The technological challenges faced by today’s Ministry of Defence are unlike anything they have encountered in the past, David Lawford Mee, Sales Director at UKCloudX, discusses how they can be overcome, here
Like most areas of society today, the UK’s defence and security architecture has been massively impacted by digitisation. The widespread concern over cyber-attacks and espionage originating from Russia, China and North Korea, for example, has led to an increased focus on cyber-security.
At the same time, advances in technologies such as AI, VR and robotics are being employed in the development of ever more sophisticated and effective military hardware and intelligence.
However, in a rare speech given toward the end of last year, Alex Younger, head of MI6, suggested that “ironically, the most profound consequence of the technological challenge is a human one.”
The extent to which technology has impacted the defence industry has been recognised by the UK Government; a research and development programme that funds work on cyber, artificial intelligence and autonomy forms part of its current consultation on a “Modernising Defence Programme”.
Encouraged by this, many government and military bodies are imitating private sector digital transformation trends, such as the use of machine learning in powering future applications as they look to bolster their existing arsenal with new, more progressive and intuitive technology.
But, in attempting to layer this modern technology on top of more traditional ways of operating, they can often find themselves trapped in ongoing vendor lock-in, and taking on expensive financial commitments that – given current budgetary constraints – can be hard to maintain.
This situation is exacerbated by the fact that, despite extensive case studies on its limitations, the private cloud structure continues to be the model of choice for many. Given the sheer amount of innovation available to them and the growing need for collaboration and information sharing between different areas of the defence industry, it’s puzzling that, by shifting to bespoke private clouds, organisations are putting choice and control back into the hands of their service providers.
With its long heritage of conflict on land, sea and air, the UK’s defence industry tends to be largely associated with military matters. It’s concerned with far more than just warfare, though. The MoD’s global network is comprised of a vast number of different units and affiliates designed to tackle everything from international piracy and smuggling, to humanitarian aid, disaster relief, and training.
It’s likely, however, that each of these operations runs on proprietary software and hardware, built to meet very specific requirements. Unable to communicate with any other system outside of their own silos, this complex legacy of discrete bespoke IT solutions represents a hindrance to the future development of the nation’s defence capabilities. There’s little to no interoperability and no opportunity for collaboration in which different operations can share intelligence for the greater good. A Comprehensive Approach to Operations needs to be underpinned by a comprehensive approach to information sharing.
Indeed, intelligence sharing is considered so valuable that, in a period of austerity and government-wide budget cuts, the agencies and departments responsible were among the few to see budgetary increases in recent years. And it’s not just about sharing intelligence for the benefit of the boots on the ground.
Collaboration on R&D and innovation between government departments and with external suppliers is vital to staying abreast of the latest technological advances. If the government hopes to modernise its defence capabilities, it’s essential that it breaks down the silos that currently exist within its various component parts.
Cloud is the answer
As much of the private sector has discovered, the cloud is a key enabler to digital transformation. It allows organisations to move away from the legacy hardware and software holding them back from information sharing and innovation, toward a common infrastructure.
But, to enjoy its full benefits, and embrace all of the innovation and intelligence available to them, UK defence organisations should consider a multi-cloud approach. This allows organisations to avoid the costs and limitations that come with being locked into a single vendor, while also enabling them to take a hybrid approach, incorporating their own private cloud infrastructure.
Fundamentally, establishing a multi-cloud model in place means the various units and affiliates that make up the MoD’s global network will no longer be hindered by legacy discrete infrastructure. Instead, they can enjoy greater collaboration and information sharing with and between the different systems, services and applications they use.
The benefits of such an approach are manifold: up-to-date and accurate intelligence, continuous innovation, and state-of-the-art technology. But, embracing these requires us to change the way in which people think about and employ technology – and the cloud in particular.
By doing so, the UK’s defence and security architecture will be in a strong position to take on the challenges of the digital age.