Demand for digital is on the rise and military organizations are responding in quick timeStory
September 13, 2021
By Graham Grose, IFS
Despite an uncertain business climate, defense spending in the upcoming years is forecasted to remain in alignment with previous years; in some regions the figure is even escalating. Three specific initiatives will drive the future of defense logistics and build that all-important digital backbone for military – live-asset usage data, disconnected or “anywhere” military operations, and sustainability goals.
Recent years have left a number of industries facing instability and uncertainty; for the defense sector, however, the experience has been a wake-up call. With budgets relatively unaffected, pressure to change has come from elsewhere. Investments into advanced technology rather than traditional methods have been essential, as social distancing and remote working have demanded new-found collaboration methods from military organizations.
The accelerated adoption of technology has enabled military organizations and their in-service support partners to accumulate a wealth of useful data throughout their assets, people and software. Underpinned by this data foundation, there are three crucial developments I believe will shape defense logistics and support going forward and that will help build and enhance the essential digital backbone needed to support service delivery.
- Predictive maintenance – finally AI, machine learning, and predictive analytics is no longer just a theory
The possibilities offered by AI [artificial intelligence] and predictive analytics have been discussed considerably by military, industry, and academic commentators in recent years. But now, we are realistically closer than ever to converting these principles into actual maintenance strategies to revolutionize military-asset readiness.
The U.S. Congressional Research Service recently published a paper (https://fas.org/sgp/crs/natsec/R45178.pdf) summarizing how AI will influence national security in the future. The paper confirms that progressive research is underway in the fields of intelligence collection and analysis, logistics, cyber and information operations, and in a variety of semi-autonomous and autonomous vehicles. AI has already seen action in military operations in Syria and Iraq, while within the U.K. Ministry of Defense (MOD), a vision for the transformation of the British Army for the digital age, predicting human-machine partnerships would be “commonplace” by 2025 has been shared by General Sir Mark Carleton-Smith, chief of the general staff.
5G is a key facilitator for practical AI for military operations – its connectivity along with other proliferations of technology enables users to have near-real-time data exchange and paves the way for live maintenance updates from military assets such as aircraft or vehicles. These updates can then be fed back into a logistics system, which will then optimize maintenance personnel on the ground to make seamless scheduled or even unexpected repairs.
Incorporating machine learning is the next step in making maintenance as predictive as possible, bringing the ability to combine this data and use AI to simulate assets in a digital twin environment. Add in pre-set requirements such as number of sortie hours required of individual assets, and AI and machine learning will allow OEMs and military organizations to simulate wear on critical components such as engines in a fully digital environment. These models can then be used to inform decision-making for the physical asset – turning simulated data into an “on the ground” strategic advantage.
- Disconnected operations become a reality – anywhere, anytime
Even in this current digital age, constant connectivity will not always be possible, which means that data analysis in real time will also be unachievable – and these situations will occur nowhere more so than in military operations. Gartner projects that “anywhere operations” is an emerging strategic technology trend of 2021, not just for defense but for all industries. The Gartner report defines anywhere operations as “an IT operating model designed to support customers everywhere, enable employees everywhere, and manage the deployment of business services across distributed infrastructures.”
The military – perhaps the sector with the most pressing strategic need to embrace the idea of so-called anywhere operations – often performs mission-critical disconnected operations in difficult-to-reach locations beyond a forward operating base. Optimizing operations in such a disconnected setting means racing data back from these forward operating bases to a main operating base with the connectivity to inform maintenance and repair requirements.
But AI, machine learning, and predictive analytic capabilities cannot enhance maintenance cycles without data to work with – so this is where data connectivity is essential. Therefore, in the upcoming period we can expect to see greater focus on supporting always-on software that collects data in the field then uploads, syncs, and acts on that information when an asset returns to base.
- The strategic objective – sustainable operations
Due to the nature of the defense sector, militaries and their in-service support partners may have felt immune from the area of sustainability, but times are changing, and sustainability will be subject to increased focus and examination in the future.
In August 2020, a joint U.K. MoD/industry white paper (https://www.kbr.com/en/insights-events/thought-leadership/roadmap-sustainable-defence-support) was released, called “Roadmap for Sustainable Defence Support”; the paper outlined the MOD drive to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. For their parts, the Swedish armed forces is committed to making changes based on the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) of the UN Agenda 2030, while the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has published a comprehensive sustainability report and implementation plan to fully outline a comprehensive approach to sustainability.
Logistics and support will play a core role in introducing sustainable operations and will be a force-wide undertaking. For this reason, Lieutenant General Richard Wardlaw, Chief of Defense Logistics and Support at the U.K. MOD, has gone on record with the University of Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership – and at an interim briefing as part of the Defense Information Defense Sustainability Conference – to outline the strategic implications of climate change for the British army.
Assessing sustainability efforts from a logistics perspective also keys into the increasingly data-driven environment military organizations are introducing: First, more efficient asset management in terms of predictive maintenance will vastly reduce the logistics footprint associated with supporting complex equipment such as aircraft and vehicles. Next, the same software components that use data streams to help track asset performance and assess financial costs can track environmental costs as well. Environmental impacts can be assigned to each asset and rolled up into a reporting structure to detail the overall environmental impacts of military operations.
Three developments – one common theme
The effects of COVID-19 have varied by industry, but for the military, it has fast-tracked digital transformation. Now, the priority for military organizations and defense in-service support providers is consolidating their digital initiatives; without proper software infrastructure in place, these organizations cannot unlock the full potential of this digital backbone.
There is a recurring digital theme connecting these three developments, despite their varying application – the interdependence on data collection, access, and analysis – to offer front-line soldiers, maintenance personnel, and commanders alike a comprehensive picture of military operations.
Graham Grose is Vice President and Industry Director, IFS. He has specialized in the supply of logistics IS tools in a variety of senior appointments within Sema, BAeSEMA, BAe, BAE Systems, and IFS since leaving the RAF in 1991, where he was a supply officer serving in a variety of operational and IS appointments. He is also a Fellow of the Institute of Management Accountants and a Member of the Chartered Institute of Purchasing and Supply.
IFS • https://www.ifs.com/