Technology is driving evolution of the J2/J3 functions

By Roger Davies / 15 December 2015 / Human Factors, Insights, Intel Analysis, Intelligence 101

IMSL provide intelligence management support and consultancy to a number of clients and across a number of nations and organisational types. Often this is in relation to new software tools being applied to operations and intelligence functions. We are observing that some new capabilities are changing some of the traditional functions and processes within J2/J3 functions, and this is worthy of careful consideration.

The evolutionary development of these changes occur in a number of areas.  Put simply:

a. The J2 function is splitting. There are two distinct parts. The traditional J2 cell remains, functionally and physically as an adjunct to an operations room, providing contextual background analysis, baseline assessments looking forward beyond current ops.  The other half of the J2 function is now based firmly within the J3 environment , in the ops room, typically adjacent to the Chief of Staff and Ops planners.  Typically this function is being undertaken by a young “star” analyst with advanced technical skills to fly the advanced intelligence analysis software to support current ops.  Modern tools provide the J2 analyst with the tools to do “live, on-the-fly” analysis, responding instantly to RFIs.  The Ops guys are looking over the shoulder of the J2 analyst and saying “yeah but what about that?”, and pointing in directions for the analysts to explore.  This speeds the intelligence cycle up, enabling a faster tempo of operations and there have been remarkable advances in the manner that military operations have been conducted, enabled by the speed of the OODA loops, and the speed of the associated intelligence cycles. The tempo of operations is able to be maintained if the intelligence process enables it and many modern software tools do this.  But the skill levels are not trivial.  By contrast the “traditional” J2 role done in a physically separate J2 cell, usually undertaken by the less technically savvy, is being marginalised. Since the less technically savvy are typically older, and more senior, this creates organisational strains. Equally importantly, of the J2 can’t provide a highly technically literate analyst, who can cope with the demands of a hungry J3 team, then this becomes a crucial weakness with direct impact on the operational tempo.

b. The watch-keeper role in J3 is diminishing.  Traditionally this role was to keep a log and flag significant events to commanders or J3 staff, or carry out algorithmic functions.  Quite often new software (such as SAP’s RTSA – Real Time Situational Awareness) is able to fulfil most of this role. Watchkeeping has always been a strange role undertaken by “spare” personnel, without perhaps significant technical skills. (You could teach a watch-keeper their job in a couple of hours).  Technology and efficiency is simply driving this role to be much less important. RTSA automatically presents all the output traditionally processed by a J3 watch-keeper onto a screen in front of whoever needs to see it.

As ever, but much more noticeably, the functionality of the Ops Room varies according to the skill and talent of all the components and the style of the Chief of Staff or senior J3 staff officers. These days too, it depends on the talent of the usually young and junior analysts tasked to support them.  Our staff sometimes see radical changes in the functionality of J2/J3 as key individuals rotate. This was always the case but now the swings are much more extreme, almost accentuated by the technology and seemingly by the competence of key staff with that technology.  This highlights the importance of training, of course.

These evolutions are interesting, important and largely very positive but there are one or two dangers to be aware of.   By embedding capable analytical software in J3, a keen , thrusting J3 operator can do his or her own analysis. That’s all well and good but significantly increases the risk of cognitive biases.   One thing the separate J2 cell provided was a psychological objectivity on J3 planning.  With J3 “doing their own analysis” or even influencing a key junior analyst with a total focus on the next operation, colloquially the young analyst being the J3 operators “bitch”,  means you get total J2/J3 fusion which may lead itself up its own garden path and without the input of cogent J2 management applying balance and objectivity.  In crude terms a young LCpl Intelligence Corps is unlikely to challenge a hard thrusting J3 captain, where historically the efforts of the young LCpl were filtered and reinforced by the engagement of his manager, another captain, at the J2/J3 divide.    In these circumstances there is no longer a J2/J3 divide and that cannot always be healthy, even if it does allow hugely fast operational cycles.

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An intelligence analyst’s most important influencing factor

Although the example given is of a military operations centre, to some degree we are seeing similar evolutions in other sectors. Finally it also means that the damned int analysts drink all the good coffee available in the Ops room and eat the choccy biscuits. Whatever next!

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