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COMMENTARY

Joint All-Domain Command and Control: It’s all about the data

Defense applications built using microservices and given real-time access to data can meet warfighters’ requirements in the globally distributed, multi-domain world of modern warfare.

When considering the challenge of implementing Joint All-Domain Command and Control, however, it is easy to get caught up in the specifics of the warfighting mission and lose sight of the critical elements JADC2 must address. Specifically, the intent behind JADC2 is to employ distributed, heterogeneous data and applications to get the right information from the right sensor to the right warfighters at the right time. Taking a step back and reframing the challenge as a “data problem” allows us to adapt and implement architectures that have already proven themselves in similar use cases.

This challenge has already been addressed by the global IT community, albeit in non-military scenarios. For example, when people order food via a mobile app, they expect to see real-time status tracking and mapping, and if they order from a grocery service, they expect to be able to communicate with their assigned shopper in real-time and receive status updates. Similarly, the health care industry is moving towards an increasingly internet-of-things-focused reality, where disparate data must be collected, integrated and delivered to health care providers in real-time to help them make life or death decisions.

Likewise, mission-critical applications must meet warfighters’ expectations and requirements in this new reality of data-driven combat. While the stakes and the mission differ, the parallels between commercial and civilian applications are clear. In both cases, it is important to first understand the burdens that applications must overcome in order to meet the users’ expectations.

Reducing data gravity and friction

Data and applications are like physical objects: They have both gravity and friction. To make this more concrete, imagine trying to work with a pile of three bricks versus a pile of 3,000 bricks. It is far easier to move and sort through a pile of three bricks.

The same concept applies to data and applications. Once the “pile” of data gets too large, or an application becomes monolithic and heavy, agility is rapidly lost, and the service that depends on that data and application often becomes difficult to manage. If applications and data are not architected in a way to reduce both their gravity and friction, they inevitably fail because they cannot scale or freely share data.

While service outages may be marginally acceptable in consumer applications, this is untenable for warfighters and will greatly inhibit what JADC2 is intended to achieve. Critical applications and data become liabilities if they cannot be architected in a lightweight, modular manner, readily scaled and consistently deployed everywhere they are needed -- whether at the tactical edge, on an aircraft or in a cloud environment. The gravity and friction of both applications and data architectures dictate how easily they can be adapted to fit the mission, and both must be minimized to maintain effective functionality as demands continue to grow. 

Creating modern applications to leverage data-in-motion

Building modern applications in a microservices architecture hosted on an agile, scalable infrastructure will help meet user demands. This infrastructure should abstract away the traditional limitations of storage and hardware platforms and support modern DevSecOps processes. Unlike traditional monolithic applications, modern applications rely on data being readily accessible and integrated across all producers and consumers of that data in real time. They are not burdened by masses of data residing within inflexible, legacy repositories. This data integration in-motion paradigm is foundational to building modern applications.

The benefits of this approach are apparent in the civilian world, where applications deliver results in real time. This is evident when a loan application prompts for multisource identity verification, or a travel application allows booking of car rentals, hotel rooms and flights all from a single interface. Both of these applications use read/write data sources in real time, imperceptibly to the user, and are built from multiple loosely coupled microservices that are developed, deployed and scaled independently across a globally distributed architecture. This prodigious feat is unachievable without data-in-motion integration solutions and the agile architecture that supports them.

Defense applications built using microservices and given real-time access to data can deliver similar benefits to the globally distributed, multi-domain world of modern warfare. Except there, those benefits will not be measured in terms of how quickly a person can get a loan application approved; they will be measured in how quickly a warfighter is able to make a decision that could mean the difference between life and death.

Building JADC2 for the future

Building JADC2 using these microservices architectures and data strategies is critical to aligning with systems warfare strategies like mosaic warfare, which deconstructs large, complex and expensive military assets into smaller, more agile and cheaper elements, a trend that appears to be the inevitable future progression of the battlespace. At their core, both microservices and mosaic warfare represent the very human strategy of solving complex challenges by breaking monolithic technology into smaller, more manageable pieces and espousing the use of horizontally scaled, lightweight components that aggregate into a resilient and agile architecture. Any JADC2 implementation must account for the demands of a large number of disaggregated, attritable assets, all producing and consuming data that must be exchanged between themselves and C2 assets in a frictionless manner.

This challenge is increasing by the day. New sensor technologies and battlespace capabilities are expanding the volume, velocity and variety of mission data, but without the ability to effectively use this data, they are essentially useless.

JADC2 must be implemented across both joint and coalition forces in a way that overcomes this challenge and continues to enable data-driven warfare. Fortunately, there are widely implemented approaches and technologies across both industry and government that can be brought to bear on this challenge for building mission-critical applications and data fabrics on a global scale. 

Let’s start building. 

About the Author

Sam Richman is a senior solution architect for the U.S. Air Force at Red Hat.

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