“It’s an interesting set of challenges over the next few years,” said Marcel Lettre, Acting Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence, as he moderated a panel on the state of U.S. defense intelligence at the Intelligence and National Security Summit in Washington Sept. 9.
“One set of challenges is the geostrategic environment,” Lettre said, noting that James Clapper, Director of National Intelligence, has said it has not been this complicated for many years. “There are also fiscal challenges.”
The panelists, representing all five branches of the U.S. military, agreed with Lettre on the breadth and number of challenges, and noted which ones were priorities in their own agencies.
Rear Adm. Steven Andersen, assistant commandant for Coast Guard Intelligence and Criminal Investigations, noted that the U.S. Coast Guard – which is part of the Department of Homeland Security, not the Defense Department – has had an intelligence function since its inception, but has only been included as a member agency of the IC since shortly after 9/11.
Andersen said the Coast Guard’s first intelligence priority is manpower. “How do we recruit, train, assign [and] retain the enlisted workforce,” he said. “People are waiting 18 months to get into [our] training school.”
The maritime agency’s second priority is intelligence-driven operations. Andersen said the Coast Guard’s goal is to stay three steps ahead of both adversaries and its customers. “We use intelligence to shape mission execution at every level,” he said. “Every time you do something operational, it is at least a little bit defined by intelligence.”
Brig. Gen. Michael Groen, director of intelligence for the U.S Marine Corps, noted that one major way the intelligence field has changed is in expectations. “It’s not just about finding weapons or platforms, it’s about identifying intentions,” he said. “Information age warfare involves paying great respect to information age [technology;] how do we make sure that we posture U.S. military force in a fast-moving environment?”
Groen said there are three things that will make force successful in this environment: having a sense of the battlespace, building knowledge in the minds of leaders; and acting on information faster than adversaries.
The Marine Corps is working to identify and use the tools that will enable the service to take data from all over the world and make sense of it, he said. “That’s the sort of information age mandate that drives a lot of what we’re doing.”
Groen said moving to open source technologies, making use of robotics, and tapping non-traditional media, such as social media, for intelligence are critical components. One specific approach he suggested is using an “intuitive visualization display” to clarify what the data means.
B. Lynn Wright, the U.S. Navy’s director of naval intelligence, identified innovation as her agency’s top priority, followed by acquisition support and manpower needs.
“We’re facing some very difficult competitors with advanced ISR [intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance] systems, very difficult weapons systems for us,” Wright said. “We have to have a very agile, innovative group of young folks that envision in a new way,” beyond Industrial Age weapons.
Acquisition is a priority because weapons systems are such a long-term investment. “We’re looking at reinvesting in [science and technology] capability because we’re making some huge bets right now,” Wright said. The replacement program for the Ohio class of nuclear submarines, for example, has to look at what will work for the next 60 years, she said. “It’s very expensive to validate and test weapons systems; [we] need models, we need a high degree of fidelity in those models.”
The need for additional intelligence manpower was echoed by Maj. Gen. Linda Urritia-Varhall, the Air Force’s assistant deputy chief of staff for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR).
RAND has studied the human resources needs for the intelligence community and estimated the IC will need 100,000 employees to assess and disseminate information, Urritia-Varhall said. “We need industry’s help,” she said. “We have so much data coming from sensors, we don’t know what to do with it all.”
At the same time the military and intelligence communities are struggling to adapt to new technologies, promising and exciting though they might be, there has been a fragmentation of opponents, said Lt. Gen. Mary Legere, the Army’s deputy chief of staff for intelligence.
“We don’t have the luxury of a single opponent,” she noted. “Nation-states [with] conventional forces, terrorists, cyber threats … How are we going to face emerging threats, disruptive technologies that may make our whole concept of platforms [and] weapons systems obsolete?”
This multi-faceted threat landscape requires not just access to intelligence, not just for the IC, but also that can be shared with international partners, she said. There are five key elements the IC, and its vendors, should consider:
– Focusing on access to data for the IC, for the ISR community and for soldiers on the ground, so joint interoperability should be included from the very beginning;
– Transporting relevant information “to the edge,” whether to a battlefield, a command center, or manned and unmanned assets;
– Considering force readiness; the transition to conflict can happen so quickly, soldiers have to be permanently ready for deployment, and the systems have to keep up with that pace;
– Cost is always a consideration; it is expensive to keep intelligent soldiers trained; and
– Thinking about how to adapt the military force structure to the task at hand, because when the structure changes the consequences ripple through everything.
“We are interdependent [agencies],” Legere said. “It’s irresponsible to build something only for yourself, irresponsible to silo things. They need to be complementary and compliant with standards.”