If the Defense Department deploys blockchain, a new and radically different data management technology, the data attacks of today would become much less damaging, with the key benefit being that the data in war fighters' hands become more dependable by being incorruptible.

The reasons to adopt blockchain technology are twofold: avoiding downside disruption risk and maximizing upside war-fighting opportunity. Regarding downside risk, war fighters need to mitigate the operational disruption and degradation that results from an absence of authentic data because so many of our weapons systems require data to effectively function or to function at all. Blockchain's upside is that our military could take data corruption and compromise off the table as things an enemy could do to military data. The first reason is important; the second reason is game-changing in warfare.

What it does

Blockchain is a new source of strength. Blockchain removes the requirements for centralized authority by removing the need for the trust management middleman role. The absence of a central control confers a scalability that makes a blockchain network capable of functioning with the same effectiveness and efficiency at any size threshold.

Blockchain reshapes defense of data. Blockchain's data encryption standard makes backward exploitation of sender-message content virtually impossible. Even if an opponent could economically break its standard, it is highly unlikely that it could do so at the speed of war.

Blockchain is not about protected data piles, but data as a woven fabric. If one creates a construct where data is gold, one puts that pile of data at constant risk. Blockchain stands the data-hoarding paradigm on its head. Blockchain entombs data within its blocks, making it impossible to alter them afterward.

Blockchain is an option to manage a battle network of objects (BNO). Rather than a discrete path for each object in the BNO, objects connect to thousands of other BNO devices to send and receive data added to each object's ledger or to ledgers for clusters of BNO devices. Blockchain becomes the synchronization mechanism for BNO devices.

Blockchain is an option to control device swarms. Blockchain's distributed form — coupled with algorithms built into the devices of a swarm — enables swarm behavior, unlocking its militarized potential. Blockchain brings alive weapon and sensing swarms through robustness and scalability enabled by Blockchain's decentralized ledger logic combined with the algorithms within each swarm device.

Vince Alcazar says radically different data management technology could help prevent downside disruption risk and maximize the upside war-fighting opportunity.

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Vince Alcazar

How it works

A blockchain network is mainly composed of miners and blockchain host machines. Miners are computing machines whose task is to calculate the solution to a sophisticated equation. Elliptic Curve Digital Signature Algorithm (ECDSA) is the arithmetic of blockchains, and Asymmetric Key Cryptography is its data encryption technology. As a data transaction enters a network, miners use their computing power to solve the transaction's ECDSA equation by repeatedly calculating the equation until its solution output data string matches the sender's data string.

Once that match is made, the data block is complete and is eligible to be added to the ledgers — the record of a network's completed transactions. Paired public/private key technology protects the solution such that an attacker cannot steal or corrupt solution data within a network. Blockchain encryption can be modulated; that is, dialed up or down. For military blockchain applications, this rheostat feature may prove instrumental in providing flexibility in expeditionary operations.

Potential uses

Operations orders and planning documents. Blockchain technology ensures that data — in this case operational points — are preserved in its data blocks. In the event that some portion of the network suffers a connectivity break with a headquarters network, that senior network need only pass data block(s) to a single miner of a subordinate network. In that scenario, that receiving miner will push that block and others as required to every data ledger in that blockchain network.

Device swarm control. Combined with routines and algorithms programmed into each device orchestrated by the distributed design of a blockchain network, all that a swarm senses would be knowable to all devices at transaction speeds. The result is a swarm's ability to unlock the power of acting as a single entity.

Logistics. Blockchain's ledger logic ensures that what is transmitted by credible senders and received by authorized recipients can be inherently trusted. Blockchain works especially well in the world of logistics given its contracts, agreements, order forms, requisition documents, etc.

The key takeaway regarding blockchain technology is that data can be transacted and secured from tampering and corruption. That does not argue against improvements to just software or hardware; rather, it's a case for the benefits that result from a two-pronged strategy to thwart DoD network and data attackers: incorruptible data in tandem with hardware advances.

Vince Alcazar is a retired Air Force colonel and defense consultant residing in Northern Virginia.