HOW MILITARIES CAN WEATHER THE PERFECT INFORMATION ACCESS STORM
By Lawrence Poynter, Product Director at iOra
11 Mar 13. Computers and communications networks are a fundamental part of modern warfare and planning, but attaining a single point of truth remains a challenge, says Lawrence Poynter, Product Director at iOra.
All global militaries acknowledge the requirement for embedded computer and network operations at the core of their campaigns. Computers and communications networks support essential command and control, the means by which military commands become spread to assigned forces, and are also employed to record and disseminate intelligence, as well as circulate and manage information on personnel and logistics.
In addition, the digital information generated is also used to forensically record the decision-making process, so that complex military actions can be reviewed at a later date in order to recreate the information available to the battlefield commander at the point of action execution. It is therefore essential for military commanders that any decision they make is based on the latest and most relevant operational data.
Ensuring that information is current and consistent across all deployed operational sites, irrespective of location – i.e. providing a ‘single point of truth’ – is a fundamental goal of information assurance. Providing the required level of assurance however, is exacerbated by a number of constraining factors that have developed over the years to create what many people have called ‘the perfect information access storm’.
War in the information age
Modern soldiers, sailors and airmen are now drawn largely from the web generation. In their civilian lives, they are used to having responsive web tools at their fingertips, such as social networking, email, and the web. However, conventional applications built for the military by risk-averse system integrators take many years to reach operational service and, as a result, fail to deliver anywhere near the same level of usability that an individual may experience on their personal computing devices (e.g. laptops, smartphones, tablets etc.). Consequently, it is often the case that they fail to adopt these almost archaic applications, where costly training is required and at worst, information is updated on a patchy basis, leading to information inaccuracies.
There has also been the emergence of web portals – i.e. computer environments used to manage and present a wide range of information to users via a standard interface. The collation and distribution of operational content has rapidly become the de facto method for militaries to share and collaborate on data.
Typically, portals were designed to operate over terrestrial Local Area Networks (LANs), which is why they can struggle to function properly when users attempt to access them over extended Wide Area Networks (WANs) or high latency networks delivered via satellite – as is standard for military deployments in remote sandy environments. Indeed, the simple process of linking computers together is often just not feasible in extreme and operationally-sensitive deployments, which can become isolated as a result.
Operational interoperability is critical for military users, especially in situations where nations join forces to address a specific strategic objective. Implementing interoperability however, is fraught with issues where security of access is essential. Ensuring that only your closest allies have access to key collateral is fundamental. In the days of paper documents, it was much easier to control and manage the availability and flow of paper within the group of permitted and interested parties.
The move to computer-based recording has created a security dilemma, where whole volumes of data can be accessed or re-directed on the click of a mouse. Additionally, as the use of computers by governments matures, interoperability bet