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American Forces Press Service

Intel Ops Becoming More Joint, Responsive to Warfighter Needs

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

NORFOLK, Va., March 31, 2006 The need to get more intelligence to warfighters faster so they can act on it is fueling big changes in how information is gathered, processed and shared, a U.S. Joint Forces Command official said.

There's an increasing appreciation that the global war on terror is an intelligence war, Christopher Jackson, chief of JFCOM's Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Transformation Division, told American Forces Press Service. With that appreciation comes a recognition that information has to be made available more quickly and to more people.

"I think there's a clearer understanding that, in some ways, intelligence delayed is intelligence denied," Jackson said.

Gone are the days when the United States faced a predictable adversary. "Back in the era when we were dealing with the Soviets, we had a lot greater understanding of how they were going to move and when they were going to move and the conditions," Jackson said.

Terrorists, on the other hand, have no rules of engagement or doctrine that guide how they operate. They're highly adaptable and quickly change their tactics. "So we have to try to adapt to and get in front of the situation," Jackson said. One way to do that is with intelligence.

Traditionally, the intelligence community operated as a series of independent "stovepipe" systems, all collecting and processing intelligence, but highly compartmentalized and protective of who had access to it. Often, the more pressing concern was protecting how the intelligence was acquired in the first place.

But that's all changed. "There is still a requirement to be protective of sources and methods, but we are trying to move the pendulum over closer to the side where, as information is collected, it's available across the coalition battle space to all consumers, all people who have a need," Jackson said.

There's also a trend toward making more raw data available to users in the interest of time rather than waiting until it can be fully processed. For example, an operational commander often can look at full-motion video without having to have someone tell him what he's looking at, Jackson said. And the benefit of getting it in real time sometimes outweighs the value of having it processed.

The need to get more intelligence more quickly to more warfighters is driving another shift in long-standing intelligence practices and making them more joint, Jackson said. No longer, for example, are Army sensors devoted solely to gathering intelligence for Army units or Navy intelligence analysts processing intelligence only for fleet operations.

"That's like going into a fight with one arm already tied behind your back, and we're getting away from that," Jackson said. "No single intelligence discipline or source has all the answers. It has to be brought together with as many sources and capabilities as possible."

Working collaboratively makes the best use of "high-demand, low-density" intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assets that are always stretched and the need for their services, he said.

This joint focus is enhancing the intelligence warfighters ultimately receive. "For example, the fact that you can put Navy personnel in an Air Force facility, exploiting information coming from Army sensors, you get a little bit more information than you would otherwise get if it was just the Navy talking to the Navy talking to the Navy, or the Army talking to the Army talking to the Army," Jackson said.

He said he sees no end in the growing demand for intelligence to support warfighters. He sees a day when every soldier, sailor, airmen and Marine serves as a sensor, reporting observations into a local information grid that becomes part of a broad intelligence matrix.

"The idea is that you get all these different data sources put into a local information grid so that you are a subscriber to the grid. You can call down the information for whatever you need, when you need it," Jackson said.

In that vision, subscribers to that grid -- warfighters whose mission and lives often depend on solid intelligence -- will be able to access that information from their computer screens with an easy-to-use search engine. "It's like applying Google to intelligence data," Jackson said. "You'll be able to bring disparate sources in from all sorts of different places and lay one on top of the other and you have a lot better chance to getting more pieces of the puzzle."

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