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The Digital Transformation Journey
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The Digital Transformation Journey 

Keeping in step with our allies requires that the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) and Department of National Defence (DND) become experts in harnessing data and converting it into operational output. This requires a change in mindset, updated processes to take advantage of digital systems, and partnerships to achieve mission effect in a digital way that is mature, resilient, and understood at all levels. This journey is not about the technologies per se, but how to use them as key ingredients to mission or project success.

Vanguard recently had the opportunity to speak separately with Vice-Admiral Bob Auchterlonie, the Commander of Canadian Joint Operations Command and Major-General Michael Wright, Commander of Canadian Forces Intelligence Command and Chief of Defence Intelligence.  Together, they represent a large portion of the operational community that will operationalise the CAF’s digital transformation.  The digital transformation effort is being spear-headed by the Vice-Chief Defence Staff Group and includes the following digital priorities; data and digitalization; properly architected C4ISR spine; supply chain reformation and professional military education. They are responsible for implementing organizational culture and employing technologies to ensure joint and intelligence teams are action ready.  

The discussion with VAdm Auchterlonie focused on the operational aspects of digital transformation while our discussion with MGen Wright focused on Defence Intelligence Enterprise Renewal (DIER), an effort that is enabled by the DND/CAF’s digital transformation initiatives.

Q – Where and how are you seeing C4ISR deliver in operations today – in missions abroad and at home?

VAdm Auchterlonie:
Terry, thanks very much, It’s an interesting subject. All the operations we do, have really been enabled by data networks and C4ISR throughout my 35-year career.  My challenge as a commander to CJOC in the Canadian Armed Forces, and all our allies, to be frank, is when we talk about C4ISR, we talk about all the main command and control. When we talk about the future operating environment, everyone is trying to foretell the future. This is the difficulty we’re in. So, we’re all trying to foretell the future. What’s it going to look like? And there’s lots, because we’ve been at this so long, as you know, everyone is trying to sell us a new integrated interoperable joint ISR or C2 platform.

But it’s very challenging looking forward, trying to predict, what the future operating environment going to look like? We take lessons from the past, but we must be cognizant of the capabilities of future adversaries as well. So, we must ask the questions, is the platform survivable against high end capabilities? Is it interoperable? Is it going to work with all our allies?

And the real big question, is it so reliant upon positioning of technology and satellite communications, will it be relevant in a future fight against a high-end adversary, if you’re in a communications and satellite denied environment?

These are the hard choices. We could have these exquisite platforms that may in fact, not be capable of operating, in a denied environment in the future. So, it’s a double-edged sword, you want to have that high end interoperable capability at the same time, you want to be able to conduct operations globally in a high-end fight. So, it’s a tough balance we’re trying to find. And you know all our allies are searching for the same thing.

Q – Interesting. Who is your ecosystem that you depend on to deliver C4ISR and that capability today?

VAdm Auchterlonie:
Currently we have many joint ISR platforms, including our personnel and technologies that directly support operations, not only at home but abroad as well. For instance, the ISR platform CP-140 Aurora long range patrol aircraft operates in conjunction with our high-end allies, NATO, and Five Eyes partners around the world. We’re currently conducting operations with them today. At the same time, it also works with our other government departments here at home. So, you’re seeing that interoperability with abroad and at home.

At the same time, our ships are persistent ISR platforms around the globe. We have our frigates deployed forward whether they’re in the Mediterranean, the north Atlantic, the Indo-Asia-Pacific they’re interoperable with our high-end partners.

At the same time, our land forces, the NATO Enhanced Forward Presence in Latvia, they have integrated platforms as well and are operating with our allies. So, we’re delivering this today, we have great interoperability and joint ISR with all our allies.

That ecosystem moving forward. When most people think of C4ISR or joint ISR your initial thought is airborne ISR assets such as the CP-140 or the Cyclone. But you know, we employ a full spectrum of ISR assets throughout the land, maritime and air domains. So, the key is making sure we have the technology and fully trained personnel to do so.

At home, we monitor and command our forces through the CFINT or the Canadian Forces Integrated Command Center to track and manage operations. You know, our ecosystem is 24/7 operation and operates domestically and internationally. It allows me to command and have situational awareness here in Ottawa while other things are going on, not only domestically, but around the world as we well.

Q – Where are you and our Forces in operations succeeding as well as challenged in interoperability — Five Eyes, NATO, Tri-Command internationally/continentally: and with OGDs and partners in public safety at home?

VAdm Auchterlonie:
We’ve talked about data because everything we’re talking about is data, but in today’s battle space data is the key enabler. And this is an area really for the Canadian Armed Forces and our allies to improve if we’re going to succeed in operations and working together. You just mentioned interoperability with our Five Eyes, our NATO partners, with Tri-Command, with the NORAD as well as OGDs and partners. The key issue is how do we share that data amongst all of us?

We’re a data driven society, and military operations are no different. We’re in the process of upgrading our Aurora Fleet; it’s going to deliver real time data to operational commanders to support decisions. The same time the Armed Forces are bringing on Mazer (?) and others C4ISR assets. But we’re all required to really continue to improve and support this improvement in technology. And we must improve the backend as well, making sure that our processes and our analysis back home are actually able to support things moving forward.

Q – Talking about data, one of the questions that always comes up is: What’s our current capability to truly leverage the data we have?

VAdm Auchterlonie:
No one is good at that. This is something I think the globe has to work on. Moving forward, we have to leverage machine learning and AI to support us in that. Because there’s so much data now available to us as commanders in every domain, not just in the military, this is across society, across all industry. There’s so much data available to folks, no one can really harness that individually. You need to harness machine learning and AI to help you capture what that data means. Most people are saying, how much data do you actually use? It’s usually 1 to 2 percent of all the data that’s available. So how do you improve the amount of data you can actually process and present to commanders or industry or anyone in a logical model where you can actually then derive something from the data, as opposed to just having this massive amount of data that you cannot actually access or collate?

We’re working with our partners, obviously with the US, with our Five Eyes Partners and NATO to make sure we can work across the data domain, so making sure that data is relevant, is secure and is timely, and manageable. This is something we’re looking closely at with our partners being led by the VCDS Group right now, which makes, perfect sense. So, it’s being led within the, the Vice’s office to make sure that the data strategy for the CAF moving forward is where we need to be.

We have a DND/CAF Data Strategy, and that’s really key; data needs to be a shared asset, it needs to be accessible, it needs to be secure, it needs to be trusted, and we need to manage that data ethically. We have a strategy and we’ve always made data driven decisions. What’s changing is the manner and how fast we process it and what we do with it. This is a real challenge industry is trying to tackle for everyone, how do you manage all the information available to give decision makers, key information that they need to make a decision? You can have a mountain of data, but if you can’t organize it and you can’t synthesize it, then what can you do with it? That’s the question. It’s tough. It’s tough across industry, across the military. The advancement in technology is so rapid that to be able to coalesce all this is really key.

Q – There’s quite a learning curve in trying to understand how we move forward in this, and nobody is an island. It certainly seems that partnerships are a very important thing. Do you see that as part of overcoming today’s challenges and setting up for tomorrow’s need to move forward? And how is that represented in new programs and projects like the NORAD modernization, and pan-domain C2?

VAdm Auchterlonie:
So you just hit on two things that are key to us moving forward. NORAD modernization obviously very topical right now being discussed by governments, pan-domain command and control, our major drivers for the Canada Armed Forces needs to be in the future. As, I said earlier, the vision and direction are primarily led by the Vice we’re obviously significantly involved in this, with where operations command is, we are the end user. But we’re trying to deliver on the vision with relevancy, for our ISR technologies and tools through the collaborative joint ISR force development program.

We are an influencer and an advocate for this, as CJOC is the one that relies on this moving forward.  Currently, in my role, I’m concerned with current operations and near-term force development. This was started by a previous commander General Rouleau when we’re talking about making sure we’re going to be compliant with the future operating environment. We advocated for medium to long term look into the joint ISR, which I talked about before. Right at the beginning, I said, we’re all trying to figure out the same problem. How do we actually operate in the future security environment? And what do C4ISR platforms look like? What does C2 look like? What does this all look like in a future operating environment? So, we’re certainly advocating and working with the Vice’s team on this, because we’re going to be the key ones that are employing this in the future.

Q – Now that’s very interesting. So, regarding requirements and how they’re cascaded into forced generators or developed in-house within the CJOC, what are the key capital projects you’re desiring to see to be delivered on?

VAdm Auchterlonie:
Well, I’ll just probably back up just for a second, you’re talking about long term capital projects. Some keywords in there, long term capital projects, you can juxtapose that against, the rapid advancement of technology. So, when you take a long time to deliver a capital project, technology’s going to take several iterations as it moves forward. So, it’s hard to say where that long term capital project you’re going to deliver in 15 years is going to be because technology is growing exponentially. So, it’s tough to marry those two together. And the force generators are dealing with that now as they’re trying to ensure that we have relevant capabilities in the future that are able to have the technologies of the day when they come online. So, it’s tough.

You don’t want to develop something now and be static in your development. So then 20 years from now, when you deliver that platform, it’s got today’s technology twenty years from now, that may be irrelevant. This is a real problem, so we’re looking at that across many platforms. Obviously, key projects are moving forward. It’s not just me as Commander CJOC, but the Canadian Armed Forces as well are concerned with this. Delivering the fifth-generation multi-role fighter, the Canadian Surface Combatant, Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems, the upgrade of the CP-140 to ensure interoperability and future operations, the delivery of MASIR(?). And, to go back to this, these are key C4ISR platforms that the CAF is going to need to work in the future operating environment.

And continued work, and continued development of our C2IRS as well as our, IMIT backbones to work in today’s environment. Because they’re in a contested environment, these are fragile and need to be insured that they’re secure. So, this is something obviously moving forward. So not only the platforms within the C4ISR realm, and not only the major platforms of Canadian Armed Forces, but also the backbone to support that, they all need to be upgraded and they all need to be enabled for the future as well.

Q – It’s really fascinating because we know the way procurement works and traditional ways are not favorable to digital technology and how quickly technology moves at the speed of light, so it’s going to be quite a challenge moving forward.

VAdm Auchterlonie:
You hit something that’s key. I give kudos to the Army, Navy, and Air Force and Special Operations Force Command, because they’re looking at this and they’re really doing a good job. As well as the folks developing the joint capabilities, who are looking to address exactly that, and making sure that everything’s open architecture so we can move forward and technology can advance along with us, make sure its data driven, so whatever the data source we can integrate it all. These are key components. And I think we’ve applied those lessons to the new platforms moving forward, whether it be fifth generation multi-role fighter or the Canadian Surface Combatant, they’re going to be state of the art when they’re delivered, because we are taking that into consideration moving forward. You just hit a really key point. So, thanks.

Q – This has been wonderful, your forthrightness in sharing your thoughts and where you see the CAF moving forward. Do you have anything else that you would like to add?

VAdm Auchterlonie:
Hey Terry, thanks very much for, for inviting me. This is key to us moving forward. And as I said at the beginning, we’re all trying to see how this is going to work moving forward. We’re all trying within the Canadian Armed Forces, and within the broader government of Canada, we and all our allies are trying to work together, moving forward to make sure that we are integrated and interoperable so that we can deliver effects on behalf of government throughout the globe in the future.

Q -There is little in the public domain about the DIER since it was launched. Please describe to us the motivation and desired/required outcomes of this effort.  Are there any major findings or themes coming out of the work done to date?

MGen Wright:
Over the last two decades, whether due to the operational demands of Afghanistan, the complexity of the multiple missions that followed, or the emergence of new capabilities and technologies, the demands placed on the Defence Intelligence Enterprise (DIE) increased exponentially, outpacing the growth of the intelligence function. The DIE is spread across multiple Level 1 organizations across DND/CAF and lacked the processes and governance to reach its’ potential as an effective and efficient enterprise. Technology is also changing quickly, and the DIE was falling behind both allies and adversaries in leveraging the advantages offered by evolving collection capabilities and 21st century data.

The DIER seeks to align and structure the DIE to maximize its existing resources, improve governance, and integrate force development initiatives, develop the means to better leverage information technology, and invest in critical collection capabilities. Inside DND/CAF, the end state is a fully integrated, collaborative, and cooperative DIE capable of servicing strategic to tactical decision makers, able to provide sound defence intelligence to the Government of Canada for the formulation of policy.

At its core, the DIER is a strategic change management programme. It will be synchronized with other DND/CAF initiatives outside of the intelligence function and continue the evolution of Canadian Forces Intelligence Command (CFINTCOM) Headquarters to integrate the DIE.

One of the first major initiatives of the DIER is the implementation of a strategic-operational intelligence fusion centre. This fusion centre will also improve linkages with Allies and other Government Departments. Future initiatives include establishing relationships with industry and academia and addressing technology challenges over the next two years in the areas of capability development, innovation, and research and development.

Q – How constrained or how enabled is the Canadian DIER by the digital transformation capabilities and efforts: of other GoC intelligence agencies; of the Five Eyes intelligence agencies; or the CAF’s Digital transformation and C4ISR initiatives?

MGen Wright:
Digitalization and Digital Transformation are key aspects of the DIER. Strategic competition occurs across a wide spectrum, with much of it occurring rapidly in the information environment. The analogue DIE must evolve into a digital DIE which will allow DND/CAF to operate, adapt and evolve at the speed of relevance required to meet the Government’s needs. There is also an imperative to keep pace with Allies and partners, not only for interoperability but also to remain relevant and useful by being able to operate at the higher tempo that can be enabled by digital processes and collaboration. For these reasons, the DIE must manage, guide, and develop its own digital transformation within the larger framework of DND/CAF digital transformation, all while maintaining alignment with Allies and partners. This will entail a significant change in our organizational culture, our workforce composition, in our operating models and processes, and in our employment of technologies.

Q – Do you see a capital project, or an enabling digital transformation program emerging out of the DIER and placed into the Defence Services Program?

MGen Wright:
While the DIER features several “Rapid Implementation Initiatives”, many of which are now underway, the nature and complexity of other optimization measures are such that to implement them successfully will likely require capital Projects or programs.

Q – How do you see knowledge and skill requirements of those who consume intel – Commanders and staffs – and the classic “Int Op” trade and Int officer classification evolving as a result of the review and the decisions and direction to come?

MGen Wright:
Prior to launching the DIER process, consumer expectations had already changed, and CFINTCOM needed to adapt. Our leaders operate in a fast-paced, highly dynamic and information rich environment, and their time is precious.  A few years ago, we moved away from producing lengthy written intelligence assessments.  Our analysts still have deep subject matter expertise, but the way we deliver intelligence is clearer and more concise. We also use visuals and graphics to help explain the key elements of an issue to better support senior decision makers.

Inside the DIE, we will need an optimized DI workforce with the diversity of skills, experience, education, and talent necessary to manage DI activities, collect, produce, and disseminate intelligence. This DI workforce must also be one that embraces and lives “digital” and constantly pursues innovation. As previously mentioned, working with the private sector and academia will be important. 

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