YUMA PROVING GROUND, Ariz. (October 27, 2021) – If data is the ammunition of future warfare, data fabric is what will guide it to the target.
As the Army and Joint services experiment with more than 100 different technologies during the Project Convergence 21 capstone experiment this fall, data fabric capabilities are playing a key role by bringing together multiple sources of data to enable better decision-making on the battlefield.
Faster, more informed decisions – made by commanders who can leverage data from multiple services, echelons and weapon systems platforms to choose the right effects – provide a competitive advantage over adversaries, Army leaders said.
“Without data, we’re not in the fight,” said Lt. Gen. Jim Richardson, Deputy Commanding General for Army Futures Command (AFC), which manages Project Convergence. “Common platforms, shared applications and data fabric give the Joint force commander options [and support] the decision dominance necessary for the Joint force to achieve overmatch.”
The term “data fabric” refers to technology that weaves together numerous information sources and data formats from different systems, providing a common layer in order to improve interoperability and quickly route the right data to the operator who needs it. For the Army, a major focus of data fabric is to reduce digital barriers between warfighting functional systems such as fires, maneuver, air defense, or sustainment.
By overlaying these systems with common interfaces and standards, the data fabric mediates different file types and enables new messaging flows between systems to provide a better common operating picture and enable more detailed targeting. It also aggregates and enriches the pool of data available for artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) capabilities to aid in decision-making.
“The ‘swivel chair’ approach that we have today has to stop, and we need the data to train AI and ML to render better information to the commander,” said Brig. Gen. Jeth Rey, Director of the Army Network Cross-Functional Team, which is part of AFC. “Data fabric is critical to getting us there.”
At PC21, the Army is experimenting with several data fabric technologies in realistic operational scenarios to better understand their maturity and potential. They include an open architecture data fabric capability developed by the Army science and technology community that focuses on improving data discovery, synchronization, and security, as well as variations developed by industry and Army Cyber Command.
The ongoing experimentation with these and other technologies will continue to inform and optimize the data fabric that the Army will field to operational units. The Army is planning an incremental data fabric fielding strategy as part of its network Capability Sets, which deliver integrated packages of network and mission command equipment with upgrades on a two-year cycle. The focal point for data fabric delivery – as part of the Army’s Command Post Computing Environment, the service’s primary computing environment under the common operating environment – is Capability Set 23, which begins fielding in Fiscal Year 2023. More advanced analytics and greater capacity will be added to the data fabric for Capability Set 25.
Looking beyond the Army, data management and sharing across the military services is a critical component of Joint All Domain Command and Control (JADC2), the initiative to modernize technologies and procedures to process information, make decisions and direct actions of the Joint force across all warfighting domains, faster than the adversary. As a Joint experiment, Project Convergence 21 gives the services an opportunity to better understand the multiple data standards and architectures involved in current mission command and network transport systems, and how to evolve Joint communications for the future utilizing new technologies like data fabric, while maintaining backward compatibility.
“Bridging the gap between all the Joint systems is a lot of what the technology that’s out here [at Project Convergence] is doing, as everybody has developed mission command systems that fit their niche,” said Chief Warrant Officer 3 Michael Reyes, information series technician with the 82nd Airborne Division, who is supporting network operations at PC21. “It’s going to be an iterative process – it’s not going to be a transformation – but the fact that the Joint force is putting in the effort and muscle and resources into making this happen is in itself a critical and transformative step.”