Data on the battlefield


As former world heavyweight champion boxer Mike Tyson once said, everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth. So, it’s no wonder that there seems to be an eagerness to trial new technologies in the Russia-Ukraine war.

No amount of peacetime testing can allow military forces to fully predict the performance and impact of tech on the battlefield. This is doubly true of artificial intelligence (AI) and the use of battlefield data, much of which is being gathered and processed by systems that are in continual development themselves.

It’s the sheer pace of change that presents one of the military’s toughest challenges. The high stakes of keeping up and the advantages of technological superiority are etched in the annals of military history, from the crossbow at Agincourt to the Enola Gay’s fearsome atomic payload. With the acceleration in the number of breakthroughs brought about by AI, the pressure is on military forces to change at a speed faster than has ever been possible before.

Critical to the deployment of most of the new technologies, whether it be on the battlefield, at central command or in the back office, is the acquisition, management and sharing of data. Like many large commercial and government enterprises, lack of digitisation, siloed data and lack of expertise to lead digital initiatives are all challenges to be overcome before military data can be used to create competitive advantage.

Nevertheless, experts agree that it is impossible for any human to process all the data that’s already being collected. Therefore, all military forces are going to be heavily dependent on AI to help them leverage that ever growing volume of data for data-driven decision-making, both at central command and on the battlefield itself.

As noted by the British Army’s Chief of the General Staff General Sir Patrick Sanders in the forward of the army’s new Digital and Data Plan (released in May), Ukraine provides a reminder that an army’s ability to process and exploit data at speed is vital in enabling it to fight and win on land in the 21st Century. The truth of this will be self-evident to those serving on the Russia-Ukraine front line.

Link: British Army Digital & Data Plan

by Carrington Malin