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Software-Defined Warfare: Code Writing From the Trenches

Rethinking war in Ukraine as writing apps may be a skill as critical as shooting.

Europe’s future warfare is influenced by the conflict to its east and limited by procurement procedures from a distant past. The war in Ukraine is where planners are looking for new ideas, while future purchases are expected to leapfrog a continent-wide mosaic of outdated procedures.

One speaker described Ukrainians as the first combatants of the software-defined era.

“Your soldiers in the field are the ones that know the pain points, they know what needs to be fixed, let them fix it, let them do it themselves,” said Enrique Oti, chief technology officer, Second Front Systems.

Warfighters are writing code in the front and solving their immediate problems, from calculating indirect fire to connecting applications, according to Oti.

While many simple solutions can be developed by final users, there need to be standards to account for security and scope, and complex platforms should allow updates as well as run on sophisticated applications that should be written by specialists, according to Oti.

Still, these standards pose a risk.

“We all know that there are NATO standards. We all know it. We also know that not everything needs it. And even if they do need it, it still may not work,” Oti added at TechNet International in Brussels, Belgium.




Stefan Hefter
Killer robots: there is low risk but high impact, the risk is indeed lower; while I see very high risk in using it for intelligence work.
Stefan Hefter
Partner, KPMG

Interoperability is crucial to make things work at scale.

“The development of an interoperable and integrated system enables multidomain operations to facilitate and guide the implementation of popular solutions for capability development,” said David Byrne, head of the information superiority unit at the European Defense Agency.

Technologies can be trusted with some jobs, but not all. That is a recurring topic among strategists. But one analyst’s position was counterintuitive. After recognizing that humans will be less involved in kill chains in the future, he warned against trusting technology at a strategic level.

“Killer robots: there is low risk but high impact, the risk is indeed lower; while I see very high risk in using it for intelligence work,” said Stefan Hefter, partner at KPMG.

He warned against using artificial intelligence that could lead to strategic blunders. The central problem Hefter saw in these systems was on training data, as large language models are trained on civilian information and later applied to the military.

After preliminary research, Hefter detected hallucinations as a result of ingesting inadequate data into models. In a real-world scenario, commanders trusting corrupt systems at an operational or strategic level could lead their forces to massive disasters, the consultant warned.

Francesca Tortorella
We want to tap into innovators that can have a dual-use solution to our major problems.
Francesca Tortorella
Innovation Officer, DIANA

While all planners see the importance of adopting technology at speed, procurement procedures within NATO are conditioned to legacy processes that value consensus. To leapfrog this bureaucracy, the organization established the Defense Innovation Accelerator for the North Atlantic, or DIANA.

“We want to tap into innovators that can have a dual-use solution to our major problems so that we can accelerate and try to perfect and improve in order to make them become a community with our military,” said Francesca Tortorella, innovation officer, DIANA.

Tortorella explained how entrepreneurs steered away from NATO and European militaries due to the difficulty in supplying to these organizations, thus leaving warfighters in the continent with outdated capabilities.

A year ago 1,300 startups competed for $100,000 in initial funding; of those 44 were chosen and started a business acceleration program.

Only nine will make it to the next round with a further $300,000 investment for growing the ventures, according to Tortorella.

In 2025 DIANA expects to hold 10 challenges yearly, offering funding opportunities for attractive projects from all NATO countries, according to Tortorella.

TechNet International is a yearly event organized by AFCEA, SIGNAL Media’s association parent.