June 27, 2014

Navy Launches Big Data ‘Ecosystem’ Effort

George Leopold
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Like most government agencies, the Defense Department is struggling to gets its arms –and armaments – around big data.

One branch of the services, the Office of Naval Research (ONR), is attempting to take a comprehensive approach to the question of how to take advantage of advanced analytics and “data science” by soliciting white papers from industry on ways to develop a “Naval Big Data Ecosystem.”

The call for proposals signals that the military is beginning to embrace commercial solutions to long-standing problems posed by a requirement the military refers to as “sensor fusion.”

Navy research officials said they hope to apply big data advances to the service’s antisubmarine warfare as well as integrated air and missile defense missions.

In a solicitation released earlier this month, ONR also said is it seeking “full proposals for Advanced Technology Development that will forge major advancements towards a well-developed and robust Naval Big Data Ecosystem.” The proposed framework would provide advanced analytics for Navy “war-fighting applications.”

(In Pentagon rubric, the research category “Advanced Technology Development” is the next step after basic and applied research. ATD includes research programs that have moved to “development and integration of hardware for field experiments and tests.”)

The solicitation identifies four “thrust areas” that could be addressed in white papers and proposals:

  • How to develop a “Naval Data Science foundation” addressing “data representations” and ontologies needed to support the Navy’s missions.
  • Identifying, processing and categorizing data sources pertinent to Navy missions.
  • Development of advanced analytics for Navy missions.
  • Development of data protection and cybersecurity mechanisms to ensure data integrity during analysis.

“The overall objective of this effort is to achieve unprecedented access to data, to extract new and deeper insights by exploiting data in new and innovative ways and to apply those new insights to improving naval warfare activities,” the solicitation states.

The U.S. military has previously attempted to develop tactical and strategic intelligence networks that would combine data from a range of sensors and other data sources. These “sensor fusion” efforts have largely bogged down as “requirements creep” made the networks unwieldy.

The ONR solicitation may indicate that the Navy is looking to move away from this custom approach to adopt commercial data analytics technologies that could be customized for military use.

A key military requirement is data analysis and real-time delivery of intelligence gathered by surveillance satellites and other sensors. The services have had difficulty blending information from “national systems” such as spy satellites with battlefield data collected by their own weapons and sensors.

“In the past, the ability to merge these types of information to support tactical war-fighting has been extremely limited,” ONR acknowledged in its industry solicitation.

Hence, the Navy is looking to leverage big data, cloud computing and “more effective cross domain technologies” as a way to integrate and exploit strategic and tactical data sources.

Among the possible applications of the proposed Naval Big Data Ecosystem are predicting and assessing threats, discriminating between friendly and hostile forces, improving integration of sea and air power along with improving naval mission planning. These capabilities would be applied to antisubmarine warfare along with air and missile defense missions.

Industry responses to the Navy solicitation are due on Oct. 3, 2014.