Space Force’s Gagnon says analytics trump data collection for Intel
NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. – Successful military operations must go beyond data collection to focus on rapid and thorough analysis of information flows, according to the director of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance of the ‘U.S. Space Force.
“Today, the core value proposition is no longer collection. We have a lot of collection, whether airborne, space or cyber,” Brig. General Gregory Gagnon said September 20 at the Air Force Association’s Air, Space and Cyber conference. “What we need is sensemaking, or fusion, or analysis. That’s the core value proposition for an intelligence service.
Better distillation of information will better inform U.S. policies abroad and make the military more effective, according to Gagnon, who was formerly director of intelligence at U.S. Space Command.
The Department of Defense has cited artificial intelligence and machine learning as ways to quickly make sense of reams of data, on and off the battlefield. The Pentagon is juggling more than 685 AI projects — some associated with major weapons systems — as of February, according to the Government Accountability Office, a congressional watchdog.
Labor “still matters,” said Gagnon, who described himself as a “proponent of AI and ML” while also being a “realist.”
“Our value proposition moving forward as a workforce is how to use these new tools to help” meet the challenges, he said. “We always talk about going fast. What matters is that you get ahead, overtake, decide more than your opponent.
The United States views China and Russia as the two most significant threats to national security. The first poses longer-term risks, according to a public summary of the National Defense Strategy; the second, more immediate.
Collecting, examining and disseminating images and other information before and during the latest Russian invasion of Ukraine helped galvanize Western efforts, according to Gagnon. Publicly available sources played a major role.
“In the past, the intelligence community in the United States and our national leaders told our allies what we thought was going to happen, and our allies didn’t always believe us. And they had reason to doubt us, based on past performance,” he said. “But based on this year, we told them there was evidence we could fall on the table. And what we dropped on the table were marvelous images – not marvelous images, horrible images – of “Russian troops massed on the border”.
“The story became much more powerful,” he added, “when you had evidence of trading assets that are at unclassified levels.”
Colin Demarest is a reporter at C4ISRNET, where he covers military networks, cyber and IT. Colin previously covered the Department of Energy and its National Nuclear Security Administration — namely the Cold War cleanup and the development of nuclear weapons — for a South Carolina daily. Colin is also an award-winning photographer.