Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance:

Establishing Guidance, Timelines, and Accountability for Integrating Intelligence Data Would Improve Information Sharing

GAO-10-265NI: Published: Jan 22, 2010. Publicly Released: Jan 22, 2010.

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The Department of Defense's (DOD) intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) systems--including manned and unmanned airborne, space-borne, maritime, and terrestrial systems--play critical roles in support of current military operations. Demand for ISR capabilities, including processing, exploitation, and dissemination, has increased dramatically. GAO was asked to (1) describe the challenges, if any, the military services and defense agencies face processing, exploiting, and disseminating the information collected by ISR systems and (2) determine the extent to which the military services and defense agencies have developed the capabilities required to share ISR information. GAO reviewed and analyzed documentation, guidance, and strategies of the military services and defense agencies in regard to processing, exploiting, and disseminating ISR data as well as information sharing capabilities. GAO also visited military units in Iraq and the United States to observe and discuss processing, exploitation, and dissemination conducted in both environments.

The military services and defense agencies face long-standing challenges with processing, exploiting, and disseminating ISR data, and DOD has recently begun some initiatives to address these challenges. First, an increase in the collection of ISR, which has occurred because of the rapid increase in collection platforms, has not been accompanied by an increase in capacity for processing, exploitation, and dissemination. Second, transmitting ISR data from the collection platforms to ground stations for processing, exploitation, and dissemination and back to users requires high-capacity communications bandwidth, which can be limited in a theater of operations because the amount of data sometimes exceeds available satellite and ground-based communication channel capacity. Third, according to DOD officials, shortages of analytical staff with the required skill sets hamper the services' and defense agencies' abilities to exploit all the ISR information being collected. To mitigate these challenges in the short term, the military services and defense agencies target their processing, exploitation, and dissemination capacity to the combatant commanders' highest-priority missions. Over the longer term, DOD has recognized the need to better manage its processing, exploitation, and dissemination of ISR data and has several initiatives under way to improve these capabilities. DOD is taking steps to improve the sharing of intelligence information across the department, but progress is uneven among the military services because (1) DOD has not developed guidance, such as a concept of operations, that provides overarching direction and priorities for data sharing and (2) lacking such guidance, the military services have not developed plans that set timelines or outline the prioritization and types of ISR data they will share with the defense intelligence community. Prior GAO work has found that best management practices include clear guidance and plans to implement that guidance. The Defense Intelligence Strategy and the DOD Information Sharing Strategy call for intelligence information integration and sharing among the military services and the U.S. intelligence community. DOD's plans for achieving information integration and sharing are based on two interrelated programs. Since 1998, DOD has worked with the military services to transition their service-unique intelligence data processing systems into an interoperable family of systems known as the Distributed Common Ground/Surface System (DCGS). To facilitate the sharing of ISR data on this system, DOD developed the DCGS Integration Backbone (DIB), which provides common information standards and protocols. However, without overarching guidance on data sharing priorities and service-level plans to implement that guidance, it is not clear when the services will conform to the DIB's information sharing protocols and standards. As a result, it is not clear how much of the data that are collected are not being shared. Until intelligence information is fully available in a timely manner, DOD risks the operational commander not receiving mission-critical ISR information. Moreover, users' inability to access existing information quickly may lead to additional demand for dedicated ISR collection assets.

Status Legend:

More Info
  • Review Pending-GAO has not yet assessed implementation status.
  • Open-Actions to satisfy the intent of the recommendation have not been taken or are being planned, or actions that partially satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-implemented-Actions that satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-not implemented-While the intent of the recommendation has not been satisfied, time or circumstances have rendered the recommendation invalid.
    • Review Pending
    • Open
    • Closed - implemented
    • Closed - not implemented

    Recommendations for Executive Action

    Recommendation: To improve the capabilities of the military services to share ISR information, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence, in coordination with the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Secretaries of the Army, Navy, and Air Force, to develop guidance, such as a concept of operations that provides overarching direction and priorities for sharing intelligence information across the defense intelligence community.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Open

    Comments: DOD concurred with this recommendation. Since the issuance of the report, DOD has made progress toward implementing the recommendation. For example, DOD completed concepts of operations (CONOPs) for two individual elements of intelligence information-sharing: the Distributed Common Ground System (DCGS) and Joint Intelligence Operations Center Information Technology (JIOC-IT). DOD also established a Defense Intelligence Information Enterprise (DI2E) Council to start developing more general overarching DOD guidance for intelligence information sharing. As directed by Public Law 112-81 (the National Defense Authorization Act for FY 2012), Section 921, GAO is currently assessing the extent to which DOD actions taken in response to this recommendation are consistent with and adequately address the recommendation. This review is ongoing.

    Recommendation: To improve the capabilities of the military services to share ISR information, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Secretaries of the Army, Navy, and Air Force to develop service-specific implementation plans, consistent with the concept of operations, which set timelines and outline the prioritization and types of ISR data they will share with the defense intelligence community through the DIB.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Open

    Comments: DOD concurred with this recommendation. Since the issuance of the report, DOD has made progress toward implementing the recommendation. For example, DOD established a Distributed Common Ground System (DCGS) Steering Group, which provides a forum for the military services to coordinate with each other and throughout DOD on key intelligence information sharing concepts and standards. DOD and the services have ongoing efforts, mostly related to DCGS to improve intelligence information sharing. As directed by Public Law 112-81 (the National Defense Authorization Act for FY 2012), Section 921, GAO is currently assessing the extent to which DOD actions taken in response to this recommendation are consistent with and adequately address the recommendation. This review is ongoing.

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