The importance of data velocity in a connected battlefield
Tue 1 Nov 2016
The press often like to talk about the Internet of Things (IoT) as if it were new technology. In many cases, it’s a new buzzword for internet-worked machine-to-machine (M2M) communication, which is nothing new in itself. It tends to sit on a cloud computing platform to collate, analyse and share large volumes of data from sensors, actuators and from a variety of smart devices. In essence, it is defined as having a mobile, virtual and instantaneous connection to just about anything and everything – including cars, houses, fridges, aircraft and street or domestic lighting.
It is also being used in military applications. In fact, an extension of this technology is the connected battlefield. The U.S Navy, the U.S army, the Israeli air force, the British Army and other military forces around the world are investing in it. They are doing this because today’s battlefield requires connectivity for effective and efficient command and control. In order to maintain the ability to strategically communicate with headquarters, naval ships, soldiers on the ground, aircraft on a mission, tanks and missile systems, a range of sensors and connected devices are being used.
There is an increasing need for secure and high-speed data communications
Nothing should get in the way of the systems involved, and yet network latency can make supposedly real-time data, into outdated data that can lead to the wrong decisions being made. Latency can be an unseen killer of one’s own forces. However, accurate and timely data, as well as true real-time data analysis, can lead to a strategic advantage that could make the difference between winning a battle, and losing it.
To make matters complicated Cisco estimated in 2013 that there will be 50 billion devices connected to the internet by 2020, and by then they will use artificial intelligence to analyse, plan, manage and make intelligence decisions autonomously to protect service personnel in action.
Live and die by information
Commanders live and die by information obtained during a battle and, with the ever increasing speed and mobility of modern warfare, it is essential to cut through the fog of war and to get the right information back in a timely manner to the right decision-makers. The proportion of information systems required to support troops on the ground, pilots in the air and naval seaman is increasing year by year. They always say a war is won by the side that loses the slowest and logistics plays a key role in that.
The Americans and Russians showed us this during World War II, and so logistics and replacing battlefield attrition is vital to success. It is also rare to see a command post without rows of secure laptops connected to the front line these days, and there are often command and control systems further back at headquarters that are connected to larger and larger intelligence sieving systems using artificial intelligence. Subsequently, there is an increasing need for secure and high-speed data communications.
Modern communication equipment has the potential to transport data across the world at speeds once thought impossible
IoT is moving to the battlefield with the ability to have thousands of sensors monitoring a whole myriad of things, and with all of this data being received by the command centres, understanding the intelligence buried in these vast amounts of data is as essential as it is in the commercial sector’s big data initiatives – and there is a prerequisite to understanding and appropriately managing the four Vs of Big data: Volume, Variety, Velocity and Veracity.
The lessons of history
History is riddled with one section of the armed forces, not communicating or coordinating with one another with horrendous consequences, and so a modern connected fighting force needs to work as one single coordinated unit. This would enable units to share both data and intelligence to reduce risk while increasing the chances of military success.
Of the four Vs, data velocity is particularly vital because the more up-to-date the data is, the more invaluable it will be to a military commander. However, as data comes in different varieties, there is a need have the capability to check its veracity, to ensure that the information gleaned from it is accurate. Volume poses an ever greater challenge today because data volumes are ever-increasing – creating noise.
Modern communication equipment has the potential to transport data across the world at speeds once thought impossible. However, with military forces operating in different parts of the world, the data has to bounce off satellites and stream through fibre optic cables.
For security reasons, it has to be encrypted. This can slow down the data flows to a trickle, due to the nature of the underlying protocols used in the connected battlefield, TCP/IP, and the performance downgrading it suffers with high latency networks.
Artificial intelligence is needed to define what is useful and what is likely to be just noise
The problem with many techniques used to improve the performance over these long latency networks – compression is ineffective when used with data that is already compressed such as video data or encrypted data. To be effective and efficient in moving data, other techniques have to be embraced.
Traditional WAN optimisation techniques will also do little to create the desired data velocity, and so military forces should deploy solutions such as PORTrockIT to reduce the effects of network latency and to minimise data packet loss.
The key: interconnectivity
Not all data is created equal. Artificial intelligence is needed to define what is useful and what is likely to be just noise, preventing time from being wasted. It’s also important to recollect that compressed and encrypted data will always slow down the speed of the data unless other data acceleration techniques are used to maintain data velocity.
Nevertheless, in the long term, mobile military cloud facilities will drive forward the connected battlefield. This may involve different types of cloud models, but connecting them will be key to military success.