WASHINGTON– Taking advantage of emerging technologies to collect and analyze intelligence, then testing out better ways to get it out to warfighters who need it is the focus of a demonstration project under way in the California high desert and at sites in the United States and several other countries.

U.S. Joint Forces Command’s Empire Challenge 2009 kicked off two weeks ago and continues through July 31, bringing together 1,700 participants in a live, joint and coalition ISR interoperability demonstration, Air Force Col. George J. Krakie said today during a media roundtable.

ISR is military shorthand for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance.

The most visual part of the demonstration is taking place at Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake, Calif., a hot, dusty, high-desert environment Krakie said closely resembles conditions warfighters and their equipment face in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“Blue” forces are running convoy operations, and “red” forces are setting up ambushes against them, using roadside and vehicle bombs and firing mortars against bases and logistics operations. Meanwhile, airborne intelligence-gathering platforms are flying overhead: U-2 high-altitude reconnaissance aircraft, RQ-4 Global Hawk unmanned aerial vehicles and ScanEagle unmanned aircraft systems, among them.

But China Lake is just part of the demonstration.

Computer modeling and simulation and analysis is under way at Joint Forces Command’s Joint Intelligence Lab in Suffolk, Va.; the Combined Air Operations Center-Experimental at Langley Air Force Base, Va.; each service’s distributed common ground or surface system laboratories; and allied forces sites in Great Britain, Canada, Australia and the Netherlands.

The demonstration, so complicated that it took more than a year to plan, combines realistic combat scenarios and behind-the-scenes intelligence support. Its central purpose, explained John Kittle, the operational commander, is to improve situational awareness throughout the battlefield.

“We’re focused on trying to answer the problems that warfighters have identified for us – to provide ISR solutions or improve ISR support for those problems that they are identifying today on the battlefield in Iraq and Afghanistan,” he said.

Warfighters came up with basic areas they said require more or better ISR support: irregular warfare and counter-IED operations; strike operations; and persistent surveillance across multiple domains, Kittle said. But warfighters also wanted to see improved ISR management, with a better way of sorting through, processing and distributing the massive amounts of intelligence collected.

“We cannot possibly exploit all the data that is being collected,” Kittle said. “That problem is actually going to get worse as time goes on because of the new sensors and new platforms, and new collection capabilities being asked for and put on line.”

Empire Challenge is working through some of those challenges in a highly realistic environment. Intelligence collected at China Lake or generated through computer modeling and simulation is fed to analysts at participating sites, who turn it around as quickly as possible.

“Although we have a lot of great technology out there, the real focus is making sure that critical ISR data collected – whether it comes from a U.S. platform or one of our coalition partners’ platforms – enters into this exploitation enterprise and can get to the warfighter at the tactical edge,” Krakie said.

To test this process, the demonstration is evaluating interoperability along three lines of operations, he explained. It’s making sure data flows seamlessly between the five distributed common ground and surface systems – one for each service and one for U.S. Special Operations Command. It’s ensuring U.S. systems are interoperable with those of allies and coalition partners. And it’s making sure ISR data gets from the intelligence side of the house to the command-and-control part of the operation.

“It does no good if all this intelligence data is moving around the data world but doesn’t get to the warfighter at the tactical edge,” Krakie said. “So that is one of the key focuses for us during Empire Challenge.”

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