- Advanced technologies better connect the military through increased networking and helping the military remain agile.
- Digital transformation is forcing a change in approach; a joint force, a more connected force, is needed to defeat today and tomorrow's threats.
- Northrop Grumman is poised to help their customers transform military operations with the 'Internet of Military Things'.
For decades across the aerospace and defense industry, companies have created individual defense capabilities, such as a new aircraft, based on the mission needs of their particular military customer. Developing these capabilities meant creating hardware and software unique to that system and unique to the manufacturer.
While that process resulted in the military receiving highly-advanced capabilities, excellent at performing the intended mission or task, it also resulted in programs that locked the customer into the same supplier for sustainment and modernization for decades.
Continuously advancing technologies are changing that paradigm and changing the business of defense and national security. And this digital transformation is paving the way for delivering what the military needs — rapidly developed new capabilities to meet changing threats.
The changing battlefield
The modern battlefield is a complex place, with planes, satellites, and uncrewed aircraft hovering above; command posts, ground troops, radar, and missile-defense systems below; and perhaps ships lined up off the coast and submarines at sea.
All of these military systems and tools need to communicate effectively if defense personnel are to easily collaborate on missions. But militaries across the globe have traditionally developed proprietary, incompatible networks and systems — even within individual branches.
A sweeping military concept called Joint All-Domain Command and Control, or JADC2, is poised to change the picture dramatically. It calls for connecting all sensors – such as radars and antennae – with communications systems across all military branches and sharing their information on a single network known as the Internet of Military Things (IoMT). By enabling secure data sharing and by unleashing the power of artificial intelligence, the IoMT will transform battlefield operations into a synchronized whole that is capable of making rapid, information-driven decisions.
"The Internet of Military Things is the way of the future," said Scott Stapp, Northrop Grumman's chief technology officer. "It's going to significantly improve the effectiveness of military operations."
Commercial advances now lead to military advances
For most of our lives, we've benefited from military technology being passed from the military to the commercial world. The examples are plentiful — from the radars keeping our cars safely apart on the highway to GPS helping us navigate a new city to the processing chips in our mobile phones. These technologies started in the military and are now essential to our daily lives; that's been the traditional path of advanced technology.
"You can connect to finances online, your tax records, to your health records. You can share information with your doctors instantly, everything is being connected," Stapp said. "It's all about dramatically increasing data flow, which includes voice and data communications."
That ubiquitous connectivity is not yet available to the military, meaning defense forces aren't as connected or capable as they could be.
"The military is not set up like that. It's set up as individual branches," Stapp added. "So sharing and learning what that data can do to improve mission-capability is a key goal in the development of the Internet of Military Things."
According to Stapp, Northrop Grumman is committed to making sure that as they develop capabilities for individual military branches, they're network-friendly from the outset and optimized to talk to as many other systems as appropriate.
"You'll begin to see, in military technology, the connectivity we have at home," Stapp said. "I recently installed a home theater comparing two great systems. One had better sound quality, but the other plugged seamlessly into my network. I chose the other because I valued the better connectivity."
Testing the theater of the future
As it continues to build the capabilities within the IoMT to be open and interoperable, Northrop Grumman is also developing the secure, interconnecting command and control networks that bring all of these things together. A previous military exercise involving the US Army's Integrated Air and Missile Defense Battle Command System (IBCS) and missile defense system illustrates how the company's connective technology makes a crucial difference on the battlefield.
In the test, a mock cruise missile was fired, and was instantly detected by a Northrop Grumman-built US Marine Corps radar system and an F-35 fighter jet. The sensors were deliberately jammed and therefore unable to independently identify the target, but upon receiving cues from the other two assets via the connective tissue of IBCS, the system fired a surface-to-air missile that successfully shot down the surrogate cruise.
Just a few short seconds of shared communication made the difference between success and failure.
"Normally these military systems would never talk to each other," Stapp said. "Because they did, one system that had lost its own eyes and ears was able to use its weapon thanks to the network provided by our engineers."
Northrop Grumman is also developing a family of reprogrammable radio communication systems that will allow the US Air Force to share intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance information over a single network. Jenna Paukstis, vice president, communications solutions business unit at Northrop Grumman, said the company's family of open architecture, software-defined Freedom Radios, continually incorporate third-party innovations that not only help enhance the flow of information across the DoD, but will provide the enhanced situational awareness capabilities needed to maintain a strategic advantage in an age of technology-driven conflict.
"Our plug-n-play, adaptable radios, and gateways allow us to get the right data to the right user at the right time, and these systems are well positioned to help make IoMT a reality for men and women in uniform," Paukstis added.
Making better decisions with artificial intelligence
Northrop Grumman is expanding defensive capabilities with AI and machine learning algorithms, which ingest enormous volumes of information and interpret it much faster than humans can, leading to faster and better decision-making. An AI-orchestrated response also conserves firepower, coordinating operations in the heat of battle so multiple weapons systems don't all shoot at the same target simultaneously.
"If you have hundreds of missiles coming toward your base, a human will never be able to figure out which ones to target at which times, but AI can," Stapp said.
At a more advanced level, future AI systems will enable both piloted and uncrewed systems to share intelligence and act autonomously when necessary.
High-powered computing in small spaces
"AI requires massive computing power and server farms for storage, but in the military you don't have that luxury," Stapp said. "You need to shrink a thousand computers down to a size that can fit onto an airplane or a satellite."
Northrop Grumman is working to solve the problem by boosting the processing power of existing chips while collaborating with universities to develop lightning-fast quantum computing for the future. In the meantime, it has created effective data-preprocessing techniques that weed out noise and deliver the details critical to mission success.
"A fighter aircraft collects terabytes of radar data. Preprocessing reduces it to actionable kilobytes," Stapp said. "Rather than being inundated with thousands of bits of information, preprocessing allows the pilot to focus on what really matters. The pilot simply sees a red dot on the screen showing the threat and its range, altitude, and angle."
The IoMT creates infinite possibilities
Northrop Grumman continues to lead system development to connect disparate systems, making it possible for information sharing via translators and other technological work-arounds.
"We can help systems that can't talk understand each other, we do that now, but in the future we won't need work-arounds, systems will understand each other from day one," Stapp said. "The interoperability and connection of the IoMT means our collective defense forces will be able to see events, understand them, make better decisions, and then act faster than the enemy. That will be the real strategic advantage."
The ability to coordinate operations across domains and make sound split-second decisions based on the most accurate intelligence available, no matter where it comes from is a vision that Northrop Grumman is helping make a reality.
"We can't even imagine all the possibilities the IoMT will create," Stapp said. "The first step to harnessing those possibilities is for businesses to embrace open-systems, to embrace connectivity."