Intelligence: More, I Want More


May 4,2008: In Europe (Britain, anyway) and the United States, researchers have repeatedly demonstrated real-time video from multiple sources (on the ground and in the air, or even at sea) to multiple users. In this case, the user community includes combat commanders, as well as intelligence analysts. The troops commanders are demanding this kind of real time intelligence. They will not wait for intelligence analysts to examine what is going on, render an opinion, and maybe pass on the raw video feed.

Commanders using real-time intelligence began during World War I, where airborne radios (in tethered balloons or aircraft) first gave commanders continuous reports of what was going on down there. In World War II, some commanders would get into a two seat, single engine artillery spotting aircraft and command from the air. You had to watch out for ground fire. Same deal during Vietnam, when commanders would use helicopters for their personal reconnaissance. Not a universal practice, but could make a huge difference when used.

But UAVs are smaller, more numerous and fly higher (or are simply much harder to detect, making them less vulnerable to ground fire). That means every commander could have access to this real-time view of the battlefield. At the same time, there were troops on the ground capable of generating real-time video. All that has been lacking is what the intel people call "fusion" (combining data from many sources, and making sense of it.)

In practical terms, a company commander is likely to be looking at video from one UAV, on a laptop or game-controller like device. But a battalion or brigade commander has a larger area to operate on, and needs more information. Multiple flat screens, providing many video feeds, plus text and voice communications from multiple sources, is potentially overwhelming. In these cases, intel analysts have to hustle to keep up. Their boss can see and decide for himself what is going on, but the analysts can chime in with superior analysis, or additional information. "Fusion" is becoming a hot field, with new tools and techniques regularly being created. This is the kind of environment many commanders, at least the younger ones, grew up with. Multi-tasking. The Department of Defense has been going to Wall Street to see how the multifeed situation is handled by the pros. Big money is involved in the financial markets, and whoever handles the most information the most effectively, wins. Just like war, which is why you see those guys with short haircuts and good posture, wandering through trading rooms, asking lots of questions.


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