Thursday, 21 October 2010

Military manoeuvres

The announcement this week in the UK of the outcome of the Government’s strategic defence review has placed such matters in sharper focus prior to the MILCOM show in San Jose, CA. at the end of the month. Looking for silver linings to the dark clouds looming over our storm troopers, it’s all in the name.

Conventional forces appear to have taken a massive hit, with various fighter aircraft, warships, tanks and artillery all doomed. The high-profile casualties are the most recognisable names – the Nimrod MRA4 spy-planes and the Harrier jump jets (losing out to the Tornadoes).
Nimrod MRA4
Image via Wikipedia
But it’s not all doom and gloom as a round dozen new Chinook helicopters will be ordered.
Now, there’s a name with which to conjure.
Chinook helicopter

So perhaps ‘unconventional’ is now the name of the game as the strategy looks to be to switch resources to countering ‘asymmetric threats’ from terrorist or extremist groups, cyber crime and criminal gangs. It seems that the UK will remain able to play a role on the world stage, but its armed forces will be part of a global police force, participating in peacekeeping or humanitarian missions. The RAF might fly support for counter-insurgency and the Army could carry out Special Forces missions against terrorist groups.

As for naming conventions, the acronym ‘MILCOM’ is used for a show that is all about military communications. The old joke is that used to be an oxymoron, but in terms of technology and investment, communications is now right up there at the cutting edge. And in relation to ‘asymmetric threats’ and the notion of a UN-led Gendarmerie, it has to be on the front line.

Looking behind all this talk of cuts and political name calling, surely now there is a need to focus on the development of military communications (MILCOM) solutions. After all, information is power and that’s the name of the game. Strategically, there is more than ever a good argument for naming commercial off the shelf (COTS) building blocks as first choice when looking to construct a given system.

The benefits of a COTS approach is characterised by:

  • Reduced risk, because the equipment has been proven commercially
  • Reduced development times (even greater if a high-level API is used)
  • [Resulting in…] quicker time to market
  • The latest technology, because vendors operate in a competitive environment
  • Compliance with international standards
  • Assured interoperability, interconnectivity, and interworking (Aculab’s ‘3Is’)

Of course, the dilemma with using the COTS approach has been that commercial systems often don’t have exactly the right military-specific feature variants needed. Often, the core enabling technology has to be tweaked (a technical naming convention meaning ‘adapted’) and, therefore, a flexible approach to non-recoverable engineering (NRE) development on the part of the COTS vendor is essential. And, in terms of technology requirements, high channel densities, reliability and flexibility are all essential requirements of technology destined for military applications.

Incidentally, at Aculab we take an open approach to product evolution, where customers can request feature modifications and see that result in a change based on business case evaluation. It’s a refreshing approach, and maybe that agility and willingness will be even more in demand in the post- strategic review product development theatre.

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