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Home : News : News
NEWS | Jan. 7, 2022

DOD's chief data officer discusses 'data-centric' future

By Jim Garamone DOD News

David Spirk, the Defense Department's chief data officer, said the department is focusing data on joint warfighting activities and actions put in place in the past are bearing fruit.

Spirk spoke during a Howard Baker Forum of the Defense Writers' Group Jan. 5. He said DOD is actually "doing well" in the process.

A man looks at a large computer monitor.
Virtual Discussion
David Spirk, the Defense Department chief data officer, speaks virtually to children at Mitchell Elementary School in Tampa, Fla., from the Pentagon, Nov. 16, 2021. Spirk highlighted the importance of data management; artificial intelligence; science, technology, engineering, and mathematics education and service to the nation.
Photo By: Air Force Staff Sgt. Jack Sanders, DOD
VIRIN: 211118-D-XI929-2002

Spirk is the first chief data officer for the department — a sign of how new the concept is. In just two short years, his office, the military departments, the combatant commands and component data leaders have crafted the Defense Data Strategy, which lays out the vision for DOD to follow. The strategy allows DOD "to align our efforts and move towards that vision," he said.

The department has a vibrant data community with interest directly from the top. "We've launched the [artificial intelligence] and data accelerator initiative in partnership with our great friends in the Joint Artificial Intelligence Center," he said. "We are going to create a Digital and Artificial Intelligence Office that will bring together, at a minimum, the components of the Defense Digital Service, the Joint Artificial Intelligence Center, and the chief data office so that we can move even more aggressively and faster into this data-centric future for the department."

In addition, the combatant commands are really starting to show "what true data-driven mission command can be," he said.

Spirk said he believes this is the future. "It's just the way that all operations and warfighting concepts in the future are going to be driven," he said. "It's about speed. And if you don't organize your data, if you can't create repeatable, testable and trusted data workflows from the tactical edge all the way up to your senior-most, decision-making activities, then you will just lag behind."

He said U.S. industries also see the benefits of this approach to data and are moving in the same direction.

An airman wearing a headset looks at several screens.
Collecting Data
Air Force 1st Lt. Amaryllis Cotto, aerial reconnaissance weather officer for the 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron at Keesler Air Force Base, Miss., looks at atmospheric data collected during a flight into Hurricane Ida, Aug. 27, 2021. The data collected helps forecasters better predict the path of a tropical system.
Photo By: Air Force Staff Sgt. Kristen Pittman
VIRIN: 210827-F-KV687-2226

U.S. defense officials see this as an asymmetric advantage, and they are working to ensure this permeates America's other asymmetric advantage — the unparalleled network of allies and partners. 

Spirk mentioned the work going on with the "Five Eyes" — an intelligence alliance that includes the U.S., Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United Kingdom — and NATO as he discussed the progress being made. "One of the things that I'm most excited about is the fact that we established a Five Eye [chief data officer] Council," he said. "It was just over a year ago today that we conducted the first-ever Five Eyes CDO Council gathering."

All those nations are working with the United States to establish the organizations and policies needed to enable the data strategy. He said just before coming on to the Zoom call, he had received an email from a Five Eyes counterpart with a question. "So even just this morning, we were interacting and comparing notes as a team."

Six months ago, the United Kingdom promulgated its data strategy, he said. 

Groups of bundled wires hang next to one another.
Bundled Wires
Server wire connections are part of the cyber environment being used by the National Guard to protect Americans.
Photo By: Army National Guard Staff Sgt. Brendan Stephens
VIRIN: 191008-Z-AS768-547B

He said Five Eyes representatives attend every DOD data council gathering, "and we regularly ask them to actively participate and [to] present at those. It is vibrant, it continues to grow and it continues to be one of those things that we're excited about."

He hopes to have the first in-person meeting of chief data officers from the Five Eyes nations next month in Hawaii, if COVID-19 allows.

The 30-member NATO alliance is fully on board, as well, he said. NATO is looking to establish its own chief data officer at the alliance level, and many in Brussels — and elsewhere — are examining what the organization should look like and how it would interact across the alliance. 

Spirk has briefed alliance chief information officers on the program and "what right looks like," he said. The alliance data leaders will have a virtual meeting later this month to chart the way forward.