WASHINGTON — The U.S. military needs to focus on building interoperability into its future weapons and IT systems to enable joint war fighting, Special Operations Command’s top data official said Wednesday.

With data at the core of the military’s new joint war-fighting concept, known as Joint All-Domain Command and Control, the services are trying to connect a myriad of platforms that range from new technology to older systems that weren’t built for passing data across domains. But to reach the Defense Department’s goal to connect the any sensor to the best-positioned person in a battle, the military must set common data standards and implement application programming interfaces (APIs) to allow older and newer systems to talk to each other.

While the military is preparing to lay out its requirements and strategy for JADC2, SOCOM Chief Data Officer Thomas Kenney said that the services need to set standards for all future systems to enable interoperability.

“We need to start at a very high level, just put a stake in the ground and say every system that is developed for the future is an API-centric system with regards to access to its data,” Kenney said at C4ISRNET’S Removing Stovepipes webcast.

The Pentagon and its service components are undergoing a reckoning with the sheer amount of data they collect, trying to understand the basics of what information they have and how they can share that data across the department. As part of that effort, the department released an enterprise data strategy on its data needs for joint war fighting. Chief data officers across the department frequently meet to discuss data challenges.

Additionally, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, which is leading the JADC2 initiative, is scheduling several meetings this year with data leaders across services, combatant commands and allies to set data standards to enable joint war fighting.

And if a system isn’t interoperable, Kenney said a process must be put in place for people to access needed data.

A critical pillar of JADC2 is the “democratization of data,” meaning that data is easily available to users who need it, he said. For example, full-motion video or object detection data is relevant to multiple program offices at SOCOM, such as fixed wing and maritime.

“We need to ensure that in a JADC2 world, we don’t just assume that all of the data is all going to end up in one data center, in one data warehouse, in one data store,” Kenney said. “We need to acknowledge that there, especially with telemetry and IoT [internet of things] data, there are going to be multiple sources where we may need to access the data or aggregation of that data, but not necessarily have to copy it all into a single source so that we get access there.”

SOCOM is building out its own SOF-specific data fabric, or a data management environment with common standards and tools, which will allow SOF systems to talk to each other. The information that SOCOM officials learn as they share data helps “inform and enhance what we’re doing and other verticals,” which is useful for acquisitions. Special Operations will build its data fabric with APIs so it can easily interact with one from other services.

But one hurdle that could hinder the military’s effort to make data easily accessible is finding adequate tools to verify users’ identities. Kenney said the Pentagon needs identity, credential and access management tools that would allow users across services to securely use tools from sister services.

“If we’re going to democratize the data and democratize our systems, having a common way to secure that data, where systems talk in like ways to each other, will really accelerate our ability to have interoperability,” he said.

Andrew Eversden covers all things defense technology for C4ISRNET. He previously reported on federal IT and cybersecurity for Federal Times and Fifth Domain, and worked as a congressional reporting fellow for the Texas Tribune. He was also a Washington intern for the Durango Herald. Andrew is a graduate of American University.

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