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In conversation with Brigantes: as we head into 2024, how should defence bodies be approaching tech procurement?

Soldier Mod talks to Matthew Williams, CEO, Brigantes

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We're existing in an era which will be defined by technological advancement, and the defence sector is no exception. As we head towards 2024, the world of military technology continues to evolve at a remarkable pace. To gain some deeper insight, we sat down with Brigantes CEO, Matthew Williams, someone at the forefront of cutting-edge developments in the field, to get his take on the current state of military tech and what lies ahead.

Q: As we enter 2024, what do you consider to be the most significant technological challenges and opportunities facing the military sector?

Matthew Williams, CEO, Brigantes

Matthew Williams, CEO, Brigantes

A: “Technology is playing an increasingly pivotal role on today's battlefields. Advancements are enabling armed forces across the globe to harness previously unimaginable possibilities. From state-of-the-art weaponry to intelligent communication systems, developments in technology are swiftly changing the shape of armed combat as we know it.

Traditionally, the defence sector has siloed technology into separate, distinct areas. The urgent, primary challenge, but also the greatest opportunity, lies in our ability to integrate these disparate realms.

Achieving the most significant impact will require a seamless synergy of intelligence and kinetic effect. Currently, defence is looking at tech through a lens of isolated opportunities, engaging only certain elements of the equation. As a consequence of this, we are missing the potential to be had by integrating tech as part of the bigger picture - an approach which could yield dramatic, far-reaching benefits.”

Q: What factors do the modern military need to consider when approaching operational technology?

A: “When approaching tech - what's traditionally been done and what Defence bodies need to avoid, is starting with an answer. What I mean by that is we often hear people saying, “I've seen this piece of shiny new equipment that can do XYZ. I want that” - this is the wrong way to go about it. We should instead be asking “what effect do we want to achieve?”, “what are we trying to do?” - and from here we can approach tech. Start with the “why”, and then we can look at how tech solutions can facilitate this goal.

We also need to be looking at this holistically, across the entire chain of command. There's a temptation to be taken in by shiny new tech and all the brilliant stuff it can do. But this needs to be considered in terms of what it can achieve, across the whole operational spectrum. We've been looking at operational issues separately from a nation's strategic intent. This isn't holistic. We need to join these dots.”

Q: Surveillance has transformed military operations in recent decades. Can you talk a bit about how you see this being used?

A: “Surveillance has been a transformative component in the advancement of military operations in recent decades and it's something which has revolutionised the means through which armed forces personnel can gather a huge amount of information and situational awareness.

However, there's a big difference between information and intelligence and this is a crucial distinction when we're talking about surveillance technology and the advantages and drawbacks of different tech approaches. “Information” in this context pertains to all data - there's a lot of it and a lot of it is irrelevant. “Intelligence” on the other hand is the distillation of this information into valuable, actionable data which can inform key decisions at a strategic level. Intelligence is what modern technology is enabling us to garner, and quickly.

A brilliant example of this kind of tech is Reveal's Farsight software, which equips the user with the ability to generate real-time 2D maps and near-real-time 3D maps from UAS image data. This results in dramatic time savings, but also a reduction in the logistical and cognitive burden shouldered by units who are navigating in high-risk environments. It's interoperable with a range of mil-spec UV devices and can be integrated across several platforms including ATAK.

The scope of possibilities with this kind of technology is almost unimaginable, but the key here is in that holistic approach - the effect that this type of intelligence could have on the entire chain of command, as opposed to focusing only on what can be achieved on the ground. As it stands, a section commander on the ground is effectively a decision-maker who can make or break an entire operation, but these individuals are often heavily burdened, fatigued, highly distracted and have a low-level understanding of entire battlespace strategy. However, this Corporal can become a battle-winning asset if the intelligence that they have garnered can be instantly passed up the chain of command in the form of real-time, concrete, actionable data. The result of this is reasoned, timely decision-making which can deliver a dramatic, potentially battle-winning effect.”

Q: We've spoken a lot about the opportunities that technology can afford us. What about the other side of the coin: are there risks that need to be taken into account when utilising some of this emerging technology?

A: “I think it's important to note that this tech isn't emerging, it's here, right now. What's key is the defence sector's adoption of new tech - adoption at tempo. We could argue that the real risk is that Defence doesn't adopt these advancements quickly enough, which would be due ironically to a longstanding risk aversion. To miss this opportunity would be to gift our adversaries with an operational advantage. They are progressing, constantly. To become complacent is to allow them to get ahead. What's becoming clear from the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, is that success is frequently determined not by lengthy precision procurement processes, but by agile decision-making and innovative solutions. Makeshift weapons manufactured from off-the-shelf drones have become an indispensable component of Ukraine's fight against the superior power of the Russian military over the last 20 months, and I think we're going to continue to see more of this going forward. Swift evolution and agile procurement processes are going to be pivotal.”

Q: There's a huge breadth of UV solutions readily available on the commercial market these days. How can military bodies make decisions on what's best for their needs?

A: “You could argue that the UV device itself is of little consequence in the context of the wider discussion around this. It's certainly important; as you rightly say, this is a realm in which capabilities are advancing rapidly and it's crucial to stay up to speed with what is the most fit for purpose, depending on the requirement. There is no one UV solution to rule them all - there's a UV for every conceivable purpose and selecting the right products comes down to a consideration of what is the correct device for the end-user. At any rate, the UV device itself is merely a sensor, a collector of information. Where the tech conversation gets really interesting is in what unites it all - that crucial web that ties all of this technological capability together and connects the dots.”

Q: So to stay ahead of the game is non-negotiable, and a holistic approach is key. What does this kind of approach actually look like?

A: “We could take the classic example of a unit in the field using Parrot's Anafi USA. This is a drone which can gather surveillance up to 10km and has a flight distance of roughly 4km. So immediately the user has expanded their information-gathering capabilities by around 15km. Now at this stage that's all it is - information, and a unit of 8-12 personnel on the ground could have all the information in the world but their lethality is still limited to the range of their individual weapon systems.

Traditional methods of radioing up the chain of command are labour-intensive, cognitively cumbersome, and slow - a stage set for inaccuracies. By bringing contemporary tech into the equation, all of this information is transmitted immediately onto their chest-worn device, from which it can be swiftly shared up the chain of command to a lead decision-maker who can review this factual data to inform a measured, unbiased decision. What this means is that with a drone operator, a unit of 8-12 people, can now effectively cover and control an area of around 40 square kilometres, thanks to the structured and cohesive application of the right technology. Not only does this increase lethality, but it dramatically reduces the risk to life and the potential implications of fraught decision-making by personnel lower down the command chain.”

Q: You made the distinction earlier between information and intelligence. How does the UV operator on the ground deliver this information as actionable intelligence that returns real results?

A: “There is a lot of noise out there and it can be overwhelming. Soldiers are already having to contend with masses of information when they're operating in the field, not to mention the physical burden of being out on ops and the toll that this takes. What we don't want is all of this tech which is designed to be an asset, to actually become a hindrance. When it comes to technology and information, more certainly doesn't equal more.

The answer here lies in integration, specifically the integration of hardware and information, which together translates into intelligence. This is the equation I alluded to earlier, and it's the cornerstone of a successful technological procurement approach. Utilising integrative technology can enable us to really harness a lot of power. I touched on Reveal's Farsight software already, and another great example of this type of technology is Tomahawk Robotic's Kinesis Ecosystem, a control system that incorporates AI technology into an open architecture approach. Kinesis enables operators to channel all of their UXV capabilities into one platform, which is a huge step because it negates the need for several controllers. Technology like that is a real game changer because it means there's a reduction in weight, less of a training burden, and less of a cognitive burden on the soldier, which can make a world of difference for agile decision-making. And truly this is the crux of so much of this conversation. It's not really about what the tech can do, it's about what it can facilitate us to do.”

Q: The last couple of years have seen combat warfare evolve pretty close to home for the first time in several decades. What's our takeaway here, if you could underpin future tech procurement in a nutshell?

A: “Throughout history, we've witnessed revolutions which have changed the shape of military operations forever. The machine gun is always wheeled out as an example of this in that its invention put an immediate halt to the era of cavalry, and that effect was seismic. We're in the midst of a technological revolution right now and it's constantly changing how we have to do things. Tempo is key. Agility is key. And so is a holistic approach. Lessons are being learnt all of the time. Global societal, tech, and political landscapes are constantly evolving at pace and within that so too is the world of defence. We simply cannot afford to take our fingers off the pulse. You don't have to search hard to find an infinite array of brilliant new technology solutions offering unbelievable possibilities. But this conversation is not really about cool gadgets. It's about a change of approach, it's about taking a step back and looking across the entire strategic chain of command at how tech can influence that for transformative effect.”

Brigantes is the go-to specialist for on-the-soldier equipment. Uniting decades of military experience, advanced technical expertise and leading brand partnerships to deliver state-of-the-art soldier systems for every operational environment. Get in touch with them to discuss your unique challenges.

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