INFOTECH

JUST IN: Dominance in Data Processing Key to Future of Warfare

6/18/2019
By Yasmin Tadjdeh
Air Force Gen. Paul J. Selva

Photo: Army

Inexpensive surveillance satellites developed by the commercial sector have provided the Defense Department with a glut of data, but more work still needs to be done to effectively process it, said the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff on June 18.

“As all this data becomes more ubiquitous — we have it and our potential competitors have it — how do we get advantage in that space?” Air Force Gen. Paul J. Selva asked. “How do we understand faster, decide faster and act faster than an adversary who has the same information?”

The ubiquity of data will democratize surveillance and reconnaissance, he said during a breakfast meeting with reporters in Washington, D.C.

But “the intelligence piece of it is where the value is,” he said. “That's in understanding what's inferred by the data and helping make decisions to act on that information in a timely way.”

Selva — who has often brought up the need for more innovation within the Defense Department — said the private sector is already benefiting from big data and the Pentagon must follow suit.

For example, Selva pointed to work being done by an analytics firm as an example of the power of big data. Recently, the company conducted an experiment where it told a car dealership in an unnamed city that it could increase its profitability by as much as three percent by employing data analytics.

The company —by collecting imagery and analyzing it — was able to “do all sorts of weird analysis like how might you change the purchasing preferences of people or how might you change your profit by understanding the purchasing preferences of people in a car dealership,” he said.

It did so by looking at images of parking lots in front of department stores, he said. If someone knows the sales that are going on at those stores and the types of products sold at them, one can infer from the kind of vehicles parked in the lot certain preferences, such as whether a potential customer may want a leather interior and power windows versus a basic pickup truck, Selva said.

“In one quarter, they changed their profitability by 7 percent because they have developed a particular kind of algorithm that let them do a particular kind of analysis,” he said.

Selva — who is nearing the end of his tenure as vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff — said he expects the joint staff will work hard to tackle big data issues in the coming years.

“It doesn't have to be perfect; it has to be just about right to move us into the next generation of how we design the force,” he said. “If we don't get that piece right, we're going to design the same force over again. It will be a little more efficient, a little more effective, but it won't be the kind of change that we need to stay ahead of our potential competitors or adversaries if they choose to be adversarial.”

Selva added: “That's work yet to be done, and that's a big pile of stuff that will be left on my successor's desk.”

Meanwhile, Selva also pushed for the need for a small number of low-yield nuclear weapons that could be placed on Ohio-class submarines’ Trident missile as a deterrence to Russia.

“What we have tried to do with the introduction of low-yield nuclear weapons is fill a hole that exists in the potential escalation ladder that we know is part of Russian doctrine,” he said.

In deterrence theory, if the Russians were to attack, for example, Norfolk, Virginia, with a low-yield nuclear weapon that causes minimal damage and some loss of life, but not significant loss of life, they have crossed the nuclear threshold, Selva said. The United States’ doctrine says it will respond in kind, but without a low-yield nuclear weapon in its inventory, responding in kind means it will have to respond with a high-yield nuclear weapon, he added.

“Many would argue [that] is disproportional to the attack the Russians perpetrated on the United States,” he said. “Our argument in the Nuclear Posture Review is a small number of low-yield nuclear weapons in our inventory provides the [U.S. Strategic Command] commander with the option to present the secretary of defense and the president with an in-kind low-yield nuclear response to a small-scale attack by nuclear adversary.”

Using a high-yield weapon would present two disadvantages, he noted.

“One, we don't have an option that matches their option,” he said. “Two, we don't have a weapon that we can negotiate away to try and negotiate away their low-yield nuclear weapons.”

The most expedient method of doing that would be a modification of the warhead on the Trident missile, he added.

Topics: Cyber, Infotech, Big Data

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