Our military is in a high-stakes race to harness the power of data, a revolution that may make previous leaps in military technology—think radar, nuclear power, or space—seem trifling in comparison. To fully seize these opportunities before our adversaries do, we need to look less at the technologies we covet and more in the mirror about our own data structures and culture.
Yes, we are already finding new ways to inform and accelerate processes so we can increase the pace and transparency of decision making and reduce the cost of generating and operating our forces. But imagine if we could eliminate the need for calendar-driven inspection cycles because we’ve adopted real-time digital feedback in our platforms and systems. This could allow us to measure and evaluate our generating processes as end-to-end systems, regardless of the number of commands involved. Someday soon, we’ll look back and wonder at the arbitrary nature of work that once drove our professional and personal lives.
But this represents only the beginning of our digital opportunities. Gaining a digital edge will transform the way we fight in the future. Speed is of the essence though, because our adversaries are actively and rapidly seeking the same digital advantages.
To date, one of the pacing elements has been the data themselves. The ability to apply a digital edge to the fight requires high-quality data that includes critical information over the right period of time. Our systems and programs, often built serially over time with the best of intentions, prevent critical sharing and cross-talk, and results in digital hoarding.
Hoarding data in today’s environment stalls momentum and leaves us further behind. Storing “your own” data or structurally failing to ensure high-quality data input at any entry point adds more quicksand and bogs down progress toward gaining a digital edge.
Unlike harnessing atomic power, wavelengths, or steam, harnessing data is different. It is part of all we do. We not only require, but must demand enterprise solutions for sharing and use of the information we collect and create daily.
We need to move quickly to intentional, authoritative, high-quality data that is securely captured, stored, shared, and integrated across the Navy. We have to curate and rationalize the countless disparate databases and outdated technology which leaves us unable to “see” and make use of basic information.
Our opportunity today at this information inflection point is to see things differently, as a complete culture, as a team – to see data and advanced analytics in the proper sense: as warfare enablers that pulse through every ship, aircraft, submarine, sensor, weapon, and perhaps sooner than later, every Sailor.
And our youngest sailors can tell us exactly what that feels like, if we just stop and listen—for they entered our Navy expecting the very same.
Yes, we all want to move faster and embed technologies like artificial intelligence/machine learning into our weapons and platforms, from the keel up. To get where we want to go – with machines that team with us to restock our supply bins before we ask, that update our combat training devices as soon as our systems change, or that indicate dangerous trends and provide solutions well before we need to act—we must first commit, as a service, to move out with one data culture, inculcating trust and scaling learning across our institution, together.
Finally, if history teaches us about the power of culturally grasping new technology, it also tells us something else: that our adversaries are well-known for seizing the element of surprise. Allowing them to dominate the data domain will make that surprise even more deadly to our economic, financial, and yes, our political security. It’s up to us to create Digital Sea Power for the rest of this naval century through a unified approach, with one culture—and as one team.