The U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) is getting ready for the “next battlefield” and counting on the expertise of private concerns, like Booz Allen Hamilton, to implement what it calls Machine-assisted Analytic Rapid-repository System, or MARS for short. MARS is a critical data management system for “military targeting” and operation planning.
MARS is currently the DIA’s top priority, and according to DIA director Lt. Gen. Robert P. Ashley Jr., the aim is to replicate “the commercial Internet that everybody uses every day,” with the added functionality of providing a “foundational intelligence picture […] at speed and at scale.”
Terry Busch, chief of DIA’s integrated analysis and methodologies division, highlights the difference between the MARS program he manages and the old “stovepipe” data management technologies it is meant to replace: “What comes out of MARS at the end is not data, it’s analysis. It’s finished intelligence.”
Which kind of intelligence, specifically, will be assessed dynamically by the machine’s algorithms in a new kind of database management system using AI functionality. It will revolutionize the way data is received and acted-upon. As it scours and collects vast datasets and volumes of foreign intelligence that support U.S. military operations around the world, MARS will be equipped to handle both large amounts of data, like the storage-intensive images and videos collected by the National Reconnaissance Office and also analyze the information to produce actionable leads in the battlefield.
It is nothing less than the 1983 sci-fi classic “WarGames” come to life. A ‘machine’ that decides when to go to war based on the information it is fed. In the movie, a military drill of a surprise nuclear attack on the United States accidentally goes live after a hacker, played by Matthew Broderick, “unwittingly” puts the world on the brink of nuclear war.
MARS program manager Terry Busch doesn’t discount the possibility. “On the machine side,” Busch stated, “we have experienced confirmation bias in big data,” adding that it was a “real concern” given that they’ve had “the machine retrain itself to error”.
COVID-19, however, has given the top military intelligence department the opportunity to “prove [its] ability to deliver the capabilities of MARS”, as DIA chief of Staff, John Sawyer, said at a National Security Summit that concluded Friday. The “assumptions about the nature of our work,” he claims were challenged during the pandemic, were especially fruitful in regards to the MARS program, which can now benefit from a new modality of military intelligence propagation that will be “the future of how we are going to understand fighting”.