Data: the golden thread of military defence
PA Consulting’s Tim Smail, digital expert, and Paul Finley, defence sector expert, discuss data in defence in Computer Weekly.
Commenting on this, Tim says: “Defence is rightly focussed on establishing intelligence systems that provide insights on threats and give advantage on the battlefield, this means harnessing massive volumes of data from different sources and processing it at speed using hyperscale cloud environments and artificial intelligence. There is enormous opportunity in the application of these skills in enabling functions. And one area in which the opportunity is being pursued is defence support.”
Paul adds: “Attitudes to data have changed rapidly over the past 5-10 years and we are not starting at ground zero. We’ve always used data to run supply chains in ERP systems. But what defence is now pursuing is the value of data as a strategic asset, and we find people are talking about it in these terms. Maybe 10 years ago they wouldn’t. The sector has always recognised the critical importance of mission data, from birth of radar to using real life information to conduct information [warfare]. The challenge now is to carry that use of data beyond the the front line, into the day-to-day work of running the defence “business” and to industry.”
When asked about challenges to data in defence, Paul explains: “Just because you have segmented data in a certain way doesn’t mean you can’t draw across different segments to answer questions. There are some significant further opportunities there. As newer assets go into service, there will be more telemetry on them. What are the big data patterns across the fleet? What are the operating conditions that can be automated through AI and ML, and how can an AI engine learn what gets assets in a serviceable state to the front line? The potential for data is recognised in the UK’s Defence Command Paper, which talks about the need to build systems that work together to leverage the value of data.”
Paul concludes: “With older kit, it is much harder to extract data and it is invasive to fit telemetry, newer kit will continually deliver new opportunities. For example in maritime, the Type 26 [frigate] will have three times as many data points as the Royal Navy’s aircraft carriers, but on a much smaller platform… When building these assets, they are architected to have more communications across systems of systems, and to supply larger and larger amounts of data to exploit.”