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National Security Supply Chain Management Extends into Space

By Dr. William Oliver Hedgepeth
Faculty Member, Transportation and Logistics Management, American Military University

Supply chains are everywhere. Everything we own came from a truck or railroad car which made a delivery to a warehouse, a retail store and ultimately to you. Today, everything from meals to medicine can arrive at your home within hours, not days.

This is due to a social media digital supply chain that includes Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and your laptop computer. Anything you read and hear, and all the data gathered for your weather forecast, are part of a digital data supply chain. While most of the data on the information supply chain is routine, there is some data that is critical to our national security.

One serious aspect of digital data supply chain growth involves civilian and government space programs; they face many challenges and issues as well as business and education opportunities.

Artificial intelligence (AI) and other smart devices will continue to help manage that supply chain as well as become a weapon for terrorists.

National Security Supply Chains Are on an Uncharted Course

According to the annual National Security and Intelligence Summit in 2019, “Supply chain security is a constant concern” for both government and commercial space technology providers. However, it seems that some organizations have not stayed within the boundaries or fire walls of the national security supply chain.

“All the potential information that will be accessible on demand anywhere around the world will be exciting,” Stacey Dixon, deputy director of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, told the summit attendees. “We know that we can’t expand the number of people to be able to look at everything,” she added. “So, it’s about really moving towards having that machine/human teaming, which provides a lot of other new challenges in the way we do things.”

The use of AI coupled with human critical thinking is the basis of machine/human teaming. The Department of Defense and major AI builders of digital technology see the future of digital data security as human strategic guidance combined with the tactical acuity of a computer.

Space data can be hacked and compromised, said Tina Harrington, director of signals intelligence at the National Reconnaissance Office. She noted, however, that private sector advances in space will allow the federal government to focus on “the things that we and we alone need to do, not the things that others can do.”

We know what our adversaries are doing, she said, “but we are not going to stop them.”

Data validity is another key cybersecurity concern, Harrington said. The “supply chain is probably one of my biggest risk areas … [given] the number of things that have gone offshore,” she admitted.

Manufacturers of telecommunication systems or parts suppliers in countries such as China could pose a problem in capturing data and validating its accuracy. Will the U.S. government or a private U.S. computer or cyber-technology company be the organization to take the responsibility of such data verification?

This is part of the foundational thinking behind building a trusted digital supply chain. Perhaps we need to take a step back in time to before the computer became ubiquitous in government and business. Maybe it is time to reflect on how the U.S. and other friendly governments and civilian thinkers worked during World War II to define and use cybernetics to foil the enemy’s misinformation and disinformation efforts.

Cybernetics and the Truth of Data

WWII saw the dawn of cybernetics fostered by famed American mathematician Norbert Wiener. His 1948 book, Cybernetics or, Control and Communication in the Animal and the Machine, became a foundation for how to think about complexity. In science, the concept of complexity is a “field of study devoted to the process of self-organization.”

The idea is that everything is self-organizing over time and creates some recognizable pattern. For today’s DOD and cybersecurity officials, the goal seems to be to look at cybernetics as a way to determine whether today’s valid digital data and data that is false or invalid forms a pattern. If a pattern can be recognized as false data, that can be as helpful as the spies the U.S. employed during the Cold War between the Soviet Union and the U.S.

The American Society of Cybernetics explains that “Cybernetics treats not things but ways of behaving. It does not ask ‘what is this thing?’ but ‘what does it do?’ and ‘what can it do?’” Cybernetics helped define what later became the computer and automation of machines working together to solve complex human problems. It seems to be the time to think innovatively again in the face of the complexity of today’s ever-growing data clouds.

Rethinking the National Security Supply Chain in Congress

Rethinking the national security supply chain has caught the attention not just of academics, but of Congress as well. The discussion has led Congressman Drew Ferguson (R-Georgia) to focus on an examination of the “infrastructure and supply chain improvements to the current political realities of Washington.”

This thinking is aimed at redefining the classic textbook definition of supply chain activities, which seems to advocate for the machine/human teaming concept that many call AI. AI has proven itself successfully in “several applications in the supply chain, including extracting information, data analysis, supply and demand planning, autonomous vehicles and warehouse management.”

One aspect of AI that is used for supply chain management is natural language processing (NPL). It is already at work coding our language into digital formats, correcting computer writing errors, reading contracts, listening to people talking and using smart software to link this digital data complexity into some recognizable pattern.

Such patterns are critical to locating terrorists on the internet. With classic academic thinking, NPL capability could optimize supply chain management operations.

A New Space for AI Supply Chains

AI is fast becoming part of our complex supply chain activities as the interpreter and bridge over all of these data and information supply chains for our national security.

As Blume Global explains, AI “has several applications in the supply chain, including extracting information, data analysis, supply and demand planning, autonomous vehicles and warehouse management.” AI is partially the reason why data and products flow through the supply chain with minimal problems.

Other uses of today’s emerging AI systems include “industrial espionage on competitors, fortifying sensitive data against cyber threats” and improving the cybersecurity of data supply chain networks.

Sustainable space exploration is fast approaching a new level of supply chain management that is not just earth-bound but interplanetary. To properly control the space supply chain, AI systems must be re-examined to include the early principles of cybernetics.

About the Author

Dr. Oliver Hedgepeth is a full-time professor at American Military University (AMU). He was program director of three academic programs: Reverse Logistics Management, Transportation and Logistics Management and Government Contracting. He was Chair of the Logistics Department at the University of Alaska Anchorage. Dr. Hedgepeth was the founding Director of the Army’s Artificial Intelligence Center for Logistics from 1985 to 1990, Fort Lee, Virginia.



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