Search:  

 Blog     e-Newsletter       Resource Library      Directories      Webinars     Apps     EBooks
   AFCEA logo
 

Military Streamlines Biometrics Science Spending

September 2008
By Rita Boland
E-mail About the Author

 
Members of the Defense Research and Engineering office’s Wolf Pack team conduct an assessment event to demonstrate a number of technologies and capabilities, including a portable, multimodal biometric tool kit. The U.S. Defense Department is creating
a new biometrics science and technology plan to encourage
use of funds for biometrics development and to guide those investments in the right direction.
The Pentagon is leading the creation of a document to encourage organizations to use their development dollars while directing that funding toward the most necessary efforts.

The U.S. Defense Department is creating a biometrics science and technology plan to help the services and other component organizations spend their money in ways that will fill warfighter capability gaps. The document will inform stakeholders of current resources and needs in the defense biometrics community, with the goal of producing solutions through both standard and unconventional means. The plan is part of a larger effort to formalize biometrics strategies and efforts within the military community.

The science and technology plan will serve as a reference for researchers and acquisition officials in the biometrics field. The document will identify technologies necessary for warfighter success in an attempt to eliminate duplication of efforts and focus work in the right areas. “It’s been necessary for a while,” Thomas Dee, director of defense biometrics within the Pentagon Defense Research and Engineering office, says.

The document is designed to fit into a larger Defense Department enterprise strategy for biometrics. At the top level is the department’s overall strategy plan, followed by science and technology guidance from Dee’s office. One level of detail down is the science and technology plan. Finally, a road map will outline specific, near-term activities organizations can take.

The fiscal year 2008 science and technology funding line served as a catalyst to coordinate all the department’s biometrics efforts. Various pieces of the military have ad hoc biometrics programs supported through supplemental funding, and the department wants to pull all the efforts together as a more formal program based on requirements. This new arrangement will go beyond responding to urgent needs coming from the theater to conducting full analysis of positions and needs to identify requirements and gaps. Officials want to emphasize biometrics as a capability for many mission areas such as information assurance and base access. “The science and technology plan is just one way we’re doing that,” Dee explains.

All the military services and other defense organizations such as the Defense Threat Reduction Agency, the Defense Intelligence Agency and the Biometrics Task Force (BTF) are involved in the plan’s development. Representatives from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) have participated in workshops to provide input from their perspectives. “This is really the first attempt to have a comprehensive biometrics science and technology plan for the department,” Dee explains.

The BTF had primary responsibility for drafting the document, along with private industry partner MITRE, and will create the department’s biometrics road map. MITRE and the BTF worked closely with representatives from the science and technology community to ensure the document fits within the larger Defense Department biometrics planning. Within the plan, the military is seeking biometrics technologies in four main, though not new, areas: intelligence, physical and logical access, forensics and architecture. The final category addresses the capability to transmit biometric information to the appropriate parties.

To assist the effort, the U.S. Joint Forces Command conducted a capabilities-based assessment (CBA) to explain what the military really needs from biometrics in the future—with the understanding that the solutions may not be technically possible now. At the same time, the military began holding science and technology workshops to create acquisitions objectives and understanding of technology maturity. The workshops also devised plans to develop technology to the point necessary for transition to fulfill the gaps anticipated in the CBA.

In the past, biometrics science and technology was outlined only as technology objectives in service plans, or in studies, reports, lessons-learned documents or urgent-need statements. The new document builds on internal and external biometrics studies, such as the August 2006 National Biometrics Challenge, that addressed technical gaps in the military, but did not delineate how the government can fill the requirements. “This plan that we’re drafting is complementary to that National Challenge document, but will go beyond that,” Dee says. The new plan will address how the department will fill the gaps and develop necessary technologies.

Additionally, the plan will explain what the department wants to do in the future, even if such capabilities are impossible now. “We also want to be able to address the technology push,” Dee states. Whether tools are developed internally or by academia and industry, the military wants to remain in tune with research to potentially transition those technologies to the department for defense use. “Our interest, of course, is solving DOD [Defense Department] capability gaps first, being able to predict future capabilities we need, identifying gaps and solving those gaps,” Dee explains. “But in some cases you may not anticipate anything. There may be technologies being developed for an entirely different purpose by their activities and having tremendous utility for the DOD, so we want to be able to figure out how to bring those into our DOD technology plans and develop those efforts.”

Though the plan will serve as an important guidelines resource for biometrics personnel, the intent of the plan is not to have central, consolidated control of all Defense Department science and technology funds. “It’s really to allow components, as they develop their own science and technology plans and objectives, to focus [them] on what the department’s priorities are,” Dee explains.

Included in the plan will be background information about why the plan was created. Beyond the technology explanations, the document will address processes and other areas. “We’re going to have a discussion in there about technology transitions and how to accomplish that in the biometrics world,” Dee says. “We’re going to address some focus areas that we want to look at like sensors, collection systems, being able to improve image quality, data quality…[and] looking at algorithms for pattern matching.”

 
Soldiers from the 2nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team “Warrior,” 25th Infantry Division, enroll Sons of Iraq (Abna al Iraq) volunteers by entering them in the Biometrics Automated Tool Set, a computer database that catalogs fingerprints and iris scans, and creates photo ID cards, in the village of Abayachi, north of Baghdad. A new Defense Department science and technology plan will offer direction for developing biometrics technologies necessary to fill warfighter capabilities gaps.  
The plan will include discussion on the different modalities facing biometrics, from the traditional fingerprints and iris scans to speaker identification recognition. Some researchers are looking at emerging modes such as ear geometry. “We’re not limiting this, and I don’t want to speculate what they all may be,” Dee says.

The biometrics science and technology plan will examine the development of the various modalities and how to use them to make a positive identification of an individual, whether to identify someone as a potential foe or to enable assured access to a network. The plan will address how to use biometrics effectively and what tools are needed, especially in the sometimes harsh environments of military operations. For example, to take a fingerprint, officials need a sensor, a collection device and a way to transmit the information. In a clean, high-technology environment, such a task is relatively easy, but troops need the same capabilities in the field. The military needs to find the right combination of capabilities and sensors to allow warfighters to collect the modality of choice, such as fingerprint, facial recognition or iris scan, and transmit the data, which could require some type of image compression. Then the information must be stored and algorithms developed to match the different images, which may necessitate image enhancement.

The plan also will address fusing different biometric modalities and existing contextual data. In addition, the plan will discuss system design and architecture, because personnel need the ability to tie together biometrics information and data from many repositories, Defense Department or external.

The plan should spur development in the most critical-needs fields of biometrics, but the document will not focus exclusively on design, development, research and engineering science and technology line funding. Plan developers are examining opportunities to leverage a wide variety of funding options. The intent is to look at the department’s entire science and technology portfolio and the available opportunities to enhance the state of biometrics technologies using all the different mechanisms.

The guide to investment aims to offer the science and technology executives from the military services and Defense Department component organizations ideas on how to structure their funds to focus on the department’s highest needs. All the services and many other agencies are involved in biometrics development to some extent. The Defense Department is attempting to pull all those efforts together and focus them on the right areas by providing a guide for how investments would be most useful to the department as a whole.

A goal of the plan is to keep guidelines flexible and open. “There’s not a single technology that is going to answer all of the department’s biometrics needs,” Dee explains. “We want to keep this thing fairly broad and inclusive.” Decision makers can keep an open mind about future decisions so that new technology is incorporated as necessary. The plan offers flexibility through the different science and technology funding mechanisms and levels. By identifying some of the technical focus areas for biometrics, the plan creators expect that the managers of different development efforts will take the various options into consideration as they conduct solicitations or discover opportunities to invest their dollars.

Despite its eventual applications, the science and technology plan will not affect operations immediately. “Ideally, we want technology to be developed coincident with the acquisition plans so that when we get to milestone decisions, Milestone B preferably, we know we have a defined, validated requirement—this is what we have to build,” Dee says. “We want the technology to be mature enough to be able to support those acquisitions efforts which are supporting directly the warfighter needs. So the real intent of this document, internal intent, is to guide and encourage science and technology investments on the part of all the components.” Though Dee’s own office has some funding, larger organizations such as the Army and Navy have significantly more money to invest and are the ultimate users of the capabilities, so Dee’s office wants to promote their investment in biometrics technology development. “This will serve as a guide for their investments,” he states.

Lisa Swan, director, Biometrics Integration Directorate, BTF, also believes that the plan will help members of the biometrics community invest their money and meet department needs better. Her hope with the plan is that readers will understand the department’s biometrics targets. Swan shares that the report will inform organizations with extra funding where they should look to develop capabilities, outlining technologies the department needs but does not yet possess. “It will point out where we are today, and [say] generally this is where we’re headed,” she says.

Much of the plan’s value is in its ability to communicate the department’s larger needs to stakeholders and developers, leveraging expertise across the community to create the most effective solutions and eliminate duplicative efforts. The long-term result is better capabilities, and the short-term result is an opportunity for coordinating and pulling together the best deal for the military.

In addition to creating better understanding among the biometrics community, the BTF itself should reap benefits from its role in the process. “If anything, it will continue to strengthen our ties with other organizations,” Swan says. She adds that people already view the BTF as a coordinator. “That is one of our major roles,” she explains.

However, the role as a science and technology plan developer is new for the task force. Swan says the BTF has not played a strong part in these efforts in the past, but the plan complements the direction the department is going. And as the department continues to look for benefits and partnership opportunities with industry, the plan aids these goals. Swan explains the military definitely wants cooperation and input from the private sector. “The key thing is we’re really looking to leverage everybody’s efforts, and I think this is a win for industry and for DOD,” she states.

To help ensure the usefulness of the plan, the document will be submitted for review and approval by the Defense Science and Technology Advisory Group (DSTAG). A good, smooth draft of the plan was completed in August 2008 and is ready now for placement on the DSTAG calendar.

Once the document has been reviewed, finalized and published, it will be released to the public. No date for release has been set.

Web Resources
Biometrics Task Force: www.biometrics.dod.mil
Director, Defense Research and Engineering: www.dod.mil/ddre
The National Biometrics Challenge: www.biometrics.gov/Documents/biochallengedoc.pdf