'Data Is the Ammunition': Inside the Pentagon's New Strategy to Dominate Future Battlefields

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Two airmen explore ways to remotely add computers at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base.
Airman 1st Class Tristan Williams and Timothy Leineke explore ways to remotely add computers to the domain at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, North Carolina, Sept. 22, 2020. (U.S. Air Force/Airman 1st Class Kimberly Barrera)

The Defense Department unveiled Thursday a new "Data Strategy" aimed at treating the vast amounts of information collected across the force as a weapons system for decision-makers from the Pentagon's E-ring to the front lines.

"Data is the ammunition of the future," a defense official said about the strategy to organize data pipelines and speedily harness information for warfighters.

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"The principal challenge in the Data Strategy isn't getting the data -- the Department has access to vast data reserves," Dana Deasy, the DoD's chief information officer, said in a statement.

The goal is to "build the engine to turn this resource into insight for our service members at the speed of need."

Under Chief Data Officer David Spirk, the DoD's Data Council will be expanded to bring in the combatant commands and field operations to manage the data and make it user-friendly.

Spirk, a former Marine and chief data officer for U.S. Special Operations Command, will have the task of overseeing the council's effort at "making data visible, accessible, understandable, linked, trustworthy, interoperable and secure."

"Data is the ammunition [and] is increasingly central to warfighter advantage on and off the battlefield," Deasy said. "This strategy is our first step to making that ammo persistently available to the men and women of the DoD, regardless of echelon or geographic location."

On background, the defense official said demand for data is constantly increasing but "it's not easy delivering the capability" in an organization saddled with "thousands of legacy systems."

In addition, mindsets will have to be changed to give data "the same attention we give to weapons systems," the official said.

"It's time to turn this into action [by getting data specialists] into the field sitting next to operators" making tactical decisions, the official said. "Our warfighters are counting on us."

The official stressed that the data must be usable, easy to retrieve and understandable at the lowest level, and not just be seen as a tool for the higher echelons.

If the enterprise takes that exclusive approach, "then we're missing the point," the official said. "We definitely are thinking about that lance corporal out there -- how to make this real."

The official had no initial cost estimate for the new strategy but said, "If we do this right, a lot of the resources exist right now."

The project is expected to take about a decade, according to the official.

"I would hope it doesn't take us 10 years," the official said. "I think we can accelerate this timeline."

The Army has already recognized the eventual need to have coders in the field to coordinate long-range precision fires on targets.

"We are going to need software developers at the edge; they are going to need to be in battalions or brigade headquarters working with fire direction because maybe they have to change the software code at the edge," Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy said Wednesday at a virtual forum sponsored by the Hudson Institute.

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.

Related: To Launch Deadly-Fast Precision Fire, Army Will Need to Turn Soldiers into Coders

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