Open Systems Architectures are a Stepping Stone on the Journey to DoD Modernization

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Open Systems Architectures

As we embark on a new year, the Department of Defense (DoD) is poised to consider important lessons learned over the past year, as well as what the path towards innovation looks like. This is particularly important as the battlespace becomes increasingly contested, congested, and connected. To innovate and adapt technologies quickly in this new multi-domain environment, there has been a focus on approaches like Joint All Domain Command and Control (JADC2) and an emphasis on open systems architectures in general.

To reflect on the adoption of open systems architectures and how the DoD continues to evolve with these priorities in mind, we connected with Greg Wenzel, Executive Vice President at Booz Allen Hamilton. Here are Wenzel’s thoughts on the future of the defense industry and how DoD is adapting accordingly:

Modern Integrated Warfare (MIW) Editors: What technologies made the largest impact on progress in theater for 2021?

Greg Wenzel: Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) are continuing to evolve to help us collect, process, and analyze data from all the sensors out there and get the right answers to the right effectors. 

As we continue to counter the A2/AD [anti-access and aerial denial] capabilities of our adversaries in the Indo-Pacific theater, we’re seeing advances in data and AI technologies, and advances in kinetic technologies, like Long Range Standoff (LRSO) weapons and directed energy. A2/AD in the Indo-Pacific is also heightening focus on overhead defense in space: satellites, sensors, etc.

MIW Editors: Fill in the blank. 2021 was the year of ____ for defense. 

Wenzel: Pivot. With the withdrawal from Afghanistan, the focus is now on the Indo-Pacific and the challenges there. It’s one of the hardest pivots by the DoD in recent years and it needs to be a real pivot. We’ve been talking about the Indo-Pacific and the technologies we need here—like JADC2—for years, and over the past year, this talk has become real and urgent.

MIW Editors: How will open systems architectures fuel progress in 2022 and beyond? 

Wenzel: Open systems architectures will fuel progress toward a connected, interoperable DoD, but only if we approach them in the right way. That means looking beyond open platforms to open application programming interfaces (APIs).

Think about the most impactful defense-led innovations in past years, like ARPANET, which paved the way for the modern internet, and GPS. They evolved and now operate through open network standards.

We’ll need the same thing to meet the tough challenges of tomorrow’s digital battlespace. That is a truly open architecture that allows traditional and non-traditional players alike to plug in to accelerate innovation, makes technologies available to all services, and provides all-inclusive connections between military assets of all kinds.

That last part is particularly important. What good are multibillion-dollar defense systems if they can’t operate together? Right now, the focus is on open platforms. That’s a good step in the right direction, but it’s far from the end destination. Again, think of the internet. We are buying and building “websites” without the internet. Right now, you need a different web browser for each “website” being created.

A truly open architecture depends on APIs. APIs will enable each unit within the DoD to not only share data and insights across different platforms, services, and domains but experiment and customize solutions across a single, secure network. As the connective tissue between systems, even closed systems, APIs allow applications to talk to each other and share data.

MIW Editors: Fill in the blank. 2022 will be the year of ____ for defense.

Wenzel: This upcoming year will be one of transformation and evolution, again with a focus on JADC2 and with a specific focus on taking real action on the “joint” part of this acronym. 

Each service is still buying their own command and control technologies. This is putting the DoD’s vision of an interconnected, cross-branch data sharing and analysis ecosystem at risk. We need a truly integrated DoD for our next near-peer fight.

MIW Editors: Any additional thoughts on the evolving defense landscape and how we move forward? 

Wenzel: Technology and networks are only the beginning when it comes to achieving a successful JADC2. Success also requires fresh thinking on procurement, ownership, and collaboration. 

Think about the way we’ve procured technology over the past 20 years. We’ve purchased IT like we’ve purchased aircraft—shrink-wrapped and designed to do one job. But what happens when the mission, driven by dynamic competitors, changes? Rather than work with a set number of tools and keeping our fingers crossed that those tools will effectively serve the mission, why not give our teams the building blocks to design and update the tools—at scale and rapidly—specifically for the mission at hand.

As we create a single, secure, and open network—and an environment in which flexibility, adaptability, and scalability reign—we have to rethink ownership. Specifically, we need to focus on government-owned architectures embedded with government-owned APIs. Government ownership ensures that a third-party system owner cannot keep the most critical data for themselves without the government’s involvement, giving the DoD maximum control as well as the power to bring together a collective of industry partners at a moment’s notice.

This brings me to the third point: collaboration. There is no single IT vendor that has all the components to fight today’s digital war. In the private sector, each IT company has a specialty, whether it’s networking, cloud, or development of a specific application. We all have a role to play in tomorrow’s new battlespace—DoD IT leaders, technology innovators, mission integrators—and we all have to work together to solve its challenges.  It all culminates when we have the Digital Battlespace “Network” owned by the DoD. 

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Chelsea is an Editor for Modern Integrated Warfare, and oversees editorial strategy and content development for the site. Chelsea writes for other federal government and technology industry publications. Her background lies in B2B and enterprise technology, specifically cloud computing, SaaS, travel IT, and mobile devices.