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On the NSTXL Cross-Mission Data Industry Design Sprint

How might Space Systems Command enable superior analytics and decision advantage for the warfighter?

Kyle Lyon
Kyle Lyon
4 min read
On the NSTXL Cross-Mission Data Industry Design Sprint
Dr. Mark Brady, USSF Chief Data Officer Presenting at the CMD Design Sprint

This post reflects on my experience at the CMD Design Sprint, not containing any CUI or specific commentary shared by participants.

I attended Cross Mission Data Design Sprint a few weeks ago in Colorado Springs, run by the National Security Technology Accelerator (NSTXL). The three-day brainstorming session focused on creating a secure, scalable, sustainable, interoperable, and operationally-focused digital infrastructure and repository for the Department of Defense (DoD). (Wow, that's a lot of adjectives.) More specifically, the project aimed to connect United States Space Force (USSF) sensors and databases into a digital infrastructure that communicates with all military branches in a more extensive single cloud network known as the Joint All-Domain Command and Control (JADC2). This complicated system will involve many moving parts, but the main idea is to create a reliable and effective network for military operations.

Essentially, the NSTXL brought together the brightest minds in disciplines surrounding data to discuss strategies for addressing the military's data challenges. As the in-house data specialist at my company, I was lucky enough to be invited to attend this gathering. But why would the USSF need to expand its Space Domain Awareness program? You may ask.

The reality is that modern warfare is continually evolving into an electronically rich environment where orders need to happen within seconds or minutes rather than days. A more data-centric USSF could help provide warfighters with integrated data from all military branches, allowing them to gain a logistical advantage in contested environments. As the desired end-state, experts suggest that JADC2 data access could one day be facilitated like that of the popular ride-sharing service Uber.

Uber? Of all the industry data flow architectures to model after, why pick Uber?

Uber's High-Level Data Flow (credits)

Uber is a good analogy because the service combines two different apps to match riders and drivers based on their location, travel time, and the number of passengers, among other variables. Plus, it provides seamless directions for the drivers and relies on cellular and Wi-Fi networks to transmit data.

And let's be honest. I can attest to the fact (and other app users may agree) that Uber is a well-oiled machine considering its UI, route optimization, and live ride tracking. However, what is often overlooked is the service's core competency in data analytics, which is illustrated above.

It makes sense that the DoD wants JADC2 as a similar application that could connect the various military branches and provide efficient, real-time information. Except instead of pairing drivers and riders, the military needs open comm pathways between stream providers, data users, command, and warfighters based on their work paradigm.

The JADC2 Vision

Experts have expressed skepticism about the viability of JADC2 due to its level of technical development, cost, and capability to securely and reliably link sensors and shooters. It clearly isn't a simple process, and much more complexity is involved than Uber.

Much of the design sprint centered on this feasibility question, like how industry and the military could collaborate to create such cutting-edge C2 systems by 2025 and make the US a global leader in AI by 2027. So, we discussed what's necessary for full use of a potential maximum viable product and the differences between essential features, desirable features, and those that aren't necessary (or need to be avoided).

Participating in the discussion was a unique experience that gave me insight into the process of problem-solving and asking hard questions. While the details of the specific ideas shared must remain confidential, I can say that the participants and speakers were passionate and engaged and that the event was a powerful example of how collaboration can be used to tackle complex challenges. Also, I was floored by how many sticky notes we generated from brainstorming. No, really, we canvased two massive walls with ideas day after day.

During the sprint, I had the privilege of speaking with enlisted military members and civilians about the challenges they face in their service and the solutions they would implement to address these issues. Additionally, I had the opportunity to meet with contractors from other corporations, gaining perspicuity into how they partner with the military and their perspectives on its current operations.

As the conference ended, NSTXL held a final session where all the participating companies were tasked with formally outlining proposals to address critical objectives that move closer to achieving the vision developed during the design sprint. My co-worker and I whipped up a few responses based on our companies' competencies. After that, we had a networking dinner to close the night, where I met an engineer developing the Unified Data Library (UDL).

Overall, the entire sprint felt like we were all working together to better the nation — even though we were representing different companies and their individual aims. It was great to get to see the faces and be part of the driving force behind our country's great innovations!

View of the Mountains in Colorado from the Conference

Kyle Lyon Twitter

I'm Kyle, a Data Scientist in DevSecOps contracting with the U.S. Space Force through Silicon Mountain Technologies.