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DARPA Combating Information Overload

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

ARLINGTON, Va., Sept. 9, 2002 -- In the civilian world, it's called "information overload."

That's when so much information is coming in that the receiver cannot separate the wheat from the chaff.

In the military, information overload can get you killed. That's why the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency set up the Information Exploitation Office.

"What we're all about is finding and killing bad guys on the battlefield," said office Director Dick Wishner. "We're focused on land and surface targets."

There is any amount of information a service member needs. The services collect data in a number of ways, from satellites to communications intercepts to human intelligence to remote sensors. Part of the rationale for setting up the office is the "military gets a lot of data but not enough information," Wishner said. "What we're trying to do is extract information out of this huge stream of data."

But even with all the information coming in, Wishner does not try to claim that everything is known. "I'm not trying to imply that all the data we need is available," he said. "We actually have a shortage of high-quality sensors." The office will work with offices inside DARPA and the services to develop new sensors.

Wishner said the office is particularly focused on what the military is finding to be the norm: situations where service members have restricted rules of engagement.

"You can't shoot at somebody you think is a bad guy unless you can verify there are no neutrals or good guys in the weapons splash radius," he said. "So we're invoking the new sensor technology to do very precise target identification and make sure we don't make any mistakes." The technology would take an image, identify it as friend or foe and give that information to the service member.

"We don't want people trying to make an identification from a screen," Wishner said. "By the time they see it, the vehicle is already labeled with what it is."

He said the office would work to speed up reaction time. He said the services now have similar deliberate planning processes. "The Air Force has something they call 'find, fix, target, track, engage and assess,'" he said.

"That's a fine methodology, but there are segments between these that take too long."

Wishner said the office is looking to synchronize everything "so that when you find a guy who's potentially a threat, we can precisely ID him quickly. Then we'll have a shooter platform nearby that can launch a weapon and destroy him if we deem he's a bad guy."

He said the office would work with warfighters and service laboratories to ensure the products are real, usable and needed. The office will also address other problems like pinpointing targets under foliage and the problems entailed with finding enemies in urban environments.