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Fixing the ‘I’ in ISR to save money, boost info sharing

Sep. 30, 2012 - 03:19PM   |  
By BOB NOONAN and GREG WENZEL   |   Comments

Consider this: Today, U.S. intelligence analysts spend roughly 80 percent of their time gathering intelligence but only 20 percent analyzing it.

That model — one where the pace and resourcing of data collection vastly outstrips efforts to analyze that same data — has real-world implications. Despite systems in the sky, on the ground and online, U.S. forces are still not able to quickly access an integrated picture of operations.

The situation is made more vexing by a constantly evolving and diverse threat landscape and ongoing budget cuts.

In June, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta reinforced the necessity of a “flexible” and “agile” force, particularly as the U.S. looks to shift its focus to the Pacific. If these concepts are to be more than buzzwords, our defense infrastructure must change the way it approaches C4ISR — command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance.

The next generation of surveillance will not be about developing stand-alone ISR systems and sensors but about integrating what we’ve already got. This framework would allow us to efficiently add capability.

In short, we need pragmatic, enterprise-level solutions. Through the convergence of existing systems or the creation of an integrating framework to extract more from what we have, analysts will derive more value from the data and provide more battle-ready information for the war fighter.

Convergence requires reusing existing systems rather than building new systems with separate standards.

If no existing system meets the need, then an agency can move forward to build a solution that complies with the required standards. The enabling technology should be scalable to adapt to future needs. This platform and vendor-agnostic technology can create true interoperability between systems.

True, a changing threat landscape requires improved techno-logy, but given the fiscal environment, convergence is the path to an efficient, effective net-centric solution.

The Defense Department’s Defense Intelligence Information Enterprise (DI2E) framework, intended to integrate disparate information systems, is a step in the right direction, and promises to unlock more value from the data gathered by sensors, ground stations, and the processing, exploitation and development process. This flexible framework will enable the right amount of information sharing and reduce spending on proprietary applications and tools that are often not compatible.

This approach will find skeptics. For instance, as the need for new clouds and applications arises, some will argue a holistic approach creates “winners” and “losers.”

If one agency agrees to let another lead the development of a new technology, the requesting agency relinquishes control. Some may fear that over-sharing of information puts security at risk, and that it is impossible to achieve consistent service-level agreements across agencies.

These arguments reinforce the need for a culture shift to meet today’s challenges. Sealing off data in stovepipes simply will not work. And neither will the old thinking of moving programs through large procurements that take years to complete and often fall behind the pace of technology.

With fewer resources, the director of intelligence is asking agencies to pool what they can, leaning, in some cases, on the expertise of another. These efforts have the potential to realize IT savings, enabling the individual agencies to focus resources on core missions.

With this as the backdrop, the most effective way to translate the vision of convergence into fielded capabilities is continued leadership commitment, the alignment of resources and the right mix of incentives.

The value that we can create through better connections between the sensors, ground stations and the process of exploiting and disseminating information will create new capabilities without the cost of a new program.

If we advance to a common network, the government can expand the value in the billions already invested in creating persistent surveillance in new ways, improving effectiveness and bottom-line efficiencies.

Possessing intelligence data that can enable mission success, but failing to put the full value of that data into the hands of key decision-makers and the war fighter, runs contradictory to the well-documented need for an agile, flexible force. To start flipping the 80-20 intelligence breakdown, it’s time we adopt a holistic, enterprise-level view of the “I” in ISR.

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Bob Noonan is a senior vice president of Booz Allen Hamilton and a retired Army lieutenant general. Greg Wenzel is a senior vice president at the company. Booz Allen has business with government agencies in the area of C4ISR, including the Defense Intelligence Information Enterprise.

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