Military Embedded Systems

Data dominance: the weapon of the future


August 03, 2023

Aron Brand


Image courtesy CTERA

In the theater of modern warfare, data reigns supreme. The ability to swiftly acquire, process, and act on information transforms the battlefield into a dynamic digital landscape where data is the new strategic resource. Recognizing this, defense organizations are making substantial investments in data dominance platforms. These platforms harness the potential of unstructured data generated at the tactical edge, extracting valuable insights from text, imagery, and video. The pursuit of data dominance is not just a strategic goal; it’s an evolution of warfare, and the cornerstone of their future victories.

In the modern battlefield, acquiring, processing, and acting on data faster than the adversary is a critical advantage. Achieving data dominance requires the right platform and infrastructure to enable real-time situational awareness. Today’s battlefield is no longer a place of physical combat alone; it is an ever-evolving digital landscape in which data is the new currency. By leveraging data promptly and effectively, the U.S. military can gain the upper hand in any conflict. This reality is why data dominance (also known as data superiority) has become the new target for U.S. military strategists. Achieving data dominance isn’t easy, as it requires the right platform, infrastructure, and processes to enable real-time situational awareness and decision-making.

Using unstructured data generated at the tactical edge is rapidly becoming the most promising trend toward improving situational awareness, as it can provide a wealth of valuable insights and information. Recent advances in artificial intelligence (AI) and deep learning are making unstructured data assets more useful than ever, as these tools extract actionable and searchable information from assets such as text, image, radar/lidar, and video, that would otherwise be difficult to interpret. By leveraging this new abundance of available unstructured data generated by humans and machines, the military and its mission partners can better understand their environment and better inform their decision-making – in areas ranging from predictive maintenance and logistics, to intelligence-­gathering and identifying threats.

Such advances are why defense organizations around the world, with the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) taking the early lead, are investing in data dominance platforms that can provide the necessary capabilities to efficiently ingest massive quantities of unstructured data from remote sensors and devices into a global unstructured data lake, process it in real time, and enable quick action.

What is a data dominance platform?

The overarching objective of a military data dominance platform is to provide an all-encompassing, integrated solution for managing unstructured data and transmuting it into actionable intelligence. Considering the classified nature of the data and the high-stakes environment, the platform must also incorporate stringent cybersecurity measures, ensuring data protection against unauthorized access and maintaining data integrity. Management of data by a data dominance platform follows four distinct stages:

  • Collection: This stage involves acquiring data from various sources including sensor data from uncrewed aerial vehicles (UAVs) and other defense assets; human intelligence/signals intelligence/open-source intelligence (HUMINT/SIGINT/OSINT) reports; and data extracted from cyberspace domains. The diversity in data formats and protocols necessitates a comprehensive multisource intelligence capability to manage different data types and ingestion methodologies.
  • Storage: Given the large volume of data, a military data dominance platform would need a distributed storage system designed to scale with the data influx. The storage system should be robust, reliable, and incorporate strict zero-trust architecture to ensure data preservation and accessibility only to authorized personnel. Data life cycle management could also be employed for optimal storage-capacity management.
  • Processing: This stage involves processing unstructured data using techniques like natural language processing (NLP) for textual data, imagery analysis for visual data, and machine-learning (ML) algorithms for pattern recognition and trend analysis. The platform should have the capability to manage diverse data formats and processing requirements.
  • Analysis: After the data-collection, storage, and processing stages, the data needs to be analyzed to convert it into actionable intelligence. This could involve data analytics techniques like predictive analytics for forecasting future scenarios, geospatial intelligence (GEOINT) for geographical data analysis, and network analytics for analyzing interentity relationships.

Key capabilities for a data dominance platform

When considering a data dominance platform, organizations should look for the ­following technical capabilities:

  • Global file system: A unified global namespace to store and manage all the organization’s data in a single repository, regardless of its location. It should scale to tens of billions of managed objects and transparently span multiple regions and data centers.
  • Multiprotocol access: Provide access points for SMB (Windows File Sharing), NFS, and S3 (Object Storage) protocols, enabling concurrent access to overlapping data by any of these protocols.
  • Edge-to-cloud data ingestion: Utilize an effective and secure protocol for data transmission, optimized to contend with the challenges of denied, disrupted, intermittent, and limited (D/DIL) communication environments common in contemporary tactical operations. The data-ingestion protocol must overcome the hurdles of high-latency satellite links to maintain the timeliness of data ingestion.
  • Concurrent multicloud and on-premises deployment: Utilize a multicloud strategy to diversify workloads across multiple cloud providers or data centers for resilience. Implement policy-based data routing to enable concurrent utilization of multiple cloud providers, while allowing sensitive datasets to remain entirely within DoD on-premises facilities.
  • Continuity of operations (CooP): Enable military-grade continuity of operations (CooP) on the data dominance platform, enabling remote users to continue mission-essential functions across a broad spectrum of no-notice emergencies. Implement robust disaster recovery at alternate facilities with zero data loss.
  • Real-time publish/subscribe: Include data pipeline technologies such as Apache Kafka and/or Apache NiFi to coordinate reliable, real-time flows of unstructured data from the producers at the tactical edge to various data consumers, including AI training/inference, data analytics, indexing, and more.
  • DoDIN APL certified: Utilize products meeting the comprehensive standards of the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) Approved Products List (APL). Implement deep audit logs, FIPS 140-2 validated encryption, and CAC [Common Access Card] authentication.

Data dominance is key to military advantage

On the modern battlefield, whichever side can better leverage data will gain military advantage. In order to maintain an effective and reliable level of situational awareness, the U.S. military must leverage data dominance – the ability to access, analyze, and act on data resources available to it. Unfortunately, most of the data generated at the tactical edge today is wasted due to lack of appropriate technologies and infrastructure, leading to a loss of valuable insights.

Data dominance platforms – using the critical capabilities described earlier – are key to giving the U.S. military and its fighting forces the decisive edge to ensure victory in the 21st century.

Aron Brand is the chief technology officer and member of the founding team of CTERA Networks, a provider of edge-to-cloud storage solutions for federal and defense. Readers may reach him at [email protected].

CTERA Networks


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