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Army Rethinks Data Creation

Data presents a sticking point for zero trust and network modernization.

The U.S. Army needs to completely reconsider its data creation processes to realize its data-centricity vision, according to Maj. Gen. Jeth Rey, director, Network Cross-Functional Team, Army Futures Command.

“The way we create data in the future has to change. Maybe early in the process it’s an automated capability that tags and labels that data for us. In the past, we were able to write a script for it, tag and label it and get it out of the way and let’s move on. But the way we create it in the future must change, or we’re going to be having this discussion 10 years from now,” Gen. Rey said.

He made the comments while serving on a panel with Mark Kitz, program executive officer for tactical command, control and communications (PEO-C3T), during the second day of AFCEA’s annual TechNet Augusta conference, which is celebrating its 10th live event this year.

The two network modernization leaders discussed designing and delivering the network for large-scale combat operations. The Army is modernizing the network by reducing complexity at lower echelons, increasing speed and survivability through mobile command posts, reducing the electronic signature and improving interoperability with allies and partners.

The network vision relies on data-centricity, and to achieve that, the service needs transport-agnostic networking, a modern security architecture and dominance in the cyber electromagnetic activities arena, the general indicated.

One of the major benefits of data centricity and the modernized network will be command and control (C2) while moving from one location to another. “We know that our formations are calling for better platforms for C2-on-the-move, more agile, more capable when they’re on the move,” Gen. Rey said. “We’re going to focus in and drill in and reimagine what that looks like.”

He added that although the service has imagined a C2-on-the-move capability for a long time, he expects the vision to come to fruition. “I can tell you for the last 20-plus years we’ve been trying to imagine what C2 on the move is and what it should be. But now, we’re going to reimagine what it is, and we’re going to get to the end state of what C2-on-the-move is going to look like in the future.”

Maj. Gen. Jeth Rey
I can tell you for the last 20-plus years we’ve been trying to imagine what C2 on the move is and what it should be. But now, we’re going to reimagine what it is, and we’re going to get to the end state of what C2-on-the-move is going to look like in the future.
Maj. Gen. Jeth Rey
Director, Network Cross-Functional Team, Army Futures Command

The Army also has long discussed the mission partner environment, which is expected to enable information sharing and communications with international allies and partners.

“We’ve been talking 12 or 13 years about the mission partner environment. We need a mission partner environment that’s persistent … and all of the principles that are talked about with zero trust and attribute-based access control and tagging and labeling all comes down to what we need to do in the mission partner environment,” he said.

He also noted the importance of signature management. “I know it’s on everybody’s mind, especially with what’s taking place right now in Ukraine and other places. Signature management is key. I think we have to figure it out sooner rather than later for the next time we’re in a large-scale combat operation,” Gen. Rey offered.

Unfortunately, data is a challenge in creating a secure architecture based on zero-trust principles. Gen. Rey indicated that organizations successfully navigate some of the principles along the way to zero trust. “But when they hit the data is when they stop. That’s the hardest problem to tackle right now.”

Still, he expressed confidence the Army will succeed. “Yes, we’re trying to work out identity in the unified network. We’re working it, and I think we’ll accomplish it.”

Kitz told the audience that to achieve a simpler, more flexible and more agile network, the Army needs to develop a structure for programs that allows agility from the ground up. Although industry has largely adopted agility, it has not yet filtered into all Army programs,” he said.

“One of my imperatives is to really build agility into our programs. We’ve been fielding capability sets for the last couple of years. … We have not gotten to the ability to incrementally modernize each of those programs that get fielded in our network, whether that’s our mission command applications, whether that’s our [satellite communications] portfolio, whether that’s in our radio portfolio. We want to programmatically build in agility.”

Mark Kitz
We’ve got to be able to adapt our data, have meaningful applications on that data.
Mark Kitz
Program Executive Officer for Tactical Command, Control and Communications

Kitz specifically cited unified network operations. “That program is very large. It’s very ambitious. The requirements are going to be very volatile,” he asserted, adding that industry is already seeing the volatility in the requests for information and requests for proposals related to the program.

He indicated that both the Army and industry need to accept that volatility. “We have got to embrace that program as a volatile program, which means we have got to build in agility from the ground up,” Kitz said. “The needs of our network are going to change over time, so you’re going to see in that program, a significant emphasis on building in agility and integration in a very open way.”

That agility ability will also be built into a modern version of the Advanced Field Artillery Tactical Data System. “We developed and delivered that capability for a very long time. In a joint, multinational environment, we delivered the best fires capability in the world. It was built 25 years ago, and we’ve incrementally updated it over time,” Kitz reminded the audience. “But we’ve got to find a path that builds in agility so that we can incrementally go after the next generation of our fires capability.”

Additionally, the service’s next command post is ripe for agility opportunities. “The third capability I’ll talk about that needs agility from the ground up is our next-generation command post. I’m not just talking about the mission command applications. I’m talking about how we deliver the command post of the future. Name the program that goes into integrating a command post, and we’ve got to build agility into it,” he said.

When it comes to building a mobile command post, data again is key. “We’ve got to be able to adapt our data, have meaningful applications on that data. We’ve got to be able to leverage the future of AI/ML to orient our analysts and our operators. They want to leverage that data in a very robust way,” Kitz said using the initials for artificial intelligence and machine learning.

Gen. Rey summed up the Army’s efforts as a quest for alignment. “What we’re trying to do is what we call alignment. We’re trying to align processes, to make sure our processes are aligned across the board. That’s all warfighting functions. That’s all the capabilities that are being produced,” he said. “We’ve got to make sure those are aligned to everything we’re doing from the network perspective.”