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DIA leads tech effort within innovation battle lab

By Jordan Bishop, DIA Public Affairs

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The Defense Intelligence Agency put its expertise to the test through participation in the Joint Innovation Battle Lab, a two-week annual exercise focused on the integration of operations, intelligence and technology, April 29 through May 10, 2019.

The U.S. Navy exercise, held annually at Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek-Fort Story since 2004, serves as a venue to share best practices; identify, test and evaluate innovative technologies; and improve operational and intelligence tradecraft with special operations forces, the Department of Defense, the Intelligence Community, federal law enforcement, the private sector, and academia.

DIA’s Office of Advanced Technologies Intelligence within the Directorate for Science and Technology has the noteworthy task of heading the technology portion of JIBL, where it collaborates with field operators using agency-developed technology and other equipment.

“Our technology is cutting-edge and we’re excited to showcase it,” said Matt Avery, JIBL technology line of effort director. “One of the exercise goals is to integrate with our interagency partners to increase speed, accuracy and lethality. Testing out our tech with end-users gives us immediate feedback so we can not only meet this goal, but also show how agile and expeditionary DIA operates.”

The exercise gives DIA a unique opportunity to push systems and concepts to failure in a controlled environment. Experimenting with current and emerging technologies in scenarios that combine maritime, air, ground and individual platforms provide solutions to tactical, operational and strategic challenges, while addressing shortcomings and gaps.

“As technology experts, DIA must identify innovative technologies to meet intelligence and operational requirements for warfighters,” added Avery. “Our success in this area helps enable collaboration to improve tactics, techniques and procedures, and achieve decision dominance for leaders on the battlefield during a great-power competition.”

DIA demonstrated and tested more than a dozen technologies, including equipment aboard the U.S. Navy’s M80 Stiletto and telecommunications technologies that securely transmit data to a trusted location. Rapidly integrating these technologies is an ongoing goal of DIA and all partners involved.

“The technology readiness level is something we talk about a lot here,” said Stacy Mullinix, DIA’s project lead at JIBL. “Projects come into the exercise near completion, but also in prototype form… Our goal is to get them field tested and moved up to a higher level here, which will expedite getting them into the hands of operators who can collect various forms of intelligence.”

A key aspect of the exercise is building relationships that, ultimately, improve capabilities and enhance support for national security. Anna Leese de Escobar, a senior science and technology manager with Naval Information Warfare Center Pacific, recalls her introduction to the exercise.

“Matt Avery invited us to the exercise in 2018,” said Leese de Escobar. “I observed last year so we could take advantage of the opportunities in 2019. So far this year we’re still taking data, and it’s giving us the opportunity to test on land with unexpected things going on and that’s good. In the past, we’ve been at our own institution with everything under our control.

“In addition, we’re hoping to test on the sea and in the air. If those come out, it’ll be huge for us and all in just two weeks. We’ll have gone from a lower readiness level to a much higher one. This exercise gives us the type of exposure we really need.”

DIA places high value on JIBL participation. The Agency contributes components from various divisions, including science and technology, operations, finance and acquisition, logistics, facilities and information technology.

“This exercise showcases DIA’s ability to work together as an agency and shows that it’s not one directorate that does all of the heavy lifting,” said Natalie Yacoub-Pugh, DIA’s chief financial officer ST Resource Management Office. “It requires an all-hands approach. Each directorate and special office plays a crucial role in each other’s success to enable technology performance in an operational environment.”