For National Defence, a Digital Arsenal Is Now Vital

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UK Defence will realise that software and digital transformation is as important as the more familiar hardware that populated the Top Trumps cards of our youth. Ships, tanks and planes (and the humans that operate and fight in and alongside them) won’t be obsolete, but our edge will come from a blend of humans, hardware and software. This is especially true in the two “new” domains of warfare – cyber (space) and (outer) space – where humans and hardware remain key, but software will determine our ability to deliver Defence’s purpose.

Like all large organisations, UK Defence is working to maximise the opportunities and manage the risks of the digital age. This requires more investment in time and effort in organising our (internal and external) data; categorising and cataloguing it; and making it available and ready for exploitation by both humans and machines. The effort will take years to really ramp up, but in 2022 we will start to see significant changes. Our intent is that data is valued as Defence’s second-most valuable asset after people.

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Having made our data ready, we will need to be able to access it, whether at the battlefield “edge” or the corporate “core”. In 2022, Defence’s “Digital Backbone” – the standardisation of networks and information exchanges along which that data will flow – will begin to cohere the connective tissue that links our sensors (on ships, tanks, satellites and planes and inside our cyber defences) with our decision-makers (whether they be admirals or corporals, or supervisory control and data-acquisition systems) and our “effectors” (weapons systems, surgical tools or infantry soldiers). This Digital Backbone will have cloud (and cloud-like) hosting and compute services and tools at both core and edge. We are already getting there at the lower security levels, but in 2022 we’ll begin to see cloud deployed at Secret – the level at which Defence tends to operate and fight.

In 2022, our data will be increasingly ready and accessible, but we also need to buy, build and deploy software to exploit that data at the speed of relevance and at enterprise scale. To do this, we will see Defence’s “Digital Foundry”, of which the new Defence AI Centre forms a key part, make an impact. The Foundry is a federated ecosystem of dozens of digital teams across Defence, providing the core, cross-cutting environments, standards and tools to enable those teams to work without feeling like they’re reinventing the wheel every time they develop a new product or service. The Foundry will also be a step-change in how we collaborate with the private sector and academia, making it easier not just for the big defence and digital “primes”, but also for SMEs and students to play their part in our national security.

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Just like any other organisation, Defence must do all of this while facing a wide range of threats – not least from other states, criminal groups and terrorists. Our defensive cyber-transformation programme is tightly integrated with those other initiatives. It too will significantly mature in 2022 – ensuring our people, our processes, our data and our technology are secure by design and protected from, as well as resilient to, the attacks that will inevitably come.

None of this will be delivered without the right people and skills and next year our workforce transformation will really kick in. Our approach is one of a tightly-knit “whole force” – of uniformed regulars and reserves, civil servants, industry and academia – bringing the diverse range of skillsets and mindsets that we need for this immense but exciting challenge.


Get more expert predictions for the year ahead. The WIRED World in 2022 features intelligence and need-to-know insights sourced from the smartest minds in the WIRED network. Available now on newsstands, as a digital download, or you can order your copy online.


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