The U.S. military has long been at the forefront of innovation, and their research efforts have led to many consumer goods that we now take for granted, such as microwave ovens, duct tape, GPS devices and even the internet itself.
However, there is one area in which the U.S. military is conspicuously behind the civilian world: the Internet of Things. IoT has obvious applications for the armed forces, from vehicle maintenance to personnel monitoring to stock control. Despite this, uptake has been slow in most departments, with no immediate plans to implement an IoT infrastructure. Why is that?
Looking closer, the military has several concerns about IoT:
- Connectivity—Domestically, most of the military operates in areas with fast and reliable digital infrastructures. However, those at the top must always plan for situations where they won’t have access to large amounts of bandwidth, such as during deployment to a remote region. The military is working on solutions which may, in the future, address this problem, such as sophisticated drones and satellites that can boost bandwidth, as well as smart vehicles that can be driven into areas and used as mobile internet hotspots.
- Security issues—Security is a concern for every organization, but even more so in the military where stakes are so high. Some military thinkers have already expressed deep concern about the ease with which hackers have been able to gain access to civilian IoT systems, taking control of moving vehicles, for example. In a combat situation, that kind of breach could be catastrophic.
- Budgets—To get up to speed, money must be spent. Creating a secure military IoT means revisiting the entire Department of Defense infrastructure and ensuring that all networks are protected from cyber attack. The DoD recently called for their cyber security budget to be increased by $900 million, but even more is needed to help secure networks that can contain components dating back to the 1970s.
- Culture—The military has a deeply risk-averse culture, and for good reason. As one analyst puts it, “if systems fail, people die.” However, in a culture such as found in the military, inertia can begin to creep in and decision-makers may prefer to stick with tried and true solutions, rather than working to build secure and reliable new systems.
Military versus Enterprise
Many of these issues will sound familiar to anyone who has ever tried to lead any kind of digital transformation project. While the stakes may not be quite so high in the private sector, reliability and security are always major concerns.
Culture is also a big issue, and private enterprise is capable of being just as risk-averse as the military. There may not be lives on the line, but businesses do have to make sure that they are making the right investment when they implement new systems. If a company doesn’t have an innovation-led culture, they can often put off the decision to upgrade until the last possible moment.
The military has begun taking steps towards implementing IoT technologies—some troops have been issued with helmets containing built-in monitoring devices to detect potential concussions and other brain injuries. It’s a small step into the world of IoT, but one that could save numerous lives. And, as solutions to military concerns about IoT develop, hopefully more life-saving technologies can be implemented.