Multidomain Operations May Hinge on IoT Capabilities
New concepts brought by the Internet of Things are changing Army approaches.
The U.S. Army is looking toward the Internet of Things to reshape the future force for multidomain operations. Faced with the challenge of networking vast amounts of diverse sensors, the service views this type of networking as the solution to greater efficiency combined with increased capability.
Bruce D. Jette, assistant secretary of the Army for acquisition, logistics and technology, emphasizes the importance of the Internet of Things (IoT) approach across the service. “The IoT has the potential to greatly improve and economize the way we will operate as an Army in the future,” he declares.
“The IoT concept has application across many Army systems in terms of enterprise and tactical capability and cost savings potential,” Jette emphasizes. “We believe there are efficiencies to gain by networking IoT technologies such as sensors and automation to improve operations and warfighting.”
Maj. Adam Taliaferro, USA, strategist in the future warfare division of the Army Futures and Concepts Center, elaborates on that point. “The Internet of Things has a big effect on our ability to do intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance,” he says. “It can help us define the operational environment, characterize what’s going on—not only in dense urban terrain but also in large open fields—and it helps us in our ability to make decisions.”
In the field, the Army views the IoT under the rubric of the Internet of Battlefield Things (IoBT), which it considers a vital element of the new multidomain operations concept. Achieving this concept will require the ability to prepare and understand the operational environment, which comprises several capabilities. For example, one is to be able to combine precision logistics with precision analytics so the force can be resupplied without requests, or materiel can be redirected on priority. “It also may help us in garrison understand how we can secure our bases, employ forces, rapidly shift them,” the major says.
Jette cites a long-standing activity: vehicle maintenance. “With vehicles as nodes on a network, diagnostic data could be directly communicated to maintainers providing a readiness common operating picture,” he explains. “This data enables a feedback loop to design and production engineers in industry to improve part design and prevent further failure in the future and informs predictive maintenance. Predictive maintenance capability will improve readiness and economize funding in support of our next generation of combat and tactical vehicles.”
Another key capability is to develop a real-time common operating picture (COP) that will enable visualizing battlespace operations in all domains. The IoBT supports the ability to attain that COP by incorporating vast amounts of information from diverse sources.
“As we think about future capabilities … increased use of data and increased technological requirements, the use of AI—all these things will have to be able to communicate and talk in some capacity,” Maj. Taliaferro points out. “So when you think about the Internet of Things and the ability to increase networking across the battlefield, we think it may be the way we get at those required capabilities.”
The IoBT would increase the ability to detect, identify and locate both adversaries and friendly forces, and it will boost situational awareness by aggregating sensors across the battlespace. “We know that if we have more sensors that can collect and aggregate data, that will increase the understanding for the commander,” he illustrates. “This is a way to do that. It may be the way.”
But the IoBT is not a key enabler just because it allows more sensors to join the data stream. It also will improve their quality and allow more diverse applications. The major explains that the IoBT provides the Army with the ability to increase autonomous intelligent sensors. This is vital because the ability of humans to manage vast amounts of sensors decreases with each increase in number of devices. But having smart sensors that can undertake important roles autonomously can relieve that human burden.
These roles include prioritization of information and network bandwidth, delivering data to the right destination and conducting automatic security scans, Maj. Taliaferro offers. Other autonomous activities enabled by the IoBT might include network security scans, distribution of sensors and processing and execution of tasks. Not only would these improve network efficiency, they also would relieve soldiers and commanders of unnecessary decisions.
“Those are the things that help us optimize the ability to fight in multidomain operations,” he maintains. “As we think about peer threats, operating in contested environments and the increased electromagnetic challenges, the ability of sensors to maintain connectivity when you need it … is key—and the idea that it is dependable and secure.”
The major cites several IoT capabilities as being most attractive to the Army. One is that the IoT is composable, which the major defines as the ability for the discovery, composition and adaptation of heterogeneous agents.
“It creates the ability to discover multiple sensors, to create a composite or aggregate these sensors, and it’s adaptable,” he says. “You have all these heterogeneous agents on the battlefield or in a city, where the ability to create different nodes is very attractive—aggregating different agents when needed to increase situational understanding for the commander—and it’s going to be required at times as you look at the scale of future war.”
“When the force faces a situation in which it does not have assured confident areas, it can leverage other sensors to continue to transmit data and information—essentially maintain connectivity when we need it,” the major declares.
The IoBT can enable autonomy in a number of applications. Maj. Taliaferro cites decoys as one. For example, autonomous decoys might lure threat radars into emitting a signal to enable commanders to assess and address the threat appropriately. Autonomous seismic sensors could detect motion, just as radar sensors could detect emission signatures. Cameras could search for high-priority information. These varied sensors would operate autonomously and pass back information for decision makers.
“Those are the types of sensors that could be operating autonomously but connecting through an Internet-of-Things construct to provide more information, faster and more efficiently,” he states. “This increases our capability to boost our understanding of what’s happening on a rapid and dynamic battlefield.”
Just as the commercial IoT will face security challenges, so will the military IoBT. Its security environment will be more demanding by nature. “The IoT could require additional resources for active vulnerability monitoring,” Jette points out. “The cost benefit will be considered.”
“We’ll have to understand and adapt to a threat that will challenge our communication networks in ways that do not happen in the commercial sector,” Maj. Taliaferro relates. “You will have to look at novel and new approaches on the way you do transmit data.”
The major offers that the Army is focusing on a robust construct that could withstand enemy cyber assaults. It must be able to cope with errors and wrong input, he emphasizes, which will depend in part on how well these new sensors can identify new categories of attacks. “You’re going to see probing; you’re going to see spoofing attacks,” he predicts. “Can these sensors understand that?”
Conceptually, one goal is for the IoBT to create methods or quantify their confidence, he continues. In this approach, the network would need the ability to provide commanders with the understanding of why sensors suddenly have gone offline or whether information is accurate if an intrusion may be taking place. Planners may need to create new ways of depicting confidence in the network and its data, he says.
Instead of following the threat/counterthreat approach, the Army would sculpt the IoBT for a “large holistic robustness scenario,” the major says. The Army would want to manage, adjust and operate knowing that threats will happen.
Industry will be counted on to provide many of the capabilities that define the IoBT. Innovative research in that realm will continue, but the commercial sector must meet several parameters to meet Army requirements, the major states. Currently, the commercial sector is focusing on technologies that operate “in fully permissive environments with assured communications,” he points out. For the Army, industry must provide capabilities and technologies that can function amid a contested environment in multidomain operations.
Jette points out that standards-based architecture implementation across platforms is a challenge. “With many more possible things being networked, the increased demand on network transportation would have to be addressed,” he says.
Maj. Taliaferro indicates that the Army would like to know the data that industry is using in the development of the IoT. The service wants this information so it can assess if particular technologies are relevant to military operations. If these are limited scale prototypes, the Army will want to know how they would scale up to deal with future conflict. The amount of computing power required also is important, as the force will have bandwidth restrictions that could limit the use of full-motion video. And, the nature of the human-AI interface will be important. This information must be conveyed to decision makers in the most effective medium, whether voice-to-voice or a visual graphic interface.
All of these aspects portend a major shift in the Army’s approach to multidomain operations. “The IoT will likely directly or indirectly impact Army readiness and modernization priorities,” Jette declares. “The IoT could improve the Army’s ability to rapidly respond to any threat. We are always searching for ways to make the lives of our soldiers better and safer, and the IoT has great potential to be a benefit to the Army’s warfighting mission.”