Originally posted on http://www.vmware.com by VMware EMEA

Michael Crowley, EMEA Director Public Sector, VMware

One of the most consistent traits of the human race is that there will always be conflict. It has been the case from as far back in history as you want to trace and the 21st Century world we live in is no different. Indeed, the past decade has seen a return of power politics, inter-country unrest and the resurgence of the potential for major armed combat. But if the pen is mightier than the sword, the keyboard has the potential to cause more damage than any bomb or missile. This is because the acceleration we have seen in digital transformation in warfare – from both friend and foe – is creating a revolution in military affairs.

Armed with intelligence

Intelligence on threats, geographies and other factors have always been at the core of a commander’s decision-making in the field. Having the right information at the right time is key to deciding how to act to achieve superiority. In the past, armed forces dedicated units to gather intelligence, whether mounted or on foot, or in the air. Today information has become plethoric – but the crux is, which information is actionable? It is not only the acquisition, but the processing, analysis and transformation of data into actionable information that is critical. And that may depend on the type of engagement – for example in asymetric warfare what is key to understanding potential terrorist threats is the gathering of small signals which once analysed may draw a picture for a forthcoming attack

Driven forward by a combination of breakthrough technologies and new concepts, how armed forces operate is dramatically evolving. It is now possible to generate, share and exploit huge amounts of data which has paved the way for forces to be armed with the latest technology and intelligence as well as weaponry. This is something we have examined in the Vauban Papers – a series of publications dedicated to the impact of digital transformation on the Armed Forces and the conduct of operations, published by CEIS in partnership with VMware. The papers share best practices on operational digital transformation through a multidomain, multinational, public and private collaboration.

The macro economic landscape means that armed forces are challenged to secure operational superiority with more efficient use of human and material resources but with reduced numbers and shorter reaction times. Superiority is sought in both harsh and inhospitable environments as well as in the cyber space. No surprise then that commanders require accurate, up-to-date, reliable situational assessments, shareable in near-real time with all the players concerned. The British Army is a good example of how this is being done today. It has used Artificial Intelligence (AI) for the first-time during Exercise Spring Storm, as part of Operation Cabrit in Estonia. It’s part of the MOD’s Digital Strategy for Defence, which outlines how the Defence Digital Function will enable seamless access to data by delivering a secure, singular, modern Digital Backbone. This use case is a demonstration of the way new and emerging technologies are aiding the flexibility, reactivity, and manoeuvrability necessary to the concentration of efforts and efficient decision-making. 

Increasing connectivity to reduce the fog of war

Collective communication and coordination is the bedrock for military and operation success. The digitisation of armed forces enables the optimisation of manoeuvres using near-real-time sharing of information and the networking of all players on the battlefield, both at a tactical and strategic level. In doing so, it not only speeds up operations but increases knowledge and understanding of the battlefield to reduce the ‘fog of war’.

Teams can now have an almost instantaneous understanding or anticipation of an adversary’s manoeuvres via information relayed from technical and human sensors. This, in turn, helps with improved decision-making through a shared assessment of the situation. Decisions like accelerating the concentration and deconcentration of forces can be done real-time on accurate data and communicated rapidly to teams in multiple locations or languages. It means that collaborative combat can be leveraged in joint and multi domain warfare covering air, land, sea and cyber.

Digital dependance

While digitisation undeniably contributes to the fluidity of operations, its ultimate impact depends on two essential factors: the existence and availability of data and the network capacity to deliver it down to mission command. In a military context, data refers to all the information which can be collected in the field using human and technical sensors – that’s a phenomenal amount of information that, on its own, is more hindrance than help. To be useful, it must be given meaning and context for the chain of command. This means having efficient and secure IT infrastructures to process this data and use it to derive elements to contribute to improved situational assessment.

Once the data is turned into something useful, it then needs to be exchanged among the field and command centres to become valuable and usable. Powerful, secure, and resilient networks are therefore an essential precondition to the contribution of digital transformation to armed forces’ operational superiority. The critical nature of operational networks places electronic warfare and cyber defence at the very heart of the collaborative combat challenge: to keep control of one’s network while being able to neutralise the adversaries to induce paralysis.

Keeping pace with change

Ironically, in seeking speed of improvement, one of the biggest challenges armed forces face is keeping up with the rate of digital innovation. At a technical level, this poses issues like the continual need to classify and disseminate processed data so that it only goes to the right people at the right time – a ‘need to know’ basis. Success also hinges on all of the different tools and systems being connected, interoperable and resistant to operational conditions with information delivered via a simple and clear digital interface to prevent information overload and cognitive paralysis.

It means that armed forces are in a constant state of flux, adapting command centres to an increasingly faster pace of operations and technological evolutions. Conversely, when the technology fails – from anything from damage, cyberattack or simply loss of network – because of the reliance on technology, troops are often sent out underprepared. This too poses a broader issue namely, the balance of man v machine. No matter the abundance of digital tools within the armed forces, commanders must be cognizant to avoid information overload and understand that digitalisation can support decision-making but must remain subordinate to human command.

Empowering the commanders of the future

Just as the musket, Spitfire, and tank before it, technology has radically changed warfare. It is now down to armed forces to best disseminate how to engage it, and in what manner. And while its use is not without issue – either from within or from enemy force usage, it is clear that being better able to realise mission outcomes through controlled creation, consumption and exploitation of data will improve speed and innovation. In doing so, it will empower the commanders of the future with greater insight and utility, even as the digital environment gets more complex.

What is essential is to empower the mission command with the right information at the right time, so decision are made as quickly as possible to ensure superiority. In our defense world superiority is acquired by the swift and fast actions over the threats. By the same principle, digitisation empowers field commanders making defense organisations more effective and less relying on central command. Please download your copy of the Vauban Papers or for more information on how VMware can support your military operations, please contact me: mcrowley@vmware.com