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Moving Internet of Things to the tactical edge

If the defense marketplace operated like the commercial world, everyone from the acquisition experts to troops on the ground could expect to be wowed with nearly every new procurement of technology and equipment. Given the unique requirements for tactical products, however, things tend to move more incrementally. New technology capabilities developed for commercial purposes are consistently being implemented in areas such as location-based services, imagery analysis, logistics and mobile computing. This is often occurring on a more ad hoc basis or through pilots, not that aren't tied to an overall strategy designed to meet the military’s stringent requirements for security, reliability, connectivity and interoperability.

With rapid advancements in technology, there is a renewed opportunity to increase the pace of adoption and push for continued innovation. Now is the time for the Department of Defense (DoD) to develop a more holistic plan to accelerate the move of commercial technologies to the tactical edge. Providing a strategic vision across the services can accelerate the efficient integration of commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) equipment into existing systems and help industry partners understand where research and developmentR&D investments are needed.  

For example, take the multitude of connected technologies that are creating the Internet of Things (IoT). Many benefits of IoT networks are self-evident, appearing all around us in the commercial world for personal or industrial use: connected home security, personal health, mobile sensors for remote monitoring of equipment, automated communication between vehicles, and even environmental monitoring.

Some of these offer substantial benefits to military missions in terms of both capabilities and cost effectiveness. And certainly, there is an increase in military units training and deploying with COTS equipment and systems.

The trouble is that solutions developed for commercial markets cannot always be applied directly to tactical situations. There are challenges with security, durability and safety at the forefront, along with the redundancies and backup systems needed to ensure continuity of operations in extreme circumstances.

The IoT has uncovered many benefits from networked products and services. The military has invested heavily in similar interoperable systems for years in areas such as tactical communications. For companies to continue making the investments needed to bring innovative technology to bear for efficiently improving our national security, the community needs to do a better job of articulating a mutual understanding of the direction forward. All companies are pressured to deliver products with ever-more impressive capabilities, accelerated performance, better reliability—you name it.

Embedding this essential competitive truth into the defense marketplace has been at the heart of ongoing efforts by the DoD to modernize its acquisition system. These efforts to encourage more robust competition in the traditional defense industry and beyond to drive innovation, shorter development cycles and lower costs, are starting to pay off.

With a holistic planning approach, the DoD can provide more of the advantages of IoT to the war fighter. Planning would entail a coordinated effort involving three decision-makers: The National Security Agency for guidance on all aspects of security and risk assessment; DoD CIO for guidance on how connectivity will be managed; and Acquisition, Technology and Logistics (OSD-AT&L) for guidance on procurement of systems that take advantage or show attributes of a large number of Internet Protocol (IP) addresses to properly function.

When the DoD is able to define common standards and protocols, industry partners will be able to focus and justify their investments in R&D, which will ultimately support faster adoption and integration of IoT-enabled technologies.

MG (retired) Dennis Moran is the vice president of Government Business Development for Harris Corporation.

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