Digital transformation is happening in every sector of our day-to-day lives. For most people, having constant access to an endless stream of information with the click of a button is a given — information they then use to make informed decisions. So why isn’t this true at the tactical edge?
Jason Legge, Director of Digital Innovation for Thales Australia, wants to take the agility and ready information of the commercial world and move it into the military context. Looking to the future, he believes the Nexium Defence Cloud Edge (NDC Edge) can be a step in the right direction. The platform addresses the security concerns of the Australian Defence Force (ADF) while still allowing for the continued flow of information. The result? Improved in-theatre collaboration, with the infrastructure for continued innovation and growth.
Here are some of the other current trends Legge sees becoming the future of Intelligence on the battlefield.
Intelligence sharing between domains
Moving forward, Legge expects militaries to continue the shift from siloed intelligence systems to open ones that pull data from multiple commands. The practical considerations of doing this, however, can get challenging. So much so that Legge describes it as “one of the hardest things to do.”
“That interconnected capability is the utopia of transfer of intelligence, central to collaborative combat and sharing of information between forces” he added.
NDC Edge takes a big step towards Legge’s “utopia.” The platform is designed to be an open, integrated system that can be used for multiple applications. The system takes advantage of current strategies, like creating new mission form factors, that are then capable of being rapidly deployed in either a Fixed, Deployed or Mobile environment for the dismounted Defence operator.
To integrate with as much as the current and future infrastructure as possible, Thales is constantly working with other specialist companies making communication equipment for the battlefield. Solutions need to be constantly evolving and replicable in a larger context. Faster evolution is the goal.
“It doesn’t matter what the system is," Legge said. "We’re working with both large global companies like Microsoft, to small technology start-ups in Australia such as ArchTIS, Myriad Technologies and Fortifyedge, and that’s what’s going to deliver an effective and secure solution.”
Improved decision-making capabilities
Quality of communication service is always a struggle on the battlefield. This limits what data soldiers can share and forces them to be thoughtful with the intelligence to send.
“You’ve got a balance between what’s going to help the warfighter and what’s possible in theatre," Legge said. "Although you may be able to make a connection, it may be at the detriment of some other warfighter application or some other lifesaving system or process. There has to be a balance, a very difficult balance.”
Communication channels between each piece — be it drones, vehicles or radios — is delicate. A solution that enables interoperability is the ideal. Aligning these disparate channels, as well as multiple commands, gives decision-makers and the warfighter a better idea of what’s going on so they can make informed decisions.
The battlefield isn’t the only place where Legge sees applications for new technology and improved communication capabilities. Militaries like the ADF often serve as key responders during natural disasters and other humanitarian crises. Legge cites recent bushfires across Australia as an example.
“Because of satellite imagery we were aware of where the dangerous burns were happening inside the fire front, but we couldn’t always get that information relayed fast enough to the firefighters on the ground," he noted. "The exact same principle happens in theatre. A Defence Operator needs relevant and timely information and not to be hindered by information overload nor network outages.”
Ultimately, while a technological step forward, NDC Edge uses cloud computing and AI with a human-centric goal in mind: ensuring soldiers have the information they need to make the best decisions possible. Rather than taking decision-making out of the hands of the warfighter, NDC Edge uses automation as a tool for empowerment.
Looking to the past while moving forward
The key to new innovation is taking the realistic factors on the ground into consideration — and not simply developing technology for ideal scenarios. Many parts of legacy systems have become essential to the warfighter and cannot simply be thrown out because of the arrival of new technologies. For that reason, NDC Edge is designed to integrate with and build upon legacy systems. Legacy systems, rather than being fully replaced, can be integrated into the new platform for a smooth transition towards the future.
Rather than being a hindrance, Legge sees the practical use of legacy systems and past innovation as a way to speed up the pace of future innovation. Militaries can continue to build upon and add new capabilities to the infrastructure without negatively impacting the warfighter.
As an example of similar thinking, Legge cites a U.S. commander in Iraq he spoke with recently. At the time he started in Iraq, the commander found that he had limited staff and sensors in some parts of the country. Undeterred, the commander looked to develop something new with the resources he already had.
“He came up with a way to do a remote deployment that could operate on its own and provide him with a secondary picture," Legge said. "He got that secondary picture of information and it became critical to the operation.”
Legge sees the commander’s key strength not only in the fact that he addressed a problem, but recognised he had a gap to begin with and worked towards a solution.
“We need to be always cognisant of what’s happened in the past and what the advantage of that will be in the future," Legge said. "And to always advance, always innovate, and always deliver something new and secure to the battlefield.
Click here to learn how Nexium Defence Cloud Edge is supporting the future battlefield.