The nature of military action is changing rapidly, with armed forces needing to be ready for – and effective in – pan-domain operations at home and globally. Alongside new and increasingly unpredictable threats, the drivers behind this changed environment include digital technologies and ways of working that are transforming how organisational and mission advantage are achieved.

Defence organisations need to evolve from data silos and multiple sources of the truth to a fully digital operating model, that supports/drives agility and innovation. How can they navigate this journey? One of the answers is digital twins – and the digital threads that operationalise them.

Enabled by artificial intelligence, a digital twin is an intelligent technology tool used to create living end-to-end representations of the real world, from supply chains, product lifecycles, resources, equipment and more. Shared across departments and armed forces, these digital representations offer huge advantages. Enabling them to harness the power of real-time data, democratising access to vital insights and understanding to help improve strategic and tactical decision-making.

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An overwhelming 83% agree that AI combined with digital twins allows their organisation to scale up in ways that would not have been possible before.

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Realising the benefits

By bringing together data and intelligence to represent the physical world in a digital space, a digital twin also helps to remove cultural silos within organisations, developing a shared enterprise-wide point-of-view unlocking new opportunities. Many defence organisations are already embracing and using digital twins to:

  • elevate insight and situational awareness to a new level,
  • drive force structure and decision-making,
  • instruct readiness against risks,
  • animate force readiness and mission preparedness,
  • inform operational decision-making and mission execution.

For the armed forces using them, they provide a transformational new way to operate, collaborate and innovate.

So how do digital twins work? The linkage between a physical asset and its digital twin is handled via a “digital thread”. As the schematic below shows, this digital thread weaves across processes and systems to build an interconnected force based around a single version of the truth. And it feeds and enables the digital twin with inputs to trace back all the decisions in the physical space and generate insights in real time.

The result? A digital replica that’s a completely accurate mirror image of the physical world.


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Four areas of opportunity

The potential implications of digital twins and the mirrored world for defence forces are transformational.

  1. Simulation, unlimited scenarios at speed.

Armed forces have had flight and weapon simulators for decades. However, in the mirrored world it becomes possible to connect the simulators, and then connect those to actual forces in the field, while using technologies like AI to simulate the movements of units, friendly or hostile.

The result is a multi-layered environment where personnel can be combined with augmented and virtual people and components. This enables multiple simultaneous scenarios to be simulated, with the outputs analysed and understood. Today, armed forces typically run expensive and highly visible physical exercises. A digital twin can enable trials of hundreds of different operational scenarios and enemy responses— helping to make the country better prepared for the unpredictable.

Imagine if a defence organisation didn’t have to shut down a whole region to simulate a war fight.

  1. New training environment

With interconnected digital simulations of every component and actor, a large group of soldiers can be trained quickly and cost-effectively under multiple wide-theatre scenarios, perhaps with their experience enhanced through augmented reality headsets. The US Army calls this “synthetic training”—and has bought Hololens headsets to support it.

Imagine if you could easily train for different scenarios in a virtual world—where locations can be selected at will.

  1. Enhanced readiness information.

A clear view of people readiness, equipment, weapons systems, and transportation—including vital supplies such as food, water and fuel—is mission-critical to any military operation's success. Digital twins can track and provide vital real time insights from the entire force, via battalions, via units, right down to the individual soldier level.

Imagine if you could have a real-time view, 24/7, into every aspect of your forces’ preparedness, as well as being able to predict their current status in different simulations.

  1. Improved fleet maintenance and management

Scheduling and execution of maintenance cycles can be managed and verified in real time, supporting readiness. Combining the digital twin’s insights with AI can enable predictive maintenance, anticipate potential equipment failures and action maintenance interventions before they happen.

Imagine if you could schedule a helicopter fleet for predictive maintenance to sustain its current operational status without interfering with operating plans.

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Ready for the unexpected

For defence organisations, the progression to the mirrored world is essentially about digitalising capability end-to-end, from capability planning all the way into operations. It’s an imperative that we set out in our report “Digital: defined for defence—core to mission.” A military force that’s better trained, more agile and battle-ready, more cost-effective and better able to plan, anticipate and respond to different situations.

Military conflicts have always been a series of unexpected events. By enabling a defence force to test out and train for a vast range of scenarios, digital twins allow it to foresee the unexpected and be ready for it when it comes. That alone changes the game.

A new digital imperative for defence

The huge potential of digital twins is the focus for “Mirrored World”, one of the five trends in the 2021 Accenture Technology Vision. Every year, this report maps out technology trends that are reshaping our lives. In a world where COVID-19 has upended existing ways of operating and doing business, this year’s overarching theme is mastering change—not retreating to what’s familiar. It’s a fascinating read, and I urge you to take a look.

Such rapid and pervasive change underlines our view that now, more than ever, digital is central to enabling and empowering people and organisations to perform. And nowhere is this truer than in defence—from combat to program management and from weapon-system acquisition to force-readiness.

We would be interested to hear your views on how this or any of our other Technology Vision trends apply in defence, as well as any examples you have of digital twins being used in your organisation.

Please reach out directly to discuss how it can be applied in your organisation.

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Matthew Gollings

Global Defence Lead

Janne Nurmi

Senior Manager – Industry Innovation, Defence

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