By John Oncea, Editor
Two new technologies, as well as a new spin on one legacy technology, are coming to the forefront of the U.S. military’s must-have list.
Military leaders worldwide are constantly looking for data that will allow them to make better decisions, and the stakes couldn’t be higher. Collecting the right data enables soldiers to make more informed decisions sooner while any delay in decision making could be catastrophic.
To that end, military intelligence values technologies that allow them to work smarter, not harder. We’ve looked at several of the technologies in the past including SATCOM and geospatial intelligence. Both of these articles focus on the latest in satellite communications being used by the Department of Defense and the impact the technologies are having on improving defense intelligence.
Of course, there are other technologies, and we’re going to look at three that provide military technology intent on advancing warfighter capabilities by bringing them to the tactical edge. These are edge compute & networking, digital intelligence, and next-generation troposcatter.
Living On The Edge
Booz Allen created a four-part series that examines the rise, implications, and applications of edge computing. Some of the highlights include:
- For the military today, simply getting the IT infrastructure in place isn’t enough. An edge computing framework can shorten data to decisions so warfighters can make informed choices without waiting for validation from central command or a distant server. Edge computing is the bridge—the piece we were missing—that reaches from central command to the frontline vehicle, device, tank, ship, plane, or other sensor the warfighter is carrying. It improves mission performance and minimizes risk for those putting themselves on the line.
- With a common framework and architecture ready for deployment, edge platforms can start communicating. This is where the beauty of decentralized decision making starts to shine. Whether connected or disconnected, SPUs begin to move messages—sharing, processing, analyzing information—across a newly localized, or mesh, network. This network can transmit lifesaving data no matter the environment, so that our soldiers and field operators can stay focused on making safe, informed decisions, without worrying about connectivity.
- One of the Department of Defense’s greatest achievements, if not gifts to the world, was undoubtedly ARPANET, the 1960s predecessor to the modern-day internet. It is the mother of all network effects. Edge computing could be the next great network effect, making a digital battlespace more connected than ever before without reliance on more equipment and gear.
- Ultimately, edge computing solutions in the military can mean increasing survivability and lethality. It helps the nation’s defense organizations make sure that warfighters always have the advantage and are never walking into a fair fight. With edge services, we provide the tactical advantage to ensure overmatch on the next-generation battlefield and widen the near-peer gap.
The entire series is worth checking out.
Digital intelligence, according to Harvard Business Publishing, “Is the set of key skills needed to succeed in a world driven by technology and changing at break-neck speed. It’s not just a requirement for those setting an organization’s high-level strategy. And it’s not about becoming an expert in every — or even any one — aspect of digital technology. Digital Intelligence means having a foundational awareness of the current and emerging digital technologies that can impact an organization—including cyber security, predictive analytics, AI, social media, online collaboration, and work-from-home technology.”
This, of course, applies to any branch of the military. “Throughout America’s involvement in modern warfare,” writes RealClear Defense, “intelligence analysts have been tasked with curating accurate information into actionable intelligence for use in various theaters of war. While analysts often leverage five key sources of military intelligence – human intelligence (HUMINT), signals intelligence (SIGINT), imagery intelligence (IMINT), measurement and signatures intelligence (MASINT), the value of open-source intelligence (OSINT) is often overlooked amidst a culture that generally prefers classified sources.”
Originally derived from print and audio sources, OSINT “now includes publicly available information from a multitude of online social media sites and web platforms and its utility to the warfighter has expanded accordingly.” OSINT allows military leaders to leverage open-source intelligence to “further situational awareness, conduct battle damage assessment, tip and cue collection from other sources, gauge population sentiment, provide targeted insights on violent extremist organizations’ communications, and more.”
OISINT does come with challenges, starting with ensuring “that national security interests and the safety of intelligence analysts are upheld when data is being collected from open sources. Digital intelligence in particular presents unique attribution challenges that must be addressed before the data is exploited. The usefulness of the vast amount of information is limited without a comprehensive understanding of what’s there and how to safely access, filter, and analyze it.”
Another consideration to make when using digital intelligence is to make certain to use a holistic, layering OISINT with the other four sources of intelligence to validate and rate confidence in the information and derived assessments. “It’s important that analysts proactively collect and identify purposefully designed disinformation as it contains critical insights on alternative narratives, what other operatives are attempting to conceal or manipulate, and how that will affect the operational space.”
Finally, to reduce the workload of intelligence teams, “publicly available information and AI/ML-enabled collection and assessment solutions can help fill the gaps and be used in conjunction with other means of collection while requiring minimal additional resources.”
Hello, Old Friend
Tropospheric scatter (also known as troposcatter or tropo), is a communications technology that has existed since the 1950s and was used by the military from 1960 until 2002. But, as they say, everything old is new again.
Driven by concerns about the reliability of tactical satellite communications (Satcom), tropo is making a comeback. “For several decades, satellites were a reliable and secure method of communications that provided strategic services for every branch of the military,” writes Semiconductor Engineering. “However, as the technology of non-allied countries has improved, satellites and Satcom systems are becoming more vulnerable. Many are looking again to troposcatter technology to help ensure critical voice and data communication are transmitted securely around the globe.”
International Defense, Security & Technology (IDST) adds, “Military is interested in Troposcatter communications as it delivers beyond-line-of-sight communications up to a distance of about 200 miles, providing secure, reliable wireless data networks with 100Mbps data transmission speeds almost anywhere in the world, regardless of terrain of operation condition.”
IDST does a fantastic job of explaining the technology, as well as the specific needs and uses of both the U.S. Army and the U.S. Navy.
These are just three of the new technologies the military is fast tracking. Others, according to Exploding Topics, include robotics, hypersonic systems, and 3D printing. In the ever-changing landscape of war, all of these technologies are vital for the military to develop, improve on, and implement to operate safely and effectively both domestically and around the world.
Time To Pay The Piper
Will the military receive the support and funding needed to stay one step ahead of the rest of the world? Congressional Research Service notes that, as of last November, “Members of Congress and Pentagon officials are increasingly focused on developing emerging military technologies to enhance U.S. national security and keep pace with U.S. competitors.” It goes on to note, “The 2022 National Defense Strategy notes that artificial intelligence, quantum science, autonomy, biotechnology, and space technologies have the potential to change warfighting.
“The United States is the leader in developing many of these technologies. However, China and Russia — key strategic competitors — are making steady progress in developing advanced military technologies. As these technologies are integrated into foreign and domestic military forces and deployed, they could hold significant implications for the future of international security writ large and will have to be a significant focus for Congress, both in terms of funding and program oversight.”