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Land Digitization – Getting It, and Getting it Right – A View From Industry

Members of the 1st Battalion, The Royal Canadian Regiment prepare to breech a building for a simulated attack during Exercise MAPLE RESOLVE 22 in Wainwright, Alberta on May 15, 2022. Photo credit: Corporal Aimee Rintjema, Canadian Armed Forces photo

As part of the Commander’s vision statement underpinning the Canadian Army’s recently published Digital Strategy[1], the Commander is to the point when he observes that in order for the Army’s modernization agenda to meet its goals and objectives, “it’s increasingly evident that Digital Transformation is foundational to almost every aspect of this modernization. Frankly, I believe that without a significant digital pivot, the Canadian Army…will fall short.” Leveraging the advantages of digital technologies is foundational to enabling and expanding the lethality, survivability, and operational effectiveness of deployed Canadian land forces in the emerging, joint pan-domain fight. Does the Army “Get It”? Can the Army “Get It Right”? This article argues that to “Get It, and Get it Right” two vital conditions will need to be met to enable the digital pivot: A focus on closing the Tactical Digital Divide, and on Procurement at the Speed of Relevancy.

Closing the Tactical Digital Divide

Closing the Tactical Digital Divide is the sine qua non for “Getting It” in the realm of land digitization. Looking to leverage the value driving technologies that currently underpin the global digital economy, the CAF has undertaken an ambitious digitization campaign. This is vital and necessary to modernize the CAF and the Army and ready it for the emerging, joint pan-domain fight. However, it is the contention of this article that if the Army does not close the  gap that currently exists between the HQ and mobile domains on the one hand, and the soldier/dismounted domain on the other, then its Digital Strategy will fail. For twenty years the roll-out of the Land Command Support System (LCSS) has been constrained by the SWAP-C of its various components. The consequence has been that while those soldiers and commanders operating from armoured vehicles or from within tactical headquarters have been able to better leverage the advantages offered by land digitization, those soldiers and commanders operating in the dismounted mode (the Tactical Edge) continue to be disadvantaged.  A digital pivot means closing this gap. This is a grave survivability, lethality, and combat effectiveness gap that will only become more acute as the modern and emerging development toward adaptive and dispersed operations by small, autonomous units becomes the norm. As General Milley (US CJCS) recently observed, “perhaps the most important lesson to come out of the war [in Ukraine]… is that small unit commanders and non-commissioned officers must be empowered by their superiors to make more decisions themselves rather than rely on higher authorities.”[2] Empowering them will mean closing the Tactical Digital Divide.

Procuring at the Speed of Relevancy

Procurement is the sine qua non for “Getting it Right” in the realm of land digitization. It has become axiomatic that defence procurement in Canada is in dire need of reform. In the digitization and C4ISR market space, this is blatantly evident.  The pace of technological development in this domain has simply outstripped the ability of the CAF to procure and sustain evolving battle management software, intelligence analysis software, sensors, communications networks, ISR assets and other technologies in a manner in which it can remain operationally relevant. Put bluntly, procurement is the Achille’s Heel of the CAF’s and the Army’s digital force modernization plan and aspirations. It is the contention of this article that the current Vote 1 and Vote 5 construct is not suited to support these efforts, and unless this is addressed, the CAF and the Army will continue to procure at the speed of irrelevancy. Accordingly, this article advocates for a “Capability as a Service” (CaaS) procurement model that blends the two constructs into one that is still able to comply with the need for fair, open, and competitive procurements, but that allows for the cyclical or spiral ability to upgrade and/or insert new technologies in a rapid and timely manner. A digital pivot cannot occur otherwise.


[1]  MODERNIZATION VITAL GROUND: DIGITAL STRATEGY (HQ, Canadian Army, Ottawa, Ontario, June 2022)

[2] Quotation from Gen Milley, US CJCS in Defense One, Ukraine War Offers Clues to Future War, Joint Chiefs Chairman Says – Defense One

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