The world if facing four strategic threats. We have unstable but predictable threats from Russia. Unstable and unpredictable threats in the form of migration, terrorism and nuclear from parts of Africa and the Middle East. Stable and predictable threats, for now, from China.
This is the backdrop set out by a former senior military officer at SPADE last week in Copenhagen. This defence conference, now in its sixteenth year, was sponsored by AFCEA, IBM, Samsung, Secunet and SES. The fourth threat is ourselves in the western world: populism, diminishing cohesion and leadership. It raises the question, how prepared are we to face these threats?
Informed decision making
Let’s consider a macro perspective on information. I have previously blogged on how data pipelines enable smarter decision making. They take raw data, fuse and analyse it to sift out the valuable indicators. These are used to build a coherent picture of what is happening. The challenge is then making decisions that use the evidence rather than taking the easy option of aligning with prevailing perceptions, and then being capable of acting accordingly.
Four areas to improve
Speakers from eighteen defence departments around the world, NATO and the EU debated how technologies can help present the indicators and coherent picture. An essential, if partial, contribution. Here is a selection.
- Coherent C4ISR is required. Fusion of sensor data and integration of systems, both tactical and command, overcomes current siloes. A step-by-step approach should be taken. Connectivity and interoperability between allies are important design principles.
- Mission, including platform, readiness needs greater focus. It is dependent on network enabled capability, but also requires smarter approaches to communications, maintenance, optimising inventory for operations, and through the supply chain. Mesh networks, IoT, predictive analytics and artificial intelligence (AI) technologies offer opportunities.
- Kinetic operations have become secondary to the digital domain. Information security efforts must focus on protecting communications as well as information. Approaches are needed to deal with influence through disinformation.
- Use of Artificial Intelligence is gathering pace in the commercial world. Scale is being achieved through the use of machine learning, graph analytics, and video and speech analysis. Defence will need to shift from requirements-based procurement to writing capabilities statements for what it needs on the battlefield. It is the only way to stay ahead of the emerging technology curve.
NATO sees mobility, cloud and AI as technology disruptors. From these come opportunities, some of which are outlined above. Nevertheless, re-thinking defence and security for the digital age – the theme of the SPADE conference – demands more: digital reinvention. Critical success factors are:
- Business projects with business commitment, not IT projects
- Create culture of innovation where air cover is given for teams to fail
- Agile thinking in place of programmes
- Partnerships with benefits for everyone
- Senior/board level focus on talent
Integration across siloes, interoperability and the application of AI are just three examples of what it takes to be ready for highly intensive, full spectrum operations.