How can the fourth industrial revolution help defense?

Feb 01, 2021

The fourth industrial revolution will assist the defense sector in a number of ways, and it comes as rapid changes to the modern battlefield are already underway. The timing of the new revolution comes as the US military's Third Offset strategy has begun to move towards the development and fielding of new capabilities. Other countries are watching these developments and are trying to find ways to ensure they can match these capabilities to ensure their own advanced capabilities for advanced security and defense.

Data is a key characteristic of the fourth industrial revolution, and as sensors increase their presence on the battlefield, the data they generate can be used to inform commanders about the lie of the land and the movements of actors - friendly, hostile, and benign. The deployment of new sensors – and platforms capable of hosting multiple advanced sensor systems – into a variety of environments with improved operational parameters means that there is less and less margin for detection error, and fewer places to hide.

Additionally, the fourth industrial revolution is bringing capabilities in computing that can allow this data to be analyzed better and more rapidly. Secure cloud computing systems allow for scalability of mission data gathering and information dissemination, as well as improving processing speeds over previous on-board processing technologies that could be prone to faults or slowness.

Combining big data analysis and on-board systems already helps combat aircraft identify issues in usage and maintenance that can allow for improvements in supply chain management. The generation of mission data profiles can enable maintenance teams to reduce “down time” for aircraft by being able to better assess and identify potential points of failure in an aircraft, as well as help operators reduce inefficiencies in system operation while improving and maximizing performance.

Autonomous technologies are also helping to add to the sensor mission. The development of long-endurance unmanned aerial vehicles, pseudo-satellites, unmanned patrol boats, and sentry robot systems allow for the gathering of data or the establishment of an intelligence-gathering presence where it may not be politically or cost-effective to place resources. Similarly, these systems are being equipped with kinetic capabilities to ensure swift responses to threats as they are identified, enabling military commanders and political leaders to achieve strategic and tactical goals without missing opportunities.

Developments in 3D printing are also working to allow for faster and more cost-efficient manufacturing of components at a variety of levels. These can range from the manufacture of components for tanks and aircraft, as well as shortening the supply chain for key components to allow for maintenance to take place closer to the frontline. As a result, manufacturing capabilities can now be devolved from a single factory to anywhere that has the printing capability - be that an air base with a depot repair capability or a small deployed army base far from a city. This capability has a major benefit for in-theatre repairs and potentially in harsh environments, where demands for equipment such as generators and vehicles can mean the difference between mission success and mission failure - be they combat or humanitarian aid relief operations.

The ways in which the fourth industrial revolution can benefit the military commander in peacetime and combat are constantly expanding as new technologies, processes, and concepts come to development. What these capabilities will look like in 2030 and beyond can only be imagined.

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