Military Intelligence and Network Visualization
Warfare has evolved rapidly over recent decades with modern conflict now less contingent upon geographical boundaries than in the past.
Given that current-day insurgent groups operate across geographic, social or even cultural boundaries and have become masters at concealing their locations and tactics, the military is hard pressed to clearly identify groupings, much less devise a strategy to combat them. This very intelligence crucial to operatives on the ground in their fight against the insurgents, is what will define any effective strategy and is precisely what often eludes campaign strategists. Hence the biggest challenge in the field is to acquire, analyse and present this critical intelligence on the adversary.
Challenges of 21st century combat
What makes the challenge even more acute is the amount of data which can be collected nowadays on individuals, group activities and key events from sources such as satellites and communications interception. The challenge therefore becomes one of extracting the nuggets of critical information from an immense volume of data.
To compound the problem, real time analysis and presentation of data has not kept pace with the rise in data volumes. Consequently, commanders on the ground often do not have the pre-requisite real-time intelligence on which to base rapid decision-making. KeyLines technology offers the ability to visualize data gathered on insurgent networks and is thus an indispensable tool in combating the increasingly sophisticated and shadowy 21st century adversary.
Requirements for operations on the ground can be categorized thus:
- Acquiring reliable, quality intelligence
- Feeding back information in real time
- Delivering critical data down a narrow bandwidth
- High speed acquisition and processing of information
- Remote analysis of data – for instance, in an outpost
- Improving the mobility of troops by reducing the burden of equipment
Enter the mobile device
There has been an evolving trend towards use of mobile computing devices such as smartphones and tablets by the military worldwide. The US Department of Defense, for example, is the largest client for BlackBerry smartphones, currently using around 250,000 (source:TMCnet). Defence and security agencies see mobile devices as a step change in information sharing and collaboration, enhancing productivity and efficiency in critical situations where information analysis is paramount for the success of a mission.
Mobile devices require infrastructure and enterprise apps, and for military applications security is of the utmost importance. New data centres with secure clouds and hosting and distribution of certified mobile apps are now being deployed. For example, a major national security agency is replacing signal deciphering centres with a new architecture, running private clouds and re-writing in-house apps used by their staff. With such state-of-the art infrastructure, military and security agencies will be able to provide real-time data to personnel at operating bases, and either deliver data or obtain it from operatives on the ground.
Technology change enables a new approach
Battery life is critical when mobile devices are used by operatives in the field. Speed and mobility must not be compromised by excessively large and heavy batteries, so that long time-between-recharge must be achieved by efficient electronics and communications technology, not battery capacity. The latest consumer devices make use of semiconductors with the smallest feature sizes for the best performance/power ratio, so utilizing adapted versions of those popular devices as opposed to bespoke developments further enhances the viability of the mobile device. Ruggedized computers such as Panasonic’s Toughpad and tablets with “hardened” version of Android are good examples of low-power devices adapted for military and security applications.
Hardware acceleration has enabled many more computer-intensive applications to run on mobile devices. For example, Apple’s dual-core A5 processor, introduced in the iPad2 in October 2011 had a nine-fold increase in graphics processing power, compared to the previous generation. This opens up the possibility of running complex network visualization tools such as KeyLines on the iPad. Hardware acceleration for Microsoft’s IE9 and other browsers, in addition to adoption of standards like HTML5 also broadens the range of platforms on which such tools can operate in an optimum fashion.
The Ozone widget framework (pdf) is a mechanism for developing and hosting re-usable intelligence applications in a Web browser, running within a secure framework. Ozone is being developed by the US National Security Agency (NSA) and has been available since 2008-09 to the wider US intelligence community. KeyLines is an example of an application which can run within Ozone to provide network visualization throughout an entire intelligence organization.
KeyLines: a powerful counter-insurgency tool
KeyLines allows networks of insurgents to be easily visualized and presented. Compatible with all major web browsers and platforms including tablets such as the iPad, KeyLines draws a real-time picture of networks using data gathered from outposts and deciphering centres. Links between individuals in the group can then be rapidly identified, providing vital clues on their operations and their role within the network to assist rapid deployment of counter-insurgency operations.