The Ministry of Defence plans to apply predictive analytics to its weapons and vehicles

Army US soldiers

Mike Stone says that he can “foresee a day” when all of their weaponry can be tracked in real time to better plan for maintenance and ammunition dumps

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The UK Ministry of Defence expects to be able to collect data from weapons, vehicles and soldiers into a single place within the next five years and 'operationalise' its use, according to its chief digital and information officer Mike Stone.

Speaking before Splunk’s annual conference in Orlando this week, Stone spoke about the importance of better data collection and insight in defence and the potential consequences of being behind the curve. 

Stone told ComputerworldUK: “The way I think about it is if we don’t get the right insights out of our data then, say companies use data to get a competitive advantage, I use it to get an advantage over our enemies. We need to be able to use it to dominate the information space, because if we don’t then we could potentially cede that to others.”

Stone is currently in the middle of an ambitious plan to move the MoD to what he calls ‘Defence-as-a-Platform’ and says that Splunk is an important cog in the project.

Read next: MOD IT chief unveils 'Defence as a Platform' plan

Stone wouldn’t speak about specific projects but he did posit a situation where the MoD would be able to collect and operationalise machine data from weapons, vehicles and soldiers into a single place.

He said: “It’s not a fact today but all of our weapons platforms are increasingly going to be bristling with sensors. I could easily foresee a day when any of our weapons platforms could be polled every twenty seconds to say where they are, what their ammunition state is, what their fuel state is, what their lubrication state is, what their ration state is and what the vital signs are of the people on board. 

“That is vast amounts of data, but that is the sort of scale I am talking about. We are dealing increasingly with HD full motion video and being able to parse through that. So you can imagine we will have huge variety, volume and velocity needs of our data.”

This would allow the MoD to “plan where best to place maintenance parts, ammunition dumps etcetera” on the fly.

In order to derive this sort of real time insight Stone is reliant on the weapons manufacturers to pay as much credence to sensors and connectivity as he does.

“A lot of the companies have an information systems arm, whether it is BAE, General Dynamics or Northrup Grummond,” Stone said.

“What we are seeking to do in this space is to recognise that the lifecycle of an information system is much shorter than the lifecycle of heavy metal. The lifecycle of a warship from concept to disposal may be 40 years but an information system will be three to eight years and it is getting shorter. 

Stone is working with weapons manufacturers to work out “the last responsible moment to decide what information systems are needed on a weapons platform, so that we stand a good chance of having information capabilities that aren’t past their sell by date.”

Real time decision support

“What I am really keen to be able to do is to get to very near to real time decision support,” Stone said. 

“So that our decision making is properly informed, so that we have been able to model through in rapid time and almost in the blink of an eye various courses of action and come up with the optimum response.”

When asked what sort of timeline he was working to Stone said: “There would be people that would say 20 years, I think we should be in a position to do that in five years, and elements of that much quicker. What it requires us to do is to get the appropriate sensors and connectivity to allow us to do that.”

Stone has spoken about his interest in similar technology to Google Glass in the past and it is possible to imagine the sci-fi possibility of a soldier being fed real time decision advice via Google Glass while in the field. 

As Stone said towards the end of our conversation: “The biggest constraint today is not technology, technology is coming at us at a pace that is unbelievable, it is our imagination. We have got to imagine what it is we are able, or want to do and by the very fact of imagining it we create the use cases for the technology.”

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