The U.S. military is engaged in the design of new, universal command and control interface standards to improve interoperability between existing and future systems and unleash a new wave of evolution in how warfighters interact to defend U.S. interest sand defeat adversaries. This report presents the findings from a review of two military standards to help achieve successful standard design in the military environment.
The Role of Standards in Fostering Capability Evolution
Does Design Matter? Insights from Interoperability Standards
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- What features of interface standards foster interoperability and capability evolution?
The role that interface standards play in fostering interoperability and innovation has been the subject of considerable study. It is generally accepted that today's internet protocol standards have enabled one of the greatest technological and social revolutions in history, fundamentally changing how humans work, learn, and interact. History offers examples in which standards hindered innovation by enshrining the status quo. Therefore, to tease out explanations for which military standards enable interoperability and innovation, the authors address a fundamental question: What features of interface standards foster interoperability and capability evolution? In this report, the authors examine two military standards to better understand a range of paths that could lead to evolutionary success. The authors found that design and nondesign features of the standards drove capability evolution. In terms of design features, built-in technical means of extensibility enabled the standards to accommodate novel technologies and concepts of operations. The authors also found that standardization of data yields evolution and innovation, while standardization of transport and link layers appears to have inhibited innovation. As for nondesign features, the authors found that capability evolution was enabled by the early and continual incorporation of feedback from operators, the provision of a transparent means of drafting and amending the standard, and an active user and supplier community with the means to provide feedback into the standard design and amendment process. The authors illuminate key factors that should be considered as the U.S. military embarks on the design of joint interoperability standards in the future battle space.
Standardization of data yields evolution and innovation, while standardization of the transport and link layers in the design paradigms appears to have inhibited innovation
- Although the independence of the layers may be one key to enabling innovation and evolution of systems, other factors—such as simplicity, extensibility, modularity, or maintainability—may perhaps be just as influential in enabling the innovation and evolution of warfighting.
Design and nondesign features of the standards drove capability evolution
- Design does not appear to be a primary determinant of capability evolution. The network effects of an open and implemented standard (even when poorly implemented) can far outweigh any design considerations.
- In terms of design features, built-in technical means of extensibility enabled the standards to accommodate novel technologies and concepts of operations.
- As for nondesign features, capability evolution was enabled by the early and continual incorporation of feedback from operators, the provision of an open and transparent means of drafting and amending the standard, and an active user and supplier community that provided feedback into the standard design and amendment process.
- Myriad factors besides interface design, such as military doctrine changes and external threats, influence whether a system evolves and whether a system of systems grows up around that system.
- Although good design may not be essential to short-term evolution, poor design can lock in current solutions that make it impossible to evolve further.
- To enable interoperability and capability evolution, interface standards and their governing bodies should be designed with a built-in technical means of extensibility; lay out an open and transparent means of drafting and amending the standard; seek feedback from operators at all stages of the standard's life cycle; and cultivate a user and supplier community with the means of providing feedback into the standard design and amendment process.
- The design principles of layering and of separation of concerns developed in the years since Link 16 was first designed will, if adhered to, ensure that future U.S. Department of Defense standards can achieve the network effects of standardization while mitigating switching costs.
Table of Contents
Technical Standards and Innovation
STANAG 4607: NATO's Standard for GMTI Data
The Link 16 Communications System
Standards and Warfighting Evolution
Description of Capabilities Enabled by STANAG 4607
Description of Capabilities Enabled by Link 16
Research conducted by
This research was sponsored by the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering and conducted within the Acquisition and Technology Policy Center of the RAND National Security Research Division (NSRD).
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