CNO: Precision Era Gives Way to Decision Era
By RICHARD R. BURGESS, Managing Editor
ARLINGTON, Va. — Future conflicts will be won by the side that can make informed decisions the fastest, the Navy’s top admiral said, and the service must increase the speed of its management of data to keep ahead of its competitors.
“In an era in which Cubesats are being launched into space and zettabytes of information are available, the advantage boils down not to who gets the data, the information, but to who can better make sense of it, who can orient themselves better and make a better decision,” said Adm. John M. Richardson, chief of naval operations (CNO), addressing an audience of naval and military leaders June 13 at the Current Strategy Forum at the Naval War College in Newport, R.I.
“The character of the competition has changed,” Richardson said, noting that two of the most important changes are “the rate of technology creation and the rate at which that technology is adopted or embraced by users,” trends which began in the 1980s and 1990s. “Particularly advances in networks and in space have created tremendous opportunities for unprecedented levels of precision. When married with precise weapons, it allows us to orient ourselves to translate that into decisions and actions with a whole new level of accuracy. We were able to see things better, more precisely than our adversaries.”
Richardson said, “The technological march has become much more of a sprint,” with such examples of the cellular phone, “adopted in about half the time that it took for people to adopt the personal computer, [which was] adopted in about half the time that the original telephone itself. That cellular phone brings a tremendous amount more capability to your hands, so it enables entire communications and banking capabilities to regions of the world that have never seen a copper wire or a bank.
“The size of this digital universe into which this phone plugs is doubling every two years,” he said. “The amount of information is going to reach 44 zettabytes by 2020, an order of magnitude change since 2010. … By the end of this year, we’re going to cross the threshold where 20 billion things are connected to the internet, … 30 billion by 2020, and more than double again by 2025.”
The CNO said the “avalanche” of information is bringing an age of cognitive computing to help us make sense of all that data,” noting that “adaptive network sensors are now on the horizon and proliferating.”
He cited an example of commercial advances, Global Fishing Watch, “a cooperative venture involving Google, that already uses AIS [Automatic Information] data and other information from a comparatively low-cost satellite constellation to track over 50 percent of world’s fishing fleets, not only by their location but also monitoring their behavior.”
Richardson hypothesized that, in the near future, just about anybody is going to be able to see almost anything anywhere in the world on demand. It’s going to as accessible to my daughter on her cell phone as it is going to be to my son, a Navy lieutenant, in a SCIF [sensitive compartmented information facility].”
The CNO said that “sifting through all of that data, to be able to rapidly understand the operational environment and discern those changes is now going to be critical part of orienting.
“This era of precision and observation is giving way to an era of competition for decision,” he said. “The sensors are now omnipresent, the positioning information is embedded, so now the competition to orienting, finding a way through that information, and making a decision.”
He said the Navy no longer has “the luxury of moving slowly. It is an imperative to speed up, … nor leaving information and data unexamined. … The team that orients and decides better is going to win.”