The Department of Defense is facing a major disconnect between the volume of data collection and its ability to provide meaningful intelligence from that collection, said Lt. Gen. John N.T. “Jack” Shanahan, director of defense intelligence for warfighter support with the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence. “More data does not equal more intelligence,” he said. “We’re not prepared.”
Sitting on panel to discuss joint processing, exploitation, and dissemination (PED) Wednesday at GEOINT 2016, Shanahan said the rapidly expanding persistent demand for intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR), has resulted in “an explosion of growth in ground, overhead, and cyber platforms.” He said in an age when every person and platform is a sensor, the military is overwhelmed with data to the point that the processing, exploitation, and dissemination of it has become a limiting factor. “It’ll only get worse,” he warned.
The panelists discussed the importance of U.S. services working together in an increasingly data-heavy world to improve operational effectiveness. Intelligence interoperability is critical to provide the most effective support, whether it’s locating high-value targets or determining where to land helicopters.
Shanahan said willing collaboration between branches is fairly new and asked the audience to take note of seeing all the services represented together on stage for this discussion. “Five years ago, you wouldn’t have had this,” he said.
Among the goals for collaborative PED success, panelists said, is finding best practices and allowing for flexibility in missions. They also discussed moving toward open architectures and agile methodologies.
“When we came together initially with the Army, the question was how can we do this in a way that will best meet warfighter needs, and can we back each other up,” said Lt. Gen. Robert P. “Bob” Otto, the U.S. Air Force’s deputy chief of staff for ISR. “How can we agree on common data standards and tradecraft and also promote analytic innovation and tool interoperability?”
The panelists discussed technological challenges—in some cases, not having enough technology, and in other cases, not being able to integrate that which already exists. A recurring topic of concern was collection management.
B. Lynn Wright, deputy director of Naval Intelligence, said intelligence officers need to let machines do their jobs in terms of data processing.
“[Officers] love to handle each bit of data,” she said. “The reality is that they need to get past that… [and start] focusing on the really hard problem set that humans can deal with.”
Wright said one of her chief concerns is that she provides enough capability and automation to allow warfighters to execute their mission.
“It’s an extraordinarily difficult environment and it’s been a very difficult environment in last 15 years,” she said.
Otto asked the audience whether they would wait seven years for a new iPhone.
“When we do block releases to modernize the [Distributed Common Ground System], it was taking us up to seven years to do that,” he said. “We realized it just was not going to keep pace with innovation, technological developments, and the needs of the airmen.”
He called on the commercial sector to help harness technology to reduce manpower requirements, adding the Air Force is moving “in years instead of weeks.”
“Our airmen are extremely stressed,” he said toward the end of the panel. “I’m concerned about the long term impact of that. What can you develop from a technology perspective that allows us to achieve the same effects with fewer people?” The nation, he said, “is asking more of the Air Force than we have people to do it.”