In combat, there’s no theatre quite like the open sea. Ships may be hundreds, even thousands of kilometers away from each other and bases. This can pose unique challenges, as Andy Kirkpatrick, Director of Sales and Marketing Digital Systems at Thales Australia, a naval veteran and an OAM recipient, knows well.
These persistent challenges come as the Royal Australian Navy (RAN) is focused on growing in size, seeking to add nearly 5,000 new members by 2035, while enabling faster decisions and operating at the tactical edge, or the times when personnel are most at risk — in the navy’s case, deep at sea. In addition to boosting communication capabilities within the RAN, leadership is hoping to improve interoperability with other parts of the military and our allies
According to Kirkpatrick, while soldiers in a land environment can count on multiple communication solutions to keep them connected to the strategic environment at all times, the Navy also faces even greater challenges whilst at sea.
“The Navy has one core IT / Communication system they use all of the time. They live and breathe on the same system across the different [security] classification levels at all times, from unclassified all the way to secret and above, to do their job.”
This causes a challenge because certain functions / departments of the same ship need to segment themselves securely, and yet still be connected to each other and the rest of the military enclaves.
“The Navy currently relies on a hub and spoke type connection. They communicate from a shore site to a satellite, out to a ship.”
So how can new technologies, like Thales’ Nexium Defence Cloud Edge (NDC Edge), help to close the gap?
Before the Warfighter can make the right decisions, they need the right information — preferably from as many sources as possible. The unique interoperability challenges whilst at sea make this difficult. Naval ships are more likely to be siloed off from other combat forces.
The interoperability challenge becomes more pronounced when operating with allies, who may use different systems that make information sharing difficult. Lloyd Hewitt, Senior Business Program Manager, Defense & Intelligence, Microsoft Worldwide Public Sector, and Royal Navy (U.K.) and Australian Defence Force veteran, remembers a specific incident from his time in the military that struck a chord.
“I recall a 6-month deployment where 27 ships from a range of NATO nations were operating together and the amount of resources we shared could be counted on one hand. Information sharing and the interoperability that it enables is at the heart of solving this problem.”
This limited level of communication is, obviously, far from optimal.
“The ideal is for a shared common operating picture across the forces, where decisions at all levels are made on a shared understanding. To work in a multinational capacity, to integrate with legacy systems and be interoperable in all of these different areas was super important,” Hewitt added.
There is ample opportunity for the RAN to simulate scenarios with its allies. The most recent iteration of the Talisman Sabre 21, a joint exercise with the militaries of the U.S., Canada, Japan and South Korea, for example, saw the RAN perform multi-domain operations to test its capabilities. Such efforts could be improved upon further with new technology.
Improved decision making
Of course, with better interoperability and information comes more effective decision making. To succeed, the naval Warfighter needs decision superiority, or the ability to make decisions and act on them faster than an adversary. Being able to quickly disseminate information is the key to achieving this.
“The increasing sophistication of modern weapons and information systems is significantly shortening the decision cycle required to successfully defend against their threats. So, this is where being able to make those decisions much quicker and faster is essential. If you have decision superiority, you can gain information dominance,” said Kirkpatrick.
In addition to ensuring that Warfighters have all available information when making life or death decisions, systems like NDC Edge add new capabilities. Increasing amounts of data are needed to make smart decisions and, as result, modern warfighting often operates at a pace faster than what human analysis and decisions can support unaided. As a result, sailors need access to new technology that can help them interpret actionable information vast amounts of data at the edge. For example, when conducting mine counter measure operations with autonomous underwater vehicles, the Navy needs to be able to interpret information whilst at sea, due to reaction time and autonomy, and not have to rely on sending data back to shore.
Addressing the challenges of the sea with Nexium Defence Cloud Edge
The new NDC Edge platform, developed as part of a collaboration between Thales and Microsoft, aims to empower the Navy with technology at the tactical edge that puts intelligence into context, informs decisions, and connects military teams with relevant information.
Today, far too many military systems are developed and operated through an array of stove-piped solutions and programs. Their capabilities and associated platforms are not always fully integrated, at either the Intra- or Multi-Domain levels. NDC Edge moves away from stove-piped proprietary solutions and embraces an open and unified architecture philosophy that allows for easy capability insertions as technologies evolve to remain evergreen.
With this open architecture approach, the Warfighter is able to integrate additional hardware into the NDC Edge infrastructure or when connecting new sensors seamlessly, and share resources throughout the Naval platform which increases capability at the tactical edge.
This solution was built to provide information processing and smart analytics at the Edge and give the Warfighter the support they need, whether they’re on land or the open sea.
The new emphasis on improving the fluidity of communication (be that ship to shore or between battlegroup carriers) will improve the Navy’s ability to complete difficult missions. NDC Edge can be an important part of the solution.
Find out how Thales Nexium Defence Cloud Edge can increase mission effectiveness visit: NDC Edge.