DAHLGREN, Va. – Mike Jones and his team traveled to U.S. Navy bases worldwide because their mission to deliver the Identity Dominance System (IDS) and train Sailors – in person – was vital.
Jones and his Mobile Training Team – flying more than one million miles since 2013 – provided hands on training to more than 2,000 Sailors aboard a whopping 130 ships and numerous littoral combat ship detachments at Navy bases in Norfolk, Mayport, San Diego, Everett, Pearl Harbor, Japan, Bahrain and Spain.
The COVID-19 pandemic, however, put a sudden halt to the team’s domestic and overseas travel requirement to train warfighters while delivering IDS to the Navy’s visit, board, search, seizure (VBSS) ships – guided missile cruisers and destroyers, littoral combat ships, amphibious transport dock ships, dock landing ships, and patrol coastal ships.
It forced the team of Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division (NSWCDD) scientists and engineers to hunker down at home for the past nine months to train Sailors and support the fleet while working on IDS technology refresh.
IDS – used by Sailors in the conduct of VBSS maritime interception operations – is a hand-held biometric collection system that provides the capability to collect, match, store and share identity information. It features a portable, ruggedized, multimodal biometric collection device capable of enrolling, identifying, and verifying individuals encountered during expeditionary operations.
Since the pandemic’s outbreak, Jones – the IDS technical direction agent lead – and his team transitioned to telework while developing software and hardware in support of a complete technology refresh focused on modifying the IDS form factor to be smaller and lighter with an enhanced system performance that increases computing power, speed, local matching and communications capabilities.
“It performs faster with additional capabilities that don’t currently exist,” said Jones while describing the fleet’s upcoming IDS upgrade. “We’re trying to leverage communication capabilities that exist in the fleet to make responses more timely. The system is designed to provide operators with threat indications of personnel they encounter and enroll with our device to collect their biometrics. Sailors check biometrics against a local watch list but getting that data back to the authoritative database for additional matching is far more critical. The Dahlgren-developed tech refresh system is going to provide that ability to VBSS Sailors where the legacy system didn’t. It’s going to be more user friendly and just more reliable and sustainable.”
In terms of the fleet’s IDS training requirements during the pandemic, the Dahlgren team engaged with VBSS crews from several littoral combat ships to train them on the legacy system. Rather than hopping aboard a jet aircraft to see Sailors in person, they are interacting with them on the Defense Collaboration Services web conferencing platform while providing updated training materials via DoD’s Secure Access File Exchange.
Meanwhile, Jones and his team – teleworking to complete the IDS technology refresh of the system’s hardware and software – plan to field the new system in fiscal 2021.
“I think that the virtual environment that we’re in is more effective than working in the office in the grand scheme of things,” said Jones. “It introduced some challenges that we worked through very quickly. We use texts, phone calls, teleconferences and virtual media like MS Teams and Webex for our exchanges or meetings. It’s usually like you text someone and say, ‘hey, can we chat right now,’ and we do a quick call.”
As the IDS technical direction and design agent, the NSWCDD team is designing system software to run on a mobile Android platform capable of enrollment collection, matching, storage and sharing. Moreover, they are collaborating and synchronizing their efforts with Booz Allen Hamilton, the contractor tasked to provide the new handheld biometric device under an indefinite-delivery and indefinite-quantity contract through January 2024.
Since the new equipment will be shipped directly to the VBSS ships, the NSWCDD team of trainers – who served as a delivery service under legacy IDS – may never meet some crews in person as they’ve done in the past. The training team – known as the IDS Mobile Training Team or MTT for short – does plan to engage VBSS ships in onsite or virtual pre-deployment training whenever possible. However, especially in light of COVID restrictions, Jones and his team have strived to design the tech refresh system to be user-friendly and intuitive– the same as any commercial Android application developer would do. This makes in-person MTT training – while helpful – much less critical to successful operations of the device by the fleet.
“As we move into tech refresh, there will be a change in fielding where the In-Service Engineering Agent (ISEA) is going to drop ship the equipment,” said Jones. “They’re going to mail it directly to the ships. We’ll conduct pre-deployment training virtually – as we have been doing in person – to make sure they know how to use the equipment in a timely manner. We’re not going to be training people who won’t be in the VBSS role when the ship deploys.”
Prior to deployment, the ship’s VBSS team receives a Biometrically Enabled Watch List (BEWL) from the Defense Forensic Science Center’s (DFSC) Biometrics Operations Directorate (BOD), containing essential information necessary to identify persons of interest. During operations, the VBSS team collects biometrics from personnel on the boarded vessel using the IDS and performs matching against the local BEWL while in a network-disconnected state.
Specifically, IDS enables Sailors in the VBSS role to collect and store multi-modal biometric information – fingerprint, iris and face – from encountered individuals; rapidly check unknown individuals against the BEWL for possible identification; and update, manage, and share the identity information on friendly, neutral, and enemy individuals in support of identity operations.
“As the leader in warfare systems development and integration, we will continue to forge ahead with the technology refresh of the Identity Dominance System to ensure its capabilities meet the needs of our warfighters defending our homeland,” said Jones. “We have adapted to the virtual environment but if we are still under travel restrictions a year from now when we start fielding tech refresh, we will travel to provide training that cannot be accomplished virtually.”
The legacy IDS – an enabler in identity activities during Navy Maritime Interception Operations – will be replaced by IDS tech refresh. The new handheld device features an alignment aid to ensure the subject’s iris is within the iris sensor’s depth of field during iris capture under ambient lighting conditions ranging from direct sunlight to complete darkness. This alignment aid was part of the legacy IDS device and proved to be a key feature for iris collection during maritime operations. Unfortunately, it was non-existent with the majority of the latest generation biometric collection devices, so Jones and his team were sure to include it in the IDS tech refresh design requirements.
Other important improvements for IDS include the migration from a two-finger sensor to a four-finger sensor to expedite fingerprint collection while reducing errors and the decrease in the fielded equipment footprint while improving processing and communications capabilities, reducing logistics requirements and increasing mission responsiveness.
IDS – designed to be interoperable with a variety of existing and planned identity management systems – adheres to technical standards and policies, including DoD Electronic Biometric Transmission Specification (EBTS) and Navy network security accreditation requirements.
Once a VBSS crew collects biometrics, EBTS files are generated from the collected biometric information and submitted to the DFSC BOD for further matching electronically. The shipboard network systems are leveraged to transmit EBTS files to DFSC BOD. At that point, match responses against the entire DoD authoritative repository containing millions of identity records associated with the submitted EBTS files are provided back to the submitter by DFSC BOD in accordance with established business rules. Currently these match responses are received by email by designated ship’s personnel. However, in the future Jones and his team are planning to provide a means to receive match responses directly onto the IDS device wherever a network connection is available.
“All enrollments a VBSS crew collects are transferred to the authoritative database known as the Automated Biometric Identification System or ABIS – the DoD’s authoritative database,” Jones explained. “When operators collect an enrollment and get a quick response on the handheld – they submit it to ABIS, which performs matching not just against the full DOD watch list but against their entire database of identity records in ABIS, which includes latent fingerprints acquired from captured enemy material.”
At the conclusion of a mission, the VBSS team generates an after-action report for submission to the Naval Criminal Investigative Service and the combatant command for further intelligence exploitation.
The IDS program was established as an Acquisition Category IVT Program of Record in 2007 and is presently beyond Milestone C in the operations and sustainment phase. The Navy achieved Initial Operating Capability in the third quarter of the fiscal year 2013, and Full Operating Capability in the first quarter of fiscal year 2017. The Program Executive Office for Unmanned and Small Combatants, Expeditionary Missions serves as the Program Office, with NSWCDD designated as technical direction agent.
NSWC Dahlgren Division’s mission is to provide research, development, test and evaluation, analysis, systems engineering, integration and certification of complex naval warfare systems related to surface warfare, strategic systems, combat and weapons systems associated with surface warfare. The command also provides system integration and certification for weapons, combat systems and warfare systems and fulfills other responsibilities assigned by the NSWC commander.