The Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) is nearing key milestones for its new Machine-assisted Analytic Rapid-repository System (MARS), which will replace an aging system for processing intelligence on foreign militaries, according to the agency’s leader.
MARS is expected achieve an initial operational capability in spring 2024 and a full operational capability in 2025, Army Lt. Gen. Scott Berrier, DIA’s director, said on Nov. 1 at the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).
MARS will replace the Modernized Integrated Database (MIDB), providing increased automation; more types of information, including intelligence on cyber and space capabilities; and larger volumes of data. While a MIDB record might contain a satellite photo with an Excel spreadsheet that explains what the image is, the cloud-based MARS will provide a “map database infused with lots of different open-source data points that will tell you what’s going on there – information that we can buy, other information that we can steal,” Berrier said.
YEARS IN THE MAKING
As the Government Accountability Office (GAO) explained in a November 2020 report, DIA began developing MARS in 2018 because MIDB was decades old and no longer met the Intelligence Community’s needs.
“For example, [MIDB] does not include information in areas such as cyberspace and space, and it does not have enough capacity to store all the information needed by warfighters,” the GAO wrote. “In addition, MIDB relies heavily on manual operation — that is, human involvement to update records — and cannot use new technology such as machine learning and automation.”
Headquartered at Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling in Washington, D.C., DIA collects and synthesizes information on how other countries train and equip their militaries and how, when, and why those forces would fight. In addition to being part of the Department of Defense (DoD), it is one of 17 members of the Intelligence Community.
Also in his CSIS comments, Berrier endorsed a proposal to create an intelligence center focused on foreign cyber capabilities. US Cyber Command officials have reportedly indicated in the past year that they are looking to form such an entity in collaboration with DIA and the National Security Agency (NSA).
“We’re going to work very, very closely with our Cyber Command and NSA partners and Congress to actually explore what that looks like and what it needs to be,” Berrier said.
Turning to DIA leadership, Berrier indicated he is slated to retire but is sticking around for now because the nomination of his expected successor, Air Force Lt. Gen. Jeff Kruse, is one of hundreds that Sen. Tommy Tuberville has held up in the Senate to protest a DoD abortion policy.
Berrier has led DIA since October 2020. Kruse currently serves in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence as the director’s adviser for military affairs.