US upgrades front-line intelligence


US troops at the forward edge of the battlefield soon will be able to tap into massive stores of intelligence, including full-motion video gathered from unmanned aerial vehicles, to plan and conduct their missions.

“Valiant Angel” is being readied for deployment to Afghanistan later this month, Air Force Col. Skip Krakie, who heads up the project for U.S. Joint Forces Command, has told the US Armed Forces Press Service. The system was fast-tracked for fielding in response to a tasking from the intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance task force Defense Secretary Robert Gates stood up last spring, Krakie said.

Once on the ground, Valiant Angel will enable more warfighters to access, retrieve and store massive amounts of still and video imagery, including full-motion video and wide-air surveillance projects. “That data was there in theater, but not as accessible as it needed to be, especially to warfighters who were at the tactical edge who had very little bandwidth to receive that data,” Krakie said.

With Valiant Angel, troops will be able to access these huge digital data sets – including full-motion video delivered by airborne surveillance platforms – over existing networks using only a laptop computer and a 56-kilobyte modem. They also will be able to discuss these video clips using instant messaging software and embed their chat history in the video stream for other users.

Valiant Angel was developed based on commercially available technology used by the TV and motion-picture industry, adapted to improve warfighters’ situational awareness and ability to track battlefield action, Krakie explained. “The commercial industry struggles with these same problems,” he said. “How do you move large digital data around so you can stream it to someone’s computer or you can get it to their TV set and make it accessible when they want it? … Whether it’s the football game you watch on Sunday or a new movie Disney put out, that data needs to be moved about, to your house or from one production center to another.”

Joint Forces Command, along with its partners at the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency and other combat support agencies, as well as the Army and Air Force, tapped into this existing capability to better support warfighters. The idea, Krakie said, was “not to build anything new, but to take things that were commercial, off the shelf, integrate them into a package and ship them out to the warfighter as quickly as possible to satisfy their requirement.”

In addition to hardware components, Joint Forces Command will deliver a software package that improves users’ ability to search a secure, network database, Krakie said. They will be able to conduct searches based not just on where and when the video was gathered, but also using key words. For example, users will be able to type in “red truck” or “explosion” and see all video in the system with those words in it.

Valiant Angel also will provide alerts when specific intelligence the user designates becomes available. “It enables users who don’t have time to watch all the video to receive alerts that something they are interested in is coming across or available in the video archive,” Krakie said. “I may not be able to sit there and watch the video today, but I want to know if any [roadside bombs] explode and we have video of that.”

An additional capability, to be ready by late summer, will provide a Web interface for users who don’t have access to the Valiant Agent software. With just a few more days of pre-deployment testing yet to be conducted at the Joint Interoperability Test Command, the first Valiant Angel shipments to Afghanistan will begin within the next two weeks. There, the system will go through a 60-day field operational assessment, at U.S. Central Command’s request, before the remaining equipment ships in July or August, Krakie said.

When it reaches full operational capability, Valiant Angel will provide the broadest array of intelligence, including wide-area data from platforms such as the Constant Hawk unmanned aerial system, to troops that previously couldn’t get it.
“We want to make sure that ISR data gets to the warfighter — and not just the warfighter who may be sitting in a command center, but the warfighter at the very edge of the tactical edge who may have nothing more than a laptop,” Krakie said. “We want to make sure that we are pushing the data as far down as possible, so they are successful with what they are supposed to be carrying out.”