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How commercial tech is reshaping military requirements

24th May 2024 - 14:00 GMT | by Flavia Camargos Pereira in Kansas City


A US airman uses a VR maintenance training system for the MC-130J Commando II. (Photo: Air National Guard)

Non-military drones, robotics, VR, AR, SATCOM and cyber tech will play a crucial part in future warfare.

Commercial solutions have been reshaping armed forces’ requirements across development and acquisition programmes. Moreover, recent conflicts have shown that dual-use systems will play a major role on tomorrow’s battlefields.

This type of technology can provide distinct advantages in high-intensity scenarios, such as better and more secure communications, improved situational awareness and quicker target location and engagement.

Such solutions can also provide greater effectiveness, accelerating the decision-making process, improving training and easing logistics efforts.

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Speaking to Shephard, Joel Dillon, SVP and leader in Booz Allen Hamilton’s Global Defence Business explained that new commercial technologies are emerging and rapidly being injected into military forces around the globe.

“All of these things are coming together to really create a new way of warfare, especially for the special operator,” Dillon noted. “They have to be able to assimilate all these technologies.”

Against this background, the US DoD has been increasing efforts to accelerate the introduction, integration and broader use of commercial solutions across the various services and agencies.

Non-military drones, robotics, virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), commercial satellite communications (SATCOM) and cyber are all among the Pentagon’s technology priorities.

The proliferation of UAVs on the battlefield, especially low-cost small systems, can support ISR efforts and hamper enemy operations. Drone swarms can enhance situational awareness while complicating an opponent's activity in the EW spectrum.

In the Ukraine war, many different models of commercial sUAV have been used by both sides.

In the US meanwhile, in 2023 the DoD announced the Replicator initiative aiming at fielding thousands of uncrewed systems in two years across multiple domains.

Through this effort, the department intends to augment manufacturing and mobilisation capabilities while reducing costs associated with the deployment of crewed equipment.

Popular in the domain of video games, VR is another technology that has made its way into headquarters and bases. It can replicate complex battlefield conditions as well as the operation and maintenance of various equipment and platforms.

More applicable to the instructional domain, VR has been largely deployed across the DoD enterprise to reduce the time and resources required to prepare soldiers.

Small UAS will play an increasingly important role on tomorrow’s battlefield. (Photo: US Army)

“It allows [warfighters] to kind of fight the battle, learn how to communicate and do things in a way that they couldn't do otherwise,” Dillon noted. “They can see the actual battlespace they are going to go into.”

The US Army for example has been using VR to simulate driving and shooting conditions as well as to train combat medics in gunshot wound and blast trauma surgical techniques.

Booz Allen has been also providing solutions in this area. Its Extended Reality Analytics Engine (XRAE) simulates the flight of T-6 Texan trainer aircraft, and its Modular Adaptive Synthetic Controller (MASC) is a low-cost virtual environment extension tool that allows warfighters and commanders to integrate equipment into existing simulation systems.

AR, meanwhile, can be used either to train soldiers or increase situational awareness.

In close combat, combat support and combat service support operations, goggles using AR can provide Blue Force tracking and mapping, allowing for better depth perception, faster location of the enemy and more effective target acquisition.

“You can have information that is presented to you in a way that is really non-obtrusive,” Dillon explained. “You can still get the info you need really rapidly without having to take your eye off of whatever it is you are doing.”

The US Army has the Enhanced Night Vision Goggle–Binocular (ENVG-B) in its inventory. Supplied by Elbit Systems of America, it supports the use of AR through the Nett Warrior (NW) platform and has capabilities for passive target detection through wireless transmission from the weapon sight.

The service is also making headway with the Integrated Visual Augmentation System (IVAS) programme, which is intended to provide AR capabilities integrated with thermal and low-light imaging sensors, a built-in compass for navigation and Tactical Assault Kit situational awareness software.

The US Army’s IVAS integrates AR with various other capabilities to improve situational awareness. (Photo: US Army)

US Special Operations Command (USSOCOM), in turn, uses the Augmented Reality Tactical Assault Kit (ARTAK), which runs on commercially available hardware such as networking systems, servers, end-user computers and VR and AR headsets.

ARTAK is designed to reduce risks during mission execution and provide special operators with the ability to connect to remote sites and other personnel for face-to-face collaboration.

At the SOF Week 2024 exhibition earlier this May, Booz Allen unveiled a prototype of another AR solution for special forces teams, its real-time Augmented Reality Translate tool for text.

Operating completely disconnected from the cloud, it is a low-latency solution that can be integrated with tactical networks to connect key-edge data to higher echelons for aggregation and deeper analysis.

Dillon pointed out that the company has been also working on other efforts to minimise distraction for military users of AR devices.

“Maybe we have to change the way that head-up display looks if you are in combat versus if you are navigating from point A to point B because you may have totally different information. You may not be able to digest as much information if there are bullets flying around”, he claimed.

SATCOM is another commercial technology relevant for warfighters since it enables the visualisation of terrain and enemy movements in high resolution. Allies and partners have been providing Ukraine with this type of service, which has been crucial to targeting Russian formations.

Booz Allen's real-time AR Translate tool for text was introduced at the SOF Week 2024 exhibition. (Photo: author)

“We have seen things like the use of tactical SATCOM in ways that we haven't seen in the past,” Dillon pointed out.

In April, the Pentagon released its 2024 Commercial Space Integration Strategy, establishing guidelines on how to best unlock the benefits of commercial space solutions.

It identified four priorities: ensuring access to commercial solutions across the spectrum of conflict; achieving integration in peacetime prior to a conflict or crisis; establishing the right security environment for integration of commercial solutions; and supporting the development of new commercial solutions for use by the joint force.

Operating in high-intensity scenarios also requires an encrypted and safe exchange of information as leaks and interference can put soldiers and equipment in danger.

In this domain, the DoD has been using tools and technologies available on the market to enhance its cyber threat intelligence capabilities.

By combining commercial solutions with government assets, the department intends to improve the process of collecting, analysing and disseminating data with the aim of mitigating potential attacks and harmful events in the cyber domain.

Those systems and technologies have been used for securing and protecting the Pentagon's computer networks, warfighting systems and critical infrastructure and information.

Dillon stressed that “cyber is becoming increasingly critical” for warfighters as a way of protecting data in scenarios involving a proliferation of sensors.

Shephard's Eurosatory 2024 coverage is sponsored by:

BAE Systems
Flavia Camargos Pereira


Flavia Camargos Pereira

Flavia Camargos Pereira is a North America editor at Shephard Media. She joined the company …

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