NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. – Successful military operations must go beyond data collection and focus on the rapid and thorough analysis of information streams, according to the US Space Force director of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance.
“Today, the core value proposition is no longer the collection. We have a great collection, whether it’s in the air, in space, or on the web,” Brig. Gen. Gen. Gregory Gagnon said Sept. 20 at the Air Force Association’s Aerospace and Cyber Conference. “What we need is meaning making, fusion or analysis. That is the core value proposition for an intelligence service.”
Improved intelligence distillation will better inform U.S. policy abroad and make the military more effective, according to Gagnon, who previously served as director of intelligence at U.S. Space Command.
The Department of Defense has cited artificial intelligence and machine learning as a means to quickly understand vast amounts of data on and off the battlefield. The Pentagon has been juggling more than 685 AI projects since February — some related to large weapons systems — according to the Government Accountability Office, a congressional watchdog.
Manpower “is still important,” said Gagnon, who described himself as an “AI and ML believer” while also being a “realist.”
“Our value proposition for evolving as a workforce is how we use these new tools to address challenges,” he said. “We always talk about being fast. What matters is that you outperform your opponent, think and decide.”
The US considers China and Russia to be the top two national security threats. The former pose longer-term threats, according to a public summary of the National Defense Strategy; the latter, more immediate.
Gathering, reviewing and disseminating footage and other information before and during the recent Russian invasion of Ukraine helped bolster Western efforts, Gagnon said. Publicly accessible sources played a major role.
“In the past, United States intelligence and our national leadership have told our allies what we think would happen, and our allies have not always believed us. And they had reason to doubt us based on past performance,” he said. “But based on that year we told them there is evidence we can fall on the table. And what we dropped on the table were wonderful pictures – not wonderful pictures, but horrible pictures – of “Russian troops gathering at the border.
“The story became much more powerful,” he added, “when you had evidence of commercial assets that were at unclassified levels.”
Colin Demarest is a reporter at C4ISRNET where he covers military networks, cyber and IT. Colin previously reported for a South Carolina newspaper on the Department of Energy and its National Nuclear Security Administration—specifically, the Cold War cleanup and nuclear weapons development. Colin is also an award winning photographer.