The Digitalisation of Defence
New technologies, new domains and new threats
Across every industry, computing has fundamentally changed the way we live. From alleviating us of arduous, time consuming tasks to providing cutting edge tools – it has increased our efficiency as well enriching us with new abilities. While defence has seen a level of integration of many of these technologies over the years, rising political tensions and new threats and channels that enemies look to exploit pose a danger to our security. Legacy systems and protocols are proving to be ineffective against a new, more complex form of warfare.
Chief of the Defence Staff General Sir Nick Carter, has said the military “must fundamentally change our thinking if we are not to be overwhelmed.” Overcoming these new challenges requires defence to modernise and adopt a sleeker, data driven approach. This has been reflected in global military budgets, which have seen the largest annual increase in a decade, as well as a number of militaries constructing new divisions and branches. Game engines, cloud computing, smart devices, virtual/augmented reality and artificial intelligence are just some of the key tools being leveraged in future warfare.
Across the domains, these technologies are changing the battlefield. On land, the concept of ‘soldiers as sensors’ has gained increasing importance, with devices that collect and transmit data better informing operational strategy. At sea, more sophisticated autonomous systems are spearheading the use of Unmanned Surface Vehicles (USVs), which offer risk free modes of surveillance as well circumnavigating the high costs of surveying ocean environments. In the air force, simulation technology drastically reduces costs as well as shortening training cycles and meeting sustainability targets. But beyond these traditional environments, space and cyberspace have become the latest planes on which we must provide security.
Space exploration is having a renaissance, further driving technological innovation as it did in the original space race. The importance of space as a strategic position has been recognised with a number of militaries forming their own space divisions. Similarly, cyberspace has received significant attention as the dangers of information warfare show themselves. Exposed communication channels can cause catastrophic harm in terms of revealing vulnerabilities or plans. The world of data, however, also represents an enormous opportunity for defence organisations, who look to its analysis for better informed operations.
The importance of interoperability, precise analysis and a common operating picture
Warfare that happens across a greater variety of landscapes and spaces stresses the importance of a multi-domain approach. While previous simulations have been siloed and disconnected, the scale available in distributed simulations is allowing for acting in a single, common operating picture. Synthesising different data types from disparate sources allows for a holistic and more informed view of an operation. Events can be ‘zoomed in and out’ to access each viewpoint from infantry on the ground to high level command.
Interoperability is also an area that has vastly improved with new technologies. While traditional cross-domain training exercises involve huge logistical costs, common training platforms avoid this and deliver the simulations at the point of need. Distributed platforms can offer accessibility across a vast geographical area, improving international cooperation and opening the door to large scale training scenarios without the organisational headache.
Undoubtedly one of the areas most developed with advanced simulations is in speed and precision of decision making. The growing complexity of battlespaces has become a mammoth computational task to simulate, but a lack of the entire operating picture and limited analysis will lead to poorly informed decisions. In such large scale operations, this can lead to higher rate of casualties, financial costs or even the failure of the mission.
Next generation platforms eliminate these risks by providing a common channel for communication and analysis. Unpredictable environments such as the arctic or busy city streets can be analysed repeatedly and quickly, avoiding dropping units into unforeseen circumstances. Strategy can be informed by reliable analysis and adapt to change in real time.