Internet of Things in the Battle Space – Challenges and Opportunities

Published: May 25, 2016

ARMYBig DataDEFENSEInternet of Things

The Internet of Things (IoT) is well underway at various defense and national security organizations, as well as within the private sector. The potential to exploit all this interconnectedness presents both opportunities and challenges to the Department of Defense, according to an Army leader in charge of Strategic Integration.

IoT is an increasingly popular term for the interconnectedness of all the various things – devices, sensors, and digital communications – across IP networks.  Leveraging this growing interconnectedness is already underway at the various defense and national security organizations within the US federal government.

At a recent AFCEA-DC Internet of Things Summit John Pellegrino, Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Army for Strategic Integration, gave a keynote that presented the challenges faced by the warfighter in real-world tactical and in-garrison situations and what IoT industry solutions are available to achieve mission objectives.

Pellegrino noted that the Army and other defense components are using IoT technologies at military installations to aid with management of the enterprise in areas like energy and natural resources management, where they are achieving energy and water consumption reductions by roughly 25% each in the last decade or more through the use of smart metering and other early IoT technologies. They are also using IoT to increase their use of renewal energy sources.

But the “Internet of battle things,” as Pellegrino referred to it, that comprise the tactical battles space – the munitions, sensors, weapons, vehicles, wearables, robots, etc. – continues to grow in diversity. Here is where the difference in scale between private sector IoT and the military arena is especially pronounced. The amount of battle space data is massive and the constraints of limited bandwidth and intermittent connectivity are complicated by the sheer number of devices and sensors that need to be utilized and managed, almost entirely autonomously, within a highly dynamic and unpredictable context.

To make matters even more challenging, our adversaries are growing increasingly sophisticated at cyber-attacks that seek to deny and disrupt communications and energy supplies and to inject deception and disinformation into the battle space.

Pellegrino outlined several broad needs they have to address and maximize the utility of battle space IoT, including:

  • Adaptability and resilience to unpredictable bandwidth and connectivity disruptions
  • Highly scalable information architectures and communications protocols
  • Autonomously manageable communications
  • Situational awareness that is updated rapidly and automatically
  • Data compression on the order of 10 to the 15th power to enable greater information processing closer to the soldier on the battlefield

Challenges exist, however. When asked what industry can do to help bring greater IoT to the space Pellegrino commented that he sees the need for competition to keep innovation moving balanced with an existing market for those innovations to flourish. Another challenge is achieving open standards and systems balanced with modular and proprietary elements.

Addressing limited or lack of bandwidth is another challenge that demand things like distributed communications and the ability to send only the data you need for a given situation.

Pellegrino sees a need for hierarchies of information brokers or concierge services that will interpret information for you, understand what information is useful, and how to combine elements to make things even more useful. This will take advances in both physical processors as well as algorithms to be successful and make IoT productive and useful.