The Air Force is looking to transition its intelligence enterprise into the digital age to meet the pace of threats rapidly eroding the technological and military advantages long held by the Department of Defense.

Nations such as Russia and China have publicly stated their intent to devote significant funds and resources to be global technology leaders in sectors such as artificial intelligence.

“They are competing against the United States. We need to really make sure we understand that,” Lt. Gen. VeraLinn “Dash” Jamieson, deputy chief of staff for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, said at an Air Force Association breakfast on Capitol Hill July 26.

“The forerunners [in AI] will be in control of tools that will analyze more information in more ways than we ever thought possible,” she said, allowing them to “deliver better strategies, methods of solving problems and accomplishing goals than we’ve seen before.”

With that in mind, Jamieson said, in this new digital age “second place might as well be last place.”

Building the next-generation ISR enterprise

Jamieson did not mince words in describing the challenge before the Air Force, acknowledging that the ISR enterprise is not postured to fight these technologically sophisticated peer threats.

Over the last 20 years, Jamieson said, the armed forces have been fighting in a permissive environment focused on technologically inferior extremist organizations, and it has not been preparing or building for a high-end fight being faced today.

Jamieson outlined a five-step path ahead, which includes;

  • Leveraging computing as a service to include the platforms, infrastructure and software, not data-storage facilities;
  • Secure creation and transport of quality training data to be able to train advanced algorithms;
  • Identifying, understanding and measuring authoritative data and information across the enterprise;
  • Developing and fielding algorithms at speed and scale to enable automated software upgrades; and
  • Management of the talent of the workforce.

Jamieson also explained that the armed forces must rethink processes of the past as they transitions from a manpower intensive force to more of a machine-learning intensive force.

Along those lines, Jamieson described a new framework in the works that will replace the current intelligence process for making sense of data (known as processing, exploitation and dissemination, or PED).

“PED is dead,” she said, explaining it is no longer sufficient for war-fighting decisions at the speed of relevance in the digital age.

In its place is a new concept Jamieson called SIAS: sense, identify, attribute and share.

This new approach is more in line with automation and machine learning, Jamieson said, adding PED can be done by machines while people or analysts need to harmonize the data to decision quality at speed.

Holistically, SIAS involves gathering and fusing information from a sensor grid that spans all the domains of warfare, putting that together into a pattern of life or trend analysis in order to answer who or what is responsible for certain actions and then sharing that across coalitions industry and academia to help evolve the framework.

Jamieson’s vision is in line with the trend senior leaders across DoD have highlighted as an important capability: harnessing AI, automation and machine learning to empower analysts to come to decisions faster. The analysts that can more efficiently fuse sensor data into relevant information faster can provide a significant battlefield advantage, reinforcing the timely and potentially costly nature of artificial intelligence leadership.