How is the battlespace of the future changing? 

We’re living through a technological revolution — the arrival of a host of exciting and disruptive technologies, like Artificial Intelligence (AI) and the Internet of Things (IoT). It’s a fast-paced landscape, changing the way we do things, make things, and the way we think.

It’s certainly altering the way nations, defence chiefs and industry are thinking about the future. In a paradigm shift from military orthodoxy, Multi-Domain Integration (MDI) is seen as a significant game-changer. One that could transform the battlespace by giving national force commanders what they all seek: decision advantage.

What do we mean by Multi-Domain Integration (MDI)?

Instead of each branch of the military operating on their own, with their own platforms and networks, there is an ambition for all domains (land, sea, air space and cyber) to work together in a single integrated battlespace. MDI envisages a state where each service can share assets, and send and receive information and data, no matter where the source is.

In principle, it makes operations easier to conduct because traditional stovepipes are broken down.
A precursor to MDI was Network Enabled Capability but the technology wasn’t mature enough for it to deliver its promise. However, over recent years, there have been many innovations in the commercial world that show the technology is here, available and it works. It just hasn’t made it to the military space yet.                
The question is how we can take these new concepts and make them work in a military environment where you have problems like an enemy trying to stop you, or if you get things wrong, people might be seriously hurt?

What do we mean by decision advantage?

Essentially, information or decision advantage means turning data into information and then information into a decision.

Today the military has access to a huge volume of data. But data on its own is simply a burden that you must gather and hold. It remains a problem unless you turn it into actionable information. Or to put it another way — use your data to create understanding. Two key things the military try to achieve with it are situational awareness and decision advantage.

So, for them, data has got to be turned into information that they can use to increase their understanding and make better decisions. Most importantly, they know what’s going on around them.

Simply put, being able to say ‘I know where the enemy is’ is a good situation to be in. But an even better one is if I also know where my allies are. Then an even better state is, I know what they can see because they’re telling me.

It’s about increasing the level of understanding step by step, depending on how connected you are. And if you’re all talking a common language you can understand the significance of some of the things you, and your allies, are looking at.

In the MDI context, it boils down to this. You can’t make good decisions unless you understand your data. If you know your data, you get better information. Better information equals cognitive advantage, which means you can make better decisions, leading to decision advantage.

As we move forward the dependency on data will go up exponentially. However, quality is vital too. It’s got to be good data delivered to the right place, to the right people at the right time.

What are the main challenges around introducing MDI?

In principle, MDI offers everything to everybody. Unfortunately, getting it right is hard. There are ever-changing threats, constantly evolving technology opportunities and the issue of how you deliver it. Unless you have limitless budgets, and no-one has, you’ve got to deliver it in a clever way. So, the key challenge is gluing everything together into a meaningful, effective and efficient whole.

In short, the barrier to achieving MDI is no longer technology. It’s the commercial, cultural, and organisational changes that must be put in place in order to take advantage of it. But these are difficult to address.

As everything moves into digital software-based technology, flexibility in the way that we deliver capability is key. Given the pace of change, agile delivery methods are increasingly attractive for those trying to meet delivery demands. However, traditionally, the approach to defence acquisition is to ask for detailed requirements against very defined timelines and budgets — which is anything but agile.

New technology doesn’t come cheap, right?

Budgets are a challenge for every military. In terms of MDI, no nation can afford all the innovation they will need to always stay one step ahead. But there are some ways to drive down costs. For instance, industry players want to shape ‘international-by-design’ solutions as more access to more markets increase volume savings and enable shared investment.

What are the key technologies that will shape MDI?

There’s a lot of work being done in different areas but examples include:
  • Human machine teaming: which is looking at how you turn data into decisions.
  • Semi-autonomous mission planning: Effectively, this means a mission being partially planned by a machine before the human gets involved, allowing costs and benefits to be modelled before humans make a decision on it.
  • Virtualisation of the test and the valuation environment: Doing things faster will primarily mean making greater user of digital or software products, which in turn will allow the entire testing regime to move into virtual environments. The benefit here is that things will get into service a lot quicker. The virtual environment can also be used to model operations to see the best effects that can be delivered.

What does BAE Systems bring to the conversation?

BAE Systems is the UK’s only multi-domain company. We are OEMs on platforms in all the domains and we are information solution providers for all those platforms and how they connect them to the bigger battle space. We are at the forefront of the discussions around standards, networks, space and cryptography. We have credentials across the patch and have people who’ve worked in every domain. In short, we’re a really good resource to use.

Having worked across all domains means we see the similarities of the different domains and understand the differences too. We know the information challenges in each and understand the information differences too.

Steph McMenamin

Head of Information Advantage, BAE Systems Air