Defense Department Moving Slowly on 'Internet of Things'

By Harper, Jon | National Defense, February 2016 | Go to article overview

Defense Department Moving Slowly on 'Internet of Things'


Harper, Jon, National Defense


* Defense Department leaders have identified the "Internet of Things" as a key component of the military's modernization strategy. But the Pentagon is behind the curve due to security concerns and other impediments, cyber experts said.

There is a fear that without proper safeguards, this linkage of systems could be compromised with disastrous consequences.

The Internet of Things (IoT) refers to "networks of objects that communicate with other objects and with computers through the Internet," the Congressional Research Service said in a recent report about the concept. '"Things' may include virtually any object for which remote communication, data collection or control might be useful" such as vehicles, appliances, medical devices, electric grids, transportation infrastructure, manufacturing equipment or building systems.

The technology concept is made possible by the integration of sensors, Internet connectivity, digital analytics and automation, explained William Carter, co-author of a Center for Strategic and International Studies report released in September, "Leveraging the Internet of Things for a More Efficient and Effective Military."

The private sector has embraced the Internet of Things as a way to improve operations, using it to monitor machines, track supply chains and automate business and industrial processes. The economic impact of the technologies will be between $2.7 trillion and $6.2 trillion per year by 2025, the report said.

But the Pentagon has failed to fully leverage them despite the potential benefits, according to analysts and defense officials.

"The military continues to lead in the development of some high-end applications of IoT technologies such as surveillance and reconnaissance drones, advanced sensors and satellite communications systems, but the development and deployment of the vast majority of IoT applications are driven by the commercial sector with the military severely lagging behind," the CSIS report said.

The Internet of Things is as much about networking machines and human-machine interfaces as it is developing new platforms or systems, said retired Marine Gen. James Cartwright, former vice chairman of the joint chiefs of staff.

"This is not an invention that's required. ... It is an organizational issue," he said during a recent conference at CSIS. "While we have networks out there today and we act and react to those networks and what they sense and what they tell us ... most of that activity is really networking people. The next evolution in this is to bring the 'things' into it."

In a constrained budget environment, the Defense Department has opportunities to take advantage of the Internet of Things by adopting practices from the commercial sector, the CSIS report said. The military could retrofit its vehicle fleet with onboard sensors to monitor engine performance and parts status, facilitate condition-based maintenance and reduce unanticipated failures. Using sensors to track geolocation, status, fuel efficiency, weight and cargo could reduce fuel costs by as much as 25 percent and increase fleet utilization by 20 percent, the report said.

"What's happening with the Internet of Things ... is we're doing every point in that supply chain and everything is an entity unto itself," said Chris Smith, vice president of technology at AT&T Government Solutions. "Instead of replacing batteries, let's say every two years because we know they're going to wear out, you can actually [monitor] each battery and each set of brakes and every component within there and say, 'No, we're starting to see the [problem] factor on this vehicle. Go replace it now so you don't break down somewhere and have to send another convoy out to pick that up.'"

Deploying radio frequency identification tags and standardized barcodes to track individual supplies down to the tactical level could provide real-time supply chain visibility and allow the military to order parts and supplies on demand, the CSIS report said. …

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