This month, U.S. Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles Q. Brown Jr. signed a document that could help form the foundation of success in future warfare. He approved the Air Force’s first-ever Advanced Battle Management System campaign plan as a playbook to achieving “decision superiority” in support of the Department of Defense’s Joint All-Domain Command and Control initiative.
Gen. Brown identified eight war-fighting capabilities the Air Force and Space Force must develop to achieve decision superiority: data sharing; human capital development; distributed decision-making; advanced communications; advanced sensing; integrated planning; command and control of convergence of effects; and accelerated decision-making.
First among equals: data sharing.
It is important we recognize the various applications of data to avoid creating a single data-sharing process that is either unusable by some or unnecessarily burdensome on the data-sharing infrastructure as a whole. Equally as important as understanding the elements of data sharing is how we get from today’s stove-piped command-and-control systems to one which allows for the seamless movement of relevant data across domain, organization and national boundaries.
Data is the lifeblood of today’s global economies and of national security. Recognizing how data reliance has contributed to changes in warfare, victory belongs to the side that can process and employ data fastest. We call this “information advantage,” and it yields decision superiority. Our readiness to deter and, if necessary, defeat a global power rests on our ability to share data.
The imperative is to find ways to increase the speed and resilience of data. As vice chief of staff of the Air Force, Gen. David Allvin wrote in a recent commentary that the Air Force’s approach to ABMS with the creation of fast, agile and resilient joint command and control is to connect and integrate all U.S. Air Force and U.S. Space Force capabilities while ensuring we can connect to the joint force.
Through ABMS, we are answering this call by developing an approach that focuses on moving data and improving our ability to share it.
Moving data requires the infrastructure to transport information from its source, often a sensor, across digital pipelines (terrestrial, airborne and space-based) to storage locations that allow ready access, whether in a command center or on the tactical edge. Sharing that information requires data tagging and characterization that make it discoverable and puts the data into a usable format to someone with approved access.
As expected, moving data and making it shareable requires technical solutions and nontechnical solutions, like protection techniques and sharing policies. Improving our ability to share data reaches beyond the laboratory and demands a whole-of-DoD effort, which is why the Joint Requirements Oversight Council has taken on the job of driving coherency and unity across the military. This will standardize our approach in the pursuit of decision superiority.
As if moving and sharing data weren’t complicated enough, effectively sharing data also requires the DoD to consider how to employ it.
A one-size-fits-all approach won’t work — data must be moved, processed and made available in different ways depending on its function. For example, data leveraged to make sense of a complex operating environment and to populate a common operating picture have different attributes than data needed to direct an immediate, time-sensitive action.
In the case of data to sense, sending processed data through somewhat slower pathways is likely sufficient for a common operating picture, whereas data to direct an action must be in an actionable format and fast enough to cue fire-control sensors or weapons.
The first step lies in our partnerships within the DoD, industry and allies. The complexity of solutions needed to effectively share data requires everyone working together, and this is only possible if we start early — during development, not after we have already fielded new capabilities. The Air Force and Space Force have already begun bringing in key allies. This will allow not only for shared perspectives, but shared solutions.
Next, we must clean up old policies that avoid risk in our information systems through segregation and isolation. Recognizing vulnerabilities within a data-driven world, we should empower field commanders to authorize data sharing across systems and with our allies and partners to remain agile.
Finally, we must learn from our people. The vast majority of service members and civilians were born during the digital age and keenly understand the opportunities and risks associated with data sharing. I was an adult when the cellphone was a backpack and cable TV the most advanced personal technology. Today’s junior officers and enlisted members have grown up with data sharing. Consequently, we must find ways to unleash their ideas to rethink how we assess, train, develop and promote talent.
The course in front of us is long and complex. However, as the U.S. Air Force’s ABMS campaign plan makes clear, either we develop the means to succeed within a data-driven world or we lose.
Brig. Gen. Jeffery Valenzia is the U.S. Air Force director of joint force integration and deputy chief of staff for strategy, integration and requirements.