The need to fully adapt to the “digital world” is a major hurdle for the United States military to achieve optimum C4ISR capability in the coming years, according to a top executive of a major management consulting firm servicing American defence, intelligence and civil organizations.
Steve Soules, executive vice-president of Booz Allen Hamilton, the U.S. military’s C4ISR challenges focus on four primary areas: needed cultural changes to achieve integration and interoperability, budget constraints, cyber threats, and an uncoordinated procurement process.
C4ISR stands for command, control, communications, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance. It is a military concept that combines all systems that allow commanders to understand their operational environment, control assets and identify mission critical factors.
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In a recent interview with the business and government news organization Bloomberg, Soules spoke about technology gaps that hinder the U.S. military’s C4ISR initiatives. Although it focuses on C4ISR south of the border, Soules’ assessment may be useful to Canadian military and government officials as well as decision makers in the defence industry firms because he touches on some issues that also affect the industry in Canada.
“Despite the fact we live in a fully ‘digital world’ with technologies that provide social networks, mobile apps, cloud services and rapid big data analytics, we struggle to overcome the culture limitations on how we buy, install, operate and control these technologies in developing fully integrated and interoperable systems and networks that support military operations,” he said.
Soules also said that military should take advantage of the advances in data analytics and data science which are currently helping organizations in business make the most of its limited resources.
The armed forces should also investigate other technologies currently in use in the civilian sector such as Internet of Things and sensors can be integrated to C2 components, weapons systems, and operational support systems.
He also said there is a capability gap in the area of wireless communication networks as well as cloud network architecture.
Canadians will note that our Defence Research and Development Canada (DRDC) is currently working on the development of hardened networks of so-called mobile ad hoc networks (MANETs) which are essentially peer-to-peer, self-healing, self-forming Internet networks for soldiers.
The U.S. defence department and intelligence community need an “enterprise integration champion” that will tear down the cultural and competitive barriers so that manufacturers and vendors will build, test products to government standards, protocols, as wells as security and interface requirements “prior to the government acquiring the solution,” according to Soules.
The Booz Allen executive cited cyber threats, which also happens to be a top agenda that Canadian defence analysts frequently mention when discussing a new defence strategy for the country.
Soules noted that cyber attacks are maturing in offensive capability faster than the Americans’ defensive capabilities. He said threats from both top-tier and bottom-tier nations add complexity to the design, construction, acquisition and deployment of C4ISR systems.
For any Canadian who has read about our National Shipbuilding Procurement Strategy (NSPS), F-35 program, as well as other military procurement programs, Soules’ comments about restrictive acquisition process would sound familiar.
“Diverse and competitive spending across organizations that is not coordinated and planned” results in duplication and wastes, he said. The practice of awarding contracts to “lowest price technically acceptable bid” leads to higher program costs, delivery delays, and poor performance.