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Improving searches for intel information

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4/13/2016 – HANSCOM AIR FORCE BASE, Mass. — A small research and support office here that enables warfighters to get intelligence information quicker and easier is celebrating the 11th anniversary of fielding software and plans to demonstrate the current level of innovation by participating in several upcoming events.

The Distributed Common Ground/Surface System (DCGS) Integration Backbone, or DIB, provides a common set of services and standards to facilitate the sharing of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance information with the warfighter. Prior to the DIB, data resided in sensor- or functional-specific databases accessible only to intelligence analysts with access to the individual databases who would task, collect, process, exploit and disseminate the information.

“A tactical commander can’t wait for his intelligence analysts to page through thousands of returns to get the information he needs,” said Pat Lee, Multi-Service Execution Team Office (DMO) lead engineer. “With the DIB, users can search for intelligence using very specific criteria like data type or format, so that commander can make informed decisions.”

Making improvements

She added that the office is always looking to make the DIB better. A few years ago, the DIB was rewritten using open source software, making the core of the DIB, the Distributed Data Framework, or DDF, open source. Re-baselining the DIB on open standards allowed for more complete querying and retrieving of information between DCGS Programs of Record and coalition partners.

The PoRs include Air Force DCGS, DCGS-Army, DCGS-Navy, DCGS-Marine Corps, DCGS-Special Operations Forces, the National Reconnaissance Office’s DCGS-Intelligence Community and the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency’s National System for Geospatial Intelligence Expeditionary Activities, each with its own implementation of the DIB and federated metadata catalog.

The DMO is the persistent, working-level “action-arm” of the DCGS Multi-Service Execution Team (MET), which is a collaborative decision-making body comprised of the DCGS program managers who meet regularly to coordinate acquisition and implementation of the DCGS Enterprise. This includes the DIB, on behalf of the DCGS programs and other DIB-user organizations. Since its inception in 2006, Hanscom Air Force Base has been host to the DMO, including the full-time, on-site representatives of each of the MET member organizations who help keep the DMO focused on satisfying MET PoR warfighter requirements.

“We make use of off-the-shelf technology and other already-proven military applications,” said Antonino Amoroso, Operations Command and Control Division, Intelligence Systems branch chief and DMO director. “We leverage and partner.”

Two years ago, the office began looking at agile software methods and development, common methods used in industry. Lee explained it in terms of a cellular phone.

“We’re used to our phones getting software updates every six months or a year,” she said. “However, for the software the military uses, it takes much longer; we were looking for a way to speed software to the warfighter.”

The DMO uses four-week agile software development sprints; the goal of each sprint is a potentially fieldable software capability that can be checked out by being alpha or beta tested for functionality by potential users. DIB software is currently on a formal release plan that calls for fielding in June and January. The DIB 4.3 will be released to the DCGS PoRs in June 2016.

Innovative events

Another way to speed the acquisition process is the team’s participation in an event in June sponsored by the Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence called the Defense Intelligence Information Enterprise Plugfest. DI2E Plugfests are annual events that enable industry partners to showcase and test the interoperability of their components with PoRs.

Lee said for the upcoming DI2E Plugfest, the DIB’s open source DDF truly provides the backbone where vendors can interface their applications in order to gauge their level of compliance with DI2E standards, specifications, and community best-practices.

Two areas the DMO will be focused on during this year’s DI2E Plugfest are “Identity and Access Management (IdAM),” and “Describe and Discover.” Lee said for Describe and Discover they will be looking for the applications to be able to accurately find the data stores the customer wants to access. IdAM guards the data based on a user being authenticated to have access to the data and has authorization, or permission, to see the data.

Another event the office is currently participating in is Enterprise Challenge, an annual event that builds on Plugfest to highlight and assess emerging ISR capabilities to improve interoperability in support of warfighters. It is a year-long effort consisting of five spirals that culminate in a live test event. The DMO team has participated in Enterprise Challenge, and its predecessor event series called Empire Challenge, since 2007, facilitating the integration of the DIB.

This year, the team is already participating in EC spiral events involving Data Tagging, verifying ways to gather very specific answers to intelligence questions. In simplified terms, the DIB works like a federation of online library card catalog systems, where users can discover and pull information on a specific topic, but often there are high volumes of information returned in a given response. Program officials want to see if there’s a way to narrow that information down to a very explicit answer for an analyst.

“It’s getting better every year,” said Lee. “We’re attempting to build something very tailored for DCGS [intelligence] analysts.”

In the future, as technology changes and improves, she said they will be looking to see if the system can integrate with Cloud analytics, as opposed to just providing data.

“The DMO focus is to deliver capabilities to the warfighter in a qualitative and timely manner,” said Amoroso. “And the first-class team is a key factor to our success.”