How big data is helping to transform the defence sector

Written by Bill Holford on 8 June 2017 in Sponsored Article
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Bill Holford explores how big data is changing modern warfare, and argues for a defence big data strategy to ensure we are making the most of the opportunities ahead

Whilst the benefits of big data analytics in the private sector are well known, the public sector and the defence sector are increasingly using this technology to become more efficient and more effective. At a time when defence is of acute importance in the political landscape, big data offers organisations the opportunity to analyse important data to provide more accurate insights.

Within the defence sector, big data’s impact extends beyond the bottom line. For the armed forces and those working to counter external threats, big data analytics are a powerful tool for combatting these at both a local and global scale. The tool works to decrease operational risk whilst increasing the safety of troops and civilians whether they are in Iraq, Syria or Afghanistan.

Today, understanding big data is changing modern warfare, defence and how we keep citizens safe. 

Big data on the battlefield 
It’s during live combat where the ability to assess, assimilate and act on the insights big data can  provide turn into operational intelligence that saves lives.

Due to the rise of sensors for telemetry (the automatic measurement and wireless transmission of data from remote sources), drones and other military and airborne surveillance and connected reconnaissance tools, the military is generating vast amounts of data.  This huge network of sensors produces data ranging from videos taken by drones, to text files, to satellite imagery. The MOD, for example, have been using autonomous vehicles for some time in the air, on land and at sea, where there’s limited knowledge about the terrain and environment where soldiers and other military assets may also be deployed. These technologies are all generating data which can play a role in improving how and where people and assets are deployed.     

The high value data generated by a wide variety of nodes in the connected military network is growing to almost overwhelming levels. The task is therefore how to render all this data useful.

Particularly around how it can be processed, assimilated, understood, utilised and then distributed to best effect. It’s only through analysis that the patterns, trends and outliers which can guard against the loss of life, operational failure and improved security can emerge.   

Why we need a defence big data strategy 
At a time when operational manpower and budgets are squeezed, the armed forces should be maximizing their data. And with more and more connected devices and unmanned systems being deployed, big data analytics means that operations personnel can sift through everything from data derived from surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft through to social network analysis and battlefield videos.  

The benefits of processing and examining images and video captured by airborne (drone) sensor systems that can monitor and carry out surveillance over large areas, such as zones within a city are highly valuable. If a base is targeted by ammunition, surveillance information can be recorded and passed on to be shared immediately with teams on the ground and back at central control. An intelligent response can then be derived and implemented based on this knowledge.  The footage can be analysed retrospectively to track the lead up to specific events which the military want to avoid in the future. Recording and disseminating big data within defence can have a huge impact on outcomes and safety in the field.  

Big data plays a large role within the UK’s international counter terrorism programme.  Every year the intelligence services recruit graduates into the intelligence and data analyst development programme. The programme has been created to teach graduates how to examine large data sets to draw out salient information, uncover communications networks and to analyse geolocation data. As a unit this department’s entire focus is on driving intelligence forward by identifying individuals of interest, means of communication or opportunities for disruption;  all of which contributes to improving the planning of operational deployments, surveillance operations and the overall safety, efficiency and quality of all MI5 undertakings.   

The opportunity ahead 
Big data analytics have a hugely significant role to play in helping to manage the data deluge facing the armed forces and defence sector and those involved in anti-terrorism efforts.   Assisting analysts in focusing their efforts in ways that will decrease risk and operational failure is the way forward. As systems of intelligence, which combine hardware, AI software, data and human input, we will see a vast improvement in the way we handle defence strategies. In modern combat and counter-terrorism, data scientists are now emerging as one of the defence industry’s most effective weapons.   

Bill Holford is Defence Director at BT   

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