Modern militaries have a mixed reputation in the area of the implementation and employment of the latest technologies. These contrasts are numerous and vast, creating significant limitations as well as opportunities for military operations. This has tremendous significance for the internet of things (IoT). However, before we investigate and discuss the successes, limitations and opportunities in the realm of IoT, we need to understand the unique nature of the world of militaries and defense forces, and their ongoing journey with technology.
A History of Technology Use in Defense
Since the onset of World War I, all subsequent conflicts (global and regional) have utilized technology in a significant way to dominate the battle space and maintain tactical and strategic superiority over the enemy. In fact, various technologies and management practices in use today were conceived of by the armed forces.
The emphasis has been on the modernization of arms, ammunition, air power, and large scale ordinance. However, a significant factor that is often underrated is the power of information and communications – translating directly into military intelligence and awareness, that is then made available to Command, Control, Communication & Counter Intelligence (C4).
A few pioneering efforts were made in the 19th century. Napoleon utilized hot air balloons in an effort to administer battle space maneuvers, Admiral Nimitz employed maritime reconnaissance aircraft as mobile sensors; gathering information to be transmitted via Morse code to the entire Pacific Fleet. In the 21st century, most armies place increasing value on near real-time Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) to deal with cell and radical based groups, rogue nations, and of course conventional warfare objectives.
The evolution and increased availability of technology (particularly IoT) has resulted in parallel changes in the modern battle space and security area, particularly the way those military assets are utilized and controlled (explained in detail in my earlier blog post).
How Does The Military Approach Technology Adoption?
Militaries are not motivated by financial gain. They comply with and achieve the defined operational mandates set by their government or leadership. Hence, militaries are generally centrally funded and bound by contractual obligations, resulting in strict budgeting and mandated use of ‘less than perfect’ equipment and infrastructure.
With globalization and ready access to information, militaries are now faced with significant challenges, both internal and external. They also have a remarkable opportunity to capitalize on information and communications technology (ICT) developments that are made available within the commercial sector, as well as integrating their current technological capabilities into a military form of cloud computing.
The word ‘Combat Cloud’, has besides the name, an obvious and logical potential in this advanced and interoperable concept of military organizations, when in fact, modern militaries have significant structural constraints between branches, hindering the realization of this paradigm. What we need today is the real time technological application of IoT within the military (successes, limitations and opportunities).
With advancements in the field of communication, analytical tools, data handling capabilities, etc., technology can help theatre commanders immensely with real time analyses to make considered assessment and operational plans.
The 7 Technologies that Can Transform Defense
Some of the technologies which can be used in defense are:
- ICT and IoT: This aspect has been adequately covered in my earlier blog post. In the current battle space environment, commanders and leaders demand reliable and real time awareness of the situation unfolding on the ground, in order to make politically or physically dangerous decisions. The potential applications of ICT and IOT in the war fighting arena are endless. However, increased information sharing and reliance on ICT gives rise to the very real threat of compromising security, which can place operations at risk and expose information pertinent to national security to the enemy. This makes IoT security a vital issue.
- Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Cognitive Computing: AI can be understood as the theoretical creation and development of computer systems or algorithms able to perform tasks which till now have required human intelligence. AI, coupled with Cognitive Computing and Deep Learning (DL), is responsible for the quantum leap observed in the field since 2010. AI makes use of data analysis to predict trends and discover hidden information and patterns in the ocean of data provided by existing networks and sensors. The effective use of AI, etc. in defense is being trialed in various aspects of defense operations, while keeping in mind the large data sets required as well as security considerations.
- Big Data Analytics: When traditional computing capabilities are not able to cope with the quantity, speed, and complexity of data, we need big data analytics. This technique has been seized upon to improve decision-making and predictive analysis. Big Data could best be applied to Modeling and Simulation (M&S) activities in the defense environment. This is being tested in the areas of Program Preparation, Operational Analysis, System Development, Training, and to support decision making.
- Blockchain Technology: A blockchain can organize and store information in accordance with predefined logic by incorporating a data security layer, thus providing security to data. As a result, blockchain networks reduce the probability of a security breach, which is the main consideration for the military for new data processing technologies. There are many challenges in the full development of this technology, which are being addressed.
- Cyber Defense: Predictive analytics using data analytics and AI-enabled machine learning has enormous potential for the defense domain. AI solutions are expected to emerge in critical fields such as cyber defense, decision-support systems, risk management, pattern recognition, and cyber situation awareness. One of the potential applications of AI in cyber defense may be to enable the setting up of self-configuring networks to detect vulnerabilities (software bugs) and perform response actions like self-patching, etc. This feature of AI can be used to strengthen the security of communications and information systems and provide network resilience, prevention and protection against cyber threats.
- Robotics: Robotics and autonomous systems (RAS) such as robots and multi-robot (or swarm) systems (MRS) have the potential to play a disruptive role in military operations. They can perform tasks that are considered too risky, complex or even impossible for humans today. To harness the full potential of RAS a great amount of research is under way to bring these technologies from lab to operations.
- Autonomous Systems: Over the last decade, unmanned systems have become regular features of conflicts. Future unmanned systems will see higher degrees of autonomy provided to Artificial Intelligence (AI) or cognitive computing in the aspect of navigation and self-protection. However, the successful implementation of autonomous systems in defense does not depend exclusively on technology development, there are many other factors involved.
That’s a succinct overview, which I hope will give you a good idea of the breath of technological applications in defense. I will cover the use of these technologies in defense in detail in my next few articles.