The Future of DoD Command and Control: When will software eat this industry?


DoD’s mission will continue to evolve and shift to counter the tactics and intents of our enemies. One day it’s the terrorism inflicted by al Qaeda, the next it’s possible nuclear Armageddon from North Korea, and then the next day it shifts to probable chemical weapons in Syria. Who knows what tomorrow will bring? How do we keep a lean and mean defense posture while the DoD strategists are all bogged down in managing budget cuts?

Short answer: Help software “Eat” DoD Command and Control.

Longer answer: A growing number of us are of the opinion that we must find new ways to accelerate cutting edge commercial technologies into DoD command and control to address current challenges. For this to happen, industry and government must work closely together. Both have always sought to ensure that the Commanders have modern system architectures. But now more than ever Commanders must be able to leverage cutting edge commercial technologies. Gone are the days that industry can build and sell a proprietary solution to a government customer. And equally, gone are the days that government can lob their hard technical problems over the fence for industry to solve and demand cost effective solutions that fit their unique, military requirements.

Technologists have long watched transformations of other industries. Traditional media, travel, entertainment, and retail are perhaps the greatest examples, but software is really, “eating the world” to borrow a phrase from Marc Andreessen (see “Why Software is Eating The World”).

To achieve the desired future of command and control and accelerate change DoD can do many things. For example, DoD doctrine needs to demand integrated C2 tools, and clearly spell out how they will be used for military planning, execution and assessment. Echelons across DoD and within collaborative organizations that provide support or are a piece of the solution must have shared digital plans that will speed the decision cycle by enabling automated workflows, reuse and context sharing. Obviously, these collaborative partners change in an instant, requiring agile solutions that provide more than the “who and where” answer. Essential information such as “what, how, when” need to be extracted from the deluge of information available. The community is abuzz about “big data” solutions and DoD is already a pioneer in this domain, but far more focus is needed there. Great DoD work in Cloud Computing should also continue and even accelerate.

We should also encourage visionary/disruptive leaders that can usher in modernization.

The future will consist of much more than a patchwork of “separate but connected” systems supporting coalition, intel, combat, etc. DoD certainly can’t do that without leveraging shared commercial-based platforms to obtain he the C2 services and applications needed. Some element of Google/Amazon like cloud architecture will be needed. How these enterprise wide local and shared data bases will be provided to and synchronized with the deployed operational forces is a critical piece. DoD Continuity of Operations (COOP) requirements are unique to DoD, but could be modeled after commercial solutions for key banking or energy infrastructures with equally rigorous demands. And unlike these commercial solutions, the DoD solution must be able work in a “worst case” scenario: completely disconnected.

DoD’s future command and control systems must integrate the data exchange requirements of ISR, IO, Cyber, combat operations and combat support functions (including medical, logistics, etc). It must collaborate across echelons and mission partner boundaries that are constantly shifting due to policy. And finally, the information that is obtained from these systems must give actionable information to assist in the planning, execution, monitoring and assessment of the situation.

How will this all play out? Much of that depends on decisions DoD leadership will make. Will people decide to resist change and hold off modernization? If so our risks will increase and so will costs and threats to mission. Or will we collectively move forward in modernizing? If so risk will be reduced, and so will costs and threats to mission.

For more on these trends see: Ready or not, software is eating the government contracting world

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