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The “Internet of Things” at DoD and Beyond

Published: December 10, 2014

Big DataDEFENSEInnovationInternet of ThingsVA

The “Internet of Things” – the growing interconnectivity of devices, people, and information across communications networks – has major implications for U.S. defense and national security. A recent Pentagon report reveals how some forward-thinking people at the Defense Department are looking to deal with this trend and make it work to their advantage.

There are various definitions of the “Internet of Things” (IoT) but the big picture involves the increasing interconnection of people, systems and devices via of sensor technologies across networked communications infrastructure to increase automation, efficiency, and the breadth of applications. The Pentagon sees this as both a vulnerability and a potential force multiplier that will require technological innovation to harness.

The announcement by outgoing Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel of the Defense Innovation Initiative underscores how much the Pentagon links investment in emerging technologies to the sustained superiority of U.S. defense capabilities. DII priorities appear closely related to a Pentagon-funded, 72-page study entitled Policy Challenges of Accelerating Technological Change: Security Policy and Strategy Implications of Parallel Scientific Revolutions, published in mid-September by the DoD National Defense University’s (NDU) Center for Technology and National Security Policy. The paper looks at the policy, legal, ethical, and strategy implications for national security of the “accelerating … revolutions underway” in the broad areas of biology, robotics, information, nanotechnology, and energy (BRINE).

Part of this technological revolution is the close link between embedded systems and advancements in Information and Communication Technologies (ICT). “As the digital networking of people and devices continues to accelerate, from micro-sensors to global networks, the volume of information online is increasing at an exponential rate … [resulting in] ubiquitous sensing, ubiquitous network access, big data, increasingly sophisticated social media, virtual reality and telepresence, advanced decision- support tools, and exotic computing architectures, such as quantum computers.”

The authors argue that most direct military application of IoT and advanced ICT going forward will be in Command-Control- Communications, Computers and Intelligence-Surveillance-Reconnaissance (C4ISR) and “big data” that is “collected from entities almost everywhere, in real time, through pervasive network access.” However, the report also highlights the challenge of securing all the capabilities, data and infrastructure that IoT brings with it.

The promise of IoT has gained the attention of multiple sectors beyond defense, both inside and outside government. The Department of Veterans Affairs is looking to further leverage tracking technologies to help it better manage its healthcare services – like monitoring clinicians hygiene practices, streamlining operational workflows, and even locating wandering patients. A recent FCW article highlighted a Harvard Business Review study sponsored by Verizon Connected Solutions-IoT and concluded that while growing IoT is helping organizations be more responsive, collaborative and efficient, the expansion of data collection has fast outpaced the policy evolution that would govern the norms of such collection and usage.

For the DoD and beyond, there appears to be no turning back when it comes to IoT and future superiority. The authors conclude that “for DoD to remain the world’s preeminent military force, it must redefine its culture and organizational processes to become more networked, nimble, and knowledge-based.”