states. The DIB marks the start of building a service-oriented architecture; it is the promise of network centricity in the intelligence community.

The Air Force’s DCGS 10.2 program will be the first major integration of the DIB for all Air Force DCGS locations. It currently is undergoing testing, and Andy Yates, DCGS chief engineer, Raytheon Company, expects the first operational fielding at the end of 2007. Yates shares that DCGS 10.2 is a transformational change of the basic architecture on which the DCGS operates. It will transfer what once was based on sensors to a platform with Internet-based technology.

The implementation of all parts of the various DCGSs and the DIB is a multicorporation, multicontract, multi-agency effort. The Air Force—the first agency to implement the technology fully—primarily is using the DCGS for imagery intelligence and measurement and signature intelligence, and it is looking at signals intelligence capabilities as well. The DIB will be designed for all services to share many types of intelligence.

To speed introduction of the DIB’s capabilities to the forces, the Air Force recently accepted from Lockheed Martin an early infrastructure delivery of the DIB at three operational locations in Virginia, California and Europe. Rather than introducing a new DCGS and the full range of DIB features, the delivery introduces some capabilities, including the metadata catalog. Using the backbone, operators can search not only processed intelligence reports but also raw data.

The early delivery integrated the DIB into three previously stovepiped, legacy autonomous intelligence databases, allowing greater information sharing. Mark Grablin, director, tactical intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) ground systems, Lockheed Martin, states that the DIB increases the number of sites operators can search on a query-by-query basis.

 
A senior airman reviews imagery from the Predator unmanned aerial vehicle during a training mission at a distributed groundstation.
The system was delivered under a contract with the 578th Aircraft Sustainment Squadron (ACSS). Lt. Col. (Sel.) Mark Mocio, USAF, commander of the 578th ACSS, says that this first implementation is just the start for the Air Force. He notes that the system currently does not allow airmen to communicate to the DCGSs outside the service. The full capability will be realized with DCGS 10.2 in late 2008 or 2009 when all the tools that can exploit the DIB will be completely integrated.

Part of the spirit behind the early delivery, according to Col. Mocio, is acclimating analysts to tools before the full rollout.

The Air Force will employ the DIB by making it available to analysts on DCGS workstations. Other users will access the DIB through a Web portal. The portal is not yet installed, but it will enable remote users, including combat troops, to access the DIB.  Currently, imagery and signals intelligence analysts have to know what they want in order to retrieve information. They can query, but information transfers from point to point. The DIB works more like an Internet search engine. Analysts put in queries, and the DIB pulls information from all the systems and people attached to it. It also will allow standing queries and automatically will alert users when new information becomes available. “It provides the analysts with the ability to get more access to products across the enterprise,” Col. Mocio shares.

Troops in combat will be key users of the DIB, but it is available for anyone who needs the data and has authorization. The Army also has been using the DIB, the colonel states, and that use has helped lead to the early maturity and rollout. “It’s a real capability now, not just a plan,” he states.

The DIB aids the military in engaging more than one mission at a time. Troops can handle a broad spectrum of information and work on whatever objective they need to meet. Analysts working on a certain project can have access to items of interest they were excluded from retrieving before, and they can find other analysts working on the same problems.

The DIB allows the Air Force to balance the workload among analysts and locations and to use the enterprise to maximize the tools available. The portal allows troops to access other sites, products and agencies, and it enables the service to share its data.

Because the DIB is meant to be a joint tool, not a service tool, policy— and in particular security policy—is one of the most difficult barriers that developers have to overcome. Maj. Mathewson says that information sharing is easy within the Air Force, but operating with other DCGSs and ensuring that systems talk to each other are major policy issues. “The technology is actually the fairly easy part of it,” he states. 

Personnel at the U.S. Joint Forces Command (JFCOM) also are taking a role in smoothing out procedural difficulties inherent in the DIB. “In JFCOM we really have two roles,” says Christopher Jackson, chief of the ISR Transformation Division at JFCOM. “One is that we have written version 1 of the joint DCGS CONOPS [concept of operations], which gets into the philosophy that you can federate ISR operations across the service DCGS nodes.” The second role is to ensure that the connection is in place between the DCGS nodes and the operational command and control process.

As with Maj. Mathewson, Jackson believes that the DIB will transform intelligence sharing and takes the idea a step farther by suggesting it will transform the relationship between operations and intelligence, blurring the lines between the two fields. The transformation will improve interoperability and network centricity. “I don’t think we are fully appreciative of the effect this will have on the operational force,” he explains. “[The force] is no longer tied to just an ISR or exploitation allocation.” As a result, U.S. troops can respond more quickly and accurately to asymmetric adversaries because whether information resides in a location down the road or with another service, any approved user can access it.

Developments in command and control capabilities are occurring in conjunction with the investment being made in the DCGS. “It’s not just intelligence for intelligence’s sake,” Jackson explains. “It’s intelligence for the operational commander.” He shares that if the military does not look at operational command and control as part of the DCGS, it is building “a very big, very expensive self-licking ice cream cone.”

Jackson anticipates discoveries during Empire Challenge 2007. He expects to see increases in processing and exploitation capabilities. He also anticipates an exponential increase in what the DIB users can do with raw ISR data and the development of an understanding of how the involved parties will be brought together. Jackson has been working in intelligence for more than 25 years, and he thinks the DIB will have a major impact on how intelligence is handled. “This is the most radical change to the way that we do intelligence that I’ve seen in my career,” he says.

Despite the traditional view that information is power, Jackson relates that he has seen no hesitation from the military branches about sharing intelligence, and he adds that the undersecretary of defense for intelligence and the undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics are providing robust management. Sharing intelligence fills in the gaps experienced when data is derived from limited sources. No one branch of the military has total, end-to-end visibility of a potential adversary. Relying on one source of intelligence or one discipline can give an inaccurate, untimely picture of the enemy. Jackson compares the intelligence process to gathering puzzle pieces. All the pieces come into play before the military has an accurate portrayal of the adversary and the adversary’s capabilities.

Jackson and other officials also hope that the DIB will help lead to better foresight of the operational picture. The more information, whether military, political or economic, that is gathered and shared about the enemy, the more insight commanders have about what the enemy does, wants to do and is able to do. Putting the pieces from different sources together offers a better predictive capability. “Fundamentally, the more information you have on bad guys, the better off you are in preventing them from doing what they want to do,” Jackson states.

JFCOM’s ISR Transformation Division provided the primary support for DCGS Worldwide 2007 in April to address concerns and provide updates on the DCGS.

Web Resources
U.S. Joint Forces Command: www.jfcom.mil
Lockheed Martin ISR: www.lockheedmartin.com/wms/findPage.do?dsp=fec&ci=13155&sc=400
Raytheon DIB: www.raytheon.com/products/dib
DCGS Worldwide 2007: www.ncsi.com/dcgs07/index.shtml