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Internet of Things May 2022 Viewpoints

Technology Analyst: Rob Edmonds

The Military IoT

By Mark Smith
Smith is an independent consultant specializing in digital and connected technologies.

Overview

Recent conflicts are driving demand for next-generation war-fighting technologies such as battlefield IoT. Advances in cloud and edge computing along with next-generation cellular networks could revolutionize how decisions take place both in the field and more centrally, with major implications for both the defense industry and the people who are directing military operations.

Description

Nothing is more important on the battlefield than coordination. IoT connectivity could be one way of merging military technology into one holistic ecosystem where every component performs in concert with every other component. The concept of military IoT is not new, but recent developments in the industry could facilitate significant leaps forward.

Defense giant Northrop Grumman and AT&T are partnering to create what will be a "military Internet of Things" where sensors, weapons, and data will all be connected by a 5G network. Just as civilian IoT spans smart cities, military IoT will create a "digital battle network" that enables greater coordination. The partnership hopes to prototype the technology within the next year. Armaments Research Company (ARC) recently announced a collaboration with Amazon Web Services' (AWS's) Federal Small Business Team to support the "battlefield of things." ARC's tech uses IoT and machine learning to transform weapons into information nodes or "sensors" to provide military decision makers with advanced, real-time information. These companies say that AWS's scalable architecture will help support the development and deployment of this technology in real time, providing high-speed, reliable information to aid decisions in the field.

Implications

Battlefield technology has made giant strides in the past two decades with the deployment of devices such as unmanned drones and use of advanced analytics to better inform battlefield decisions. The Russian invasion of Ukraine has led to a refocus on military preparedness, with politicians in Sweden and Finland debating joining NATO and Germany announcing plans to increase defense spending by 100 billion euros ($105 billion). The year 2021 also saw the launch of Aukus, a pact by the United Kingdom, the United States, and Australia to counter the increasing influence of China in the Asia-Pacific region. Increasing battlefield automation is also driven by a strong demand to minimize human casualties. Players in the defense industry highlight the potential for their technologies not only to enable tactical advantages over an adversary but also to emphasize how they can minimize the cost in human lives.

Enhanced battlefield communications can also have the feature of enabling real-time decision-making by people (typically military officers) who are removed from the battlefield and able to make tactical decisions as part of a larger context. This capability can be particularly important in situations in which the potential exists for conflicts to escalate rapidly or senior authorization may be necessary for particular actions. In the short and medium term, nations are likely to increase their military spending on R&D. Also likely is a new era of greater cooperation between military manufacturers and civilian companies that specialize in IoT, data, and cloud technology.

Relevant Areas to Monitor

  • Wireless Spectrum Overlap

    5G networks, home and industrial wireless internet, and smart-home appliances and hubs all seek to communicate using the electromagnetic spectrum. Companies must either gain regulatory approval to use certain portions of the electromagnetic spectrum or make use of increasingly crowded unregulated sets of frequencies.

  • Satellite Internet

    Satellite-broadband services such as those from SpaceX and OneWeb are making progress and could disrupt existing broadband services. Internet connectivity via satellites could also open up new Internet of Things and sensing opportunities in remote regions, where fixed lines and cellular networks are impractical or unreliable.

Impact Scale

On a scale of low, medium, or high, the anticipated level of impact for this topic is: Medium.

Impact Timing

On a scale of now, 5, 10, or 15 years, the anticipated impact timing for this topic is: Now to 5 years.

Opportunities in the Following Industry Areas

  • Cybersecurity
  • Information/Telecommunications
  • Internet of Things
  • Military

Relevant to the Following Explorer Technology Areas