What the Defense Industry Has in Common With Industrial Companies

Connected Military of the FutureThe world recently commemorated the 75th landing of the Allied troops in Normandy. The sheer number of individuals involved in this landing is staggering. Authors and media organizations focus on that day itself and the heroic actions by many, many soldiers, but what we don’t often hear about are the supply chain systems that set the conditions for their success.

While the core purpose and principles of defense haven’t changed, the industry itself has evolved over the decades, as conflicts require different strategies and tactics. And these changes require the technologies used to execute on core objectives to evolve as well. 

There are actually several similarities between what drives excellence in defense and excellence in industrial manufacturing and energy. Underlying them are the ways technology can be used.

Personnel and equipment readiness

At the center of the mission for our modern expeditionary forces are personnel and equipment readiness. It's no secret that our military forces are smaller today than required in past conflicts; less than 0.5% of the population serve on active duty in the U.S. Army. In U.S. manufacturing, it's predicted that 2.4 million jobs will remain unfilled over the next 10 years because of the skills gap, which means people who do have jobs are doing more work. As a result, both military and industrial organizations must prioritize efficiency and knowledge-sharing in order to be successful.

Efficiency of personnel and equipment is critical to future security, and it's not a new idea; every military leader strives for it, or at least pays lip service. While the private sector is driven by profit and can be quick to adopt processes and technologies that are perceived to improve efficiency, the military acquisition cycle is a slow and arduous process where often only the well-entrenched succeed.

As forces become more expeditionary, the military must compress the learning cycle for soldiers. This is where technology can help. How do we make someone with less than four years of on-the-job experience complete tasks as if they have 10 years of experience? How can we share the knowledge that our senior technical leaders have with junior soldiers before they retire? And how can we make a smaller force more capable than a large one?

Improving equipment maintenance with technology

The technologies used on today’s battlefield and in remote places like Jalalabad, AF, would be unidentifiable to soldiers on the beaches of Normandy. However, the core principle of mission readiness still applies, and that requires a diligent and strict schedule of preventative maintenance.

Take for instance, the radar systems used in air space de-confliction and counter fire. These are extremely sophisticated technologies and some of the most advanced weaponry in the world.

Imagine a scenario where the equipment can self-diagnose and issue the maintenance work to the soldier. The soldier executing the work is able to collaborate with the manufacturer in real time and troubleshoot problems. 

This is not a far-fetched, in-the-future idea. It’s happening right now in the private sector, where industrial companies leverage connected worker and Internet of Things (IoT) technologies to optimize maintenance procedures, reduce the friction between maintenance teams and machines, and get ahead of potential problems. Imagine applying these same technologies to build the digital connective tissue between soldiers and equipment. 

From equipment to operational readiness

There is a major blind spot right now in measuring operational readiness. Currently, operational readiness is tracked from handwritten orders and maintenance documents – slowly inputted into crowded PowerPoint slides in a poor attempt at creating a commander’s dashboard (if we’re lucky). Maintenance teams travel with their outdated printers to the field and on deployments so that maintenance checklists can be printed and passed around to be filled out manually.  

This is the military of yesteryear. Instead, imagine being able to transform those handwritten sheets of paper and ad hoc materials into dynamic digital procedures and dashboards that can be accessed via mobile devices and updated in real-time, anywhere. Many of the world’s largest industrial companies are doing precisely this to improve quality and gain competitive advantage.

The connected military of tomorrow

With this new digital-first approach, the output of the data collected could yield transformational changes: Both soldiers and senior officers get new visibility into the procedures are performed most often, in what environment, and in what conditions. Data-driven insights can be surfaced and executed on, resulting in significant improvements in operational readiness.

It’s time to look to the military of tomorrow. With the amount that we have invested in sophisticated technology, this is a small price to pay for the security of our country.

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