Number Crunching: The Pentagon Is Upgrading Its Data Connectivity
Army scientists are improving upon, refining, and advancing what they identify as a critical “data layer.”
A drone spots enemy armored vehicles approaching from the other side of a ridge while functioning as an “aerial” node connecting non-line-of-sight combat assets. Targeting data is then sent to an Abrams tank in position to lay down suppressive fire and instantly cue small groups of mobile dismounted scout units to approach the enemy formation. The forward scout unit then “paints” the target with a laser spot enabling nearby U.S. Air Force fighter jets to fire precision air-to-ground missiles to destroy the enemy positions.
This kind of cross-domain synergy, or high-speed information flow, is the conceptual foundation of the Pentagon’s fast-evolving Joint All Domain Command and Control program (JADC2), yet its successful execution involves a key mixture of interwoven variables to include gateway technologies to connect sensor data from incompatible transport layer communications technologies. At the technical level, interoperability and the organization of different streams of incoming data take place at the level of “1s” and “0s,” meaning computerized standards and internet protocols engineered to enable a common format for information exchange. Much of this data organization and analysis process, which represents the core technological foundation of the Pentagon’s now shortened sensor-to-shooter timelines across the military services, is increasingly artificial intelligence (AI)-enabled and driven by ultra-high-speed computer processing.
Army scientists are improving upon, refining, and advancing what they identify as a critical “data layer” or “data fusion.” This data fusion, referred to by scientists as Project Rainmaker, integrates disparate sources of information that are “collectively” interpreted and analyzed in relation to one another.
“When I say Data Fabric, I talk about a data layer that sits between the information systems in computing and our networks. That gives us the ability to come to define how and what we want to exchange information between,” Alan Hansen, Deputy Assistant Director for Information Dominance, U.S. Army DEVCOM C5ISR, Army Futures Command, told The National Interest in an interview. “We're looking at trying to create an environment of analytics and data fabric, because you may have two different systems sensing something that's out there. The goal of a Data Fabric is to share the information between those systems.”
However, are older electronics and communications technology incompatible with new capabilities bursting into the operational scene? How can systems be upgraded and how can legacy or existing systems be successfully integrated with newer, faster, AI-enabled data analysis and transmission technologies? This is a key function of Project Rainmaker.
Ultimately, the process includes high-speed “collective” analytics where multiple separate variables and information pools are integrated into a single clear picture for decisionmakers. This is the goal of JADC2 in the near term and also identifies research efforts aimed at expanding, hardening, and accelerating this process. Perhaps new transport layer technologies will emerge so data from unprecedented distances can be shared and analyzed across multiple domains. A key area of focus refers to efforts to enable the analysis to be performed at both central “hubs” and also at the “point of collection.”
“Each system will actually correlate the information and in the environment to take those correlated pieces, bring them back and actually adjudicate them into a single observation. Where does that happen? It can happen anywhere it can happen on the aircraft or on the ground, depending on where you deploy that analytic…so the analytics does the processing,” Hansen said.
Kris Osborn is the defense editor for the National Interest. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Master's Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.