Author: Paul Jordan, New Zealand Country Account Manager
Network centric warfare is all about the integration of data sourced from the various sensors and modern systems deployed across the force. Each node in the network, from full scale radar sensor suites, Electronic Support Measures (ESM) systems, right down to wearable technology on the individual war fighter, potentially yields valuable data which, when integrated across the force, gives the commander a more complete picture when making critical decisions. Thales has teamed up with Microsoft and Dell to develop and produce a capability that makes integration and processing of this data possible in a fielded environment – Nexium Defence Cloud Edge (NDC Edge).
The following short article looks at how NDC Edge aligns with the strategic objectives of the New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) - around secure interoperability and how it could become a force multiplier for future operations, both in the military and non-military domains.
Over the next 2-3 years, the NZDF will introduce into service new capability across all three services. This includes the P8 POSEIDON air surveillance maritime patrol aircraft, the newly modernised ANZAC frigates and the new protected mobility fleet of Bushmaster vehicles.
This introduction will be both challenging and exciting for NZDF personnel, as they learn to operate new capabilities and explore ways to maximise the platforms’ full potential in support of the Chief of Defence Force’s vision of a Networked Combat Force by 2025.
Compatibility and interoperability with partners and allies is a critical part of the future mission of these platforms – perhaps more importantly however, it’s about being interoperable with all other NZ platforms. Imagine a force where all three services seamlessly and fully integrate information gathered from multiple disparate sensors, process the data at a forward location and give the battlefield commander the right information in real time to enable effective decision making.
Collaborative combat in the future will be the total integration of force - platforms, sensors, optronics and personnel – providing a complete battlefield picture for the commanders on the ground to make timely decisions, with every sensor and person networked across the force. NZDF describes their concept of a Networked Combat Force as:
“Operating as a networked combat force is the peak operational expression of the NZDF’s ability to lead the delivery of a Combined Joint Effecti.”
While NZ has a relatively small Defence Force compared to its bigger allies, partners and friends, it operates and delivers many of the same roles and functions. This presents both challenges and opportunities for NZDF in the delivery of its mission. Opportunities exist due to its size – it’s much easier to deploy, be agile and effective with a smaller force with less constraints due to size and complexity. On the other hand, NZDF also doesn’t have full command of the range of assets needed to prosecute the more complex missions. For that reason, NZ generally deploys as part of a coalition force where interoperability with others in the coalition force is critical.
In my former role as CIO of NZDF and in other senior roles in the New Zealand government, I have spent many years contributing as a member on Five Eyes working groups and governance boards, promoting and campaigning for interoperability. It’s not just about setting standards and directing utilisation of the same protocols, it’s about
- making interoperability easy for all elements of the force;
- being able to add new members to a coalition grouping quickly;
- having the ability to support the mission remotely: and
- having the functionality to add new capability in theatre when required.
To achieve these objectives, I see NDC Edge as being a game-changer to interoperability for NZ. NDC Edge’s alignment to Federated Mission Networking (FMN) standards, gives assurance that when NZ plugs into a coalition force environment– to use an analogy - the socket will accept a New Zealand plug at the right voltage.
As a smaller force, we are not immune to the threats faced by our larger partners and allies – especially in the Cyber and Electronic Warfare (EW) domain. Deploying sensitive capability into a hostile environment has always been a challenge for military forces worldwide – the balance of risk versus reward. What happens if the position is overrun? What if the equipment is processing sensitive data and this gets into the wrong hands? Having a zero-trust approach to Cyber protection in the field with NDC Edge reduces this risk significantly and gives assurance to the security community that risks can be effectively mitigated
NZDF also has a long and very proud history of deploying to, and supporting Humanitarian Aid and Disaster Relief (HADR) missions in the Pacific and further afield. Given climate change, it is anticipated that HADR missions will be required on a more regular basis than ever before. NZDF will be preparing and anticipating this in their future planning scenarios. Operating in a non-combat role for NZDF (such as HADR missions) also brings the requirement to operate with other government agencies and NGOs. In a HADR environment, the integration of multiple information sources (both local and those sourced from international partners) are crucial in making decisions on the ground. Drone footage of a cyclone damaged island will help the commander make decisions on the dangers and give the ability to assess the risk of sending rescue teams into a specific area, integration of satellite imagery, meteorological information in the local environment where timeliness is paramount will make all the difference to the mission outcome. Sending the data back to Wellington or another capital because that’s where the processing capability is situated is a thing of the past, especially when you’ve got local assets producing sensor data that needs to be downloaded and processed. Imagine a P8 fly-over an affected region with an NDC Edge on board doing in-flight processing of sensor data, sending results in real time to an NDC Edge deployed on the ground – satellite communications bringing in additional feeds from partner agencies overseas, drone footage being incorporated from local sources and having the ability to combine this information and present it within minutes via a common operating picture.
Last but certainly not least, New Zealand has a vast area of responsibility. It stretches from the harsh and unforgiving environment in the Southern Ocean up to the equally challenging remote areas in the Pacific. Communications across such a vast expanse are difficult and sometimes impossible – for that reason, NZDF has always been innovative about how it gets data from A to B. This has worked up to a point, but with the volume, velocity and variety of data produced by modern Defence sensors in today’s world, something has to be done differently. It’s not enough to channel everything back to Wellington and sit and wait for the answer – processing needs to be done at the tactical edge. That’s where NDC Edge comes in, ticking all the boxes.
When I was in NZDF, my branch had a vision of ‘Defend the networks and Connect the Force’ – never has this been more important than in the current and Future Tactical environment, connecting the force will give mission superiority in the modern battlefield. NDC Edge offers the best opportunity to realise NZDF’s vision of a Networked Combat Force by 2025. Please reach out and let’s start the journey.