'Cloud' System Could Help Navy Analysts Consume Expanding Ocean of Data

For Release

May 5, 2014

The “cloud” strategies used by Google, the intelligence community and others are promising options to help Navy analysts keep pace with the growing flood of data collected by intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance sensors, according to a new RAND Corporation study.

Confronted with an ever-growing amount of raw data to process and disseminate, the Navy asked RAND to determine the best ways to overcome barriers to timely, accurate analysis.

“The Navy should pursue a cloud strategy similar to those adopted by Google, the intelligence community and other large organizations grappling with big data's challenges and opportunities,” said Isaac R. Porche III, lead author of the study and a senior engineer at RAND, a nonprofit research organization. “Specifically, the Navy should adopt the Intelligence community's cloud approach, designing its next generation of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance tools and systems to work with the National Security Agency's distributed cloud concept.”

Time is of the essence, Porche said. If the Navy continues to field sensors as planned but does not change the way it processes, exploits and disseminates information, it will reach an intelligence gathering “tipping point” — when the Navy will no longer be able to process and utilize all incoming information as fast as desired — as soon as 2016.

“Whether captured from drones or other sources, the Navy has a growing demand for intelligence to help Navy vessels avoid collisions, pinpoint targets and perform other vital tasks,” Porche said. “But the amount of data it may collect in the future is more than it can process today.”

The study finds that as little as 5 percent of the data collected by intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance platforms actually reach Navy analysts. Porche said a large part of the problem is attributable to slow download times, shared communications pipelines and large chunks of untagged raw data.

Using a model of intelligence specialist productivity and a year of operational data, RAND found that one potential solution — dynamically managing analyst workloads across geographic areas — would help improve productivity, but only to a point.

To be complete, a solution to the Navy's challenge must involve changes along four dimensions: people, tools and technology, data and data architectures, and demand and demand management.

Researchers analyzed three alternatives to current plans, ultimately showing that the cloud alternative offers significant potential performance improvements, despite some technical and schedule risks, and may be most amenable to future changes in information technology tools and applications.

The report, “Data Flood: Helping the Navy Address the Rising Tide of Sensor Information,” can be found at www.rand.org. Other authors of the study are Bradley Wilson, Erin-Elizabeth Johnson, Shane Tierney and Evan Saltzman.

The report was sponsored by the Department of the Navy and conducted within the Acquisition and Technology Policy Center of the RAND National Defense Research Institute, a federally funded research and development center sponsored by the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Joint Staff, the Unified Combatant Commands, the Navy, the Marine Corps, the defense agencies, and the defense Intelligence Community.

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