Laboratory Integrates Intelligence

October 2008
By Maryann Lawlor
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Visitors to the Joint Intelligence Laboratory (JIL) in Suffolk, Virginia, view a virtual reality demonstration. The JIL is part of the Joint Transformation Command for Intelligence, U.S. Joint Forces Command (JFCOM).
Innovative technologies help create joint solutions at the speed of war.

Intelligence data is under a virtual microscope and literally surrounding analysts with the opening of a facility at the U.S. Joint Forces Command, Norfolk, Virginia. Under the auspices of the Joint Transformation Command for Intelligence, the Joint Intelligence Laboratory is the new home for representatives from the services as well as from industry and academia. The laboratory enables them to view real-world operational data in innovative ways and solve commanders’ real-world problems. After evaluating technologies and methodologies, intelligence experts pass along promising solutions seasoned with ideas about doctrine; concepts of operations; and tactics, techniques and procedures to heighten their success.

The Joint Intelligence Laboratory (JIL) is the latest step in the U.S. Joint Forces Command’s (JFCOM’s) journey toward fulfilling a directive issued by former Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence Stephen Cambone. The JFCOM was instructed to manage a joint intelligence laboratory in which any joint intelligence concept, process, methodology, technology, prototype or transformational initiative could be tested with intelligence community participants. The directive further called for using current and relevant operational data to transform analysis.

With the pride of a new parent, Col. Chuck Mehle II, USA, commander of the Joint Transformation Command for Intelligence (JTC-I), JFCOM, Norfolk, Virginia, relates that the JIL, which officially opened in April, does just that. “To be able to test, experiment and train using real operational data is really a big deal. Up until that point, there was no singular place you could go that would have all intelligence community and [U.S.] Department of Defense intelligence data,” Col. Mehle says.

Under former JFCOM Commander Adm. Edmund P. Giambastiani Jr., USN, the initial steps toward creating the JIL were taken. He re-missioned the Joint Intelligence Center, which had focused on the Atlantic area, to lead the Defense Department’s joint intelligence community transformation. The goal was to ensure that policy, law, procedures and best practices could be globally trained and instantiated to the same levels. A large training contingent within the JIL helps meet this goal under its Joint Intelligence Training Joint Management Office, the colonel states.

The JIL is unique in a number of ways, he continues. First, it focuses on those intelligence issues that face joint commanders, the combatant commands (COCOMs) and joint task forces. It is the joint warfighting advocate specifically for intelligence-related issues.

The JIL’s second distinct quality is that it provides what Col. Mehle calls cradle-to-grave solutions. The process starts when teams generate possible solutions that move through concept development. Experiments then are conducted in an environment that includes operational context and data as well as support from all the national intelligence agencies. Finally, teams develop training packages that complement successful solutions, enabling users to implement recommendations better, faster and smarter, the colonel explains. “We do all of that at the joint operational level of war. In other words, we’re not worried about service solutions. Our strike zone is the joint operational level of war as it relates to the intelligence challenges,” he says.

Solutions the JIL develops are framed within the doctrine, organization, training, materiel, leadership, personnel and facilities domains, he emphasizes. “I’m a computer scientist from Virginia Tech, and technology itself is nice, but it’s not going to cut the mustard. What we need to do is convert that technology into a capability, and that capability is provided to commanders through the generation of doctrine—joint doctrine—concepts of operations, TTPs [tactics, techniques and procedures] and solid training,” Col. Mehle says.

The importance the colonel places on training is evident in the resources he has devoted to it. Last year, the JTC-I trained approximately 2,600 troops globally—including in Afghanistan and Iraq—via mobile training.

The JIL work force comprises representatives from each of the services who specialize in intelligence, information technology and operations. In addition, the laboratory is home to Defense Department civilians, industry partners and members of academia, including Pennsylvania State University and Iowa State University. At any given time, the number of personnel varies from approximately 30 to 100 individuals. In the dynamic work environment, the number of experts found there depends on the number of projects, experiments or events underway. “By having these people in here and having a venue where we can worry about things like integration and interoperability to close those seams, we can avoid having challenges out in the field,” the colonel explains. “The essence of jointness is integration and interoperability.”

Col. Mehle estimates that five exercises, events or experiments are underway simultaneously at any given time in the laboratory. Personnel are organized by task and report to the JIL from organizations such as the Defense Intelligence Agency, the National Security Agency (NSA), the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency and the Joint Center for Operational Analysis. Their skill sets range from all-source intelligence analysis to collection and targeting. In addition, threat finance as well as document and media exploitation specialists can be called in. The laboratory has the capacity to host a full joint interagency task force and can accommodate coalition partners.

All of the equipment on the first floor of the JIL is on wheels and reconfigurable. The centerpiece is the knowledge wall, an information display that is 38 feet wide and 18 feet tall; the resolution quality is between four and seven times that of high-definition television. Iowa State personnel designed the wall with the help of industry, Penn State and the Applied Research Laboratory.

The wall takes disparate feeds from networks regardless of security level, including the secret Internet protocol router network, the nonsecure Internet protocol router network, coalition networks and the Defense Research and Engineering Network. “Any one of the several hundred workstations that are found out there—be it [command and control] system, intelligence system, whatever—can be put up on the wall in any form or fashion,” Col. Mehle explains.

The Real-Time Regional Gateway is one example of a system that feeds information into the JIL. However, the colonel allows that it is so new and so transformational that training for its use did not exist. “The NSA has seen the importance of JFCOM, the JCT-I and the JIL and put that system into the JIL. The lab receives the operational data that is being collected and operated upon over in the areas of responsibility,” he relates. “So now what we’re able to use is no-kidding, live data through live systems. The benefit of that within the JIL is that the folks who are going through these exercises and events prior to going into the box [theater of operations] have a better understanding of the threats that they’re going to face in a few weeks; they are more familiar with these specialty systems.”

The Joint Intelligence Laboratory’s knowledge wall is 38 feet wide and 18 feet tall. The wall’s resolution is four to seven times that of a high-definition television. Information feeds from a multitude of military sources populate the wall. The design was a joint effort by academia, industry and the Applied Research Laboratory.
But access to a lot of data presents problems of its own. Much like in the field, JIL intelligence experts can find themselves inundated with information. To address this problem, Penn State created the Knowledge Advanced Visualization Environment (KAVE), a capability that allows analysts to actually stand inside the data in a three-dimensional, almost holographic environment. “It’s a very, very amazing capability because these days the intelligence community is dealing with so much data. Reading a report about a specific data point or a specific event doesn’t give you the context that an immersive and advanced analytic environment can,” Col. Mehle explains.

Another solution to the so-much-data dilemma is coming from an unlikely place: Hollywood. In a project called Valiant Angel, the JIL is working on a way for commanders to handle the massive amounts of full-motion video that are now available thanks to a plethora of unmanned platforms. Realizing that the commercial entertainment industry has the same problem and already has solutions, a JIL team called on it for help. “You can sit at home and watch ESPN on demand, and then stop it, rewind it and play it again, and then call up your friend and say, ‘You may want to watch this, but watch it in Spanish.’ So what Valiant Angel has done is we have partnered with research and development experts out of the entertainment industry to [figure out how to] manage, store, communicate and access very, very large data sets very, very rapidly. This has been acknowledged as a very important capability that is needed,” the colonel shares.

In addition to storing, moving, communicating and accessing large amounts of data, Valiant Angel is providing a pragmatic approach to full-motion video processing, exploitation and dissemination (PED). Col. Mehle notes that this aspect of full-motion video management is important because currently different people have different meanings for PED. “For some, PED might be sticking yellow stickies on a screen after the event happens, and then taking notes about it as the video is displayed to them. But Valiant Angel gives them the capability—the John Madden-type capability—to drop the icon onto that video frame. Let’s say there is an event such as an IED [improvised explosive device] placement or an IED detonation or defusing. Immediately across the Defense Department, intelligence enterprise alerts will go out to those people who subscribe to that type of event, that geographic region, that timeframe, you name it,” he explains.

The U.S. Central Command is excited about Valiant Angel solutions and would like to field them rapidly. The colonel shares this enthusiasm and has no doubt that they will revolutionize the way the intelligence community communicates. Plans call for the capabilities to be delivered “in the very near future,” he adds.

Rapid fielding of capabilities is at the heart of Col. Mehle’s business philosophy. “I don’t believe in the song that never ends—in other words, acquisitions that go on for careers. I don’t believe in a year to try to solve a problem. I believe that field commanders would rather have something today than the Cadillac two years from now. In the Joint Intelligence Laboratory, my goal is, and we are focused on, providing those full-spectrum solutions in between 90 and 120 days,” he states.

But the colonel is concerned with more than just the technology. Doctrine, TTPs and concepts of operations (CONOPs) are equally important to providing intelligence personnel with a useful capability. “People don’t understand that it’s not about technology. You could do a drive-by fielding and it would be worthless,” he says.

“We have systems out there right now—the Distributed Common Ground System [DCGS] and others—that collect signals and events as they’re occurring. But how do you increase the integration of those systems? How are those systems collaborative? How do those systems reflect to all of the key players—regardless of whether it’s joint, coalition, interagency—the full common operational picture? Those are the kinds of things that we are very, very concerned about within the JIL and framing them up into not only doctrine but also TTPs, CONOPs and so on so that we’re not winging it or making stuff up from area of responsibility to area of responsibility.

“Part of that is the speed of war, the speed of information. What we don’t want to do is give commanders history lessons. What we want to be able to do is give them information at that speed of war to be able to make solid joint decisions on the application of force in kinetic, nonkinetic, you name it,” Col. Mehle states.

Project managers of systems such as the RTRG and the DCGS appreciate the value of the JIL. “They have put their capabilities and systems into the JIL because it’s the single place where we work on the integration and interoperability among all of those systems. And I’ve got to tell you that the taxpayers should be very happy about that because we don’t really build anything new. We take what we’ve got and we make it work better together,” the colonel says.

The JIL relies on industry to keep it on top of emerging technologies and capabilities that can enhance both intelligence operations and intelligence experimentation, integration or training demands. Although the laboratory provides the staffing, evaluations are done at no expense to the government. “And you would be amazed at how many industry partners have elected to do exactly that,” Col. Mehle states.

Web Resources
Joint Intelligence Laboratory:
Joint Transformation Command for Intelligence:

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