Interoperability is more than an IT buzzword. Investment in interoperability will yield significant returns for the defense intelligence enterprise.
“There are more things to do than we have money to go and do them with,” said Todd Probert, vice president of mission sustainment and modernization at Raytheon. “So, we have to make the best use of what we have, including not only data, but also all the underpinnings that allow maximum use of that data.”
It’s a simple concept: As sharing increases, duplication and spending decrease. Efficiency, meanwhile, surges. That leads to an even more important benefit of interoperability: speed, which is a key tenet of the Third Offset, the Pentagon’s strategy to ensure the long-term competitive advantage of the U.S. military.
“The principle of the Third Offset is really important,” Probert said. “A tentative offset is speed, and you can’t have speed if you don’t have the ability to talk to each other.”
Communicating standardized data via shared systems also bears critical mission fruit. When ISR systems are interoperable, for example, they can accept and integrate a host of different inputs, giving intelligence analysts access to a more holistic picture that enables better and faster decision- making, according to Sean Love, director of business development at Northrop Grumman.
“When you’re bringing together the diversity of an imagery analyst with the expertise of a SIGINT analyst with the reach of a HUMINT analyst, all of a sudden you’ve got a picture that is painted a little more clearly and a lot more rapidly,” Love said.
Consider, for example, a combat scenario in which SIGINT sensors detect potential activity from enemy forces. Interoperability ensures SIGINT sensors can queue IMINT sensors on a separate platform to confirm the presence of hostile forces before a bomb is dropped.
“Interoperability is only possible if those two sensors know about each other, if they have a data format that’s compatible, and if they have the ability to communicate with one another,” Love explained.
What makes the intelligence picture truly complete isn’t merely that sensors are interoperable; it’s that the services are, too.
“The idea of collaborating across organizations is something that enables us to make the knowable known,” said retired Marine Col. Phillip Chudoba, assistant director of intelligence at Marine Corps headquarters. “Sometimes, there is specialized intelligence work that I need right now; I should not have to produce that myself if it already exists somewhere else. Having that kind of analytic and production transparency across organizational boundaries is incredibly powerful in an environment where decision-making has to be supported rapidly.”
Capt. Jeffrey Czerewko, who serves in the Navy’s newly formed Office of Digital Warfare within the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations, echoed support of joint intelligence.
“Being able to be interoperable across the services increases our capacity, obviously,” Czerewko said. “And in certain cases it increases our capability—especially for niche intelligence collection requirements.”
When that increased capability reaches the tactical edge, the case for interoperability is clear.
“In a strike group, I need to sense the environment in a distributed manner,” Czerewko concluded. “With an analytic engine [that’s interoperable] I get the ability to do a fairly effective first-pass look. That provides a deep value to the leading edge because you get more effective intelligence far forward in a more timely manner.
I see the enemy and I have a decent idea now what their intent is at the forward edge.”