DoD needs to expand initiatives to harness Internet of things

The Defense Department could be saving money and increasing efficiency with the Internet of Things, it just needs to broaden some of its ideas, states a new rep...

The Defense Department needs to build-out some tactics and programs it is already using to harness the Internet of things.

Further investments in technologies that enable the Internet of things (IoT) products and contracting companies to provide and deliver services are two ways the military can leverage the IoT realm, states a new study by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).

IoT is the connection of everyday objects to the Internet. Those objects then become smart devices that can learn from the data they collect or can be operated remotely. One of the more salient examples is the Nest thermostat. Nest collects data on when residents are not at home or when residents are likely to change the temperature and adjusts to save money and for comfort. The thermostat can also be operated from a smartphone.

The military uses IoT technologies mostly for combat applications. It uses sensors on airplanes, soldiers, satellites and other vehicles to provide situational awareness to commanders and warfighters. On a lesser scale it uses IoT for noncombat roles like using radio-frequency identification tags to track shipments and manage inventories.

DoD has tried to embrace the growing technological trends in its third offset strategy, which was announced last year. In the strategy the department is investing heavily in cyber and space and partnering with tech companies in Silicon Valley, California, to keep the United States technologically superior to other countries in the defense sphere.

One of the focuses of the strategy is incorporating man-machine technologies and using automation to perform tasks, a job that can be performed by IoT.

The CSIS study states, however, that there are significant gaps in existing and planned military IoT systems. The report states that few military systems leverage the full IoT stack “from connected sensors to digital analytics and automated response.” Furthermore, much of the data collection and sharing is never analyzed and entered manually.

“Much of the value of IoT is also generated by automation, allowing systems to react more quickly and precisely to data than can human beings, but few military systems include fully automated responses,” the report states.

Senior CSIS fellow Gen. James Cartwright said accepting and integrating new technologies is a process for DoD.

“Making transitions like this like going through mourning first there’s denial, second you compete with the activities and in its most mature stages you finally learn to partner with it,” Cartwright said during a Nov. 12 speech at CSIS. “Go back to [Deep] Blue and chess, man competing against the learning machine, go back to Watson, again man competing with the learning machine, but now what [Deputy Defense] Secretary [Bob] Work and the department have put out is it’s time to move the department to that mature stage of partnering with these machines.”

The study states that DoD should expand some of the initiatives it is trying to put in place with the third offset strategy.

The study suggests a technology test-bed comprised of active military personnel in a live training environment to identify and experiment technologies that could transform the way the military works. The DoD chief information officer has suggested something similar to this, but on a much smaller scale in the form of testing software and applications.

The study also recommends using platform-as-service contracting, meaning the military will contract with companies to deliver web-based services. That way DoD will not have to build the infrastructure and rely on the government acquisition system to keep materials up to date.

DoD is already using this formula for its cloud services. The department components and military services are able to procure their own cloud services from preapproved companies.

The CSIS study states that DoD should invest in resilient, flexible capabilities to extend Internet connectivity in denied areas like high altitude communication relay platforms. It states that DoD could also save $700 million a year or more using smart thermostats on bases.

Of course there are challenges to implementing IoT in every aspect of DoD. Cybersecurity is the most glaring issue. If military equipment is hacked, all of its data and remote control could go to an adversary.

Additionally, electronic warfare can shut down electronically dependent devices, insider threats can allow access to systems and the more DoD relies on electronics the harder it is to extend cyber protection to such a vast number of devices.

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