The modern battlefield requires constant collaboration — whether between branches of the armed services or different nations. Far too often the challenges aren’t just ones of human connection across miles and cultures, but technological in nature. Poor mission interoperability at the tactical edge can prevent the level of communication necessary between forces and hinder the mission outcome.
“Interoperability is about bringing information from various sources, whether it’s interoperability with legacy sensor systems or effectors or information systems between different force elements in a coalition,” said Dr. Sam McLaughlin, Ph.D., MIETi.
Dr. McLaughlin knows a thing or two about the interoperability challenges faced by the Australian Defence Force (ADF) and its allies. For years, he served on a NATO Federated Mission Networking Syndicate working group that helped establish communication protocols between nations.
In particular, he sees improved interoperability through better processing to be a potential boon for the ADF, who often work closely with personnel from the U.S. and other allies, but don’t all necessarily get their information from the same channels.
“A lot of the information Australia has in its system generally comes from the U.S., but a lot of the time the flow of information is quite slow. To get information into Australia’s deployed systems often requires the information to traverse the world… There’s definitely an opportunity there to speed up the process with more effective interoperability between our systems.”
From the Middle East conflict to aiding NATO
The story of Thales’ work to transform mission interoperability for the ADF begins on the battlefields in the Middle East about a decade ago. In 2011, the team at Thales began providing cores service to NATO and its allies including the ADF, including managing a central set of core services for allies. The principles taken from this beginning have served as a launching point for continued innovation.
Amongst several long-term projects, Thales has been contracted recently to develop the NATO Deployable Communication Information System (DCIS). This communication system is designed to support each NATO country plus several allied affiliates, including the ADF. It will be used by NATO readiness forces to support component level down to brigade level command.
“When you’re dealing with interoperability, you have to be able to deal with it at all levels of the service stack. You have to be able to operate at the transmission level, radio level, through the networking, up through the core services and even the data formats you’re sharing and the applications that sit on top and present information to the end user.”
The principles established by Thales in the Afghan Mission Network (AMN), their continued work with NATO on DCIS, along with support to the ADF across the Middle East, have served as the foundational building blocks for future innovation.
Interoperability at the tactical edge
The common thread throughout both of these projects has been that they improve interoperability at the tactical edge, aiding warfighters and ensuring they have access to up-to-date information.
The ADF and all other militaries deal with similar challenges at the tactical edge.
The goal, as with everything Thales does, is ultimately to aid the warfighter. Improved interoperability means that leaders at the joint or decision-making level can receive real-time data from the field quickly, including information from partners. They can make actionable decisions or relay information to the right person at the right time. Interoperability also aids warfighters working off of otherwise limited information to make their decisions with a fuller understanding of context.
“Getting the processing down with artificial intelligence and machine learning to aid with decision-support — especially if you go into a disconnected mode where you’re operating on your own — you need as much help as you can get,” said McLaughlin.
Ultimately, members of the armed forces make the best decisions they can with the information they have. Mission interoperability just opens up the flow of information at their disposal, hopefully resulting in better, more informed, and safer decisions.
Taking the next step with Nexium Defence Cloud Edge
With the new Nexium Defence Cloud Edge (NDC Edge) platform, developed as part of a collaboration between Thales and Microsoft, McLaughlin and the rest of the team look to continue to address the most pressing interoperability challenges for Australia and its allies. With their work for NATO and the ADF in the Middle East, Thales demonstrated the ability to make technology that supported a coalition. However, NDC Edge will also help support intra-, multi- and cross-domain concerns — creating a smooth flow of information across militaries and countries.
“With interoperability between nations you also naturally get interoperability between your services. Between Army, Navy, Air Force, Cyber and Space,” said McLaughlin.
Kate Maxwell, CTO, Defense and Intelligence, World Wide Public Sector at Microsoft made a similar point. The way she sees it, interoperability is about not only communication between warfighters from various countries but workers across the globe — a position Thales and Microsoft have worked hard to address throughout their collaboration on NDC Edge.
“A modern defence posture requires secure, resilient, cloud-based solutions that enable collaboration and interoperability across an increasingly remote workforce, with coalition partners operating everywhere from headquarters to the tactical edge,” said Maxwell
At this point, technology is moving faster than ever, and rapid adoption by defence forces is vital. Improved mission interoperability will continue to be a key way that militaries rise to the challenge and ensure smooth communication between domains and partner nations.
To learn more about how Thales is helping improve mission effectiveness and interoperability, visit our website.
i Dr. Sam McLaughlin, Ph.D., MIET is Technical Director, Cyber and Information Systems for Thales Australia.