The changing character of warfare is manifested by the reliance on data becoming as critical as the Air Force’s traditional reliance on freedom of maneuver. There is already more raw data than can be transmitted using legacy network bandwidths yet the Air Force’s ability to collect, process, and exploit more immense data streams in operationally relevant timelines will be the decisive factor in achieving future mission success. Harnessing data science and process automation integrally into the planning and operations processes will be essential for the Air Force to operate at the speed of relevance and, crucially, to guard against the risks of information burden and cognitive overload for commanders and warfighters. Optimizing the network will need to embed big data, artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) applications for gathering, analyzing, fusing, and disseminating vast amounts of multi-source data, information, and intelligence at the design level.
From the Industrial to the Information Age
Warfare will not be insulated from the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) and the Air Force, together with its sister services, must be able to effectively evolve from their industrial age construct to an information age one. Across the force planning landscape, future combat concepts are characterized by edge warfighters having superior situational awareness (SA) and decision-making in command and control (C2) to be able to respond to events in near real-time across increasingly disparate and distributed areas of operation (AOOs) where the tempo and nature of engagements may vary drastically. Mission command and battlespace management will need be implied across the future Joint Force, whose components will no longer wait for instructions to make their next move. Commanders and edge warfighters in the multi-domain battlespace of the future will need robust solutions at the operational and, increasingly, tactical levels of warfare, in particular the better and faster extraction of relevant information and intelligence from data collected across an increasingly dispersed sensor network.
Gathering, processing, aggregating, analyzing, fusing and disseminating the enormous influx of data while cautioning against information burden and cognitive overload is already one of the most critical operational challenges for the Air Force. As this influx of data streams grows ever larger over the coming years, the Air Force will need to build an end-to-end network capability that can process, filter and push data, information and intelligence rapidly across a distributed C2 enterprise with increasing levels of automation. Data and networks will effectively become the greatest tool and most coveted weapons in themselves for the Air Force. A robust cyber infrastructure and the ability to exploit big data will be decisive in delivering the network performance required by the Air Force in future battlespaces. Across enabling matrix of technologies and infrastructure for such an operational paradigm, the convergence of big data, AI and ML algorithms will hold the key to achieving a truly agile mission command and allowing the Air Force to function at peak performance.
Artificial Intelligence in Warfare
Gathering massive amounts of data from multiple, disparate sources for comprehensive, integrated analysis requires fewer analysts today than was the case a decade ago. Yet there remains a vast untapped potential presented by rapidly advancing big data, AI and ML technologies which support better and faster analysis on the move together with improved information management (IM). AI for example promises to generate on-the-fly solutions for who needs what, where, when and why – the Information Requirement (IR) – by considering a highly complex multitude of factors at speed. By accounting for risks and threats around them, ML algorithms, will allow edge warfighters to focus on mission execution rather than analytics and assessments of unknowns in the operations environment. The embedded application of AI and ML also promises to reduce the risk of human error while presenting multiple, simultaneous risk and resource decision options for execution – all at computing speed.
With AI and ML algorithms determining suggestions for the warfighter ahead of adversarial decision-making, maneuvers and effects, no longer will there be delays in information dispersion as the Air Force is enabled to act with unprecedented speed. Functioning as a ‘brain’ that continuously filters and recomputes what information is important for commanders and edge warfighters to achieve mission success at any given moment, distinguishing between raw data and information, what is useful and what is not, where it is needed and when, AI will eliminates the man-in-the-middle required for analysis or exploitation. Presenting comprehensive, dynamic and responsive visualizations of the multi-domain battlespace straight to the cockpit in ways not possible previously, the observe, orient, decide and act (OODA) loop will be radically expedited as edge warfighters are provided with unprecedented SA and AI-generated decision support at the speed of supercomputer processing.
As the Air Force becomes a self-synchronizing system-of-systems – man, machine, manned, unmanned, autonomous, sensors and effects – the dynamics of C2 will be fundamentally altered. With communications between the ranks becoming more fluid and more rapid but also less frequent, and as autonomous systems are integrated into force structures more integrally, the very notion of mission command will be reshaped. The accelerating digitization of warfare providing the basis for an embedded application of big data and AI across the planning and operations processes will however also render the Air Force vulnerable to new types of threats and attack, including the corruption or deception of AI algorithms itself. By learning to leverage big data and AI, including through appropriate acquisition-level consideration, implementing the necessary integration safeguards and making necessary changes to doctrine, concept of operations (CONOPS) and warfighter training, the Air Force should be able to manage the risks associated with the expanded use of digital technologies which will allow it to move ahead of adversarial decision-making.