Intelligence: More Killer Software Magic

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July 23, 2008: The U.S. military has invented a new (well, recent) term for the age of constant video surveillance. It's ISR (Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance), and the U.S. Army has been ordered to rearrange its budget to get $1.3 billion more of it. This was done with the help of the new Department of Defense leadership, which has proved more effective at slicing through the tangle of special interests and lobbying that normally gets lots of money to the wrong places.

Army combat commanders have been asked what has contributed most to their recent victory in Iraq, and most frequently respond that it's ISR. That means UAVs (from the five pound Ravens to the 13 ton Global Hawk), manned aircraft carrying cameras, electronic sensors and analysts, thousands of video cameras (mounted around bases, suspended from balloons, or carried by troops while on patrol), all manner of computers to view the video on, satellites and land based network to pass the video and images around, hundreds of databases (containing information of hundreds of thousands of actual or suspected terrorists, and their neighborhoods), over a million dollars worth of software, thousands of analysts and commanders rapidly assessing the meaning of the data.

For years, there have been calls from Iraq and Afghanistan for more intelligence analysts, computer techs and geeks of all types. It's easier to get good infantry than it is an effective intelligence analyst. None of this gets covered much in the media, because the military, especially the army, doesn't want to talk about it. That's because they don't want the enemy to know too much about how U.S. troops can predict what the enemy will do, who they will do it with, and how they will do it. This sort of predictive analysis is nothing new. Been used for years in the commercial world. But even there, not many people paid much attention to what the bean counters and geeks were doing. However, most of the time all this analytical stuff, and the math it is based on, does work. ISR has saved thousands of American lives in Iraq and Afghanistan. It's saved even more Iraqi lives, because it enables U.S. troops to go after the enemy with more precision, and fewer casualties among nearby civilians. So it's no wonder that the generals, and troops, want more ISR.

Specifically, the new shift in money will buy eight C-12 (a 5.6 ton twin engine aircraft loaded with cameras and other sensors, and a small crew of analysts to get useful data the troops as quickly as possible), three larger C-23 ISR aircraft, digital data links for many of the Raven micro-UAVs, laser designators for the larger Hunter UAVs and similar upgrades for other UAVs. More money will go into software no one can talk about, but is generally believed to crunch the numbers on all this data collected, and predict where the enemy is, or what he will do next. This stuff is not a breakthrough item, it has been used by businesses for several decades. But it wasn't until Iraq that the military employed so much of this predictive analysis.

The army is taking the money from projects that are stalled, either for technical or management reasons (one manufacturer cannot build heavy trucks fast enough.) The navy and air force are doing a similar, although much smaller, shift in their budgets, to get more ISR equipment into use. Another bit of good news for the other services was that this time, the army got its extra money from its own budget. In the past five years, the Department of Defense has been getting extra billions for the army by just "reprogramming" it from navy and air force budgets.

 

 


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