JUST IN: DIA Transitioning to AI-Enabled Intel Database
The Defense Intelligence Agency’s new military intelligence database is set to achieve initial operational capability early next year, the organization’s director said Nov. 1.
The Machine-assisted Analytic Rapid-repository System, or MARS, will replace the Military Intelligence Integrated Database, or MIDB, which has been in use since the 1980s. MARS “will transform the existing system housing foundational military intelligence into a dynamic, cloud-based system that pairs humans with machines to automate routine processes and enable the artificial intelligence and machine learning needed to make sense of big data and create analytic bandwidth,” an agency release stated.
“If you were to look at a MIDB record, you might see a satellite photo there with an Excel spreadsheet that describes what that thing is,” DIA Director Army Lt. Gen. Scott Berrier said during a fireside chat hosted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
What MARS does is take “everything that's in MIDB but infuses it with the tools that we have available today … so not only a satellite image and a description, but you will have a map database infused with lots of different, open source data points that will tell you what's going on there — information that we can buy, other information that we can steal — and it gives analysts … ways to analyze what's happening and techniques that we haven't used before,” Berrier said.
Having AI tools that can dissect data rapidly is a major benefit to the intelligence community, allowing analysts to “step back and think about what’s happening,” he said. “The AI, in handling the big data, will give you trends, but it doesn't give you an enemy commander's intent. And so the analytical call to say, ‘This is what they're thinking and why they're thinking it,’ AI can help with that, but at the end of the day it comes down to two analysts talking and doing the work that they do so well.”
DIA has worked closely with its commercial partners to ensure MARS is “best of breed in all these capabilities,” Berrier said.
“We've been able to develop algorithms with our commercial partners that actually deliver really, really quickly,” he said. “Having the ability to do that in the open, in an unclassified form, was really key for us to developing MARS. There are some security issues that prevent us from always doing that, but that is the way that we have to go to make MARS the very best that it can be.
“We know that we're not going to have all the development capability in a government organization, so we have to go to commercial partners to be able to deliver that,” Berrier continued. MARS will achieve initial operational capability in spring 2024 and full operational capability in 2025, he added.
A key part of MARS achieving full capability is not only completely integrating the existing database but having the ability to continue sharing intelligence with allies and partners, he said.
The conflict in Ukraine has demonstrated that “sharing is really, really important,” Berrier said. President Biden and the director of national intelligence “made a very bold decision to declassify sensitive intelligence” to “alert the world to what was happening … and what Russia was about to do.”
In partnership with U.S. European Command, DIA “set up a network for intelligence sharing with our Ukrainian partners” — along with NATO and Five Eyes allies — “to keep them in the loop with what's going on,” he said. “So, the ability to have policy rapidly developed to do that, to have an infrastructure to be able to share [is] really, really key, and then keeping your eye on enemy forces and tracking them throughout the battle every day is really, really key.”
Sharing intelligence with partners is playing a key role in the United States’ strategic competition with China as well, Berrier said. This summer, the United States and Australia agreed to open a new combined intelligence center in Australia in 2024.
“We're trying to understand the warning problem of a lifetime with the PRC, but also how they think,” and key to this is having the “right partnerships,” Berrier said. “In the United States, our asymmetric advantage in the [intelligence community] is that all of the intelligence leaders know each other. … Taking that asymmetric advantage and applying it to new partnerships in the Indo-Pacific is really how we're going to win.”
The United States will continue collaborating with key allies in the Indo-Pacific such as Australia but also must work with “non-traditional partners” in the region as well, he said. “We have to be there for them — because if we're not, we know that the Chinese will be.”