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Army Aims to Revolutionize Intelligence Process

October 2003
By Robert K. Ackerman
E-mail About the Author

A true information age approach is the key to success.

The U.S. Army is looking to radically change the very concept of information management to meet its growing intelligence demands arising from force transformation. This will require a new way of processing and disseminating information in a network that links a rapidly growing number of increasingly diverse sensors and sources.

Lt. Gen. Keith B. Alexander, USA, deputy chief of staff, G-2 (intelligence), Army, charges that this service is still processing information age data with industrial age methodologies. As the Army undergoes its transformation, individual people and platforms will become intelligence nodes providing information that will be vital to the survivability of the force as well as to operational success. Not only will these approaches and new technologies change the concept of intelligence and its architecture, but they also will mandate a new way of producing and viewing information.

“For the intelligence system, we have a tough road ahead. But we like a challenge,” Gen. Alexander declares.

The general relates that the Army’s transformation is putting demands on intelligence in several ways: to be able to see the enemy first, to understand that it is the enemy and to move that information to people who will act on it. Achieving that will require the implementation of network-centric warfare that integrates sensors, processing locales, targeting systems and command and control systems. This network must be able to understand vital information rapidly enough to act before an enemy can, the general emphasizes. “When we think about transformation for our Army, it’s how do we take that advantage and bring that to our ISR [intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance] capability,” he states.

Not only must all this information be processed technically, but it also must be portrayed accurately to commanders so they can act first, the general continues. On a tactical level, this “first shooter” approach follows the philosophy of the Army’s upcoming Future Combat Systems (FCS). However, Gen. Alexander observes that this approach also would be taken throughout all levels of conflict.

“We are giving away tons of homogeneous rolled steel for maneuverability and intelligence,” the general offers.

For the Army to have the ability to see first, act first, understand first and finish decisively, it must make maximum use of intelligence. However, most information management techniques define and treat information in the same manner that has been practiced for decades or even centuries. This is the area that Gen. Alexander seeks to revolutionize.

“We talk about being in the information age,” the general states. “However, we are not in the information age yet. We are not in the information age until you can process information in the information age. Sending e-mail is only replacing what you had in hard copy and putting it on a screen. If you cannot do something with that information that brings you up to the next level, all we’re doing is passing the information—perhaps a little bit faster—but you haven’t done anything with that.”

Under today’s information architectures, sensor information is effectively removed from its inherent environment when it is sent into the intelligence network. Gen. Alexander emphasizes that it is important that this information is sent in context and not as an isolated fact. The goal would be to give the user a window on the area of interest instead of a set of messages.

“We have to build back a system that re-creates that window in the user’s realm, with the elements of the threat highlighted in such a manner that the user can see them,” he says. “That is what the future system has to do.

“How we do that across all the spectrum of conflict is where we need to go,” he states.

An individual who receives information from all of the sensing and information assets available in the intelligence community will receive “billions of pieces of information every day,” the general charges. “If you send it all by e-mail, you either have to teach all your people how to read real fast or set up a processing system to handle it. I would posit that we need to jump into the information age to handle it,” he concludes.

For example, if someone could put together “the fact of a communication, the fact of a radar emission, the fact of a tank,” and a machine could identify and site the target in less than one second, then the boundary between passing information and exploiting, processing and analyzing it would have been passed. The action item would have been assembled in the messaging instead of being e-mailed in a report that an individual would have to read, interpret and act on. This true leap into the information age is one the Army must take with its ISR, the general declares.

The general relates that a recent query on one terrorist returned 42,000 messages. Under conventional industrial age processing, the user would have to refine the query to narrow the number. Under the information age approach, the user would have the essence of those messages and comprehend them all after the first step. The system would examine the 42,000 messages for content and highlight their key parts, which would be merged for a report to the user—all in a matter of seconds.

This holistic approach to targeted information is necessary to provide the user with the correct information amid a network that is increasing in data geometrically. “Until we achieve this [capability], we are passing information in almost a linear fashion instead of handling information in the information age,” the general charges.

Most of the interoperability challenges that vex Army intelligence occur within the service. To support the Army, its intelligence community must merge human intelligence (HUMINT), counterintelligence data and other forms of intelligence such as signals intelligence (SIGINT) as rapidly as possible, the general allows. This information in turn must be coupled to the command and control system and battle command so that a commander’s requirements are closely paired with that intelligence system. The interoperability necessary to achieve this merging of information does not exist yet, Gen. Alexander relates.

The key to solving this problem—which may be solved sooner rather than later, the general offers—lies in new tools for handling information. These tools would allow taking in many information attributes such as location, association, time of acquisition and the operational intent as well as how to display these associations together.

One alternative would take a three-dimensional approach to information retrieval. Information effectively would be stored as buildings in a city. Everything that is known about a topic would be entered into the city, from which users could extract a city “block” of that topic that then would be established in a set of displays in that configuration. Technologies from future command posts would permit a user to manipulate this block or building. For example, that building could represent all the information on al Qaida. Specific information could be extracted from that structure, or new data on an aspect—such as an individual member of the terrorist group—could be added to the building. If a newly intercepted communication were to score a hit on that al Qaida member, it would hit an alert that would enable the communication to be translated and reported in real time.

“What we are looking at now is how do you start to get some of that—bring that together—what are your centers in the United States, [what are] the forward command centers?” the general says.

“All this software works today. How do we take that [information] and share it?”

In addition to hardware and software tools, measurements and signals intelligence (MASINT) technologies will be vital to the success of Army intelligence, the general predicts. “MASINT technology is going to absolutely explode,” he says. “Different forms of how you detect camouflage, infrared, foliage penetration and movement will come alive with the different types of sensing technologies that we will have.”

The Army will track with communications and radar technologies, although there will be some challenges there, he says. Automatic geographic recognition also will be integrated with the other technologies.

The thrust toward a sensor-to-shooter architecture is accelerating, Gen. Alexander confirms. This capability is an advantage that must be maintained as the Army transitions to FCS, he emphasizes. A key feature of this architecture is that the customer will be able to think deliberately through whatever sensing is needed and whatever target needs to be shot.

Again, this will require combining the sensing capability along with the processing, analysis and shooting capabilities all into one grid, the general warrants. In some cases, experts will have to determine where or when human operation should yield to machine control. Some responses to attacks, for example, must rely on established automatic actions, while others require human deliberation.

The other services are doing a good job of assembling their sensor-to-shooter information, and their broadcast systems are good, Gen. Alexander says. The outlook for linking all this information into a common sensor-to-shooter picture is positive, he adds.

“With ISR, everyone is a collector. Every platform is a reporter. Air defense systems see things. Radars see things. Counterbattery, countermortar systems see things. Every system out there—scouts, attack helicopters, every system we have—is a sensor of some form. Getting all that integrated is going to be a key to our success,” he declares.

The general notes that the Army must improve its integration of tactical forms of collection—surveillance and reconnaissance assets. This especially is essential for the form of warfare that the United States has in Iraq, he adds.

Operation Iraqi Freedom generated several lessons learned. One cited by Gen. Alexander is the need for more force structure in the counterintelligence/HUMINT area. “We saw that in Afghanistan, we are seeing that in Iraq, and that is something that the Army is working hard on,” he states. “But we do not have enough of those forces today.”

The Army also needs to network these intelligence assets with ISR into its overall network. A tactical HUMINT team that is disconnected from that network does not have access to the power of that network. A team that cannot query the network will miss significant information that it might need to carry out its mission effectively. Similarly, a network that cannot receive information from that team is lacking. “Bringing those in is one of the [lessons learned] that I saw in my trip to Iraq,” the general offers.

Creating the right intelligence network entails building a network of exploitation, analytic cells and both tactical and national assets at the joint-task-force level. Yet, that goal remains elusive. “We’re clearly not there yet,” the general declares. “It’s one of the things that we are pushing hard, but we’re not there. As a consequence, it takes too long to process and merge the tactical HUMINT with national information to ensure that we are not missing opportunities.”

Intelligence access on the move is another vital area. Gen. Alexander cites Force XXI Battle Command Brigade and Below (FBCB2) and Blue Force Tracking as key venues in this endeavor. What is good for tracking, he points out, also is good for reporting and for situational awareness. His office, along with the G-6 and other offices, is pushing hard for broad incorporation of Blue Force Tracking, which he describes as “a very elegant solution.”

Installing Blue Force Tracking in every vehicle will enable one part of the overall intelligence network. All the vehicles will receive information about their own situations as well as those of other forces within a certain sphere. Adding all tactical and national sensing systems—along with the ability to process, analyze, disseminate and exploit that information—will provide the impetus to transition from the conventional linear process to the modern information age, the general posits.

One issue that must be resolved is the policy aspect of passing along classified information and when to declassify it. Ensuring that units in the field have visibility and that information flows down to them may be the key to solving this problem, the general offers.

The way to move information throughout the battlespace is to broadcast it, the general continues. Information that is tactically relevant should be sensitive but unclassified. It can be encrypted for safeguarding, but it should be given to the units that need it, regardless of individual clearance levels. A sergeant without a clearance, for example, should not have intelligence withheld from him that could help him fight and win.

The next task for moving this information to the warfighter is to set up a process with the related national agencies to establish the necessary mechanism. “No matter who collected it, get it to the guys who need it so that they can take advantage of it,” the general declares.