Data and DOD's pivot from 'fight tonight'

The Pentagon is developing a tool that could help trace the impact of senior leaders' decisions down to the unit and years into the future.

data architecture (Quardia/

The Defense Department wants to be predictive and proactive when it comes to readiness needs, so it's shifting its focus from short-term or "fight tonight" to a more strategic outlook -- but it needs data and the right tools to do it.

Shawn Skelly, the assistant secretary of defense for readiness, said the Pentagon has partnered with the Marine Corps to develop the Readiness Decision Impact Model (RDIM), a database predictive modeling tool used to identify impacts on policy, resourcing, operations decisions and modernization.

"Decisions don't happen in a vacuum, they have implications across time and space every time we make one," Skelly said during a keynote speech at the Professional Services Council's Defense Services conference on Aug. 17.

"This isn't simple process change. It's about how the department views itself, and why it makes many of the decisions that it makes -- some of the most consequential ones."

While the model is in the early development stages, RDIM could help "predict what lies ahead" with the goal of being able to, for example, trace the impact of a senior-level decision down to the unit.

"We envisioned it will allow us to trace how a particular senior-level decision about a deployment, for example, could impact the unit itself, the service, combatant commands, and our ability to modernize other capabilities," Skelly said.

"Our vision is to provide the clearest picture possible of the operating environment to leaders by better defining operational and strategic landscapes. Competition and warfighter requirements must be viewed through a long-term lens, or we must trade in readiness today for losses in the future."

The tool's development is part of an overarching shift from immediate readiness needs, often referred to "fight tonight" capabilities, to a more long-term vision.

Skelly, who assumed the role in July, also said data would also be key to helping DOD predict and prevent occupational hazards and injuries, while improving personnel safety.

"The department has to ensure we become a predictive body in terms of addressing these mishaps and their causes. Our work towards establishing a DODwide collection tool will better enable data driven decisions, making identifying the leading causes of mishaps possible," Skelly said, noting that fewer workplace incidents leads to fewer fatalities and equipment loss, while increasing training opportunities.

"The means by which we've managed our readiness is no longer sufficient," Skelly said.