Defending the realm now requires more than just government, says Paul Spedding. He explains why in the digital world we’re all in it together
Defence has long had a focus on tech. Its research teams and industries have led the world. Timescales were long and everyone had sufficient confidence to invest and make the returns they needed.
Now, though, the direction of travel is unclear. And whilst the Defence industry remains cutting edge, commercial giants are also developing digital technologies at a rapid pace – and all of it is available to our adversaries.
Today, as well as engaging and fighting in the physical world, it is necessary to engage and fight digitally – that’s because almost everything we do is digital. It’s not about domains or commands, it is not specific to a single service or even to Defence. We are all connected in and through it. Winning requires bringing to bear the best physical, virtual and cognitive capabilities on offer. And these capabilities are not all located in government.
Some countries are more advanced in orchestrating virtual and cognitive warfare than others. Their toolkits are better stocked, better tried and better tested. In the West, Defence and security structures have boundaries and boundaries throw up weaknesses, conflict, confused responsibility and internal competition.
Boundaries can prevent the best skills from being applied.
The obstacles to efficient exploitation of information need to be mitigated to a greater degree than our adversaries can achieve. Higher values and ethics will no doubt present operational challenges, but a strong culture of innovation, collaboration and freedom of thought, will enable an overall competitive edge to counter any such ethical “disadvantage”.
Data needs to be put at the heart of operations and that means adopting a data centric mindset rather than a product centric mindset.
Sharing data to support the derivation of timely intelligence will be ever more essential, across government departments, between international partners and also with other parties such as industry and academia.
Technology is not the big challenge here. The challenge in becoming data centric is in changing ways of working. This requires different insights, different ways of thinking, specialist ideas and invention. That means operating in the digital space in a far more integrated and far less transactional way than today.
The skills nations will need to apply are diverse and must be sourced commensurate with the needs of the skill providers. There is no reason why a small SME operating from home cannot support a highly classified mission, and prime contractors – such as BAE Systems – can help them to do so.
Some of those who would seek to harm us or change our way of life, realise that everything – trade, technology, investment, education – can be used as a part of their arsenal. As a result, national defence is increasingly becoming a responsibility for industry and the public at large. We must therefore be organised as nations to recognise and defend against such strategically orchestrated campaigns.
To fail to harness our best national capability is to set a course for defeat.
It’s not a technology problem
Security tools and practices are well developed to support collaboration across multiple trust classifications. In pockets across secure government, industry and government already work closely together, identifying and delivering solutions to immediate and prioritised user needs. Right there and then. Industry continuously scans the horizon to develop, evolve and sustain supply chain ecosystems, looking after these valuable risk takers, and helping to pull their capabilities through.
In the UK, many of the skills needed are in short supply, and so industry and government must collaborate to incubate and nurture these skills, to train, sponsor and employ such people. Industry and government are pursuing the same objective so let’s work it out together, and offer the diversity of roles and employments to our best people.
Collaborate – or else
Unfortunately, Western society is vulnerable to sentiment manipulation, a form of attack with a low financial barrier to entry. No matter how strong our international ties, e.g. NATO may be, partnerships can be fractured through complex and strategic psychological operations.
This means that collaboration and sharing will underpin competitive advantage, but the trust in each other’s processes, practices and commitment will become the de facto target for adversaries. Right now, doing all we can to enable improved collaboration and trusted information sharing in a whole force concept seems like a good thing to prioritise.
About the author
Paul Spedding is Head of Pre-Sales, Defence, at BAE Systems Applied Intelligence
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