Friday, December 21, 2012

The software automation of intelligence functions

Army considers Palantir to boost intelligence architecture | Defense Tech:

'via Blog this'

Apparently Palantir's Intelligence software, built to distribute data and information in an intelligence community environment, has grown popular enough with soldiers that the Army is considering incorporating into its existing infrastructure. Which is an interesting concession on the part of the Army, because at present Intelligence is not compatible with the service's Distributed Common Ground System. It sounds like Palantir's system is easier for soldiers to use when it comes to displaying and working with large quantities of raw data like IED locations and social graphs of suspected insurgent networks. More details can be found at DefenseTech.Org and on the Palantir website.

The incorporation of the Army's intelligence architecture into combat units through software systems like the Distributed Ground System and Intelligence is a significant milestone in the overall evolution of military systems. One that will hopefully break some long-standing organizational stovepipes and distribution choke points within the services' internal information flows. As I blurbed in an article a few weeks back (down toward the bottom), the ground-level fusion of traditional intelligence functions with special operations units inside the Joint Special Operation Command in Iraq and Afghanistan was a major revolution in military affairs. Or at least the vanguard of one. Either way, it's a merging that vastly enhanced the effectiveness of JSOC's units, and -- I think -- finally lead to the full realization of the potential agility of special operations forces.

For years, lack of actionable intelligence was a major hindrance to use of those forces. The high risk nature of special operations -- small teams often cut off from quick backup -- made both commanders and politicians reluctant to employ them when current intelligence was hard to come by. However, the ability of units to quickly gather, analyze, and  distribute fresh data, rather than having a separate, slower moving organization for tactical intelligence functions, has helped reduce the problem of staleness and actionability. It often results in one mission generating a quick chain of follow ups as new data is rapidly exploited, without much of the old friction or jurisdictional boundaries that use to slow the process.

For me, the closest precedence to this development is the sheer capability that combined arms mechanized warfare brought to ground units during the 20th century. The combination of armor, infantry, and indirect fire elements into smaller and smaller units -- going from separate regiments to combined battalions, and even companies and platoons in some cases -- gave units an agility, speed, and flexibility that steamrolled opponents who failed to adapt.

It wasn't just the speed that trucks and tracked vehicle brought to the game. The ability of tanks and infantry to work closely with one another in practiced cooperation created units that could shift fluidly from one terrain type to the next. Armor dominated in open country, while infantry handled pockets of dense terrain like woods, natural choke points, or villages, to prevent opponents from getting off shots at the vulnerable flanks of tracked vehicles. In the dense terrain of forests and cities, infantry became the arm of decision, while tanks shifted to providing heavy fire support against emplaced positions and obstacles like bunkers and barricades, and controlled open spaces such as roads, clearings, and city squares. In both built up areas and in the open, armor and infantry together benefited from having organic mortars and integral brigade or division artillery assets that allowed them to quickly strike targets shielded by horizontal cover.

Now a ground-level integration of intelligence and combat arms functions similar to that seen in the special operations community is being carried out in the conventional Army with the incorporation of software that facilitates quick lateral and vertical sharing of information. I suspect that this change is both an adoption of techniques developed by JSOC, as well as a refinement of earlier data-sharing experiments carried out in the test bed Force 21 units, and in the medium-weight Stryker brigades that saw combat over the past decade. Whatever the source, it will be interesting to watch the effects of this melding play out in the real world.

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