Air Force secretary admits it will be ‘years’ until they can process all drone data
By Madison Ruppert
Editor of End the Lie
As the Air Force and other military agencies continue to put larger, more powerful sensors on their Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), better known as drones, like the so-called panopticon drone, they are now unable to keep up with all of the information captured by these platforms.
According to Michael Donley, the secretary of the Air Force (the highest civilian position), the massive amount of video and photographic data captured by their drone arsenal is “unsustainable” and it will be “years” until they can process it all.
Donley says that the massive amount of information they capture spurred their decision to purchase fewer drones, announced in February.
“We’re clearly playing catch-up,” Donley explained. “It’s not just the pilots and manning the aircraft. It’s also the [data] processing exploitation behind that … We’re collecting data at rates well above what we had in the past.”
However, the Air Force will be increasing the amount of drone air patrols, which are made up of teams of up to four drones (which now make up one third of the Air Force’s air fleet) from 61 to 65.
Yet for the next “couple of years,” Donley said that these patrols will not be increased, despite the “sustained demand going forward” of the information collected by these drones.
Donley is hopeful that this move will allow the Air Force to actually catch up with the massive amount of footage and images they have yet to comb through.
“If we fill out the capability underneath it, adequately man that force, adequately provide the processing exploitation capabilities underneath that, we’ll be able to surge to 85 [combat air patrols],” Donley said. “This was an important decision to put a cap on the growth and fill in the capability.”
One of the reasons that they are slow to process all of the information is that some video from drones is required immediately, like when forces are hunting down specific insurgent groups in combat zones.
On the other hand, some video doesn’t seem important or relevant to such an operation at the time, but it very well may be instrumental in aiding a future operation.
To put it more simply, the analysts processing the data may not know what exactly they are looking for, which means that they cannot simply delete the footage or images after that day’s mission.
If they were to immediately delete such a thing, they might accidentally end up deleting data which could prove critical in a future operation.
Donley says that this task is one that “us [the Air Force], DARPA, and the intelligence community” are actively trying to conquer.
Such technology would be able to categorize and select data to send to analysts for immediate perusal, while saving less important information for later viewing.
However, there might be much more simple solutions which could be rolled out more quickly like better search algorithms to allow analysts to sift through the massive backlog of information they have to deal with.
“We’re working on more machine-machine tools that help us process data more rapidly and help the analysts work through rapid opportunities and decision making,” Donley said, while refusing to cite specific projects to Danger Room.
Donley said that such technology would “then also set aside data that is less critical and has a less immediate operational impact,” so it could be looked over later since it is impossible to tell if it might prove relevant at a later date.
Even with technology capable of helping sort data for analysts, the torrent of information that the Air Force has to deal with will only continue to increase.
What with drones capable of capturing huge 36 square miles at once and “the rough equivalent of 79.8 years of HD video,” there is the possibility that this stream might actually increase exponentially.
Considering the fact that the conflicts we are currently involved in do not seem like they’re going to be resolved soon, not to mention the disturbing possibility of even more conflicts around the world and the undeclared wars mostly waged by drones in Somalia, Yemen, Pakistan and elsewhere, I can’t see the amount of information slimming down any time soon.
After all, there are even more secret drone bases (many of which I doubt we will ever know about) and the prospect of a conflict with Iran seems more likely given the antagonistic approach taken by Israel.
With the business of perpetual war booming and the integration of drones into the American national airspace being accelerated by legislation, there are, quite unfortunately I might add, no signs of this trend slowing down or stopping.
As always, I hope I am completely off base and our nation’s obsession with global war will come to an end, but unfortunately there are no indicators that show this to be the case.
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