Paris Air Show

Activity-Based Intelligence Comes of Age in Modern Warfare

 - June 20, 2017, 5:00 PM
This screenshots shows how data from Esri’s ArcGIS product – in this case, of the Straits of Hormuz - can be leveraged to provide additional intelligence on factors such as the distance that a submarine could travel underwater in a given time, from its previously-confirmed location. [Image: Esri]

Today’s military aircrew are guided to their objectives--such as strike targets, drop zones, reconnaissance orbits--by increasingly advanced onboard mapping displays. Those objectives have been identified by intelligence analysts, approved by the command chain, and then refined by mission planners and weapons targeting specialists. The whole process has benefitted from the ever-more sophisticated science of geospatial intelligence (GeoInt).    

U.S. company Esri is the market-leading supplier of geographic information system (GIS) software, web GIS and geodatabase management applications. Although defense sales are only a small proportion of its revenues, the company always makes a major contribution to the annual Defence Geospatial Intelligence (DGI) conference in London. And when Esri talks, it tends to get the attention of defense GeoInt specialists.

At this year’s DGI event, Esri’s director of global national security marketing Ben Conklin referred to the explosion of data that is now available to intelligence analysts, beyond traditional GeoInt. This comes not only from advances in airborne collection, such as wide-area motion imagery (WAMI), but also from cloud computing, consumer devices, and social media. “We can create environments for managing and storing these vast new collections of data and make it available to anyone in the organization, on any device, at any time, and in a manner that is meaningful for them,” Conklin declared.

Using these diverse, multi-intelligence sets, analysts can begin to practice what he called Activity-Based Intelligence (ABI). It differs radically from traditional intelligence methods, but so do many of today’s targets (individuals rather than nation states); signatures (no longer known or fixed); motivations (can be illogical); and required collection frequencies (persistent rather than scheduled). “ABI shifts the focus from intelligence reporting to the discovery of the unknown,” said Conklin. “It is a set of spatiotemporal analytic methods to discover correlations, resolve unknowns, understand networks, develop knowledge, and drive collection using diverse data sets to understand the environment - not just a specific location or facility.”

A GIS provider like Esri can play a key role in ABI, because georeferencing is one of its key pillars. Conklin gave an example from Libya, where the company’s ArcGIS product can reveal the oil-producing infrastructure – such as roads and pipelines--in graphic 3D views. To this foundation, an analyst may add open-source intelligence from a provider like IHS Janes, and perhaps some classified human intelligence. Then the analyst may examine the movement of some people by using inputs from sigint or even social media. Where do they go? With whom do they associate? This all helps to understand the “pattern of life”, and perhaps discover a group that stands out as unusual, that may be planning an attack on a pipeline. It may even be possible to discover the imminence of that attack, for instance by noting that members of the group have stopped communicating by social media.

“Esri is investing heavily in the development of new capabilities to support intelligence functions,” Conklin later told AIN. “Firstly, we have created new cloud computing products for performing spatiotemporal analysis of real-time and big data. We also have a dedicated imagery development team that is building tools for large-scale image analytics, full-motion video processing, and imagery data management. In addition, we have a dedicated research and development team located in Washington, D.C., developing a next-generation intelligence platform on ArcGIS. They are focused on improving the workflows for intelligence analysts trying to leverage GIS capabilities.”  

Ben Conklin spoke at the DGI Europe 2017 conference organized by Worldwide Business Research (WBR):