Enable breadcrumbs token at /includes/pageheader.html.twig

President's Commentary: Defending a Data-Centric Nation

By Lt. Gen. Susan S. Lawrence, USA (Ret.)

We are a data-centric nation.

In fact, societies worldwide are rapidly becoming data-centric and data-dependent through the digitization of government and commerce, all enabled by accelerated advances in technology.

We use data for entertainment, agriculture, commercial fishing, environmental monitoring, emergency operations, health and welfare, financial transactions, supply chain logistics and national security and defense. To illustrate the point, when was the last time you used a paper map for navigation?

Our data dependence will likely grow exponentially as we adopt more Internet of Things (IoT) devices and build smart homes, smart cities and smart military bases.

Unfortunately, data can be denied or altered, opening vulnerabilities, so it must also be diligently protected.

Data lies at the heart of the Defense Department’s strategy and vision for combined joint all-domain operations. Kathleen Hicks, deputy secretary of defense, may have explained it best three years ago in her memo to senior leaders. “Transforming the Department of Defense (DoD) to a data-centric organization is critical to improving performance and creating decision advantage at all echelons from the battlespace to the board room, ensuring U.S. competitive advantage,” she wrote.

The United States—government and industry alike—must leverage data for strategic advantage and defend the data we all rely on. It is industry that owns, operates and maintains most of our nation’s critical infrastructure. Some of the most damaging cyber attacks in recent years have been against the defense industrial base. And Microsoft revealed last May that Volt Typhoon, a state-sponsored actor based in China, was engaging in stealthy and targeted malicious activity to disrupt our critical communications infrastructure.

In his confirmation hearing to become commander of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, Adm. Samuel Paparo, USN, pointed out that industry’s investments in China can work against our strategic interests. “I think another key point is to understand the opacity of the financial community and the extent to which investments in the [People’s Republic of China]—through their civil-military fusion—directly could confer to weapons building that could affect and could harm Americans on the battlefield,” Adm. Paparo testified.





We also must protect intellectual property. The Government Accountability Office notes that the federal government spends $137 billion annually researching and developing inventions, including lifesaving drugs, vaccines and medical devices.

Here too, industry plays a role. In many cases, industry owns the intellectual property of critical technologies, including weapon systems, the U.S. Government Accountability Office noted in a report on the subject. Purchasing intellectual property rights from contractors gives the DoD more options for keeping its aircraft, ships, submarines and missiles running smoothly. However, buying these rights comes at a higher cost, the report explained.

Furthermore, commercial satellites increasingly provide much of the data we depend on for our national security and defense and have also proven essential to Ukraine’s defense against Russian aggression. Commercial companies like SpaceX, Maxar, BlackSky and Planet Labs have contributed communications and satellite imagery in support of Ukraine.

That is why many were alarmed to learn Russia is developing a nuclear-enabled space weapon for attacking satellites. The public does not yet know whether this weapon would target only military satellites or haphazardly scattershot commercial assets as well. A space-based, illegal blitzkrieg against satellite systems could blast much of the world back to the digital dark ages, impacting virtually every market and shocking populations.

Fortunately, this particular threat from Russia is not imminent. The weapon system, according to the White House, is still being developed, will not cause damage on Earth and will not be a threat to people. The White House has reached out to Russia to request direct diplomatic discussions on the subject. With luck, diplomacy will win.

Data grows more precious with every advance in next-generation cellular technologies, artificial intelligence, unmanned systems and IoT components. It is central to our lives and our national security, and we rely on government and industry together to safeguard this vital resource regardless of the threat.