Innovation Exchange Lab opens virtual doors to enable more rapid Army modernization

By Jennifer Swanson Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Army for Data, Engineering and SoftwareApril 4, 2024

The opening of the Army’s Innovation Exchange Lab shows that the Army is not just “meshing” around with data – it is serious about digital transformation. The IXL is opening the door to faster Army adoption of advanced digital technology.

The lab will be convenient to industry collaborators because it is based in the Cloud. This will enable industry and software developers to test and evaluate how their software tools will work within the Army’s first implementation of the Unified Data Reference Architecture 1.0, which was co-developed by the Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Army for Data, Engineering and Software and the Army’s Chief Information Officer and officially released on March 22.

The IXL is executed in a partnership between DASA DES and the Combat Capabilities Development Command’s Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Cyber, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Center at Aberdeen Proving Ground. The goal is to ensure that industry and academia partners can plug their solutions into a “black box” to test integration of, or compliance with, Army requirements.

UDRA 1.0 is the first solution the Army has made available through the IXL to encourage the ongoing collaboration and insights for both the Army and industry while developing and implementing solutions that rely on data.

The Army developed UDRA to ensure that its many digital systems can speak the same language when leveraging data. It enables the Army to weave together data products from multiple sources and allow the sharing and use of this data more quickly, securely and efficiently.

This is more important than ever in the rapidly evolving modern battlefield. Previously, most of the Army’s systems were designed and built with data locked inside them, making it difficult for commanders on the battlefield to have real-time access to critical data. To succeed in combat, we have to be able gather information, make well-informed decisions and act faster than our adversaries.

New developments such as artificial intelligence, machine learning and autonomous technology are changing the way warfare is conducted. Drones, deep sensing, cyber-attacks and electronic warfare all depend upon data and are making the battlefield more transparent and dangerous.

To enable our Soldiers to fight and win on this evolving battlefield, the Army is harnessing the power of data to conduct robust multidomain operations anywhere, at any time and under any conditions.

Based on cutting-edge data mesh concepts, UDRA requires a decentralized approach to data so it is not reliant on a huge central data lake, which can quickly become a data swamp. It uses data products as its basis, which are tailor-made by each data domain to meet its users’ needs—for example, a logistics data product could be a short report detailing parts needed to maintain readiness of the unit’s tanks from various sources tracking inventory, performance and technology updates.

The data mesh uses computational governance to automate data governance policies within the mesh. This ensures that Soldiers can rapidly produce, locate and consume the data products they need when they need them. And it ensures we do not store and continually replicate every piece of data, which bogs down the tactical network and overwhelms its users. UDRA 1.0 enables Soldiers to access the data products they need to make real-time, on-the-fly, well-informed decisions.

This is increasingly important because digital technology is being implemented in operations such as maintaining communications, maintenance and logistics, as well as collecting intelligence, targeting the enemy and managing cyber and electronic warfare.

In addition, implementing data mesh through the UDRA will maximize the effectiveness of field training, minimize avoidable accidents and reduce training costs. Digital technologies that can leverage the most accurate and timely data for these programs will provide Soldiers with realistic simulators and virtual reality-assisted trainings for different environments, equipment and scenarios as they evolve.

The benefit of using UDRA to enable leveraging the power of data products is not limited to operations; it is now making an impact on the design of new systems.

For example, UDRA enables the Army to continue implementing the modular open systems approach on new systems.  This approach, mandated in the Authorization Act of 2021, establishes standardized hardware and software interfaces which are government-owned designs. UDRA makes it easier to design these standardized system interfaces by ensuring that all systems speak the same data language.

Thus, MOSA helps the Army avoid the problem of “vendor lock,” which occurs when a single vendor uses its own proprietary designs to integrate all of the subsystems on large platforms, like ground, air or water vehicles.

And UDRA IS MOSA for data! It is the Army’s first of a series of reference architectures, fully coordinated internally and with industry, to enable us to seamlessly integrate all of our products together regardless of which program manager or industry partner develops them. It also allows smaller innovative companies to compete for subsystems on these platforms. This competition lowers costs, boosts innovation and provides a more resilient supply chain.

The IXL will play an important part in this integration process. Companies and developers who wish to leverage IXL should go to the lab’s website,, to learn more about the lab and begin the four-step process to get engaged:

1.       Register your company and software with the lab:

·        Provide your company and software registration information.

·        Provide your company’s details.

·        Select a specific offering within the IXL to showcase your solution’s capabilities and adherence to the reference architecture.

·        Submit software specifications and relevant documents pertaining to your solution.

2.       Undergo evaluation, technical consultation and scheduling

·        Requests will be assessed through a review and approval process to ensure the solution aligns with the desired capabilities and service definitions per the reference architecture.

·        Approved requests will proceed with addressing technical and security integration requirements, followed by scheduling the experimentation phase.

3.      Deploy and integrate

·        Implement your software solution on the IXL platform.

·        Integrate your solution with the reference implementation components and services.

4.      Demonstrate and provide feedback

·        Conduct a culminating technical demonstration for the IXL government stakeholders, executing pre-defined use cases.

·        Document and record the insights and lessons learned during the process.

·        Provide accurate and honest feedback. This feedback will not be used in a “negative” fashion. It will be a positive tool that will provide stakeholders and the Army useful information that will help us improve subsequent versions of UDRA, as well as overall data operations.

This initiative continues to show cooperation between industry and the Army, which has been a hallmark of digital transformation efforts.