Kehler raises trial balloon: Put STRATCOM in charge of all GEOINT PED

Analysts need to spot surprises while they scan files for changes they expect to see

There’s a rising gap between the volume of data being gathered and the ability of humans to process the information. That could be addressed by automating processes and making one agency responsible for managing data, according to Air Force Gen. Robert Kehler.

Kehler, who is commander of the U.S. Strategic Command (STRATCOM), told attendees at the GEOINT 2011 Symposium that there’s a rising gap between the ability to gather data and the ability to process that data. There’s been a 1,500 percent increase in the volume of data collected over the past five years, but the manpower to process it has barely risen.

“How we process, exploit and disseminate (PED) the massive amounts of data we generate and the resulting information is where I think the real challenge lies,” Kehler said.

Users need to not only find the information they want, they also have to spot the unexpected data that could drive a strategic shift. Focusing only on data that users want to see can cause them to miss data that could be critical.

“Surprise is our deadliest foe,” Kehler said.

He suggested that one way to mind the gap between the growth in data and the lack of manpower for improved PED could be to centralize PED with a single focal point. That’s what is done when emergencies arise, and it could work well on a day-to-day basis.

“Maybe we could locate PED within STRATCOM’s joint function command for surveillance and reconnaissance,” Kehler said.

That group is located within the [Capital] Beltway and it is common ground for both military and intelligence agencies, he added. However, he also raised the possibility that another group could also become this focal point.

“There may be other and better solutions. I’m not looking for more duties but I encourage and welcome a dialog on this,” Kehler said.

However, the management is arranged, automating the analysis of imagery must occur, according to Kehler. Machines can sort and find relations between data so humans can make decisions. At the end of the day, making strategic and tactical decisions based on the geospatial intelligence data is the overall goal. Automation must also provide techniques that pull relevant data together so it’s easy to use.

“One of my nagging concerns is that we finally pull the pieces together and connect the dots, I’m still looking at five or six computer screens,” he said.

This shift to fewer computer screens must be matched by a reduction in networks, which will make it easier to share data. At the same time, the geospatial intelligence community must move to a cloud architecture that is effective rather than just a move to adopt a popular technology.

Together, all these changes must be made to narrow the gap between the ability to gather data and analyze it.

“There is real value in the data between the gap that may be able to tell us what the next surprise may be,” Kehler said. “We’re only extracting a tiny bit of the information that’s relevant. Most of the ones and zeroes that come down from the sensors wind up on the cutting room floor.”

About the Author

Terry Costlow is a contributing writer for Defense Systems.

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