• Credit: Shutterstock/Aleksandar Malivuk
     Credit: Shutterstock/Aleksandar Malivuk

Data Grows Exponentially as a Major Player in Transatlantic Defense

October 16, 2020
By Robert K. Ackerman
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Lessons can be drawn from industry, if the military plays its cards right.

In addition to institutions such as NATO and the European Union (EU), one of the biggest players in North Atlantic defense is data, say European experts. Yet, nations often overlook the lessons generated by the private sector and not always pursuing effective investments in military information technology.

Those points were discussed at the AFCEA Europe Joint Support and Enabling Command (JSEC) virtual event in late September. Maj. Gen. Erich Staudacher, GEAF (Ret.), AFCEA Europe general manager, offered that data increasingly sprawls into military mobility. He recited an old Latin saying that navigation is necessary, all the more in this sea of data.

Henrich Rentmeister, head of public sector, Palantir Technologies Inc., cited the explosion of data that threatens to overwhelm its users. A swarm of drones creates 100-terabyte clusters of data with a latency close to zero seconds. This all but calls for management by artificial intelligence (AI), he noted.

This type of environment is complicated by the nature of military operations, he added. AI is only one of the data aspects that are shaping the future. Having a common operating picture is critical for managing military operations, and the data must be secure. This requires effective access control along with transparency of data users. And, all the underlying technology must be scalable to be able to handle the continuing explosion of data, he stated.

The military must have partners in what Rentmeister described as an ecosystem. Innovation must be an element, but the military must develop an effective means of leveraging startups in a complex military acquisition system to take advantage of their new ideas. And, procurement must be accelerated and the cycle shortened.

Ironically, the military’s challenge of moving forward in data technologies quickly is similar to that faced by the private sector, he pointed out. “It’s not only about applying some new technologies, it’s about a digital transformation,” he declared.

Some companies face similar data challenges as the military. Rentmeister cited the transportation industry with its mobility and logistics. Train providers digitally design their own network, for example. They and other companies use different technologies to move forward into digital transformation.

“This digital transformation is probably much more important, and changes much more elements of the military than the end of the Cold War,” he said. Among the needs are an all-domain approach, which is much more than just a joint operation, he emphasized. This applies both to nations and alliances.

The military must change its investment patterns, Rentmeister continued. A transformation from traditional providers to information technology providers is already underway in Russia, China, the United States and Israel, but others must follow suit. Ultimately, contractors must be transitioned from suppliers to partners in the ecosystem.

“Superiority is basically a question of how do you manage your data,” he said. “But it’s also a huge opportunity to have better information about your armed forces, about your capabilities, about mobility, about logistics.

“Do we have to change and adapt our military culture and principles? I think, yes,” he stated.

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