US Air Force developing human molecular biosignature sensors and more

Research into “human signatures” for the purpose of developing technologies that can “sense and exploit human bio-signatures at both the molecular- and macro-level” is one of the goals of the US Air Force’s long-term Human-Centered Intelligence, Surveillance & Reconnaissance (ISR) Leveraged Science and Technology (S&T) Program that’s being carried out by the Human Effectiveness Directorate (RH) of the US Air Force Research Laboratory’s (AFRL) 711th Human Performance Wing (711 HPW).

The Air Force explained that the objective of its Human Signatures Program is to “develop technologies to discover, characterize, and transition biological-based signatures (biosignatures) to enable effective human and environmental threat detection, identification and exploitation, and operator performance assessment across a variety of Air Force mission areas.”

The Air Force’s human signatures research and development program aims to be able to identify, locate, and track specific individuals and groups of individuals who possess “certain characteristics of operational interest.”

“Biosignatures range from the micro-level (molecular, cellular, genomic) up to whole body physiological signatures based on anthropometric and biomechanical properties and characteristics,” the Air Force said.

To do this, sensors that are designed to detect and collect biosignatures must be developed, in addition to the development of analytics and information to process, analyze, fuse, and utilize biosignature data; and end-user systems that can integrate biosignatures into a layered sensor network and provide analysis, visualization, and prediction tools in order to exploit biosignature data.

The program is a manifestation of Air Force ISR 2030: Delivering Decision Advantage, a Strategic Vision for the AF ISR Enterprise, which was articulated as “full-spectrum awareness.”

This strategy stated that, “Operations-intelligence integration currently provides unprecedented awareness of the operational environment for tactical, operational, and strategical commanders and decision makers,” but the AF ISR Enterprise will “seamlessly ingest data from an even wider expanse of sources, swiftly conduct multi- and all-source analysis, and rapidly deliver decision advantage to war fighters and national decision makers. Full-spectrum awareness in Phase 0 and Phase 1 will enable ISR Airmen to develop a comprehensive picture of the operational environment and, in coordination with the entire intelligence enterprise, develop a better understanding of potential adversaries’ intentions and capabilities. In Phases 2-5, full-spectrum awareness will provide the operations-intelligence convergence that will lead to informed decisions and compressed observe, orient, decide, and act (OODA) loops.”

Established in March, 2008, the 711 HPW is comprised of the Human Effectiveness Directorate, Air Force School of Aerospace Medicine, and the Human Performance Integration Directorate. The Wing’s primary mission areas are aerospace medicine, science and technology, and human systems integration.

On February 16, 2018, the Air Force Materiel Command issued Solicitation FA8650-18-S-6001, an open 2 Step Broad Agency Announcement (BAA) for innovative research concepts for the overall mission of the 711 HPW’s Human-Centered Intelligence, Surveillance & Reconnaissance Division (RHX).

RHX’s research objective is to develop human-centered S&T that enables the Air Force to more effectively execute the ISR mission. The research objective intends to improve the capability to identify, track, and locate human targets in the ISR environment; and to improve the performance of humans who process, exploit, analyze, produce, and disseminate ISR data and information.

Human-centered ISR research encompasses human signatures; human trust and interaction; and human analyst augmentation. The human signatures research develops technologies to sense and exploit human bio-signatures at both the molecular level and macro (anthropometric) level. The human trust and interaction research develops technologies to improve human-to-human interactions as well as human-to-machine interactions. Human analyst augmentation research develops technologies to enhance analyst performance and to test the efficacy of newly developed technologies within a simulated operational environment.

The Air Force explained that while “current ISR systems are ideal for identifying and tracking entities such as aircraft and vehicles,” they “are less capable of identifying and tracking” humans. Consequently, the ISR research program is developing “technologies to enable the Air Force to identify, locate, and track humans of interest within the operational environment.”

The Air Force said because “the large number of sensors and sensor platforms continues to proliferate along with an exponential increase in sensor data,” human analysts are “challenged” in their ability to “turn sensor data into [useable, actionable] information.”

And while “research into improving data fusion and analysis of sensor data has seen steady growth,” these efforts nevertheless “continue to be system-centric solutions and do not adequately address the human element,” the Air Force stated, noting that, “human-centered ISR research places the human component in the system at the forefront and seeks to develop technologies that enhance the performance of ISR analysts and improve the quality of their work product.”

The current scope of the Air Force’s “human-centered ISR research spans the complete range of human performance,” beginning at the individual molecular, cellular, and genomic level, and progressing to complex human-to-human and human-to-machine interactions, the Air Force said, adding, “human-centered ISR reaches across multiple domains (air, space, cyber) and has broad application to other Department of Defense organizations,” as well as the Intelligence Community.

“Social Signature Exploitation” is another R&D effort by the AFRL the stated mission of which is “recognizing behavior indicators that are based on social and cultural factors” in order to assess and “predict military relevant events.”

The lab said “the need includes the use of open and closed data resources to assist decision making on the use of force or non-physical actions.”

The AFRL has also articulated the need for “advanced technologies” that can be used to exploit foreign language sources, since much of the information needed by the military “to effectively operate within and execute its global reach and responsibilities is found in foreign language speech and text.”

This research is expected to lead to the development of completely new automated speech, voice, and language recognition technologies that, for intelligence purposes, can also be used for both individual and potentially societal monitoring purposes and identification.

The problem is, according to the Air Force, is that there’s a “critical shortfall” of the linguists necessary to understand and translate all so much open source and classified information. Accordingly, the R&D efforts address “the linguist shortfall and the sheer volume of potentially applicable foreign language material for military applications by developing and applying advanced algorithms, techniques, and tools relating to automatic speech recognition, speech processing, and multimedia information retrieval and extraction.”

The human language technologies research, the AFRL said, “seeks to rapidly develop low-cost capabilities in new languages and domains of military interest despite limited amounts of labeled, transcribed, or translated training data.”

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