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​Kenneth Bray, a​ top USAF ISR official​, shown here at the Defense News Conference in Arlington, Va., on Sept. 6, 2017, expects improvements to USAF’s data-processing algorithms within one year. Staff photo by Gideon Grudo.

​The Air Force has “recognized” it has “a big data problem,” said Kenneth Bray, USAF's acting associate deputy chief of staff for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance​.​

Speaking Wednesday at the Defense News Conference in Arlington, Va., Bray said USAF has what he called one of the “largest holdings of imagery in the world.” However, until about a year and half ago, the service had been unable to search that database in a “real-time fashion,” he added, noting it’s also unusable by “big data analytic algorithms.” That means all that information isn’t being digested by decision-makers in the service as efficiently as it otherwise might be, which affects operations.

USAF has “for many years” concentrated on answering questions like, “Can I go high enough? Can I stay airborne long enough? Can it cost low enough? Could it go fast enough?” Bray said.

“What we care most about now is answering the right questions as fast as we can for the commanders of our air operations centers,” he said. “I need to design outward from the data. I need to stop designing to make the best aircraft or best sensor.” In order to do that, the data has to be the beginning of the conversation, requiring fast turnaround on its analysis.

The service is working on “changing that,” Bray said, citing a “whole series of experiments” and “demonstrations” USAF is running in tandem with the undersecretary for defense for acquisition, technology, and logistics, which is running its own Project Maven, an effort to “incorporate elements of artificial intelligence and machine learning into its drone program,” according to Reuters.

“We intend to—by this time next year—have operational algorithms so we can automate what in the past has been done in a very manual, intensive process,” he said.

The service also uses air operations centers to respond to noncombat events, like Hurricane Harvey, with the 1st Air Force Air Operations Center coordinating 2,078 search and rescue operations as of Tuesday.