Data, data everywhere...
The modern battlefield is awash with data that can be exploited for a variety of purposes. However, managing the transfer and storage of what are often complex and large data sets is a significant challenge.
The proliferation of sensors and systems that can be used to collect data – actively or passively – is enabling armed forces to capture and exploit information that in many instances could not have been possible as little as a decade ago.
Even at the tactical level, forces routinely collect diverse data that often has utility beyond supporting immediate decision making and mission goals. Much of the data can be exploited, whether that be elsewhere on the battlefield or for less urgent purposes.
It is widely recognised that gaining an ‘information advantage’ will be a determining factor in a conflict with a peer or near-peer adversary, and effective management of the data needed to achieve this is essential. Access to data is also critical for longer-term intelligence and planning activities, as well as in capability development.
Treating data as a logistics paradigm enables militaries to organise its transfer and storage to the best affect, and ultimately ensure that data is available to those who can exploit it to its fullest potential.
Collecting live and historical data and transferring it from the tactical edge to the enterprise level enables it to be brought to where the largest storage and processing resources exist, and it is from there that further analysis and investigation can take place. The data can then be more readily accessed and used for a range of tasks, such as advanced decision support, debriefing, and to train AI algorithms, among many others.
The centralised management of information and data also enables commanders to optimize and filter the data sent to the tactical level, ensuring that units are not ‘swamped’ with unnecessary information and that their communications bandwidth is used efficiently.
How to store and transfer battlefield data poses significant challenges that must be overcome if militaries are to benefit to the greatest extent possible. There is the very real danger that if both cannot be effectively managed then the sheer volume could be overwhelming or, conversely, important data is discarded or lost.
Communications bandwidth is perhaps the single biggest technical issue at the tactical level, due to limitations on capacity and availability. Even when forces have control over the spectrum, this does not mean that capacity is unlimited and access unrestricted. Units do not have carte blanche and competing demands mean that priority must be given to urgent, real-time applications, such as force tracking information.
- Units operating at the tactical level typically have limited communications bandwidth that must be managed effectively. (Credit: US DoD)
Likewise, at the tactical level there are also limits on storage capacity and data must be offloaded quickly and efficiently in order not to negatively impact day-to-day operations.
Transferring the data collected at the tactical edge to higher levels of command in-theatre – that perhaps feature a mobile data centre – and ultimately to high capacity, static data centres, will most efficiently be achieved through a combination of technical solutions and processes.
These can involve physical data transfer, radio and satellite communications, or a combination of all. How efficiently this is conducted also depends greatly on intelligent management of the data, prioritising what needs to be sent, when, and through what means.
While the most straightforward approach to transferring large data sets from the tactical level comes via downloads and the physical transportation of 0storage devices, this is also the slowest. Transferring data via radio and SATCOM removes the physical aspect and reduces time, but has the aforementioned limitations around bandwidth. It is therefore essential that militaries adopt technologies and practices that enable them to manage data in a smart manner.
One such solution could be to use C2 systems deployed at the tactical edge as file repositories and data hubs, managing data collected by sensors fitted to vehicles or worn by individual soldiers. In this way their utility goes beyond sharing the data typically associated with C2 alone.
The C2 System could be used to manage the storage and distribution of the data collected, prioritising that which should be sent in a short timeframe – typically via wireless means of communications – and storing other data that is not urgent. This could happen in real time when the system is in use in the field, or when it has returned to a location where the data can be offloaded to a higher capacity storage system or communications bandwidth might be greater. For example, mission critical data such as force tracks would be prioritised, while less important data can be downloaded and transferred post-mission.
- Commanders on the modern battlefield have access to a wide range of sensors, managing the data collected from these poses a significant challenge if they are to avoid information overload. (Credit: Crown Copyright)
Employing Cloud computing technologies at the tactical level will also help overcome data transfer and storage challenges. Militaries are already utilising edge computing technologies to transfer large amounts of data into and out of the Cloud, and finding ways to migrate this capability closer to the tactical level could bring significant benefits.
The renewed emphasis on potential conflicts with peer or near-peer adversaries makes the data management challenge even more pressing. Such conflicts will certainly feature denied and disrupted communications, while at the same time demanding a shortening of the OODA loop. Efficiently and quickly transferring information from and to the tactical level of the battlefield will be of paramount importance.
It is in these so-called C2 denied or degraded environments (C2D2E) that Systematic’s SitaWare Headquarters Communications (SHC) and SitaWare Tactical Communications (STC) protocols are already a force multiplier for commanders. Their ability to transfer large volumes of data over limited bandwidths, prioritise the information sent, and automatically relay data through available radios, combine to help overcome many of the challenges that arise when satellite communications or other high bandwidth systems may be unavailable or jammed. Indeed, SHC and STC have proven their efficacy over the limited – but robust – bandwidth offered by HF communications, which has been recognised as offering resilience in C2D2E.
In addition to introducing technical solutions, militaries must develop best practices for data management at the tactical level and prioritise the information required at and from the frontline. It is essential that data discipline is introduced to ensure that mission critical information is transferred first, and that the sheer volume of data does not overwhelm bandwidth and storage capabilities. Data is already as influential in ‘winning the fight’ in the contemporary operating environment as any other warfighting capability – if employed correctly – and its importance is only set to increase.
Commanders must take the ‘data capabilities’ possessed by a unit into consideration as routinely as any other when missions are being planned. The ability of a forward deployed unit to be quickly appraised of the latest information – and get its data across the battlespace – can be critical to mission success.
The issue of security presents a further challenge that must be overcome if the transfer of information between command levels and partner forces is to be a smooth process. With networks typically operating at different security levels, the development and introduction of automatic security gateways will bring a step-change in capabilities and remove the need to ‘air gap’ networks, which is a major impediment to the seamless flow of information and ultimately the speed of decision making and manoeuvre.
Morten Juhl Bødker
Lead Business Product Manager
*The appearance of U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) visual information does not imply or constitute DoD endorsement.