The future of defence innovation: Five emerging technologies to keep an eye on

Defence and innovation have always gone hand-in-hand. Whether the innovation originated in defence or was simply perfected by it, the examples are countless: from the Internet, to radar, to good ol’ duct tape.

Working for OMX, a collaborative platform for accessing procurement opportunities and analyzing the socio-economic impacts of organizations, I know how crucial government support and investment can be for building the necessary infrastructure to develop next-generation technologies.

But predicting the next breakthrough isn’t so easy. That’s why earlier this year, the Canadian Government unveiled five emerging technologies as areas to focus on for defence investment and spending.

These five emerging technologies will be grouped under Canada’s Key Industrial Capabilities (KICs), giving it greater emphasis in defence procurements under the Industrial and Technological Benefits (ITB) policy.

(There are also an additional 11 established technologies that will fall under the KICs.)

The KICs are defined as “the skills, technologies, and supply chains” required to support the growth of these technologies. They are not limited to just the organizations associated with the end solution but include the academic organizations that support skills and research, the small- and medium-sized enterprises and manufacturers that develop the value chain, and the intellectual property that is developed in Canada.

The list of KICs are expected to evolve over time to meet new technological advances and Canada’s defence requirements, but for now, here are the five emerging technologies in the KICs – and one Canadian organization or program currently leading the field in each one.

1. Advanced Materials

New materials such as composite structures, aerostructures, and advanced feedstocks combined with new production processes like additive manufacturing, 3-D printing, and advanced machining mean greater operational capability and cost-efficiency of defence equipment with broader applications in military, aerospace, land, marine, and space domains, along with private sectors.

Watch out for: One of five superclusters announced under the $950 million Innovation Superclusters Initiative (ISI), the Advanced Manufacturing Supercluster led by Next Generation Manufacturing Canada will focus on the application of advanced technologies in the digital age of manufacturing. The expected economic impact of the Advanced Manufacturing Supercluster is more than $13.5 billion and 13,500 jobs over 10 years.

2. Artificial Intelligence (AI)

AI involves a wide range of technologies that look to imitate human intelligence and execute complex tasks such as pattern recognition and decision-making. By leveraging fields such as machine learning, deep learning, and self-learning, an AI can reduce or even replace human workloads. AI is expected to touch upon every public and private field – PWC estimated that AI will add almost $20 trillion to the global economy by 2030.

Watch out for: Menya Solutions has been developing AI solutions for the Canadian Navy for the past decade. But it’s their newest endeavour, HybridLogic, that’s making waves. HybridLogic is a suite of AI and intent, capability, and opportunity analysis algorithms designed to help humans, robots, and drones analyze a tactical situation and make timely decisions during defence operations.

3. Cyber Resilience

Cyber resilience tackles the vulnerabilities in the growing network of information technologies. Cyber resilience can be divided into three main fields: information security, which protects electronic and digital data; IT security, which protects content and threat management; and operational technology (OT) security, which protects tactical systems of broader networks.

Watch out for: Opening just recently, the Canadian Centre for Cyber Security consolidates federal cyber resources under one roof. The Communications Security Establishment (CSE), a part of the Department of National defence (DND), is responsible for the centre. The Canadian government is also creating a National Cybercrime Co-ordination Unit, expanding the RCMP’s powers to investigate cybercrime.

4. Remotely Piloted Systems and Autonomous Technologies

Unmanned aerial, marine, and ground vehicle systems and AI technologies mean that platforms and systems can become increasing autonomous in both military and commercial sectors. These technologies can increase operational capabilities, improve cost-effectiveness, and reduce human exposure.

Watch out for: Montreal supplier L3 MAPPS worked with Defence Research and Development Canada and the DND to design, build, and test a custom autopilot systems for navigation both underwater and at surface for four of Canada’s submarines originally purchased in 1998 –extending the life of the aging submarines with advances in emerging technologies.

5. Space Systems

Space systems can be split into two equally important groups: earth observation software, that uses satellite imagery and geospatial information for various navigation, surveillance and intelligence applications, and satellite systems, that involve satellites, spacecraft subsystems, and ground control infrastructure to capture, interpret and use data.

Watch out for: The federal government has a new space program called the Enhanced Satellite Communications Project (ESCP), involving two elliptical orbit satellites at medium earth orbit, spinning at 90 degrees to conventional satellites and thus passing over both poles and providing communications and surveillance in a difficult Northern environment. Watch out for Viasat’s ViaSat-3 and MDA’s Radarsat as strong contenders with the capable underlying technology to deliver.

Jon Elkin is VP of Client Services at OMX.

Author: Jon Elkin

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