Connectivity and the military base of the future

Harry Lye 8 June 2020 (Last Updated June 8th, 2020 16:03)

Technology is mostly discussed from the perspective of advancing military systems, but it is just as important in equipping the military base of the future to defend against new threats, as Harry Lye reports.

Connectivity and the military base of the future
Honeywell shared its vision for the future military base in a recent webinar. Image: Honeywell

From digital depots to asset management and tracking, advanced software is making military bases more efficient, more resilient and cheaper to run. A key part of building the base of the future is modernising existing bases.

As Honeywell Aerospace’s senior director for connected defence and cybersecurity, Norm Balchunas, explained during the company’s recent Military Base of the Future webinar, most military installations that the US operates from are either old or ageing. Processes and standards developed in the Cold War World are ready for a refresh. The base of the future needs enhanced connectivity to keep pace with the rapidly evolving threats it will be faced with.

“What we are developing is an enterprise solution that leverages Honeywell’s global footprint, our connectivity, and integrating of IoT devices across connected aircraft, smart plants, hundreds of millions of vehicles, tens of millions of buildings, and integration into a smart city environment,” Balchunas explained. “This amazing footprint of having a connected worker, and being able to bring those kinds of capabilities forward to defence.”

The concept of connectivity emerged as a key topic during this discussion of the future military base. Just as cities and public services are increasingly ‘connected’, the military can apply the same techniques to aircraft and battlefields to support maintainers and operators. This, in turn, can keep operators’ hands on what they need to be doing to maintain equipment faster and more efficiently.

Digital depots: tracking and connecting assets

“What Honeywell has been doing, in dozens of depots around the globe, is to be able to turn around and have a much better alignment, being able to track our own assets, connect our workers, digitise our environments and the tech orders. To be able to capture that data and bring it back for enhanced decision-making and have visibility across the entire logistics chain.”

Connectivity is just one part of the future military base, but it is a key aspect in improving efficiency. Technology to track assets and spare parts has long been a mainstay in the private sector, but militaries have a long way to go in bringing their systems up to date.

Aerospace companies like Rolls Royce, for example, have for years operated a connected maintenance system for their products, allowing them to track faults, predict future maintenance and have spare parts waiting on the tarmac before a jet even lands.

“A ‘digital birth certificate’ would allow a part or system to be tracked throughout its lifecycle.”

Applying such systems to military operations could be a game-changer for readiness, keeping ships in the seas, jets in the air, and tanks rolling, not laid up undergoing maintenance. These systems are slowly gaining traction in the naval sector with Babcock’s i360 and iFrigate, for instance, designed to make ship maintenance easier; however, on a depot and supply chain scale, as envisaged by Honeywell, the benefits across the board would be significant.

Managing platforms from ‘cradle to grave’ is another aspect of Honeywell’s vision, as Balchunas explained during the webinar. For individual systems, he presented the idea of a ‘digital birth certificate’. This would allow a part or system to be tracked throughout its lifecycle, including the history of new parts being introduced, and make that full lifecycle data available to the maintainer so they can quickly find and solve problems.

Illustration of a connected future military base

This animation illustrates the concept of a connected base. Image: Honeywell

The full base picture

Looking at the full ecosystem of the future base, at its top lies the digital depot, the tracking of parts and seamless connectivity of information. Built on the base of this are monitoring and control, voice solutions, energy management, airfield ramp management, asset and worker tracking.

The benefits of this approach are obvious: connecting people, assets, sensors and security; in essence, making all operations more straightforward and easy to manage – from helping a mechanic find a part to managing power consumption and keeping systems online.

This network could be extended from the base to the acquisition system and to the wider fleet and the individual warfighter. This would allow for all parts of the system to be monitored and problems to be flagged up and solved before a small fault can cause a larger system to go out of service.

Cloud computing is central to such an approach. Governments and militaries are now “rapidly introducing their acceptance and trust of cloud solutions”, Balchunas said. He added that Honeywell’s customers are also quickly becoming more aware and accepting of cloud solutions already in place in a number of industries, including aerospace.

“Data and its efficient and effective use will become a critical function of future military bases.”

Honeywell is applying this concept to defence in the form of its Forge platform. “What Honeywell Forge for defence is doing is being able to come into the government’s acceptance of cloud as being secure, as being safe, and as being essential to them to be able to take advantage of the data that is being produced across many platforms,” Balchunas explained. “Being able to pull that in through a data lake through secure connectivity, and being able to do the processing and the development of the analytics, tailored to directly support them for both Honeywell and non-Honeywell components.”

The next level of this is to build it into the application layer, plug it into other military systems and have a user interface that makes access to all the information clear at the personnel level and take advantage of all of the information and systems. This application would take account of each user’s needs, and help them develop solutions.

Data and its efficient and effective use will become a critical function of future military bases. As we transition to network-enabled wars, with decision-making supplemented by data and artificial intelligence, the foundations for such systems will need to be laid at every level of operations and, crucially, in every military base.