Commentary: Hyper-Connected Military Needs a Next-Gen Common Operating Picture

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Commentary: Hyper-Connected Military Needs a Next-Gen Common Operating Picture

9/30/2020
By
Todd Prouty

iStock photo-illus­tra­tion

 “The last tac­ti­cal mile” used to refer to where exten­sive plan­ning, train­ing, man­ning and equip­ping gets put to the test: the aus­tere bat­tle­space where strate­gies suc­ceed or fail.

Armed with increas­ing­ly sophis­ti­cat­ed tech­nol­o­gy and enhanced con­nec­tiv­i­ty, the last tac­ti­cal mile has become easier for U.S. forces to visu­al­ize, com­mu­ni­cate through and under­stand.

Today’s tac­ti­cal edge is out­fit­ted with data cen­ters’ worth of infor­ma­tion and intel­li­gence, and with com­put­ing per­for­mance that once required ware­hous­es of info-tech machin­ery.

The modern bat­tle­field is dig­i­tal and net­worked. Soon, it will be fur­ther advanced by arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence that enables capa­bil­i­ties we are only just begin­ning to con­ceive.

One of the most inte­gral capa­bil­i­ties for troops oper­at­ing at the tac­ti­cal edge is the common oper­at­ing pic­ture — a mech­a­nism for shared, com­pre­hen­sive sit­u­a­tion­al aware­ness infused with multi-sourced intel­li­gence, visu­al­ized data and stream­lined com­mu­ni­ca­tions. The common oper­at­ing pic­ture is the the­ater sup­port that deliv­ers and main­tains the deci­sive advan­tage. Without the advanced com­put­ing capa­bil­i­ties to col­lect, process and inter­pret data, the common oper­at­ing pic­ture that wins multi-domain bat­tles cannot come to fruition.

The tech­nolo­gies that deliv­er that advanced com­put­ing capa­bil­i­ty will con­tin­ue to trans­form over time. The hard­ware will change shape, the soft­ware will evolve and update, and the sources that power their oper­a­tion will con­tin­ue to shrink, quiet and refresh.

The gov­ern­ment and indus­try alike are work­ing over­time to resolve the modern-day chal­lenges of the last tac­ti­cal mile. That means opti­miz­ing and expand­ing com­put­ing capac­i­ty, quelling the acoustic noise of gen­er­a­tors and mechan­i­cal equip­ment, and ampli­fy­ing the power needed to meet the grow­ing thirst of advanc­ing edge tech­nolo­gies.

In other words, to achieve and main­tain multi-domain tac­ti­cal dom­i­nance, hard­ware and soft­ware alike need to scale — and they need to be reli­able in any envi­ron­ment, sur­viv­able across any ter­rain, deploy­able in what­ev­er form factor nec­es­sary.

Meanwhile, the tech­no­log­i­cal build­ing blocks to achieve this are already in play.

We can already see efforts coming to life to sus­tain the over­ar­ch­ing goal of informed multi-domain dom­i­nance. Joint all-domain com­mand and con­trol (JADC2) is taking shape as a guid­ing con­cept to link oper­a­tions — and con­nect sen­sors to shoot­ers — across the ser­vices, with exper­i­men­ta­tion and con­tract awards under­way. The abil­i­ty to share a machine-speed common oper­at­ing pic­ture, visu­al­iz­ing data and action­able intel­li­gence, will be cen­tral to truly inter­op­er­a­ble, joint C2.

JADC2 will com­prise sev­er­al key sys­tems and capa­bil­i­ties. The Air Force’s Advanced Battle Management System, or the “warfight­er inter­net of things,” wrapped key test­ing last December and proved out the abil­i­ty to rapid­ly share data across plat­forms and ser­vices. According to the Air Force, ABMS will use AI and machine learn­ing to con­nect the joint force by col­lect­ing, pro­cess­ing and com­put­ing huge amounts of data at machine speed.

The Defense Innovation Unit has sights on a com­mer­cial, vehi­cle-mount­ed ground sta­tion to col­lect, semi-autonomous­ly process and cor­re­late vol­umes of satel­lite and sensor data. The Tactical Intelligence Targeting Access Node (TITAN) ground sta­tion would reduce laten­cy, accel­er­at­ing the abil­i­ty to lever­age AI and machine learn­ing to dis­sem­i­nate intel­li­gence and bol­ster JADC2. Most impor­tant­ly, TITAN must pro­vide these mis­sion-crit­i­cal capa­bil­i­ties through a mod­u­lar, open archi­tec­ture that’s easily inter­op­er­a­ble and simple to upgrade and adjust on the fly, even in the most aus­tere set­tings.

Army Futures Command is aggres­sive­ly tar­get­ing emerg­ing tech­nolo­gies that strength­en deployed net­works, infor­ma­tion-shar­ing and com­mu­ni­ca­tions. The Navy, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and other defense agen­cies are all pur­su­ing addi­tion­al, equal­ly ambi­tious capa­bil­i­ties to outfit a next-gen­er­a­tion joint force.

Such futur­is­tic capa­bil­i­ties are even get­ting test-driven today in the response to the COVID-19 pan­dem­ic out­break.

These exam­ples and count­less others clear­ly signal sweep­ing mod­ern­iza­tion plans across the Defense Department, where invest­ments in space, nav­i­ga­tion, elec­tron­ic war­fare — includ­ing a new 5G/spectrum strat­e­gy — hyper­son­ics, radars, autonomous sys­tems, cloud and AI foot stomp the mil­i­tary-wide push toward increased lethal­i­ty and dom­i­nance.

This uni­fied, multi-domain force of the future will require state-of-the-art tech­nolo­gies, includ­ing ground­break­ing C2, unpar­al­leled sit­u­a­tion­al aware­ness and the much-antic­i­pat­ed, all-seeing common oper­at­ing pic­ture.

At the heart of this fun­da­men­tal supe­ri­or­i­ty is com­put­ing. The abil­i­ty to assem­ble, fuse and ana­lyze data from lim­it­less sources, trans­form­ing it into action­able intel­li­gence deliv­ered to the tac­ti­cal edge, requires unprece­dent­ed pro­cess­ing power on the move. This will under­pin the ubiq­ui­tous, joint common oper­at­ing pic­ture and auto­mat­ed C2 that lead­ers across the mil­i­tary are relent­less­ly pur­su­ing.

These capa­bil­i­ties will be how the U.S. mil­i­tary achieves and main­tains multi-domain dom­i­nance for gen­er­a­tions to come. How lead­ers pro­mote their joint devel­op­ment and imple­men­ta­tion today lays the ground­work for tomorrow’s doc­trine and tac­tics. If it’s done right, the U.S. mil­i­tary will be ready for tomorrow’s hyper-con­nect­ed, hyper-informed tac­ti­cal edge — shrink­ing that last tac­ti­cal mile and ensur­ing every inch is vis­i­ble in high res­o­lu­tion. 

Todd Prouty is the busi­ness devel­op­ment man­ag­er at Crystal Group, a devel­op­er of rugged, high-per­for­mance com­put­ing hard­ware and tech­nolo­gies.

Topics: Emerging Technologies

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