Distributed Analysis, Processing Capabilities Empower Warfighters

January 2008
By Mary Lynn Schnurr

The Distributed Common Ground System–Army (DCGS-A) collects and fuses sensor and intelligence data into a theaterwide repository. This information warehouse allows analysts to locate and share actionable data quickly with commanders to provide U.S. forces, such as these U.S. Army soldiers on patrol in Iraq, with enhanced situational awareness.
Data mining, information fusion techniques provide troops with enhanced situational awareness.

Recognizing that the Global War on Terrorism covers many distinct areas of the world, the U.S. Army is expanding its intelligence databases by adding regional analysis capabilities for its areas of operation. This information will be stored in distributed data warehouses that allow analysts to access and share actionable intelligence to support forces in theater. Army intelligence brigades will use these tools to store and study data before providing it to deployed forces.

The U.S. government’s Cold War-era sensors and analysis systems were designed to collect and analyze information about known enemies with established and prominent operational signatures and organizational patterns. These sensor and analysis systems are challenged by today’s intelligence requirements to collect, exploit and track fleeting, ambiguous, small targets among varying types of complex terrain—human, physical, information. Denying terrorists the ability to maintain anonymity among the populace is a tough mission but vital for successful operations in complex operating environments such as urban centers. The USS Cole bombing in August 2000 was the catalyst that led the intelligence community to improve information sharing and provide the analytic capability needed to confront these threats in an era of persistent conflict.

Analysis always has been a combination of art and science. The science consists of providing the right tools and technologies to analysts, making large quantities of information readily available and understandable, and enabling experts to manipulate and view data in multiple, meaningful ways. The art is part process, part experience and part innovative, critical thinking. 

The goal of the Distributed Common Ground System–Army (DCGS-A) program is to provide the science to enable the art of analysis. Current DCGS-A capabilities include distributed access to the fusion brain, digital mapping, geospatial layering, visualization and collaboration tools. Future spirals include insertion of weather, terrain, still imagery, video and audio analysis as well as collection management tools and language translation. Some of these capabilities already are resident in existing U.S. Army intelligence programs of record, but these capabilities will be transitioned or improved upon under DCGS-A.

Forming the heart of the Army’s theater intelligence gathering and analysis capability, the DCGS-A originated as the fusion brain concept under the Intelligence and Security Command (INSCOM) in 2001. The fusion brain is a virtual warehouse of intelligence data intended to bring information to analysts, eliminating the need to search multiple networks and hundreds of disparately managed databases individually. Data engineers enter hundreds of data sources into the fusion brain, creating a virtual warehouse of data. This data can then be searched and queried and results layered onto common geospatial products, providing users a realistic representation of the data. 

U.S. forces in Korea experimented with a fusion brain prototype as part of Project Morning Calm, which led to the deployment of a quick-reaction capability in Iraq and Afghanistan in 2005. In June 2006, the Army transitioned fusion brain tools and associated capabilities to a formal program of record. By focusing on the U.S. Central Command’s (CENTCOM’s) area of operations, Army intelligence data flows into the central region fusion brain through a variety of communications modes, including fiber-optic lines to the Trojan Special Purpose Intelligence Remote Integrated Terminal (TROJAN SPIRIT), the Joint Network Node (JNN) and other satellite connectivity applications.  

The Army also is expanding the fusion brain architecture by adding regional fusion brains to the European, Pacific and Southern Commands’ areas of operation. INSCOM’s theater intelligence brigades will be responsible for inputting regional data and providing it to deployed forces. Deploying corps, divisions and brigade combat teams (BCTs) will field DCGS-A capabilities that will virtually point to the regional fusion brain for pre-deployment situational awareness and intelligence information downloads. 

For U.S. Army Forces Command units in the ready stage but not yet designated a deployment destination, the Ground Intelligence Support Activity (GISA) located at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, will host a continental United States fusion brain with intelligence products and messaging for all regions. GISA currently hosts intelligence products and messages for the CENTCOM region and will incorporate data from each additional fusion brain dynamically as it comes online. 

Similarly, the Signal Corps is moving toward a regional support concept through virtual Army processing centers. As units depart their home stations for Phase 1 of deployment, they will point or re-home their JNNs and command post nodes (CPNs) to the Network Service Center–Regional for Global Information Grid (GIG) and application services.   

DCGS-A flat network operations have proved to be highly successful warfighter enablers. To operate effectively in complex, dynamic environments such as Iraq and Afghanistan, Army units must have access to DCGS-A capabilities for analysts to understand norms, detect change, determine linkages and identify and track hostile targets. The Army has delivered DCGS-A capability through accelerated development and fielding to deployed battalions, BCTs, and division and corps analysis elements in Iraq and Afghanistan. Units rotate in and out of the area of operation, but the system and its embedded memory of activities and events remain behind as theater-provided equipment.

DCGS-A capabilities are not just enablers for combat maneuver units, they also are essential for the success of combat service support elements. The Army National Guard’s 875th Engineer Battalion is a case in point. The battalion’s small intelligence section successfully employed DCGS-A capabilities to support supply route mobility operations in Iraq. The 875th was able to use DCGS-A flat network access and software tools to provide tailored, tactically relevant analysis, products, assessments, situational awareness and warning graphics for planner, company and convoy use. 

As a result of the success of this initial deployment and lessons learned, the Army plans to integrate DCGS-A capabilities across all of its component formations by the end of fiscal year 2010. As this equipping occurs, the Army will spiral technical advances into the DCGS-A program to adapt to enemy and commercial changes and to increase operational relevance. The service also will increase DCGS-A presence to include home stations and combat training centers.  Planned DCGS-A upgrades will include integration of flat network capabilities into mobile platforms such as the Future Combat Systems (FCS). 

The DCGS-A is not a communications system, because it relies on other systems as crucial enablers to operate in a network-centric and collaborative environment. The foundation for DCGS-A is the fusion brain. These brains, operating at fixed locations, require significant bandwidth availability to support the constant sharing of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance data with units and to access other services and joint knowledge centers. The Defense Information Systems Agency recently has completed a GIG Bandwidth Expansion initiative to support the U.S. Defense Department’s network-centric transformation. This initiative is essential to adequate data bandwidth and data transport to ensure DCGS-A access to information repositories at INSCOM theater intelligence brigades and other knowledge centers. 

Installing DCGS-A capabilities at home station sites also has significant implications for other garrison communications. The Installation Information Infrastructure Modernization Program has supported garrison operations and associated communications requirements for many years. Operations in Iraq and Afghanistan have underscored the requirement for expanded secret Internet protocol router network (SIPRNET) connectivity for garrisons. This need has become a readiness imperative for Army modular transformation and the Army Force Generation system that now makes all BCTs, regardless of geographic basing, subject to worldwide deployment.

Commanders and their staffs now require constant situational awareness. The DCGS-A is the unit’s link to developing knowledge about the enemy, environment and potential future situations during pre- and post-deployment periods. This information requires access to the SIPRNET down to the battalion level. SIPRNET access enables units to conduct operational planning and allows intelligence personnel the means to leverage the larger DCGS community and to understand potential threats well in advance of deployment. For these same reasons, BCTs need garrison access to the Joint Worldwide Intelligence Communications System and the National Security Agency Network. These requirements now are being addressed by the Army chief information officer/G-6.

As units move from home station to power projection locations for deployment, DCGS-A requirements begin to affect available tactical communications capabilities. In Iraq today, DCGS-A uses a combination of fiber, Warfighter Information Network–Tactical (WIN-T) Increment 1 (JNN and battalion CPNs), and TROJAN SPIRIT connectivity to access the fusion brain directly. These networked communications capabilities support database replication and synchronization between the fusion brain and deployed DCGS-A work suites. A combination of battalion CPNs and fiber-optic landlines, if available, is used for battalions to access the fusion brain data resident at BCT work suites. Today, in Iraq, the DCGS-A is a subset of the larger Top Secret/Sensitive Compartmented Information (TS/SCI) communications requirements that are captured and updated as part of a continuous dialogue between the Army Signal Center and the U.S. Army Intelligence Center and School.

The Army’s intelligence and signal communities conducted a key experiment in the summer of 2007 to evaluate the technical feasibility of providing TS/SCI connectivity to support DCGS-A operations via the existing JNN capability. The experiment demonstrated successfully that JNN has the scalability to support the total aggregate TS/SCI bandwidth for current and future force requirements. However, there is a caution to this optimism as TS/SCI users prepare to merge into WIN-T. This potential solution requires additional JNN bandwidth, a larger requirement for signal TS/SCI clearances and additional supporting TS/SCI intelligence gateway tunneling packages. The intelligence and signal communities also are studying how these applications will affect organizations and training.

To create actionable intelligence, analysts, commanders and soldiers must have distributed, all-source flat network access. The DCGS-A meets this need through the accelerated development and fielding of workstations and by providing network access down to the battalion level in Iraq and Afghanistan. The system also is on its way to full force conversion and subsequent integration with FCS. The intelligence and signal communities have made tremendous progress over the past three years, but more work remains to be done. Continued G-2/G-6 collaboration is necessary to ensure data access and sufficient bandwidth for effective DCGS-A employment to produce actionable intelligence during operations.

Mary Lynn Schnurr is chief information officer for U.S. Army Intelligence, Headquarters, Department of the Army Deputy Chief of Staff, G-2, and director of the Intelligence Community Information Management Directorate.

Web Resource
U.S. Army Intelligence and Security Command: www.inscom.army.mil


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