FORT BELVOIR, Va. (Jan. 29, 2015) -- Intelligence organizations operating around the world work seemingly endless hours gathering intelligence from a myriad of sources ranging from simple to high tech. However, each gathering unit or organization may have their own individual processing, exploitation, and dissemination, also know as PED, methods to meet service specific-requirements using specialized sensors.
Because each unit is as different as the service branch they represent or the region in which they operate, in the past this intelligence was sometimes difficult to share or process in an efficient manner.
Today the need for effective communications between U.S. military branches is more important than ever and the solution is joint interoperability.
Joint interoperability is a term many may be unfamiliar with in terms of intelligence operations. Intelligence interoperability is the ability for any service's intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, or ISR, collected data to be processed, exploited and disseminated by the best available intelligence node providing the most effective support to any customer.
The PED process drives the intelligence mission. It is the way intelligence analysts pull together information to analyze it and then provide actionable intelligence to commanders or senior leaders so they can make command decisions.
Today, the U.S. Army Intelligence and Security Command's, or INSCOM, 116th Military Intelligence, or MI, Brigade, located at Fort Gordon, Georgia, and the U.S. Air Force's 480th Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Wing, or 480 ISRW, located at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia, are working together to make the benefits of joint military branch partnerships easy to see.
Visible evidence of successful joint interoperability is a seamless service or product, despite the possibility of many different intelligence collectors and analysts contributing to the same product.
"If we're doing interoperability correctly, the units on the ground will not even know PED is crossing services," said Army Lt. Col. Andrew T. Bellocchio, operations officer, 116th MI Brigade. "The end state is for products to look the same regardless of who conducts the PED. Standardization of a joint PED is the key to achieving interoperability."
Intelligence units such as the 116th MI Brigade, have personnel gathering, processing, exploiting and distributing military intelligence day and night, from places common to the Travel Channel's top tourist spots to some of the most remote, unknown locations.
Both the 480 ISRW and the 116th MI Brigade are two of many intelligence units tasked with the incredibly important mission of ensuring pertinent, actionable intelligence products are provided to senior defense leaders at home as well as U.S. and collation partners around the globe.
To help accomplish the vision of joint interoperability within the Department of Defense intelligence community, the 116th MI Brigade began a partnership with the 480 ISRW in 2013, with both organizations sharing intelligence products and duties in support of consumers. The organizations regularly collaborate from a far and there are plans in motion to have both INSCOM Soldiers stationed with the Air Force and 480 ISRW airmen stationed with the Army.
"We collect ISR in a joint fight because it takes Army, Air Force, Navy, Marines and other intelligence community agencies, along with coalition partners, to paint the whole aerial intelligence picture," Bellocchio said.
At the start of the interoperability effort, the information provided by both organizations was 95 percent the same. What differed was the format and how the information was displayed. The strong commonality in information has converged naturally because ultimately, both organizations support the same ground forces and intelligence consumers. The remaining five percent difference is the result of the structure, training and standardization of the services. These interoperability efforts have focused on these remaining five percent.
"If the consumers are common, our products supported to them should be standard," Bellocchio said. "We fly Army aircraft in support of Army, Marines, Navy, Air Force or DoD personnel on the ground each day. These are the same consumers supported by the other services. By providing standardized products, the consumer will not have to compare or decipher one product from another."
Air Force leadership shares this vision of the end result of joint interoperability.
"We aim to be interoperable at the data layer and seamlessly move that data across each other's networks," said Air Force Col. Paul Caltagirone, chief of joint integration and interoperability at the Pentagon, "We want to ensure no matter who does the PED, the end product looks the same and is of the same quality to the consumer."
Fortunately, the joint interoperability partnership between the 116th MI Brigade and the 480 ISRW has been just as smooth and seamless as the products they wish to create.
"The reason the Army and Air Force work so well together is because we have similar platforms which helps us in terms of products we provide jointly to those on the battlefield," said Chief Warrant Officer 4 Demoria L. Tucker, with the 116th MI Brigade.
With similar platforms, sensors, and procedures, these organizations have a much easier time fusing their products and efforts to assist in creating intelligence products for the consumer no matter what branch of service or organization they belong to.
Another appeal for joint interoperability is its ability to help bridge gaps between dissimilar practices between the services. The differences in PED procedure, which could have been seen as a hurdle before, can actually enhance both services by offering new insights and perspectives the other may not have considered.
"The ability to share best practices between the services has been huge to us," Bellocchio said. "As we become more interoperable, bringing the services together to communicate and share ideas so we can implement the best practices across the DOD will be just as huge."
For Maj. Gen. John Shanahan, the 25th Air Force commander, combining the capabilities of the DoD services such as the Army and Air Force's individual intelligence enterprises will enhance combat readiness and mission success.
"(Joint PED is a) multiplier," said Shanahan at a recent joint PED Summit hosted by the 25th Air Force. "A capability that, when added to and employed by a combat force, significantly increases the combat potential of that force and thus enhances the probability of successful mission accomplishment."
Maj. Gen. George J. Franz III, INSCOM commanding general, who also took part in the summit, said the nature of our joint environment described in the new Army Operating Concept and our deepening partnerships have highlighted opportunities to optimize the timely flow of intelligence from the point of collection to the point of need.
"The PED Summit was born out of the necessity for a seamless joint forum which will promote joint standards and goals, and the increased teamwork grown during 13 years of combat operations," Franz said. "Our efforts here will increase interoperability across the DoD and ensure that leaders will have the best intelligence available in time to influence decisions and outcomes."
Personnel with the 116th MI Brigade and the 480 ISRW believe this aspect of ensuring continuity and continuous support of the mission can also extend beyond support to the consumer and benefit both organizations as well.
"Continuity of operations is important. If our networks are disrupted by an outage caused by a hurricane or enemy activity we would be forced to shut down for a time, but if we are interoperable with the 480 ISRW or another service, we can pass them that mission," Bellocchio explained. "They'd be able to cover down on that mission until we could get back up and ready to resume the mission."
Bellocchio said beyond all this, a close working partnership between the 116th and the 480 ISRW simply makes sense, because it enhances combat readiness and ensures constant support to consumers of intelligence products.
"We're maximizing our capabilities as a joint force," Bellocchio said. "If we have an Army sensor collecting intelligence but that unit is overloaded and cannot get to it quickly but an Air Force unit can, why would we not want the Air Force to get the information out to the consumer quickly."
In the end, this support to our nation and our partners through ISR and PED missions and the support to consumers of intelligence across the joint, federal and coalition spectrum has the possibility to enhance the end results and provide for a seamless, total picture that those on the battlefield require.
"Having the best PED platform available will give us flexibility to use Air Force, Army or any joint platform to serve (our customers)," Tucker said. "Whether it's Marines, Army, Navy or anyone else in need of the intelligence - the primary reason for this emphasis is to have flexibility."