TAMPA, Fla. — In the wars of recent years, US Special Operations Command saw the results of a dizzying investment in intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) rushed into the field, leaving the command — in today's leaner times — to make sense of its inventory and focus.

To that end, the command has created an ISR roadmap, aimed at reinforcing its collection, transmission transportationand exploitation abilities, though transmission transporthas proved one of the thorniest problems. Sensors have evolved to capture richer information, like high-definition video, outstripping the capacity of to be transmitted it through theDefense Department data pipes to send the data.

"We're trying to make the case that this is not a special operations problem, it is a DoD-wide problem," Col. Matt Atkins, of Special Operations Command's intelligence directorate, said at a National Defense Industrial Association conference here on Wednesday.

Coverage From the Special Operations Forces Industry Conference

"Fortunately we have acknowledgement at the highest levels of government that yeah, moving sensor data around the battlefield to folks who need to exploit it is something DoD needs to get its arms around," he said.

One technical challenge is that the power required to transmit sensor data is limited by the size of the platform. Large drones have that ability but midsized drones have lessdo not, Atkins told the industry crowd.

The wide array of environments and diverse demands placed on special operations forces make it difficult are creating a struggle to articulate the command's sensor needs. Atkins took a stab, saying there will be demand will be for sensors that function in, "dense cluttered signal environments, in an urban canyon," or cellular base stations in shopping malls.

"The reality is the environments we operate in are the ones found all over the world, particularly the crappiest places, and those are the ones that will continue to present the biggest technical challenges," he said.

Processing and exploitation, being as the most manpower intensive, are the most expensive, so the command is interested in technologies that, "buy that down," Atkins said. It means investing in ways to perform exploitation in the field, rather than at US-based sites, using smaller, simpler applications that can be used by an intelligence specialist with a laptop on a special operations team, he said.

There is also a huge demand is for ISR platforms that are affordable and easily used by partner nations for internal defense.

"A lot of these countries know how to fly the ScanEagles and things they buy, but they don't necessarily know how to use them," Atkins said. "There's a demand for us to teach them how to control it, how to process the information and how to turn that information into intelligence."

Exploring small or micro satellites and their ability to transmit data, Atkins and his team have been visiting Silicon Valley in recent months. Less expensive commercial satellites might fill the gap for traditional intelligence sensors competing for access to satellites, he said.

"We look forward to some significant partnerships based on that," Atkins said.

Email: jgould@defensenews.com

Twitter: @reporterjoe

Joe Gould is the senior Pentagon reporter for Defense News, covering the intersection of national security policy, politics and the defense industry. He served previously as Congress reporter.

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