Military Embedded Systems

Driving MDO to enable data as a weapon system


November 16, 2020

Driving MDO to enable data as a weapon system

By Chip Downing, RTI

The integration of real-time data from all of the U.S. armed services and coalition partners will drive greater operational intelligence and more timely and accurate responses for all military operations. This approach is now a formal U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) directive to become a datacentric enterprise integrating information across all sea, land, air, space, and cyberspace domains for operational dominance. A standards-based connectivity framework that enables a global data space can provide a highly adaptable foundation for optimizing this real-time information for Multi-Domain Operations (MDO).

DoD datacentricity challenges

The utilization of data to create operational and business intelligence is the foundation of all successful endeavors in our highly connected world. This fact is also true with military operations under the aegis of the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD), a situation underscored by the recent publication of the DoD Data Strategy on September 30, 2020. This publication sets the guidance to “unleash data to advance the National Defense Strategy” by creating “the overarching vision, focus areas, guiding principles, essential capabilities, and goals necessary to transform the Department into a datacentric enterprise.” Furthermore, is states that “success cannot be taken for granted … it is the responsibility of all DoD leaders to treat data as a weapon system and manage, secure, and use data for operational effect.” The vision is for the DoD to become a “datacentric organization that uses data at speed and scale for operational advantage and increased efficiency.”

Becoming a datacentric enterprise means that data is the primary and permanent asset – other assets, systems, and applications will be deployed and retired, but data reigns paramount. In the datacentric architectures the data model precedes the implementation of any given new application or system because it will endure long after other assets are no longer in service.

This approach will require a shift from systems focused on internal defense and weapons systems with unique data models to moving to systems that can rapidly interoperate and share data with other defense systems from other suppliers and coalition partners using a shared data model architecture. This transition will enable the sharing of information in real time, while maintaining reliable, secure lines of communication between all participants in Joint and Coalition Multi-Domain Operations (MDO) scenarios. MDO is the integration of capabilities across multiple operational domains, such as air, sea, land, space, and cyber information assets, in order to achieve desired effects.

Lockheed Martin describes MDO as “A new warfighting concept ... By synchronizing major systems and crucial data sources with revolutionary simplicity, MDO provides a complete picture of the battlespace and empowers warfighters to quickly make decisions that drive action.”

This transition also requires the change of the user base from people to machines. Systems must evolve beyond people-to-people voice-communications systems to machine-to-machine communications using digital data that enables crisp real-time situational awareness, precise sensing, and weapons control that enables the rapid integration of diverse mission scenarios. Recently, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David L. Goldfein announced that MDO is “the single most critical” tool for winning future high-end fights, and that it means creating a system where “people are on the loop, not in the loop.” Moreover, MDO aligns with the latest DoD directives including the DoD Tri-Service Memorandum¹ that states, “Victory in future conflicts will in part be determined by our ability to rapidly shared information across domains. Sharing information from machine to machine requires common standards.” (Figure 1.)

[Figure 1 | An illustration of a multidomain wargaming scenario. RTI image.]

One of the biggest challenges we face is that we cannot simply ignore or replace legacy military systems and networks – they must layer into these systems and securely deliver data while minimizing operational intrusions and system retesting. In addition, connectivity frameworks need to be deployed using proven industry standards; having disparate sets of standards will not enable the interoperability and efficiency required.

The path to datacentricity and MDO

Our next-generation data delivery frameworks require rapidly deployable, dynamic, and secure systems that can be assembled and reconfigured in an agile, mission-tailored manner from ready-made, commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) components. Due to hostile actors attacking all aspects of these networks, securing these networks to prevent unauthorized access to information sources across local and remote operations arenas and up to the cloud-based networks is an existential imperative. Rapid and assured interoperability between next-generation military networks, legacy systems, and yet-to-be-developed platforms is mandatory.

DDS: standards-based platform interoperability

Today’s military network environments are built upon legacy systems that have unique communications technologies. Although these communications technologies were appropriate at the time the systems were initially deployed, they now are so aged as to create a barrier to innovation, rapid integration, security, and cost concerns. Most systems enable point-to-point machine-to-human or human-to-human communications that, by design, cannot scale to meet the future requirements for datacentricity. These systems use a client-server network model under which clients and servers have specific roles, while servers are used to store data in a centralized environment that share this information with human-connected clients.

More modern DoD networks use a peer-to-peer connectivity framework that does not differentiate between clients and the servers; in these networks, each node is itself client and server, and each node can both request services and respond to service requests. These peer-to-peer networks focus on connectivity in machine-to-machine (M2M) communications where each node controls its own data that is both consumed and published to others in the network.

The leading peer-to-peer connectivity framework – and the one most used by today’s advanced communications systems – is based on the Data Distribution Service (DDS)² standard, which is managed by the independent standards agency Object Management Group (OMG)³. There are more than a dozen organizations that have created DDS products based upon this standard, and there are well more than 1,000 DoD systems that currently employ DDS in their systems architecture.

DDS operates using a brokerless, serverless, peer-to-peer publish/subscribe model that includes low-latency multicast communication, dynamic discovery, and proven interoperability. In addition, DDS has data-in-motion security that enables senders to publish data topics they are authorized to send, and receivers to subscribe to the data topics they are authorized to receive. DDS applications can be coded in different languages and run on different operating systems hosted on virtualized system platforms hosting containerized services. DDS operates independent of data classification levels and is ideal for integrating the data from disparate sensor and compute systems.

The DDS standard provides data connectivity, extreme reliability and a scalable communications framework that integrates a wide range of sensor and mission data. DDS is designed from the ground up to meet the necessary military interoperability and security requirements for cross-service, cross-supplier, and cross-ally integration of a technology-driven MDO environment. (Figure 2.)

[Figure 2 | The Advanced Battle Management System (ABMS), the top modernization priority for the Department of the Air Force with a budget of $3.3 billion over five years, will be the backbone of a network-centric approach in partnership with all the services across the Department of Defense. That broader effort is known as Joint All-Domain Command and Control (JADC2); when fully realized, senior leaders say JADC2 will allow U.S. forces from all services – as well as allies – to receive, fuse, and quickly act upon a vast array of data and information in all domains. RTI image.]

DDS global data space

The DoD has defined seven goals to enable datacentricity in the DoD; these goals can be summarized as “making data visible, accessible, understandable, linked, interoperable, trustworthy, and secure.” In simple enterprise terms, this is making data available in a secure cloud with authorized users able to access all relevant mission data. Operational and mission data may end up in the cloud, but to collapse the time of response from days and hours to minutes and seconds, it needs to be available in real time by capturing data-in-motion.

DDS manages data-in-motion and “sees” a local store of data called the “global data space” on the wire. These local data stores enable applications to have access to the entire global data space, but the applications locally store only that data required for their application for as long as it is required. There is no global place where all the data lives – the global data space is a virtual concept that is a collection of local stores of data-in-motion. As a result, every application – in almost any language and running on any system – sees local memory in its optimal native format. The global data space shares data between embedded, mobile, enterprise, and cloud applications across any transport, regardless of language or system and with extremely low latency.

Datacentricity enables convergence

The open, datacentric DDS standard enables safe, secure, flexible, scalable, and reliable integrated systems and is ideal for enabling the DoD to evolve into a datacentric enterprise-supporting MDO entity that treats real-time operational data as a weapon system. Datacentricity will help to converge operational and weapons platforms to build a dominant posture in future multidomain conflicts.

Chip Downing is the Senior Market Development Director of Aerospace and Defense at Real-Time Innovations (RTI). In this position, he manages RTI’s global aerospace and defense business and helps drive the Object Management Group (OMG) Data Distribution Service (DDS) industry standard into the commercial and military aerospace market with the RTI Connext DDS platform, now used by over 400 customers in over 1,500 global systems. Downing currently serves as the VP, Ecosystem of the DDS Foundation, where he is tasked with growing the sphere of influence of the OMG DDS standard with organizations that have companion specifications. He also serves as the Chair of the Future Airborne Capabilities Environment (FACE) Consortium Business Working Group (BWG) Outreach Subcommittee, promoting the FACE approach globally.

RTI (Real-Time Innovations) •


1) Memorandum for Service Acquisition Executives and Program Executive Officers,

2) OMG Data Distribution Service (DDS) Version 1.4,

3) Object Management Group (OMG),

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