'We Don't Have a Choice:' Military Exercises in 2021 Will Focus on This Big Problem

How and where data moves may not sound as exciting as planning a top-secret infiltration mission. But leaders need to understand how quickly troops and their equipment can communicate with each other when facing an enemy.
For the next year, the services will be conducting data-intensive exercises to determine how much and how quickly data can be relayed to Warfighters.
"You have to accelerate joint command and control or you lose," Lt. Gen. Clinton Hinote, Air Force deputy chief of staff for strategy, integration and requirements at the Pentagon, said in a recent interview with Military.com.
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"You will see that the services are much more coordinated" when they conduct experiments with weapons, airplanes and other pieces of equipment that give real-time information back to the troops, he said.
The teams will practice how to “win” in their workspace by “following a data element through the architecture,” added Hinote.
"You have to think about the data going through the architecture in all areas and [making an effect]," he said. People often associate that with a gun release on a target - but it doesn't have to be.
"What we end up doing with multiple runs - like by the thousands - is [we're looking at], 'How does this data get from here to here?'"
The services are under pressure to do everything right, especially when trying to outshine opponents who are working on similar technological feats.
"We have no choice," said Hinote. "Because the types of scenarios that the national defense strategy requires us to be ready for cannot be achieved in any other way."
Connect, share and learn faster
Even before the launch of the National Defense Strategy 2018 under then Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, Pentagon leaders wanted troops to think more about fighting in the "multi-domain" battle space - including space, cyber, etc. You also want the right resources to properly train and equip service members for future wars.
For example, the Pentagon's "third offset" strategy put forward by former Assistant Secretary of Defense Bob Work sparked a shift within the Department of Defense to develop technology that can be used against opponents such as Russia and China.
Hinote also cited the vision of then Chief of Staff of the Air Force, General David Goldfein, to develop a networked approach to warfare, away from aircraft-only or equipment-only solutions. Goldfein's "connect, share, learn" strategy focused on postponing the service to develop a "family of systems" that would connect and share to read the battlefield in real time.
"[Goldfein] saw this before I think almost everyone else has - this idea that in order to win we have to be able to manage a team and a team across domains in a way be that we just haven't got it, "said Hinote. Under Goldfein, Hinote was Deputy Director of the Air Force Warfighting Integration Capability Office, a think tank-like organization founded in 2018 to analyze where the service could deploy innovative solutions to fill gaps or improve mission sets.
General Charles "CQ" Brown, Chief of Staff of the Air Force, debuted his "Accelerate Change Or Lose" strategy in August, describing the service's upcoming mission as a "journey," utilizing partnerships with sister services, partners and allies industry.
The service "needs to move faster," he said during a phone call with reporters who described the premise of its leadership.
Brown previously headed the Pacific Air Forces, where he oversaw more than 46,000 airmen operating from Japan, Korea, Hawaii, Alaska, and Guam. The job gave him the opportunity to observe China's military build-up on the disputed islands in the South China Sea and see how quickly China came into being to overshadow America on the global stage.
"We have to move with the pace, at least the pace with which our opponents are moving - and therefore we have to adapt ... and be ready to change and ready to change in the same way," he said Brown said.
There is a growing inter-service effort.
The Air Force has advanced a strategy of linking weapons and capabilities for better centralized surveillance and control at full speed. The cutting-edge program, known as the Advanced Battle Management System (ABMS), is focused on bringing together intelligence sensor data from weapons and spacecraft around the world.
The service ran a series of ABMS tests that year. One of the largest events took place in September, attended by the US Northern Command and the US Space Command. "70 industry teams, 65 government teams from all departments including the Coast Guard, 35 military platforms, 30 geographic locations and four national test areas," an Air Force press release.
Hinote said the goal for next year is to connect devices across the services whenever possible, each adding their own specialties.
In September, Brown and Army Chief of Staff James McConville signed a service collaboration agreement in the Air Force's ABMS program and in the Army's similar project convergence efforts. The initiatives fall under the Department of Defense's combined common all-domain command and control system.
"We need to bring these systems together. If you take target data from one system and write it down and enter it into another system, it just won't work in today's world," said Hinote of the arbitrary methods service members have to use to perform tasks. "Those two to four minutes could mean the difference between success and failure."
Practice versus politics
As the US turned its attention to counterinsurgency conflicts for the past two decades, Russia began using mixed urban techniques in its hybrid acts of war against Ukrainian forces, and China began investing heavily in weapons and equipment, machine learning, and artificial intelligence use.
"If you think about the types of challenges we tried to solve 10 years ago, they were very different from the types of challenges you face when you think about the possibility of rejecting or defeating Russia or China all in one Aggression they might be doing, "said Hinote.
However, the military's efforts to share data face some obstacles.
Challenges can include data rights or who owns the data or intellectual property. Sometimes only a waiver is required. In other cases, security protocols come into play, Hinote said.
"There will be competing perspectives," he said. "[But] the teams have worked really hard to address some of the political challenges of connecting different platforms.
"You come to the topic, 'It's technically feasible, but how are we really going to do it? And is it good enough to just use old organizational constructs? Are we going to have new organizational constructs?'" He added.
The heads of state and government are keen to move forward. Another experiment is planned for the spring in the US command for Europe.
Hinote said he hopes Congress "warms up" the concept, even though it is not a visible sign of the strength of the warfare, such as: B. Airplanes on an airline.
In the final version of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2021, released earlier this month, Congress said it wanted detailed benchmarks on what ABMS should achieve and is requesting a report from the Air Force Secretary by April.
It is also expected that allies and partners will join the action at some point.
"I think you will develop a lot more common skills with our allies and partners than you have in the past, and I think that will be the case in 2021," said Hinote.
"I think one of the big things you are going to see is a real effort, certainly on the part of the Air Force, as General Brown writes about the collaboration in his Accelerate Change paper," he added.
"I'll be intrigued to see how Congress has responded to the need to be more agile when it comes to getting equipment for our people."
- Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at oriana.pawlyk@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @ oriana0214.
Related: The Air Force is making progress with a plan to turn giant cargo planes into bomb trucks
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