Data Centricity and the 1st Cavalry Division’s “Speed of Relevance” during Warfighter 23-04 2023 AFCEA Contest 1st place


Maj. Thomas D. Richardson, U.S. Army


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Maj. Huw Miller, 1st Cavalry Division (1CD) current operations officer from the 3 (UK) Division, tracks and synchronizes current operations on the battlefield on 9 February 2023 during Warfighter Exercise 23-04

In February 2022, Secretary of the Army Christine Wormuth articulated a major objective to guide change within the Army: “to ensure the Army becomes more data-centric and can conduct operations in contested environments, which will enable our ability to prevail on the future battlefield.”1

Data centricity enables rapid decision-making by Army commanders in combat. This speed of data access to commanders is essential to successful application of multidomain operations (MDO), particularly the tenet of convergence, which requires cross-domain communication from joint force sensors to ground commanders. The 1st Cavalry Division demonstrated the significance of data centricity in conducting MDO during Warfighter 23-04. The modern battlefield requires a multidomain force operating within a data-centric model. A data-centric Army can rapidly collect, analyze, and distribute information to the commander to inform battlefield decision-making. Wormuth describes data centricity as a characteristic that “empowers leaders and Soldiers with the right information at the right time to gauge risk, optimize combat power, fully employ national means and attain decision dominance at all echelons.”2

Army leaders at Program Executive Office Intelligence, Electronic Warfare and Sensors learned about data-centric organizations at the Army Data Driven Leadership Certificate Program, a collaborative executive training by the U.S. Army and Carnegie Mellon University’s Heinz College, 24 March 2023

Time is the key difference here from the Army’s previous network-centric model. Whereas network centricity filters data into functional categories on disparate systems based on data type, a data-centric approach enables organizational users to procure needed data from a common hub. This model speeds up decision-making by commanders who can more quickly pull the information they need to inform battlefield decisions. Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. James McConville explains, “You have to have sensors that can find the targets throughout the battlefield, and then quickly move that data through an integrated command system to the appropriate lethal systems to allow you to conduct those types of combat operations.”3 In a data-centric Army, information flows through channels commanders can rapidly access in real time, not at scheduled and specialized data collection points. This speed is especially important when conducting MDO.

Data centricity is critical to successful MDO because it enables rapid information sharing from sources across the joint force to the Army’s ground commanders. The Army Data Plan recognizes this reality: “By its nature, the Army’s Multi-Domain Operations, as part of Joint All Domain Operations, has a larger and increasing scope than earlier military operations. Each domain has its own growing information and data flow … Today’s Soldiers and Commanders require synthesis across these domains to dominate the battlespace.”4 Data centricity makes sense within MDO because commanders need to be able to access information from across domains to inform their decisions. Data comes from sensors within each domain (space, cyberspace, air, land, and maritime) and generates meaning for ground forces across the physical, information, and human dimensions of understanding.5 A data-centric force can more quickly access and understand the relevance of new data, which then forms the basis for commander decision-making. Data centricity is crucial to MDO because information moves to commanders faster and more efficiently, directly enabling battlefield success. The data-centric multidomain force is also best postured to achieve convergence, a tenet of MDO.

Staff Sgt. Steve Mathiew, a signal support system NCO with III Armored Corps, operates the Mounted Assured, Positioning, Navigation, and Timing System (MAPS)

Multidomain convergence requires a data-centric force. Convergence quickly integrates joint capabilities that mass effects to overmatch the enemy.6 By establishing systems—within the human, physical, and information dimensions—whereby commanders can quickly and continuously access data about the enemy and the battlefield, data centricity enables convergence by informing commanders’ decisions within the combat environment. The data-centric multidomain commander can access “the right data, at the right time, at the right place [to] enable faster and better decisions at echelon—to out-think and out-pace any adversary.”7 Speed is paramount, and data that is more readily available to commanders in combat can give ground forces a marked advantage over the enemy by enabling convergence. Faster data processing from sensor to commander increases cross-domain fires lethality and generates cross-domain maneuver options for the ground force.8 Ultimately, a data-centric Army best postures the commander to take advantages of opportunities for battlefield convergence, enabling him or her to “thrive at the speed of war in the 21st century.”9 A recent Warfighter exercise demonstrates the importance of data centricity to battlefield decision-making.

The 1st Cavalry Division showcased the capabilities available to a data-centric force during a recent training exercise. Warfighter 23-04, conducted 19–28 April 2023, pitted “America’s First Team” against the live, freethinking, world-class opposing force of the Fort Leavenworth-based Mission Command Training Program in a simulation-based tactical command post exercise.10 Preliminary insights gathered from the division’s leaders demonstrate how the organization met the challenge of conducting MDO while practicing data centricity. During telephonic interviews with the division chief of staff, Col. Todd Hook, and the division cavalry squadron operations officer, Maj. Ragan Rutherford, I discussed how the division’s adoption of a data-centric model enabled tactical success during the exercise.

Master Sgt. Laura Gunby, 1st Cavalry Division (1CD) medical operations noncommissioned officer, tracks and coordinates medical support on 12 April 2023 during Warfighter Exercise 23-04

1st Cavalry Division deliberately shifted processes to a data-centric model as part of its preparation for the warfighter. The division chief of staff simplified the regular contact points between the division and its brigade commanders, reducing the myriad meetings and working groups to three daily distributed commander-driven discussions: a targeting decision brief and two commander-to-commander dialogues.11 Staff officers were expected to listen to the discussions, receive data, and establish their specified and implied tasks without having a dedicated portion of the meeting to brief. Rather than generate various products for specific briefings and meetings, division staff running estimates, available for subordinate commanders and their staffs to access, became much more critical as living documents and decision-making tools that described the current estimates of the staff function in real time. The cavalry squadron operations officer noticed this shift, explaining the squadron staff had more time to shape and inform the dialogue among the commanders without needing to dedicate time and personnel to generating numerous briefing products, each relevant for only a short “snapshot” in time.12 Both officers described this transition in mindset among the staff and greater formation as a shift from a static battle rhythm to the more dynamic and fluid “rhythm of the battle.”13 This change of mindset reflects the larger environmental differences between counterinsurgency (COIN) operations and large-scale combat operations (LSCO).

Photo by Pfc. Jacob Nunnenkamp, U.S. Army

1st Cavalry Division’s move to data centricity highlights the faster speed required in data management during LSCO. In the COIN operations common to the U.S. Army experience in the Global War on Terrorism, units were mostly deployed in static geographic locations and operated within a stable, predictable, regular battle rhythm of events. Hook described a generational gap of experience within the formation, as most Army officers’ practical warfighting has been in the context of COIN operations.14 A LSCO environment is much more dynamic, fluid, and mobile. Command posts cannot remain in static positions for very long, and large gatherings of commanders and staff leaders are vulnerable to detection and targeting by enemy forces. For this reason, the exercise’s senior mentor, retired Lt. Gen. Terry R. Ferrell, advised the organization to move away from the “static battle rhythm” with which they were familiar.15 The “rhythm of the battle” concept as practiced by 1st Cavalry in this exercise was characterized by greater commander-to-commander communication and significantly reduced direct interaction between the headquarters staff and subordinate commanders, all while transitioning from offense to defense and back again throughout the exercise. As Rutherford put it, commanders had more time to dialogue with the commanding general and each other, and “the staff has to keep up.”16 In LSCO, commanders cannot wait for the weekly staff update to receive the latest data from the higher headquarters; instead, they need to access the most up-to-date staff analysis to inform real-time decisions.

Photo courtesy of Maj. Ragan Rutherford, U.S. Army

Battle damage assessment proved to be the specific data most essential to mission success for the 1st Cavalry Division. The organization remained enemy-focused throughout the exercise, and battle damage assessment data from the various domains enabled subordinate commanders to make informed decisions about how to engage the enemy forces arrayed against them.17 As enemy forces were destroyed, the staff kept commanders informed on remaining enemy capabilities and possible options. The staff’s agility and focus on understanding the changing battlefield environment enabled the division to twice shift its course of action midbattle and rapidly respond to opportunities recognized by staff officers and communicated to commanders—once in blunting an enemy counterattack and again in shifting the division’s main effort to seize a critical enemy sustainment node.18 Rutherford noted his fellow staff officers in the cavalry squadron needed to stay current on the progress of the battle so as to best report the enemy situation to the rest of the division.19 Hook described this data-centric approach as “the speed of relevance,” with data generated by the staff rapidly enabling decisions by the commander. As Hook said, “Making decisions—confident decisions—depends on how fast we get data.”20 Ultimately, for America’s First Team, data centricity meant faster and more efficient data flow from sensor to commander and directly contributed to a successful Warfighter exercise.

A data-centric Army enables its commanders to make informed decisions by putting in place the physical, information, and human systems required to quickly push relevant data from sensor to commander. Speed is paramount, as the modern battlefield is dynamic and commanders in MDO need to be able to access multidomain data quickly and in real time. As the Army Data Plan acknowledges, “With the fires growing in range and automation and forces increasingly dispersed on the battlefield, speed of decision to neutralize critical targets can have rapid cascading effects to allow our forces to penetrate, disintegrate, and then exploit in order to win. Integration and speed of information is achieved through data and data analytics.”21 The experiences of Hook, Rutherford, and the rest of America’s First Team during Warfighter 23-04 prove this is not a theoretical postulation but a validated reality of the modern battlefield. 1st Cavalry Division’s exercise performance offers some preliminary insights about the importance of speed as an aspect of data centricity in multidomain operations.


  1. Christine E. Wormuth, “Message from the Secretary of the Army to the Force,”, 8 February 2022, accessed 31 May 2023,
  2. Christine E. Wormuth, quoted in Darren LeBlanc, “Quarterbacking Digital Transformation,” Army AL&T Magazine, Winter 2023, 32, accessed 31 May 2023,
  3. James McConville, quoted in Michelle Tan, “No Letting Up: McConville Oversees Significant Changes,” Association of the United States Army, 28 September 2022, accessed 31 May 2023,
  4. Office of the Chief Information Officer (OCIO), Army Data Plan (Washington, DC: Department of the Army, 2022), 2, accessed 31 May 2023,
  5. Field Manual 3-0, Operations (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Publishing Office [GPO], 2022), 1-16–1-23, accessed 7 June 2023,
  6. “Convergence is the rapid and continuous integration of capabilities in all domains, the EMS, and the information environment that optimizes effects to overmatch the enemy through cross-domain synergy and multiple forms of attack all enabled by mission command and disciplined initiative.” Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) Pamphlet (TP) 525-3-1, The U.S. Army in Multi-Domain Operations 2028 (Fort Eustis, VA: TRADOC, 6 December 2018), 20, accessed 31 May 2023,
  7. OCIO, Army Data Plan, 2.
  8. TP 525-3-1, The U.S. Army in Multi-Domain Operations 2028, 19.
  9. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., “Maintaining a Boxer’s Stance,” Joint Force Quarterly 86, no. 3 (3rd Quarter, 2017): 3, accessed 31 May 2023,
  10. Jennifer Bocanegra, “1st Cavalry Division Tests Multi-Domain Capability during Warfighter Exercise,”, 29 April 2023, accessed 31 May 2023,
  11. Todd Hook (chief of staff, 1st Cavalry Division), in discussion with the author, 29 April 2023.
  12. Ragan Rutherford (operations officer, 1st Squadron, 7th Cavalry Regiment), in discussion with the author, 30 April 2023.
  13. Ibid.; Hook, discussion.
  14. Hook, discussion.
  15. Rutherford, discussion.
  16. Ibid.
  17. Hook, discussion.
  18. Ibid.; Rutherford, discussion.
  19. Rutherford, discussion.
  20. Hook, discussion.
  21. OCIO, Army Data Plan, 2.


Maj. Thomas D. Richardson, U.S. Army, holds an MA from James Madison University and an MMAS from the Command and General Staff College, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. He deployed as an armor platoon leader in support of Operation Enduring Freedom and as a cavalry squadron intelligence officer in support of Operation Freedom’s Sentinel.


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