Fourth Wave Advanced Technologies Affect Electronic Intelligence, Warfare

June 1999
By Dr. Jude E. Franklin, Bruce B. Biggs and Darrell L. Ramey

Tomorrow’s capabilities could cut operator involvement in half and reshape the way battles are fought.

Next-century warriors will face a radically different electronic warfare and electronic intelligence environment in the information age battlespace. Rapid advances in technology will profoundly influence 21st century conflicts because highly advanced systems will provide greater situational awareness, higher quality threat assessment, and more accurate, timely automated matching of active signals with the resources of widely distributed libraries. Operators and analysts will be able to collaborate in real time within a distributed virtual environment. They will configure, launch and control highly efficient software agents to conduct geographically widespread tasks and accomplish complex analyses within a changing operational context efficiently and quickly.

Nations are presently in the midst of one of history’s strategic inflection points. Author Alvin Toffler’s “third wave” has not calmly rolled up on the beach; rather, it has combined with an ongoing revolution in military and business affairs to create a fourth wave, which will make future battlefields starkly different from their predecessors.

Exciting new possibilities are emerging from the advances in information technology that are catching the interest of military leaders and resulting in requirements that take advantage of the new technology, while driving even more technological advances. Not only are tools rapidly expanding, the Defense Department is proactively planning their future operational use. This is being done from the operational warfighting perspective.

Toffler describes four technology clusters: genetics, space industries, ocean industries, and electronics and computers. It is the latter that will have a significant impact on warfare, both because of its own implications and because the Defense Department is trying to facilitate the rapid absorption of developing capabilities. Revolutions have always been chaotic, and this one is no different. Just as better machines, such as aircraft and tanks, fueled the revolution in military affairs known as the blitzkrieg, information age technology is bringing a whole new set of tools that will fuel the next revolution.

However, the pace at which the Defense Department can change and adapt is not quite as fast as the evolution of the technology it is trying to manage and exploit. In addition, early advances are not necessarily those that emerge in the marketplace; so, both defense and industry communities are trying intensely to understand the implications.

A clear example of this is Joint Vision 2010 (JV2010) and a host of similar service-related visions that paint a vivid operational picture of information age military operations. These official prognostications are supported by phenomenal increases in technology-driven concepts. The Defense Department’s effort to drive the technology is plainly seen by the direct connection between capstone doctrine documents, like JV2010, and technology investment as described in the department’s science and technology plan. The latter document, which represents the investment in both direct research and the application of industry research, describes the plan for making the doctrinal concepts a reality.

A major tenet of emerging doctrine is information superiority, of which electronic warfare (EW) and electronic intelligence (ELINT) are components within the area of information operations. Information superiority combines intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance with command, control, communications, computers and intelligence to acquire and assimilate information that can be used to dominate and neutralize adversary forces while effectively employing friendly forces. It is the power of the computer and advanced software applied to EW for 21st century information technology that will enable field commanders to actually control the fundamental observe, orient, decide and act loop. It includes near-real-time awareness of the location and activity of friendly, adversarial and neutral forces throughout the battlefield as well as seamless, robust networking of friendly forces to provide consistent battlespace understanding.

Many of the implicit concepts of information superiority are clearly the result of information age technical capabilities; they push those capabilities to a higher level as well. For example, the emerging concept of network-centric warfare is a natural evolution, but the technology needed to implement the global grid is extensive, under development and requires significant maturation. When implemented, however, this concept will give future military commanders information that is far superior in both quantity and quality than what they have today. Information access, recognition and fusion will enable successful and efficient military operations across the full spectrum of conflict. As future doctrinal guidance evolves as well as plans and budgets to implement it, the Defense Department will continue to push the technology envelope.

The impact of these forces on EW and ELINT are as profound as many other aspects of the ongoing revolution in military affairs. Explicit and implicit requirements are the stuff of yesterday’s science fiction. The ability of the Star Ship Enterprise to “scan the planet” has long been an objective, even if not described in those terms. Conversely, cloaking ourselves has been equally desired. The requirements-driven nature of 21st century warfare includes specific pieces of that science fiction future world. These include integrating ELINT data from multiple sources so that it provides a complete, real-time, all-source picture of the electronic battlefield; facilitating distributed, contiguous analysis; increasing productivity, accessibility and accountability; and collecting, processing and disseminating advanced remote ELINT. Other elements include robust linkage between sensors, decision makers and weapons systems.

When fully developed, these capabilities will enable significant enhancement, including more accurate and less ambiguous data, near-real-time access, interactive graphical representations of the electronic battlespace, and better solutions for input, storage, fusion and presentation of ELINT data.

These capabilities are, however, operational ones and must be enabled by underlying technology solutions. This is emerging in the form of tools focused on the functional domain, which are facilitated by a variety of information technologies that are both driving and being driven by the fourth wave. These devices will provide advanced planning and scheduling; collaborative, distributed virtual environments; machine translation of languages; natural language processing; information herbivores; and information carnivores.

Fourth wave technologies rest on a foundation of evolving theory and practice. The specific types of software applications and computer environments that will have the most influence on EW and ELINT systems are software agents, distributed virtual environments and collaboratories.

Software agent technologies can be viewed in the context of a model described by Oren Etzioni, using the paradigm of a food chain. This model stratifies agents in terms of their relative intelligence and degree of autonomy. Software agents are virtual personal assistants that act on behalf of their user. They include agents of various skill levels.

The most sophisticated software agents will use other tools, including other agents, on behalf of the ELINT analyst. Avatars engage three-dimensional user representations that mimic their users in a virtual space. Some agents act relatively autonomously. Information carnivores are characterized by greater intelligence and actually subsume the herbivore-type agents’ results, and information herbivores are relatively less intelligent and focus on existing databases and web sites.

Intelligent agent technology will allow ELINT operators to access and filter information; manage distributed, collaborative workflow; broker conflicting sources and differing interpretations; and significantly enhance analysis, production and reporting in terms of both quality and timeliness. This will be based on, as well as propel the improvement of, sophisticated software agents to perform these complex tasks unaided by the analyst or operator who dispatches them. These requirements all share a common need for mechanisms to manage a distributed environment.

Where most agents today are relatively simple and frequently unaware of other agents operating in the info-sphere, those supporting the information age warrior will have to be persistent and able to reason as well as interact with both users and other agents. Using agents capable of interacting and cooperating with each other will be a key determinant of future EW system architectures as well as where those systems fit into the higher “system of systems” concept.

Softbot technology is especially important. These agents employ software tools and services for their user; however, they go beyond simple information gathering. They combine phenomenal search and retrieval capabilities and provide displays that could allow intelligence analysts to follow the Softbot’s progress and have visibility into the assessment process. This is critical for establishing credibility and reliability.

A particularly useful technique is parallel pull, where the agent performs targeted, parallel EW database searches yielding huge amounts of information. Working with either the analyst or other agents, the volume of data can then be manipulated, evaluated and fused as needed. Experts are currently debating this capability.

Working with other agents and having access to the large quantities of electronic battlefield data will require future EW operations to be performed in a distributed virtual environment (DVE). These environments provide a virtual space within which users can interact in a more realistic setting. In a future EW/ELINT DVE, the digital setting can be used to integrate knowledge and tools to perform information analysis, linking both human and software participants. It can be the foundation for real-time collaboration and provide the means to do waveform and parametric visualization, acquire and visualize historical or statistical data, and facilitate real-time producer and user interaction. These kinds of requirements are emerging in the doctrinal concept literature, such as JV2010, and in research efforts at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and military laboratories.

Attaining these capabilities will enable efficient force employment by providing an optimal forward force that is electronically connected to its supporting infrastructure in different geographic areas. The tools allow this dispersed force to operate as a single entity. ELINT analysts will be able to access, analyze and fuse parametric data, summaries, catalogs, signal descriptions and statistical ELINT data. They will be capable of linking to online technical reports and other related community databases as well as conduct fundamental analyses collaboratively across great distances.

According to industry experts, key DVE attributes include providing a large number of collaborative users with three-dimensional capabilities, communications, the ability to interact with other people and avatars, and dynamic, real-time change based on the information content and the revised EW situation. The latter is particularly important to ELINT because it will allow real-time situational analysis based on key signal parameters like pulse characteristics, duration, rate and atmospheric distortion. Geographically separated analysts could interact in real time and add more analysts or sources as needed.

The term “collaboratories,” coined by Richard Kouzes, James D. Myers and William A. Wulf, is used to describe the fusion of man and machine. Computers and electronic communications have already enhanced the research community. Some industry experts believe the next step is the merging of the scientific community with the computer science and engineering community to produce integrated tools and communication systems to support scientific collaboration.

This phenomenon especially can be applied to ELINT. Just as collaboration has been key to scientific research, it remains key to successful intelligence. Technology advances have clearly enhanced the ability to do this in far-reaching ways. The Defense Department understands this and is moving forward with requirements that call for developing the enabling technology even further. These requirements include collaboration across heterogeneous platforms such as palm-top computers and computer imagery, reliable networking with high bandwidth on demand, and facile communications that enable interaction of data acquisition and data fusion. Of particular interest to the ELINT community would be electronic virtual notebooks and logs, and access to worldwide digital multimedia libraries.

Enabling technology is the catalyst for significant change and is in turn being influenced by the newly available operational capabilities that demand even higher levels of technological advancement. The scope of the electronic battlespace will be significantly expanded by emerging information technologies that will enable ELINT analysts and electronic warriors to collaborate better, faster and more accurately. Defense Department experts believe these information technologies are producing tools that will contribute significantly to achieving the goals of Joint Vision 2010 and network-centric warfare.


Dr. Jude E. Franklin is chief technology officer; Bruce B. Biggs is principal technical adviser; and Darrell L. Ramey is executive manager, strategic programs, for Litton PRC, McLean, Virginia.