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Before joint all-domain operations, leaders need to solve data problems first

WASHINGTON — The top data official on the U.S. Army’s tactical network modernization team said Tuesday that the military will need to solve data governance and interoperability issues across the services as leaders work toward linking sensors and shooters across domains and services.

“Data governance across the services is going to be a challenge because we all have common things together but we also have a lot of uniqueness,” said Portia Crowe, the chief data officer of the Army’s Network Cross-Functional Team at Army Futures Command. She was speaking at a webinar hosted by C4ISRNET.

Crowe’s comments came after a busy few months on data issues within the Department of Defense. The DoD released its data strategy last week with a focus on enabling joint warfighting, while the Air Force and Army recently signed an agreement to collaborate on a Joint All Domain Command and Control concept just weeks after both services tested their individual platforms.

JADC2 is an effort at the Defense Department to connect sensors and shooters across domains and services. That’s a massive undertaking, especially given the amounts of data that must be processed and passed across networks managed by different owners — some of which may be owned by allies.

The Army and Air Force inked a two-year agreement to collaborate on the basics of what they are calling Combined Joint All-Domain Command and Control, or CJADC2. The services agreed to develop data-sharing standards and service interfacing. That’s just the beginning of a partnership that aims to seamlessly share information. Crowe said that the two services have some experiments planned for March 2021.

“We really want to get to that place where, you know what, no matter where the soldier is at any point in time, he has the data that he needs,” Crowe said.

At next year’s Project Convergence, the Army plans to bring in other services and allies to test the interoperability of their systems. That will again present data challenges, with other participants having their own data standards and formats that will have to piece into the Army’s systems. But it’s also a problem Crowe said the Army faces internally.

One of the most challenging pieces of data sharing with allies is the differing systems of classification, Crowe said. Classified data is restricted in terms of whom it can be share with. The Army is looking to solve this problem by making its future tactical network 75 percent secure but unclassified to ensure that data can be passed to allies and partners on the battlefield.

Joint partners also may have different data models and messaging protocols than the Army and the service will have to find ways for allies to talk to each other, such as application programming interface or other technologies. Legacy systems across the military also pose significant challenges when it comes to sharing data, Crowe said.

“There’s ... a school of thought that everybody’s got to be on the same data model or everybody’s got to be using the same standards. I think that’s a great place to start. But we do have a lot of legacy stuff that it will take us a long time and a lot of money for us to be able to do that," Crowe said. "So how can we in the interim work together and do that?”

Flat budgets, in part due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, also pose a threat. Funding that would further progress on data efforts, something Crowe said she was “absolutely” concerned about, will force the Network-CFT to be careful with its investments. But to mitigate the issues, Crowe said the Cooperative Research and Development Agreements, or CRADAs, which allow federal agencies to work with industry on technology, are likely be an important tool moving forward. CRADAs are a tool that the Army’s tactical network team uses often to partner with industry partners on emerging technologies.

“It’s just a way of kind of ... using investments in a different way that really helps us push the envelope forward for the future,” Crowe said.

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