During a May 10 panel at the annual C4ISRNET conference, officials from the military and government delved into the barriers that keep the Department of Defense from being able to consolidate data to provide a single battlefield picture to troops and enable them to make decisions on the fly.

Spoiler alert: They might sound familiar to those following the problem over the past several years. Here’s a look at what still needs to be solved:

Moving from a platform-centric mindset

The military loves its tanks, planes and ships, but equally important is the ability to push the data collected by those platforms to each other in real time, Capt. Clayton Michaels, the special assistant to the associate director for operations at the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, said.

“We have to network our sensors better, our platforms better and, at this point, we are platform-centric, so I know in my own experience in the U.S. Navy we could probably do a better job of linking each platform together to the other ones in the battlespace and then getting that information out there,” he said.

The Defense Department recognizes that it can no longer continue to press forward with expensive acquisition programs with lengthy development timelines and field products that can’t network with each other, according to Mark Tapper, the Air Force’s special adviser to the deputy chief of staff for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance.

“Everything we build has to be involved with a ground component, a maritime component, a sub-surface [component]. They all have to be interoperable,” he said.

Acquisitions and policies will need to change in order to harness the latest technologies in areas like networking, big data analytics and artificial intelligence, Ken Peterman, Viasat’s president of government systems, added.

“There has to be a cultural change and recognition that we need to move more toward an adopt, apply, deploy, evolve kind of a thing and leverage the enormous investment and technology trajectory that the private sector is on,” he said.

Industry doesn’t always feel listened to

There’s a lot of useful and innovative technology already out there, Peterman pointed out.

However, the Defense Department leadership doesn’t seem to be aware of that — in part, he acknowledged, because the private sector doesn’t make their technology road maps public due to competitive sensitivities.

“There has to be a more candid, transparent dialogue so you can see the art of the possible and how affordable it is,” he said.

Data security concerns

The possibility of getting hacked is just a reality of today’s world, and networking many different platforms together offers more opportunities for vulnerabilities.

“How do you protect the data? We’re not exactly sure. We’re looking at that at NGA,” Michaels said.

Peterman pointed out that data security is an area of concern both to the military and to the commercial sector, especially in terms of protecting banking and medical information, as well as intellectual property.

“I think we have enormous horsepower in this country that is yet untapped if we pull the public and private sectors together and recognize that we’re trying to solve problems that have a certain common thread.”

Valerie Insinna is Defense News' air warfare reporter. She previously worked the Navy/congressional beats for Defense Daily, which followed almost three years as a staff writer for National Defense Magazine. Prior to that, she worked as an editorial assistant for the Tokyo Shimbun’s Washington bureau.

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