Connectivity between systems of systems that all depend on the same C4ISR capability is driving a deep-seated digital transformation within modern land forces. Satellite links, more and more drones and robots deployed on an expanding range of missions (ISR, communication relays, electronic warfare, destruction, engineering, logistics, etc.), sensor networks, central data storage and processing… With all these developments, and the central role played by C4ISR, airland combat is already in the process of going digital.
Each development raises issues such as data protection in the cloud, cybersecurity of connected object on the battlefield, cyberoffensive capabilities and the relentless march of robotic systems. Tomorrow’s engagements will likely see the deployment of an initial line of remotely operated ground, naval or airborne systems, which will be the first to draw enemy fire. These systems will have varying degrees of autonomy, but humans will nonetheless continue to take the final decision in combat situations.
When digital technologies have been fully assimilated into military doctrines, land forces officers will be able to focus on their core tasks of defining and directing tactical or theatre-level manoeuvres in exactly the same way as a combat aircraft pilot, by virtue of the aircraft’s data fusion capabilities, can focus on core air combat tasks. Tomorrow, as connectivity improves (higher data rates, better data security, more interoperability, etc.), combatants and their various levels of command will be able to fight with a virtually complete vision of the battlefield and the actions taken by the different players. This is the promise of the digital transformation.
Unlike Fabrice del Dongo, who could see no further than a few hundred metres in the Battle of Waterloo, future soldiers will share a common vision and know their respective positions.
With sensors everywhere, commanders will direct manoeuvres based on a complete, constantly updated picture of the situation, receiving details about which units are still in action and where supplies (munitions, fuel, etc.) or medical support are needed. Combat units will be ready for action much more quickly and effectively than they can be today. Longer term, cloud-based platforms will use Big Data techniques to analyse data from the field, compare it with data from other situations, and provide ultra-personalised decision support to commanders at both tactical and theatre levels.
Last but not least, digital technologies play a crucial role in training, with advanced simulation techniques helping personnel to learn how to use their equipment long before they are deployed in the field. In the future, as well as taking part in conventional exercises, combat troops will be stationed at “smart barracks”, where they will be able to prepare for combat, actively and continuously, well before they are sent into action. Once again, victory lies in innovation.
This article was written by Philippe Migault and published in the Innovations magazine #6.