Today’s battlefield is highly technical and dynamic. We are not only fighting people and weapons but also defending and attacking information at light speed. For mission success, the American warrior in the field and commanders up the chain need the support of highly adaptive systems that can quickly and securely establish reliable communications and deliver real-time intelligence anytime and anywhere.
This is not a new requirement, but it’s becoming ever more pressing with the explosion of the Internet of Things (IoT) and increasing scores of data, which can be both a blessing and a curse for the Defense Department. On one hand, IoT presents tremendous opportunity to deliver unprecedented situational awareness to the warfighter. On the other, this wealth of information threatens to overload systems as well as the warfighter.
Additionally, as seen with the recent exposure of secret military base locations through a fitness-tracking app, sensor-based networks and devices require constant assessment and security protection, as they can provide a window for detection and illicit entry.
Traditional wireless technologies offer a way to maintain basic communications, but the majority of them lack a portable and agile infrastructure. For the Defense Department, safely capitalizing on the opportunity depends upon the ability to quickly deploy and scale information technology infrastructure to manage increased workloads, apply analytics to filter through the flood of data and automate IoT systems management for efficiency. After all, information is only good if it is valid, timely and quickly understood.
Data management and system security issues are exacerbated by another obstacle facing IoT applications: the increased congestion in the available radio frequency spectrum. Over the last few decades of rapid wireless innovations, governments have sliced and diced spectrum allocations. However, the continued explosion of wireless devices makes it necessary to create innovative solutions for spectrum sharing and management, such as using new frequency bands like millimeter wave and analytic techniques to automatically characterize and monitor the growing number of devices. Advances of this kind will enable efficient use of spectrum and ensure information flow is secure, uninterrupted and reliable.
This is particularly important in defense because modern warfare is truly global, regardless of the size of the enemy. Large state armies and small terrorist organizations around the world use the Internet and wireless spectrum as a weapon to attack military, commercial and public systems.
Just as systems and interfaces need to be more adaptable, processors must be rapidly reconfigurable as well. Software-defined radio and software-defined networking provide compelling alternatives to single-mission, black-box solutions. They can be upgraded and maintained remotely and quickly reconfigured for new missions, enabling rapid response to new challenges without the need to deploy new hardware or infrastructure. Modern approaches such as continuous integration environments, more agile repositories, virtualization and containerization tools, and cloud and fog computing can help balance agility with reliability, stability and repeatability.
Faced with the constant evolution of devices and standards, the Defense Department has been making a number of smart infrastructure adjustments.
To reduce the infrastructure size and provide greater operational flexibility and higher bandwidth when and where needed, the Defense Information Systems Agency is working to virtualize networks that leverage commercial Internet technology and distribute storage and processing. The U.S. Army’s Networking Modernization program aims to upgrade systems with the latest equipment and standardize operational networks for greater interoperability. The Army and the Defense Department are also transitioning away from outdated time-division multiplexing networks to the Unified Capabilities platform to lower the total cost of network ownership, but also to boost resiliency and capabilities.
Many of the recent advancements in the defense community mirror innovation in the commercial sector as the Defense Department is starting to embrace the rapid evolution of requirements as inevitable and necessary. Collaboration with private partners can help the agency to deploy the next generation of adaptive systems that can process and provide tactical intelligence dynamically. This will empower our troops with technological advantage, even in the most remote and demanding environments around the world.
Ray Ivie is president of the Integration and Operations Solutions Group at LGS Innovations.