Reliable data enables U.S. Army leaders at every echelon to make informed decisions, uncover complex information and develop solutions to achieve operational success. For the Army analysis community using modeling and simulation, or M&S, credible data is the lifeblood to characterize how systems will perform – how fast a tank can move over terrain, how far a sensor can see, how effective an artillery round is against the enemy.
The U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command Data & Analysis Center, known as DEVCOM DAC, is the source for this type of data, and collaborates with the M&S community to leverage advances in data science to find better ways to deliver it.
DAC provides certified Characteristics and Performance, or C&P, data for use in Army studies to inform data-driven acquisition decisions. The DAC Joint Data Branch oversees this C&P data mission and integrates information from over 50 analysts representing a large cross-section of functional area capabilities that are part of the DAC analytical portfolio.
For DAC, this is no new mission. DAC has managed the analytic process of producing data for over twenty years, and has developed a robust set of skills to ensure that the M&S community has a consistent set of data to represent the interactions of systems and sub-systems.
”We need to be on the same page, making the same underlying assumptions,” said Andrew Barnett, chief of DAC’s Joint Data Branch. “Without a single source for authoritative data to represent the interaction of U.S. and threat forces, there’s potential for inconsistencies in the simulations that the Army uses to inform decision makers.”
Listening to the Community
To establish standardization and transparency, DAC facilitates continual discussions with stakeholders across the spectrum, involving themselves early in the acquisition process to make sure methodologies are appropriate, representation is accurate and the focus is relevant to specific needs.
Cue the C&P Data Portal Configuration Control Board, or CCB. Chaired by Scott Pridgeon of DAC’s Joint Data Branch, the CCB aims to ensure the analysis and experimentation communities have the data needed to support senior Army leadership with analysis. Key members include the Center for Army Analysis, Futures and Concepts Center, Maneuver Battle Lab, Fires Battle Lab, Marine Corps Combat Development Command, National Ground Intelligence Center and The Research and Analysis Center.
“The board decides what we need. That’s the key: we’re using the whole community,” Pridgeon said. “Our key data users play in this process on a continuing basis.”
The CCB meets regularly to identify gaps and discuss data production and storage standard improvements, data exchange formats and advancements to the responsiveness and assessment of the analysis community. An additional priority of the CCB is to implement specific methodology areas to improve the efficiency and fidelity of analyses and to project future methodology needs.
Through these meetings and CCB forum, DAC listens to community needs in order to continuously improve, with the goal to establish a consistent data foundation across Army functional areas.
“DAC chairs the CCB, but the products of the CCB are not DAC products; they’re community products,” Pridgeon said. “We give our insight, bring in our subject matter experts and make recommendations, but the community answer is where we land.”
A culture of listening and adapting to provide credible data does not end with the CCB. DAC supports a cycle of managing and integrating data requests for simulation-ready C&P data, informed by a robust set of sources and analysis by subject matter experts, or SMEs.
Analysis is Key for Standardized C&P Data
DAC’s analysis pulls from sources that include intelligence production centers, intelligence sources for threats systems, knowledge programs, the engineering enterprise, DEVCOM Centers, Program Executive Offices and the Army Test and Evaluation Command. Notable in the diverse set of data sources DAC processes is red data, sourced from intelligence agencies, and blue data, which includes data from Program Executive Offices and Program Managers.
DAC conducts analysis to estimate the performance of systems – covering both red and blue, developmental and fielded – to tell a more complete story of the interaction of different systems and their impact. For example, DAC’s detailed models will represent a blue tank firing a missile, the missile hitting a red target and the damage the missile inflicts, all of which gets rolled up into a probability that the engagement is successful as input to a combat model.
“You need someone normalizing that data, looking at red and blue data equally and fairly. DAC is the arbiter of providing a common framework to make sure everything is accurate,” Timothy Boyd, DAC’s technical lead of the CCB, said.
DAC serves as a critical centerpoint for blue data, developing tailored data solutions in data architecture and data governance, as well as quality assurance. "We can't just copy and paste data and hand it out," said John Fitzgibbons, mechanical engineer at DAC and SME for direct fire weapons. "We have to process and translate the data into something customers can use, something that is measurable, reasonable and impactful in an operational context."
DAC not only stores and maintains red and blue data to support performance data generation, but reviews names and descriptions to provide consistent terminology. Across data sources, DAC maintains consistency for data outputs by establishing quality control, standardization of nomenclature and data repository. DAC also provides data confidence metrics and certification that stamps data as the best available estimates for a given study. Data is then supplied to users in a format that feeds the larger community in standardized reports called Standard File Formats.
“We’re trying to make things as easy and seamless for our customers as possible,” Boyd said. “That’s what I enjoy: finding good solutions that make everyone’s life easier.”
This quality-controlled and standardized performance data supports a broad range of data users within theatre-level, corps-level and brigade-level and below, covering a wide array of systems and technology areas, as well as direct and indirect fire, survivability, ground mobility, aviation, sensors, reliability, and chemical and biological characteristics. Additional users include the Joint Technical Coordinating Group for Munitions Effectiveness and the Center for Army Analysis.
The Center for Army Analysis’ Richard Cobb, chief of the Campaign Analysis Data Team, has seen the Army data landscape evolve over the years, as well as the impact of Standard File Formats.
Historically, data sets were delivered in varied layouts, varied computational intensities and extracted through varied approaches, all of which posed challenges to how data moved through its lifecycle. “There was a time when we were getting data in all kinds of formats… and we’d do plenty of manual retyping to get it into a database,” said Cobb. “Standard File Formats are a 1,000% better way of doing things. They're consistent and ensure data can be input into the application a local entity needs to support their models or analyses.”
Cobb also describes DAC’s collaboration with the Army analysis and experimentation communities as a positive and necessary practice. “Input from the community is important to keep the Standard File Formats standardized… [In the CCB], everyone has the ability to voice their opinion and suggest improvements; it’s a cooperative environment.”
According to Boyd and Fitzgibbons, DAC’s people and processes are critical to supplying accurate data to users and being receptive to user needs. A large part of DAC’s ability to drive the C&P data mission is their vast institutional knowledge.
“We have years of experience working with our customers, the training community and the M&S community to not only know how to provide data but know how it’s going to be represented in interactions with combat simulations,” Boyd said. In many cases, expertise from SMEs and analysts goes back decades—in one case, over sixty years.
Supplying appropriate data quickly is also a product of flexibility and cohesive teamwork. “We have to understand what questions they're trying to answer and how we can take what we already know to come up with a creative, innovative solution,” said Fitzgibbons. DAC’s experience and capabilities—while honing in on community needs and strengths—ultimately help to provide a fuller picture.
Quality data, after all, bolsters quality decisions.
The DEVCOM Data & Analysis Center is an element of the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command. DEVCOM is a major subordinate command of the U.S. Army Futures Command. Visit the DEVCOM website at https://www.army.mil/devcom.