Over the past decade, the military has exponentially increased the amount of battlefield intelligence data it collects via unmanned aerial systems and other platforms. Unfortunately, it hasn’t developed all of the processes it needs to turn that fire hose of data into real-time, actionable information for small units of warfighters on the ground.
The Marine Corps started to tackle that problem in a technology demonstration last month in Hawaii. Dubbed “Agile Bloodhound,” the project, a cooperative effort between the Marines, the Office of Naval Research, the Naval Research Laboratory and others, offers the promise of delivering vital real-time data that front-line Marines have never had on the battlefield before, officials say.
“We want to be able to deliver relevant content quickly to lower-echelon operators, and at the same time we want to prevent the information overload problem by not providing them information they’re not interested in while they’re fighting,” John Moniz, the Agile Bloodhound program manager at ONR said in an interview with Federal News Radio. “Another big difference is at the higher echelons they’re very well connected, similar to what you might expect from the commercial Internet. When you get to the company-level and below, we’re doing everything wireless, and it’s not with the robust infrastructure we have in the cellular phone system.”
So the Marine Corps and ONR are experimenting with ways to deliver autonomously-generated intelligence reports and imagery that don’t need to be handled by a human intelligence analyst at a higher headquarters.
In the demonstration, officials showed they could push the data to commercial smartphones connected to the Marines’ existing tactical radio system.
“It can be things like alerts as events unfold and we learn more, or the adversary does something unexpected that can quickly flow down to these warfighters,” Moniz said. “We’re trying to tailor the product to the need of the user and the capacity of the network. So if a relevant video feed becomes available, maybe we could send the entire video depending on the condition of the network. But maybe the user’s need is embodied just in a screenshot of that video. Or an automated system that can analyze the object in that video and generate a quick message that says there’s been a tank spotted at this distance in this direction.”
The capabilities that would make up such an automated intelligence delivery system for small units are not mature enough to deploy thus far however, Moniz said. The Marine Corps’ acquisition community could begin procurement work on some elements within a year or two, but others still are perhaps six years away, he said.
At the same time, officials are expanding the bandwidth that small groups of marines would have available to them on the battlefield, Moniz said, including perhaps making use of the commercial cellular data transmission technologies that smartphones already use.
“We’re working on those types of capabilities, but the problem with the cellular system is that the Marine Corps is not going to be able to bring in the infrastructure with the towers and the fiber connections between the towers to give us a viable extended cell phone network in the battlespace. It’s just not viable,” he said. “So we have to rely on other technologies to try to deliver information, be it networks of tactical radios or in some cases just delivering higher capacity radios that allow us to push more information.”