Guarding the future with Fujitsu

In 2015 two major contracts marked a fifty year relationship between the UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) and Fujitsu that reaches right back to the days when the company (as ICL) delivered main frame systems into the MoD. Claire Apthorp takes a look at how Fujitsu is contributing to today’s modern military.


The new contracts awarded in 2015 will see Fujitsu continue to play a key role in helping the MoD transform the way it delivers information and communication technology across the forces, with an eye to delivering greater agility and mobility to service personnel.

Work under the first contract falls under the MoD's Global Connectivity project, which was established to ensure best continuation of ICT services after the Defence Fixed Telecommunications Service (DFTS) contract ends in July 2016. The £550m five-year contract will see Fujitsu supply core global connectivity services that will replace DFTS and the LAN services provided by the ATLAS Consortium, with a modern, agile and robust set of network (LAN/WLAN and WAN) services designed to improve service levels and align to the new ways of working required by users wherever they operate.

The new network will underpin the delivery of current and emerging MoD services both in the UK and overseas.

The second contract was awarded to the Atlas Consortium, of which Fujitsu is a part, along with Airbus Defence and Space and CGI. This £933m contract is part of the MoD's New Style of IT (NSoIT) project, which was initiated to renegotiate the continuation of the MoD's secure IT systems, with the goal of bringing in significant savings from the original Defence Information Infrastructure (DII) contract whilst delivering considerably improved and new capability to the majority of defence users in offices, headquarters and deployed bases by September 2016.

The contract will see the provision of a new IT system that will fully exploit the advantages of cloud computing and Microsoft Office 365 software, which reflects a general shift toward matching commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) technology with defence requirements to provide a customised solution.

COTS - the Fujitsu advantage

The advantage of COTS - or military off-the-shelf (MOTS) products built to a specific military standard - is that armed forces can take advantage of cutting edge technology more quickly while still knowing it is tough enough and ruggedised enough to survive the shocks and drops of the battlefield.

"Look at the current MoD Defence as a Platform initiative and you'll see they are very much looking at cloud hosting."

"We do this in many parts of our business now, with many of our products manufactured to military standards so that if you take a tablet into the field and it gets dropped in water it will still work, or if you're in a desert environment, you know that sand can't get into the housing," Neil Dove, CTO of Fujitsu Defence and National Security, said. "Military standards are a good place to start because it means we can sell those products across the commercial marketplace as well, especially into industries such as utilities where they need to be just as ruggedised."

With the shift toward COTS, the specialisation becomes how to integrate the products for the customer, rather than heading back to the drawing board to build new systems for each military customer from the ground up.

"Look at the current MoD Defence as a Platform initiative and you'll see they are very much looking at cloud hosting and systems, and for that the specialisation is how you customise and configure it to meet their needs," Dove said. "They still want high security, so instead of starting from a base design, you take an existing product, make a private version of it so it's a 'cloud in a box' - a server stack that is already configured as a cloud that is just as useful for the MoD as it would be for a school or university."

All of this means that the lag that has always existed between the technology fielded in the commercial sector and the technology fielded in the military sector is closing rapidly.

"There are obviously certain systems that militaries want to keep locked down, but for the greater majority we are shipping the latest versions - under the MoD contract with Atlas we are delivering up-to-date Office 365, and the same goes for tablets with Windows 10 and mobile phones," Dove said. "It used be a matter of, 'it's an older product, a previous release but it's been highly security tested so we'll take it'; now they are very much asking for the latest device, laptop, version of the software, and the provider ensures that the product sets are continually updated with the latest version."

The internet of things

Another area that Fujitsu is working in is the 'internet of things', which refers to the fact that virtually all electronic devices such as cell phones and laptops have their own IP address in order to enable them to connect to the internet - but it is heading far beyond that.

"We are now moving to the point where all things - from an RFID [radio frequency identification device] tag on a uniform to an electronic device - will have an IP address to allow it to connect to the internet," Dove said. "The classic example is the fridge concept, where the fridge can connect to the internet and re-order items when they are running low because it scanned all the products as they went in.

"What the 'internet of things' refers to is how to apply this capability to business problems. Just because you can connect your fridge to the internet, why would you? It's down to how you use that capability to make business benefits."

"All things - from an RFID tag on a uniform to an electronic device - will have an IP address."

In the military sector this technology is being developed with a particular focus on logistics, to enable armed forces to track, monitor and account for equipment and supplies as they move around bases, operational theatres and the globe through logistics supply chains.

Fujitsu acquired a leader in this area, GlobeRanger, in 2014. The company operates in the RFID technology space, specialising in the creation of an information processing infrastructure at the edge of the enterprise. This enables companies to harness data that is generated outside traditional IT environments to improve their business processes.

GlobeRanger's iMotion 'edge' platform supports data collection from handheld tracking devices, such as barcode readers, RFIDs and sensors, to improve the customer's supply chain management, maintenance repair and overhaul (MRO) and other asset management information needs by providing automatic, accurate and timely data on an asset's geographical location.

"By tracking items the customer knows what they have, where, and they can reap cost and efficiency benefits from that knowledge," Dove said. "It's also enabling a move toward 'just in time delivery' which is something that is taken advantage of across the commercial sector but that the MoDs of the world have never had before in their supply chains."

Wearables

Also in the logistics space, Fujitsu is investing in the development of 'wearables' for MRO and training applications. The technology is built around a robust Google Glass-type wearable head-mounted display that leverages artificial intelligence and augmented reality capabilities.

The concept is based on the idea that by using a head-mounted device with sensors and cameras on it, the user can be guided by a remote instructor - who can see what the wearer sees - in order to lead them through repair and maintenance type jobs.

"The advantage is that the wearer has their hands free and doesn't need to carry around a stack of manuals - that's the basic end of the technology," Dove said. "At the more advanced end you are looking at augmented reality where the camera can recognise what task you are performing and overlay on the engineer's vision what to do in which order."