Keeping Up With the Information Age

In January, we discussed how the U.S. military’s ability to create value from the Internet of Things (IoT) is key to have an edge on the battlefield. Today, we’ll look at the technology that is helping militaries keep up with the growing amount of IoT-created information

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IDC’s Digital Universe study predicts that the world’s data will amount to 44 zettabytes by 2020.

To put this in perspective, today’s smartphones have 32 gigabytes of data capacity. To get to one zettabyte, you would have to fill about 44 billion smartphones with data. 

Managing this snowballing amount of data requires advanced technology. 

Currently, the U.S. military relies on complex command centers, such as the U.S. Air Force’s Air Operations Centers (AOC), to consolidate massive amounts of data and stich together a clear picture. The AOC manages virtually everything flown by U.S. military forces, collecting more than 200 different sources of data.

And it’s not just the U.S. military that is relying on technology solutions to stay ahead of the information age. 


 

International Perspective

Armed forces around the world are implementing strategies that take advantage of interconnected devices, such as Australia’s Plan Jericho.  

Given the growth of IoT devices, it should come as no surprise that armed forces are asking themselves, “How can we evolve our techniques, tactics and technology to better leverage the growing amount of information?”

Plan Jericho is the Royal Australian Air Force’s plan to transform into an integrated, technology-savvy force that is capable of fighting and winning in 2025.

 


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Automating the Process

Consider the following quote from the 2015 Army Research Laboratory report

“…humans will simply be unable to keep up with information flows and the pace of the battle as they do not have sufficient information-processing capabilities and cognitive bandwidth.”

Today, due to the depth and speed of inbound data, complex systems (such as the AOC) rely on autonomous technology to help quickly stream info from multiple air, ground and space platforms and disseminate the most critical information to commanders and troops. 

“Automation makes it easier for operators to understand what’s going on and react to it,” said Clark. “Now, our systems automatically assess the paths of their targets so commanders can visually determine how they are doing against that plan.”

And ultimately, automation technology could one day help humans directly respond to cyber and space warfare, which happens so quickly that an infrastructure could be crippled before a human reacts.

But it hasn't always been this simple.


 

Looking Back: 1990   

Before automation, Lt. Col. (Ret.) Wes Clark, a pilot with the U.S. Air Force during the first U.S. conflict in Iraq in the early 1990s, recalls the challenges in building and disseminating orders in a timely fashion.

“We had difficulty updating orders sent to commanders, and last minute changes resulted in spreadsheets and other work around to track the most current information.

All data was saved to a computer disk and transported via helicopter to commanders, and then printed on more than 200 pages.

There was no way to visualize or see the overall battle plan.” 

 


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Information Overload

Even with automation, drowning in information can be a real problem.

Let’s revisit the AOC. The center is operating in an increasingly challenging environment with high volumes of incoming data from fighters, tankers, unmanned aerial vehicles—you name it.

To improve the center’s ability to absorb information, Lockheed Martin is overhauling its “engine”—the Theater Battle Management Core Systems (TBMCS).

The company is creating a new system that will incorporate customizable applications and open architecture.

These applications will shrink the command center and expand their mobility, so warfighters can take the information on the go. And the open architecture will allow for incorporating new software and hardware that will respond to new threats, such as cyber threats, much quicker.

See other ways the AOC is being modernized.

“With the right tools to collect, manage, and disseminate the information to the right place at the right time, commanders will be able to make the right decisions—ultimately saving lives,” said Wendy Collison, director, command and control solutions at Lockheed Martin.


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