All good things start with the seed of an idea. And of course, in the words of Thomas Edison: “To have a great idea, have a lot of them.” Personally, my issue was never coming up with ideas; the hard part is everything that comes after the idea: building, improving, and eventually – after a lot of sweat and a little luck – succeeding just enough to get you to the next phase and evolution of your original idea. It becomes an amoeba morphing down its path of evolution.
It truly is all about that initial idea and the first catalyst that propels ideas down their path; that allows us to move forward, continue to innovate, and either defend our competitive positions or hopefully improve them. It’s easy to get apathetic about your need to evolve, but it is truly life or death. The difficulty with innovating in the defence sector (I learned this the hard way) is that the sales cycles are incredibly long (so many ideas die because they’re underfunded to handle 2-5 year sales cycles), and the culture, even in the business community, tends to be risk-averse and bureaucratic, often mirroring their customer, the Government. Risk capital tends not to flow freely to defence-related new ideas; in fact, it seems to be hard to get any capital for anything unless a specific RFI is on the street that you already fit into. There is still a bit of a gap in the market to incentivize more great innovations that should lead to big things in the long run.
Like so many other people working in the sector, this is why I am excited about Canada’s new Innovation for Defence Excellence and Security (IDEaS) program and its implications for defence innovation in the future.
A long-term culture of defence innovation
The IDEaS program was first introduced last year as a part of Canada’s new Strong, Secure, Engaged defence policy.
IDEaS seeks to promote a long-term culture of defence innovation among the industry and in Canada in general – and it has the capital to back it up. The federal government has committed to $313 million in funding over the next five years and $1.6 billion over the next 20 years to tackle some of Canada’s toughest and most important defence challenges.
The funding will go towards fostering collaboration and competition among different stakeholders to stimulate new ideas and innovation. Research clusters will be created to connect government research to the private sector and academia to fully leverage Canadian talent and potential. Contests and competitive projects will be held, allowing both private companies and academics to approach challenges in their own unique methods, spurring each other on.
IDEaS will also introduce a more supportive environment for new ideas on all fronts. Support from the Department of National Defense will come earlier in the R&D process, risk will be shared more equally between the government and its innovation partners, and the Canadian Armed Forces will be more involved in field testing new products.
Finally, IDEaS will be working closely with Innovation, Science, and Economic Development Canada (ISED) towards the broader objectives in Canada’s Inclusive Innovation Agenda: accelerating growth, encouraging entrepreneurism, and leveraging research across all sectors and for all Canadians – in short, transforming good ideas into a better reality and ensuring there is a diverse supplier base included.
Tackling Canada’s toughest and most important defence challenges
IDEaS is starting with three themes that deal with Canada’s toughest and most important defence challenges:
- People and enhanced human performance
- Threat anticipation
- Adaptation to a changing environment
Future themes set for Spring 2018 include autonomous systems and the application of advanced materials.
Given Vanguard’s theme for this month is “intelligence analysis,” IDEaS’s second theme seems particularly pertinent. IDEaS divides “threat anticipation” into six specific challenges that each shed light on where intelligence analysis is going.
Environments are becoming more complex and dynamic. The next generation of threat detection must be able to track and identify in real-time, cross-cue across multiple sensors, and have seamless interoperability between operators and command.
Recent advances in autonomy, robotics, energy, and intelligent signal processing are transforming underwater surveillance. IDEaS wants to leverage and deploy that technology in the maritime regions from the Canadian shore to the continental shelf break and the Exclusive Economic Zone of Canada.
SSE saw space as increasingly congested, contested, and competitive. IDEaS aims to protect Canada’s interests in space systems operations by developing a Common Operating Picture (COP) of space assets and objects.
Increased acquisitions of airborne intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) platforms means more data than ever before. But interpreting still images and Full Motion Video (FMV) is another hurdle – one that IDEaS hopes to solve.
IDEaS is looking for new and automated approaches and technologies to analyze social media and extract relevant information for improved situational awareness and prediction of potential threats.
Being able to identify malicious cyber actors is crucial to stopping them. To this end, IDEaS is looking for methodological approaches and confidence metrics that will allow for a better defence of Canada’s cyberspace.
The future of intelligence and intelligence analysis
It’s no secret that cybersecurity and intelligence analysis have become more prominent in the past few years, beginning with the global surveillance disclosures in 2013 and reaching a peak with the Russian interference in the U.S. elections in 2016. I’ve heard it referred to on multiple occasions as the next arms race.
Over half a billion dollars has been allocated to Canada’s Communications Security Establishment (CSE) in the next five years to develop its cybersecurity strategy and to build a federal cybersecurity center. Crucially, CSE’s mandate has been expanded to allow it to conduct offensive cyber operations rather than only reacting defensively to attacks.
In our current fourth-generation warfare, the battlefield has expanded far beyond the physical space and is only getting wider and more blurred. The world is becoming increasingly connected which means intelligence collection and analysis is only going to become more important.
It’s not enough simply to stockpile hard power. Ideas, innovation, and intelligence will decide the future. Just like one of my Canadian heroes Gord Downie famously sang on The Tragically Hip’s “Blow at High Dough”: “You gotta remember / The smarter it gets / The further it’s gonna go.”