Gaining military advantage with 5G

“We shall get a big pipe with 5G.  And there’s no doubt we shall fill it.”

However, the greatest concern expressed by one of the panellists at SPADE this week is how they put the right things on it.  SPADE is an annual defence and security event.  This year it is being held at Soestduinen in the Netherlands, sponsored by IBM, Samsung and others.

One high priority domestic opportunity that 5G affords is for disaster relief because it helps the citizen most.  Responders can optimise logistics to get equipment in and insurers resolve claims quickly.  5G offers high network bandwidth with low latency.  Its emergence is coupled with increasing storage capacity at the edge.  Furthermore, analytics and AI are part of this ecosystem to deliver quality and timely information as situations unfold.  5G is also here today, with the first operational network running in South Korea.

Opportunities for defence

In a military context, 5G offers data supremacy on the battlefield.  All the information a commander needs becomes accessible on a mobile device powered by 5G.  Drones and vehicles can extend the network from the physical endpoint into the battlefield much more cheaply than using today’s dedicated and more limited radio communications.  Such networks are set up ad hoc allowing much more operational flexibility at the tactical edge.  In addition, each endpoint both receives and transmits.  This offers greater resilience than is possible today, and an ability to create local ‘supercomputers’ by linking devices without needing to connect back.  It speeds up local decision making and changes how we fight.

5G is the enabler for integrating AI.  Data can be processed and analysed at the edge, but network bandwidth also allows data to be brought back for searching.  The proportion of data captured by sensors that can be exploited goes up.

This combination of 5G and AI presents greater insight at the edge.  Common operating pictures are become richer, more relevant and current.  For example, targeting data is accessible faster to make a decision and act before the target has gone.

Furthermore, there is the chance to undertake command and control differently.  Placing more decision making power is in the hands of the platoon leader reduces the need for so many headquarters.  Spending could be redirected in favour of more combat soldiers.  For example, 6-7 people support each person in combat in the US Department of Defense today.  Could that ratio be halved?

Evolving security

The attack surface will become larger because of greater and wider use of technology with 5G.  Growth in the number of devices and the rise of the Internet of Things increases perimeter so security will need to be approached from a perspective of zero trust.  However, 5G overcomes 4G’s omni-directional limitation and its variable bands make it hard to jam the network.

Our current approach to security is based on the notion of defending the centre.  We try to make mobiles as secure as the centre with its perimeter.  However, 5G is designed around the end user, and perimeters become ad hoc with pop up 5G networks.  Consequently, there is a shift away from classic network architectures and security designs.  This presents challenges today that need tackling to realise the true value of 5G.

One example is who gets access to the networks?   Assured identity challenges will need tackling as networks become fluid, meshed and disconnected because we have centralised identity services today.  Phones carrying our identity may be part of the answer.

It is no longer good enough to secure networks and endpoints rather than the entire system.  5G allows a single security system without an operating system.  This may well change cyber economics because today adversaries apply most focus to exploiting the operating system, and the defender has a greater opportunity at lower cost to disrupt the attack.

The need for separate military-only networks might disappear with 5G, no longer cost effective.  They would span 99% of a geographic area for a small subscriber base if Government did choose to allocate dedicated spectrum.  On the other hand, a telco has a large subscriber base and focussed on covering 99% of population.  Furthermore, an ability to use consumer devices in the military drives down cost.

It is possible that the benefits of 5G will accrue to businesses and governments first rather than consumers and this will drive rollout.  One example could be rural areas to deliver a better emergency response.

Re-training the workforce

Defence departments face challenges today with the time it takes to get authority to operate – achieving compliance to put an application on the network.  This will need a change the mindset by the custodians of network security to one that understands the evolving threat and applies risk management.  Change management is necessary to bring in new security architecture.

Access to a labour force is a growing problem with an ageing population in many developed countries.  People are the biggest cost driver and 5G offers opportunities for savings.  Redistributing and re-skilling the workforce are options.  Border control could become agentless at the gates with image recognition powered by AI on 5G, with lower centralised human support.  Network specialists could be re-deployed to the edge as network and cyber experts on the battlefield, recognising that two battles may now need to be fought in the first mile.

5G is rolling out today and the opportunities are limited only by our imagination.  But there are challenges for defence departments that need to be tackled.  Training for 5G will take time.  We need to start now.

 

Re-thinking defence and security for the digital age

Strategic threats

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?

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Informed decision making

blog data

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

Reinvention

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:

  1. Business projects with business commitment, not IT projects
  2. Create culture of innovation where air cover is given for teams to fail
  3. Agile thinking in place of programmes
  4. Partnerships with benefits for everyone
  5. 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.