ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. (October 24, 2022) – The Army is emphasizing data-driven mission planning as it increases readiness for operations across the joint and coalition forces.
"Commanders need to have access to more data for their missions, plain and simple," said Col. Matt Paul, Project Manager Mission Command, Program Executive Office for Command, Control, Communications-Tactical. "Access to more data breeds opportunity for those Commanders to treat data as ammunition, to outthink, outshoot and outmaneuver the enemy.”
Paul was part of a panel on “Data Mesh,” held recently at the Association of the United States Army Annual Meeting in Washington, DC., led by Jennifer Swanson, the Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Army for Data, Engineering and Software (DASA(DES)).
The panel explained how the Army is aligning to meet the critical need for interoperable, robust data capabilities across all forces and that good information has been, and will always be, the differentiator in battle readiness.
“We have never fought alone, not even in the Revolution,” said panelist Alex Miller, Senior Science Advisor for Army Intelligence Staff, or G2.
The panel also included Swanson’s staff from the Assistant Secretary of the Army (Acquisition, Logistics and Technology), and the Network Cross-Functional director. They explained that while the Army has made strides evolving the data fabric concept and supporting technologies, the service has now identified a new architecture as part of the strategy called “data mesh,” which adds a mesh layer on top of data fabrics to provide flexible and usable data products.
“The team has made incredible progress in [applying data mesh principles to data fabrics] in the short four months it’s been in existence,” Swanson said. “Our plan is to soon release an RFI on a unified data reference architecture, and also begin including the unified data reference architecture in Program of Record RFPs in FY23 to enable a simplified, interoperable cross-program architecture free of vendor lock.”
The Army’s data fabric environment provides a “catcher’s mitt” to catch the information that the sensors are producing, while the mesh makes sense of the data using Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) across the board, speakers said.
The mesh concept looks at data as a product; whereas, the data is first collected by sensors, websites, and databases, which feed into warfighter mission area data domains. A hybrid data mesh/data fabric will maximize Joint sensor-to-shooter links across echelons and weapon systems on an increasingly networked battlefield, panelists said.
“With data available from thousands of air and ground sensors, synchronizing the right data to the right place and time is a challenge today,” Paul said. “We think data fabric will do a lot of heavy lifting, but commanders also must be able to synchronize their data more seamlessly and efficiently, especially in multi-domain operations-like conditions.”
The mesh then connects data domains, by decentralizing the data products, to provide critical “enemy order of battle” information, such as Blue Force common operating picture, commanders’ critical information reports, target information, and weather, and makes them shareable to aid the commander’s operational understanding, Paul said.
To explain to industry how it should focus its development efforts, both Paul and Miller harkened back to their days of playing with Lego blocks, whereas, implementing a data mesh will lead them to discover some Lego blocks will need to be removed, requiring industry to step up with new capabilities.
“It is a Lego set, where you have open APIs, you know where your particular building block is, and you and plug it in, which creates competition opportunities for non-traditional small businesses,” Miller said. “As we build systems, as we think through what the future of data is, we ask, “Who owns it? What domain is it in? Who owns the decision? We then deal with the consequences of decisions for JADC2 [Joint All-Domain Command and Control].”
The path to a robust data-centric network environment continues to progress, with great strides taken in just one year as the Army is on track to mature and deliver an initial tactical data fabric capability as part of the Command Post Computing Environment’s Capability Set 23.
“We will continue to build upon our data fabric capabilities with data mesh as part of the Army’s overarching data strategy,” Swanson said. “With industry’s assistance, we are on the right path to create high-quality, Soldier-driven data products in this decade to help meet the demands of JADC2.”
The U.S. Army Program Executive Office Command, Control and Communications-Tactical develops, acquires, fields and supports the Army's mission command network to ensure force readiness. This critical Army modernization priority delivers tactical communications so commanders and Soldiers can stay connected and informed at all times, even in the most austere and hostile environments. PEO C3T is delivering the network to regions around the globe, enabling high-speed, high-capacity voice, data and video communications to a user base that includes the Army's joint, coalition and other mission partners.