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‘Big data’ poses big problem for Pentagon

by Mike Hoffman on February 20, 2013

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Data scientists are the most in demand job for the military, according to Reggie Brothers, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for Research.

The military has a problem with “big data” — the problem being that it collects too much of it. The infatuation with unmanned vehicles and the sensors mounted onto them has spurred a wave of data collected on the battlefield.

Using that data has caused military leaders headaches. Brothers said here at the Association of the U.S. Army’s Winter Symposium on Wednesday that the Army and the other services have placed their focus on PED, or processing, exploitation, and dissemination.

He used the ARGUS-IS as an example of the major advances being made in the world of intelligence sensors. The ARGUS-IS can stream up to a million terabytes of data and record 5,000 hours of high definition footage per day. It can do this with the 1.8 gigapixel camera and 368 different sensors all housed in the ARGUS-IS sensor that can fly on an MQ-9 Reaper.

However, the analysis of the data collected by those sensors can’t keep up. Brothers, a former program manager for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, said the military needs more data scientists to mine through these mountains of data streams. The Pentagon is in competition with private industry as these scientists are sought out throughout the commercial industry.

Military service leaders have already reached out to numerous broadcasting companies such as ESPN and National Geographic to learn ways these broadcast teams deal with the large streams of live-motion footage these companies collect.

One of the major challenges the Defense Department faces with this influx of data is dealing with the personnel demands. Many assume that UAVs require fewer people to operate. Brothers said that would be the wrong assumption.

“We just don’t have the personnel right now,” Brothers said.

Defense leaders are trying to reach the appropriate mix of autonomy in order to lessen the work load on the operators. However, balancing the amount of decision making afforded to the machines has delayed those developments.

The goal is to get to a point where, on average, less than one person is needed to operate an unmanned vehicle. Right now, the military averages well over one person operating its unmanned fleet.

“We need to do better than that,” Brothers said.

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