• The Defense Intelligence Agency’s (DIA’s) Science and Technology Directorate is developing a new strategy to pull in innovation to support U.S. warfighters’ understanding of foreign militaries. A U.S. Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcon lands at Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska.  USAF/Airman 1st Class Aaron Larue Guerrisky
     The Defense Intelligence Agency’s (DIA’s) Science and Technology Directorate is developing a new strategy to pull in innovation to support U.S. warfighters’ understanding of foreign militaries. A U.S. Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcon lands at Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska. USAF/Airman 1st Class Aaron Larue Guerrisky
  • U.S. Marine Corps Pfc. Hayden Severs, an infantry rifleman, notionally fires a rocket during the Adversary Force Exercise at Twentynine Palms, California, June 18, 2020. To empower U.S. warfighters, the DIA is seeking new solutions across a broad range of capabilities.  USMC/Lance Cpl. Brian Bolin Jr.
     U.S. Marine Corps Pfc. Hayden Severs, an infantry rifleman, notionally fires a rocket during the Adversary Force Exercise at Twentynine Palms, California, June 18, 2020. To empower U.S. warfighters, the DIA is seeking new solutions across a broad range of capabilities. USMC/Lance Cpl. Brian Bolin Jr.

Implementing Defense Intelligence Innovation

September 1, 2020
By Kimberly Underwood
E-mail About the Author

The DIA’s new science and technology strategy targets future solutions to answer tough military challenges.


Over the last year and a half, the Defense Intelligence Agency’s Future Capabilities and Innovation Office, or FCI, has iteratively developed a new strategy to drive innovation and collaboration to the agency. The DIA, as the agency is known, is looking to harness artificial intelligence, machine learning, natural language processing, counterintelligence tools and other solutions to identify and assess cyber behaviors, among other capabilities. The FCI also must be able to measure the impacts of any solutions. The strategy presents a comprehensive road map to pull in capabilities across a wide landscape of sources, from inspired employees, other intelligence agencies and the traditional and nontraditional defense base.

The DIA’s Science and Technology Directorate, of which the FCI is part, is charged with conducting research and development to provide the necessary tools and solutions to support military intelligence of the U.S. combatant commands and the defense intelligence enterprise. The FCI is at the forefront of identifying advanced technical solutions for the agency’s most difficult challenges. And, to succeed in providing DIA and the greater defense community key intelligence on foreign militaries, the agency must leverage innovation, Ken McCoy, the FCI’s chief, emphasizes.

Currently in draft form, the strategy represents a new focal point for the FCI and a paradigm shift, explains McCoy.

“My goal is to try to provoke impact within the whole of the national intelligence infrastructure,” he says. “We developed the strategy by pulling from years of past innovation and sourcing requirements, taking a look across the community to see how everyone else is doing it, and everyone does do it differently. There are so many pockets of innovation across the innovation landscape, and we wanted to gather best practices from everyone, turn those into agency strategic goals and plans, and put those needs that we have, get recommendations from internal experts or external experts, and then identify a rationale for the way ahead.”

McCoy, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran, has spent 38 years as a national intelligence strategic policy developer and adviser. He started as an anti-terrorism hostage rescue team leader, served a stint at his own company working in Iraq and Afghanistan, and returned to government intelligence service in 2012.

“The strategy is essentially our framework that will help us build and then continuously develop a cohesive and fluid FCI team that will best serve and facilitate solutions for the sourcing needs of the DIA,” he says. “The goal is to implement actionable analytics essential to the agency and then give [users] innovative capabilities, and then go back and measure the impact of those capabilities, how they are using them and then how they have assimilated methods that could possibly serve other customers with similar needs.”

One tenet of the strategy is to avoid redundancy, McCoy emphasizes. “We try not to buy it twice because it might already be out there,” he says. “So, in a nutshell, we call that innovation landscape surveillance.”

Another major goal of the new strategy is to drive internal and external communications to inform, acknowledge and promote future capabilities, innovation and awareness from the DIA workforce itself. “Everyone is an innovator,” the chief notes. “And everyone might have a good idea. We want to encourage those good ideas to come to us, and then we will take a look at them for merit and what they can be put against to see if it is an idea that solves something.”

Outside of its workforce, the S&T Directorate partners with almost “everyone” in defense intelligence to develop future capabilities, including the Defense Department’s Defense Innovation Unit, the Defense Intelligence Innovation Office, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Agency, federally funded research and development centers, and certainly industry, McCoy shares.

“The innovation landscape is so vast that we have to have partnerships first with our customer, and that’s the whole of the DIA, and then with all the innovators that are out there in the defense intelligence enterprise and the combatant commands, who also have needs, which of course the DIA helps facilitate,” he states. “These partnerships are key, [because] when you pull that mutual requirement together, it is a force multiplier.”

To engage with industry in an open forum, the directorate has launched specific mechanisms through the DIA.mil website. On the associated NeedipeDIA webpage, the agency lists updated military intelligence capability needs and requirements, and information on how companies can submit white papers against standing broad agency announcements (BAAs).

“The BAAs outline the directorate’s active needs in an unclassified manner,” McCoy offers. “There’s a whole section on NeedipeDIA and all the white paper requests are listed there that the industry can respond to essentially on a continuous basis. It provides a more rapid acquisition process, put against a problem that is already known. We try to keep that fresh and updated with new requirements as they emerge. And those requirements originate from our customer base.”

In particular, the DIA is looking for capabilities surrounding artificial intelligence and machine learning, mission enhancing science and technology, intelligence collection and tools that enhance counterintelligence and security, among other needed solutions.

Additionally, the agency is seeking tools to improve mission support capabilities, increase organizational effectiveness and empower partnerships. And as a combat support agency, the DIA considers new analysis technologies and methods to disseminate military intelligence information.

Regarding artificial intelligence and machine learning, the agency wants to combine advanced techniques with other tools—such as natural language processing—to be able to automatically identify technical terms and names associated with complex descriptions of foreign military weapon systems. The weapon system information could be buried in various types of unstructured data sources—including raw sensor files, uncoordinated electronic documents or multimedia files—and may require pre-processing, such as optical character recognition.

“Military systems are inherently complex, and weapon systems are often described in various places using a series of letters and numbers and associated ‘nick names,’” the agency specifies. “Foreign language descriptions, when present, add another layer of complexity. Tools and methods should be able to determine how to manage dialect and media recognition models associated with weapon systems that are highly unique to the intelligence and military communities. These tools and methods must be able to be applied to and then work with most open-source natural language processing software applications, search tools and other expert systems.”

For counterintelligence, the agency wants to support the improved development of capabilities that contribute to the timeliness, quality, quantity and relevance of counterintelligence information. The goal is to support counterintelligence consumers that exploit data collected by assets that provide indication, warning or other information relevant to force protection, according to the DIA.

Given the possibility of insider threats and the Secretary of Defense’s associated push to improve the way Defense Department personnel are evaluated for eligibility and access to classified information, the directorate is looking for solutions that integrate existing DIA insider threat capabilities, technologies and data sources. And it is seeking industry solutions—including automated tools that provide an assessment of workforce risks in real time, monitor data sources to identify information from an insider threat perspective and integrate publicly available information from social media platforms with traditional background information.

Moreover, the DIA would like improved systems—including algorithms and modeling tools—that identify and assess cyberspace behavior, as well as a network tool that supports management, review and display of reported foreign contact information.

The agency also is searching for innovative mission-enhancing science and technology, including solutions that can detect directed energy weapons, weapons of mass destruction, underground construction, electro-optics, pulsed power and radio frequency use by adversaries. Moreover, the DIA needs space situational awareness tools to detect space objects across all orbits, from low earth orbit to geostationary orbit, according to the agency.

To gather such a range of innovative capabilities, the FCI is spreading a wide net and will expand its partnerships. “The strategy and its formalization are something that is more simplistic to understand than other things that we have tried to put together,” McCoy acknowledges. “Because we want people to be able to take something very succinct and share it across the agency, the defense intelligence enterprise, as well as the whole of the intelligence community, academia and industry to solicit some of their best practices and then adopt new capabilities and collaborate for ideal solutions.”

In addition, the FCI has to be able to measure the impacts of adopted innovation and capabilities as to what the return on investment is of developing or purchasing such solutions.

“The [DIA] director will ask, ‘What does this procurement buy me? What did it get me as far as a solution?’” McCoy emphasizes. “FCI is expected to be able to answer that, and we’re not fully there yet. Some of that is because of resources and building a process out in order to analyze and scope that. But it is one of our chief objectives in order to be able to answer what are we getting out of the money that we’re investing, and have we invested it correctly, and when to cut our losses if something won’t actually work out.”

For the next fiscal year, FY2021, the FCI’s goal “is simply to implement this strategy,” he states. “And we do have a new director coming in this fall, so of course we may have to re-present this to have his concurrence that this makes sense. Then our goal is to proliferate and make some other recommendations where there is more of an authoritative centralization where the FCI is more recognized as the run-through shop or the first stop on your innovation pathway.”

The team at the FCI and the DIA will pull from their technical expertise, as well as scientific, engineering, technical and other advisory services along the way, of finding the appropriate capabilities.

“That is all needed in order to be able to apply solutions to some of the DIA’s most difficult problems,” McCoy notes.

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