Earlier this month, we sent a CodeMettle team of three to the network-related Technical Exchange Meeting (TEM) 9 in Nashville, hosted by the U.S. Army’s Network Cross-Functional Team in collaboration with Program Executive Office Command Control Communications-Tactical (PEO-C3T). TEM 9 focused on Capability Sets 25 and 27 in both Pacific and European theaters of operations.
We’ve been attending TEM events since about TEM 5 and we always look forward to the Army updates, technology breakout sessions and, especially, the informal one-on-one and small-group engagement with Government decision-makers.
This year did not disappoint. In fact, with numerous high-profile senior leaders in attendance and more than 1,000 participants from war offices around the world, TEM 9 was simply phenomenal! We moved from one discussion to the next exploring the challenges, progress and the art of the possible for defense networks.
Now that we’re back, we’ve had a moment to reflect on TEM 9 – and to capture three key themes that should have the greatest impact on our collective next steps:
1) Acceleration is Driving Defense Adoption of Commercial Best Practices
Like it or not, innovation is happening within the Army and across all joint and allied forces. For decades, defense forces relied on custom technologies proven to stand up to their rigorous performance and security demands. But technology innovations are continuing at their accelerated pace, with an increasing reliance on software-driven products.
At the same time, escalation of the Great Power Competition is hastening anticipated conflict ahead of the 2030 target defense teams had been tracking to. Conditions are evolving quickly, and many anticipate a potential conflict within 5 years. The Department of Defense (DoD) can’t keep doing technology the way it used to.
The Army is pushing itself to adopt and adapt commercial best practices. Part of the push is to shave costs. More importantly, there’s a push to quickly deliver innovative Warfighter solutions – that don’t harm national security – in advance of a potential conflict with peer adversaries.
“X”-as-a-service solutions, for example, offer tremendous flexibility and help to maintain the fast pace of technology advancement. Adoption of DevSecOps is a meaningful shift that supports defense adoption of software-driven products, allowing for greater acceleration of capability that’s making our Army faster, stronger and more agile.
These advancements introduce both capabilities and complexities that are new to the Army and its protocols. Which means, the Army and its industry partners must continue to collaborate to quickly implement industry best practices and solutions to give our Warfighters an edge in battle. Industry should be looking for ways to help accelerate that digital transformation.
2) Convergence is Bigger than Network Technology
When the Army says “convergence,” their Project Convergence initiative and demonstrations quickly come to mind. The Army is committed to network modernization that enables multi-domain operations for joint forces at the tactical edge. For some time, the DoD, Army and the other branches – and here at CodeMettle – have been exploring network convergence such as edge-to-enterprise network operations and Unified Network Operations (UNO). Those initiatives and advancements are certainly central to the convergence conversations.
At TEM 9, though, convergence was about more than the network. Converging the network is important, but the true power of convergence comes from converging many capabilities with the network into a faster, more lethal force. That is, speeding up the delivery and understanding of key data, communications and situational awareness for commanders and Warfighters, to enable a faster kill chain.
There’s tremendous potential and innovation around the convergence of ideas and technologies to meet Warfighter needs. The Army led exploratory discussions that asked, “How do ideas converge at the layer of data? Or at the layer of networking? Or applications or Zero Trust?”
It’s clear that advancements such as Zero Trust are essential. ZT must be a global, enterprise-wide approach. It can’t be effectively implemented in parts of a technology ecosystem or in some locales. Requirements cannot become a responsibility managed by disparate groups with separate and important mission sets.
The group agrees that, if software is the answer and hardware is the platform, defense must be software-focused and platform-agnostic. It’s also clear that convergence is a rich vision that requires deep engagement across functions and across defense, industry and academia.
3) Distribution of Data is Essential
While the convergence of forces, ideas, networks and other technologies is one ideal, there’s another that’s quite the opposite: data.
Right now, it’s not the convergence of data that’s a challenge. It’s that the Army has too much! It’s too time-consuming to find the right data. The distance between the context of the data (at the edge, for example) to get to the decision-makers.
The DoD’s strategy is to make data Visible, Accessible, Understandable, Linked, Trustworthy, Interoperable and Secure (VAULTIS). It’s an important goal, requiring new thinking around data meshing and other ways to discover and present relevant, timely data. As we’ve posited elsewhere, we believe it also requires a reliable data-driven network that supports near-instant visibility into the network’s baseline and current state, so Warfighters at the edge can confidently perform their duties.
There is much work to be done. And, the Army has created a collaborative community of smart industry partners who are ready, willing and able to keep pushing the acceleration, convergence and distribution needed to modernize systems and, ultimately, create battlefield advantage. It was an honor and a pleasure to participate in TEM 9. We look forward to all that’s next.