This month, the US Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles Q. Brown Jr. signed a document that could lay the foundation for success in future warfare. He approved the Air Force’s first campaign plan for the Advanced Battle Management System as a playbook for achieving “decision-making superiority” in support of the Department of Defense’s joint All-Domain Command and Control initiative.
General Brown identified eight combat war skills that the Air Force and Space Force must develop in order to achieve superiority in decision-making: data exchange; Personnel development; distributed decision-making; advanced communication; expanded perception; integrated planning; Command and control the convergence of effects; and accelerated decision-making.
First among equals: data exchange.
It is important that we understand the various uses of data in order to avoid creating a single data exchange process that is either unusable for some or unnecessarily burdensome for the entire data exchange infrastructure. Just as important as understanding the elements of data exchange is how we get from today’s stovepipe command and control systems to a system that enables the seamless transport of relevant data across domains, organizational and national boundaries.
Data is the lifeblood of today’s global economy and national security. Given that reliance on data has contributed to changes in warfare, victory belongs to the side that can process and deploy data the fastest. We call this “information advantage” and it leads to superiority in decision-making. Our willingness to deter and, if necessary, defeat a global power is based on our ability to exchange data.
It is imperative to find ways to increase the speed and resilience of data. As the Air Force’s Deputy Chief of Staff, Gen. David Allvin wrote in a recent comment that the Air Force’s approach to ABMS in creating rapid, agile, and resilient joint leadership and control is to connect and connect the entire U.S. Air Force and the U.S. incorporate Space Force skills while making sure we can connect with the common force.
With ABMS, we are answering that call by developing an approach that focuses on moving data and improving our ability to share data.
Moving data requires the infrastructure to transport information from its source, often a sensor, via digital pipelines (terrestrial, in the air, and in space) to locations that are easy to access, whether in a command center or on the tactical fringes . The disclosure of this information requires data labels and characterizations that make it discoverable and bring the data into a usable format for persons with authorized access.
As expected, moving and sharing data requires technical and non-technical solutions such as protection techniques and sharing policies. Improving our ability to share data goes beyond the laboratory and requires an extensive DoD effort. It is for this reason that the Joint Requirements Oversight Council has taken on the task of promoting coherence and unity across the military. This will standardize our approach in the pursuit of superiority in decision-making.
As if moving and sharing data wasn’t complicated enough, sharing data effectively also requires the Department of Defense to consider how to use it.
A single approach doesn’t work – data has to be moved, processed, and made available in different ways, depending on the role. For example, data that is used to understand a complex operating environment and to create a common operating picture has different attributes than data that is required for immediate, time-critical action.
If data is to be captured, it is likely sufficient to send processed data over slightly slower paths to get a common operational picture, while data to control an action must be in an actionable format and fast enough to call fire control sensors or weapons.
The first step is in our partnerships within the Department of Defense, industry and allies. The complexity of the solutions required to exchange data effectively requires everyone to work together. This is only possible if we start early – during development, not after we’ve already introduced new features. The Air Force and the Space Force have already begun to enlist key allies. This not only enables common perspectives, but also common solutions.
Next, we need to clean up old policies that avoid risks in our information systems from segregation and isolation. We recognize weak points in a data-driven world and should enable field commanders to authorize cross-system data exchange with our allies and partners in order to remain agile.
After all, we have to learn from our people. The vast majority of service members and civilians were born in the digital age and are well aware of the opportunities and risks involved in exchanging data. I was an adult when the cell phone was a backpack and cable television was the most advanced personal technology. Today’s junior officers and recruited members grew up with data exchange. As a result, we need to find ways to develop their ideas in order to rethink how we evaluate, train, develop and nurture talent.
The course ahead of us is long and complex. However, as the US Air Force’s ABMS campaign plan makes clear, we either develop the means to succeed in a data-driven world or we lose.
Brig. General Jeffery Valenzia is the US Air Force Director for Joint Forces Integration and Deputy Chief of Staff for Strategy, Integration and Requirements.