UK digital infrastructure specialist Improbable Defence is to provide a next-generation communication network digital twin to help Defence Digital operate its complex technical infrastructure.

The contract is part of the MOD’s digital transformation programme and is led by Defence Digital which forms a part of Strategic Command.

Defence Digital, led by chief information officer Charlie Forte, is responsible for ensuring the military and business front line has access to the most effective digital and information technology – delivering the digital backbone to the UK Ministry of Defence (MOD).

Work on the contract started months ago, and Improbable Defence is already delivering some of the capabilities.

The digital twin’s function

The digital backbone is a singular, future-proof and secure communications architecture. The MOD operates with various suppliers and various networks that interact with each other on a complex level.

Improbable Defence chief executive officer of defence and security Joe Robinson tells Global Defence Technology: “Understanding the way those networks operate, and efficient modification and upgrading that [networks] can be a complex task. It can be quite time consuming and intensive for a lot of people to manage that kind of complexity.”

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Improbable Defence seeks to build a capability that absorbs the complexity of the process and conveys a level of simplicity to the network operators which will help them function more efficiently.

“Overall, the aim is to help them enhance the resilience of the network, to speed up decision making around network operations and improvements and also drive efficiencies. The digital twin, in very specific terms, will help increase understanding of the current networks and their operations,” Robinson explains.

The digital twin will also help the MOD predict future demands on its communication networks.

Robinson says his company’s solution will enhance the management and network operations that have to take place when running a very largescale communication network infrastructure, which includes elements such as cyber resilience. The digital twin “will flush out data and provide a bit of analytical rigour to support decision making,” he explains.

The digital twin, however, will play a larger role in upgrading the future communication infrastructure as well.

The MOD published its Next-Generation Communication Networks (NGCN) goals in 2019. The work sets out that technical resource is required to support the NGCN to maintain defence’s fixed network capability.

The programme seeks to elevate the existing network and enhance it so that is being able to deliver new capabilities, such as AI and cloud, to ensure that the network fits for the purpose.

To deliver that upgrade requires a multi-billion pound investment, and the NGCN team is under-resourced.

Robinson claims the digital twin solution can help overcome some of the challenges. He explains: “The digital twin is a really powerful important point of it. It will assist in the procurement of the NGCN so it will support future procurement decisions around the programme, and it will deliver highly visible and measurable evidence to support that and the in-service network operational team.”

Digital twin infrastructure and synthetic environment

Improbable defence can deliver in-depth simulations that are meticulously detailed and rich. They incorporate an enormous number of components that make up individual models and datasets.

“In this instance, the digital twin allows us to go all the way down into service level impacts. That means understanding an individual machine, and individual computer within a network, within a regional or a national network building up to a global network.

“We can go down into the very lowest level of hardware data centres and customer sites, all the way up to how all the pipework and physical fibre in the ground connects all of these elements together,” Robinson says.

The twin also allows the operators to layer in the dependencies on the network, such as how a particular element connects into a power grid, or how it can connect into the telecommunication infrastructure of the UK.

A sizable simulation like this also provides a high level of detail and understanding of the mission and service level impacts of the network. Robinson says what his company refers to by understanding service level is that understanding hypothetical scenarios on a mission or individual level.

“If one bit of the network goes down, can this individual use their email? Or if an individual at a particular station is denied a particular computer, how does that impact their job? Because what you care about is whether you can deliver your mission, whether you can do your job at the moment based on network interference or network assets,” Robinson elaborates.

The enhancement of service operations can be dissected into three main components. The first and current phase is understanding the existing network. The second step is the optimisation of the process to manage the existing network and make operations more efficient. The last stage is supporting the upgrade and transformation of the network as it evolves and improves.

Robinson says various missions transcend all of those stages of development, including the monitoring of the health, the security and resilience of the network.