The military services and many DOD agencies share information today through a common desktop environment known as the Joint Information Environment, or JIE. Within the intelligence community, a growing number of employees use the Intelligence Community Information Technology Enterprise, or IC ITE, and NATO allies have a separate network. DOD and IC entities, including NGA, are developing the Defense Intelligence Information Enterprise, commonly known as DI2E, to integrate cross-domain intelligence from these various venues for reliable battlespace awareness.
Developing the DI2E is central to the Enterprise Challenge, an annual event to test the interoperability of data-sharing technologies across the DOD enterprise. (Prior to 2012, the EC was known as the Empire Challenge.) The EC engages every branch of the U.S. military, key combatant commands and several U.S. allied nations in demonstrating state-of-the art GEOINT capabilities. This year, large-scale testing occurred in NGA’s InnoVision Laboratory Environment as well as at more than 15 additional sites across the United States, Canada, Australia and the United Kingdom.
The underlying purpose for the EC is to ensure that U.S. and allied warfighters, and the decision makers who direct them, have the capabilities for understanding where adversaries are and what they are doing — at all times and in real time. They need to be certain of the location of mission partners, to know exactly where civilians are and to know targeting data is reliable. Geospatial intelligence provides the foundation for this.
NGA leads and executes the event each year.
“When you commit forces somewhere, you have to do everything you can to ensure that they’re safe,” said retired Navy Cmdr. Joseph Smith, who has been involved with the EC since its inception. “That means making sure their data systems work as they should.”
Ronnie Stanfill, NGA’s manager for EC-15 held earlier this year, agreed. Stanfill is a retired Air Force fighter pilot and former squadron commander who has a long history with the EC.
“It is critical that warfighters have confidence that the information they have is accurate and complete, especially for targeting purposes,” he said. Most important, said Stanfill, is to nurture a culture of information sharing.
“Once we started understanding that there was a family of systems, that’s when we began to think about how they needed to be connected — for instance, how the full-motion video used by the Air Force would be more useful if it combined analysis from the Army, and so forth,” he said.
Tracking the evolution of the EC culture shows how GEOINT tools and tradecraft have transformed over time.
“We’ve gone from compliance to conformance, and are now moving toward true compatibility,” Stanfill said.
The continuum started with stove-piped systems, according to Mark Mogle, a former Air Force imagery analyst and NGA contractor who has been involved with the EC for more than a decade. In stove-piped systems, data were shared by way of email from analyst to analyst. Outside the classified environment, data were often shared by exchanging computer diskettes, said Smith.
The advent of metadata tagging enabled true data sharing, and the integration of tagged services soon followed.
The DI2E framework will allow all mission partners — including international allies — to ingest data into whichever platform and security level they normally use for mission accomplishment.
A milestone on the road to integration came when the community began to view GEOINT as a service, said Dave Cacner, one of NGA’s GEOINT IT experts. In the past, many data types required a unique repository dependent on a specific software application in order to be viewed and used. Separating datasets from applications enabled the data to be consumed independently, grouped or combined with intelligence or operational information, he said.
GEOINT applications have also evolved from stand-alone systems to more agile, customizable services that can be shared and even used on mobile platforms.
Royal Air Force Maj. Andy Mangan, the United Kingdom’s representative to this year’s EC, cited the sharing of common services as a top outcome of international collaboration to date.
“The NATO Top 10 apps — and really understanding what they can do — are proven benefits of the Enterprise Challenge,” Mangan said.
Cacner explained that the GEOINT data architecture is also being overhauled. Originally designed on a World War II-based tasking, processing, exploitation and dissemination model, the architecture is too linear to keep up with the vol- ume and pace of today’s data.
“GEOINT data continues to grow substantially, and it’s no longer enough to push data to multiple global locations. We need to enable rapid data access, discovery and visualization over common networks that minimize bandwidth dependencies for information flow,” Cacner said.
Moving forward, Mangan said that building the proper DI2E architecture is critical.
“We’ve got to get things right at the outset,” he said, because the architecture is the foundation upon which all GEOINT will be shared by allied military forces.