The Pentagon’s New Algorithmic Warfare Cell Gets Its First Mission: Hunt ISIS

Monday, May 15, 2017
By Paul Martin

MAY 14, 2017

Turning hours of drone video into actionable intelligence is just the start for the fast-moving machine-learning team.

By year’s end, the Pentagon wants computers to be leading the hunt for Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria, through turning countless hours of aerial surveillance video into actionable intelligence.

It’s part of Project Maven, a fast-moving effort launched last month by Deputy Defense Secretary Bob Work to accelerate, improve, and put to wider use the military’s use of machine learning.

“We have to tackle the problem a different way,” said Air Force Lt. Gen. John N.T.“Jack” Shanahan, director for defense intelligence for warfighter support, and the man tasked with finding the new technology. “We’re not going to solve it by throwing more people at the problem…That’s the last thing that we actually want to do. We want to be smarter about what we’re doing.”

Thousands of military and civilian intelligence analysts are “overwhelmed” by the amount of video being recorded over the battlefield. These analysts watch the video, looking for abnormal activities. Right now, about 95 percent of the video shot by drone and aircraft is from the campaign against ISIS in Iraq and Syria.

The Pentagon has raced to buy and deploy drones that carry high-resolution cameras over the past decade and a half of war in Afghanistan and Iraq. But on the back end, stateside analysts are overwhelmed. Pentagon leaders hope technology can ease the burden on the workforce while producing better results on the battlefield.

“How do we actually begin to automate that in a way that gives time back to analysts who otherwise spend 80 percent of their time doing…mundane, administrative tasks associated with staring at full-motion video,” Shanahan said.

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