Across the globe, defence agencies are accelerating their uptake of cloud services. From the Australian Department of Defence’s “VERA” project to maintain operations at the peak of the pandemic, to the US DoD’s investments in cloud and machine learning to improve situational awareness and connectivity in-theatre, cloud adoption is on the rise.

While cloud is gaining ground, there’s still some way to go before most defence organisations begin to reap the full benefits at scale. Accenture research conducted before the pandemic showed that only 54% of aerospace & defence organizations had defined a new IT operating model that has cloud at its core – with defence agencies likely to be lagging the aerospace sector, in my view.

And looking across public services more broadly, Accenture research in 2021 found that while 57% of public service executives believe accelerating cloud is business-critical, only 37% are confident that their cloud strategy is robust enough to deliver measurable value to their citizens and workforce.

Rising to the challenge of pervasive disruption…

When it comes to cloud, migration is typically the first step in an ongoing continuum of evolution. And while moving to cloud is widely accepted as an imperative for defence organisations to keep pace with a fast-changing threat landscape, the reality is that cloud in defence is now at an inflection point – a defining moment where a more holistic approach is required if agencies are to achieve the organisational agility and speed they’ll need in the future.

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The reality is that cloud in defence is now at an inflection point – a defining moment where a more holistic approach is required.

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To explain why, let me start with today’s industry context. While defence budgets are growing in almost all geographies, they’re being more than matched by rising regional tensions and complex security threats. Often, those security threats are multi-faceted in nature, with defence agencies required to respond rapidly with a mix of soft and hard power. 

The disruption also extends to defence systems. Technical debt is rising, along with the spiralling costs of maintaining and updating legacy systems.  An increasing array of threat vectors are making traditional security frameworks vulnerable to cyber-attack. Add in the proliferation of new demand, including data ingestion from IoT devices, emerging platforms like unmanned aerial vehicle swarm technologies, real-time information processing and analytics, together with a growing focus on sustainability – and the complexity increases ever further.

…by harnessing tech for competitive advantage

However, the challenges raised by advancing technology are more than offset by the opportunities they open up, putting cloud at the heart of the future of defence. For example, cloud – in combination with machine learning – provides a way to manage and marshal the proliferating platforms and data streams feeding information to warfighters in the battlespace, helping military forces maintain tactical dominance through real-time networking and integration.

These concepts are being brought to life through programmes such as Joint All-Domain Command and Control (JADC2) and Advanced Battle Management System (ABMS), using ubiquitous edge computing and cloud-based services to supply small tactical units with vital information. A case in point is the US DoD Digital Modernization Strategy, a cornerstone for advancing the digital environment to bring the Joint Force a competitive advantage in the modern battlespace.

Technological advances are also having major impacts at the programme and platform level. A cloud-powered digital thread can integrate the supply chain by enabling smart manufacturing and automation, end-to-end. An example? More than just a new fighter plane, the Tempest platform set to join the UK’s RAF fleet from 2035 is a “Future Combat Air System” – developed by a consortium of cross-industry partners, and combining the core aircraft with a whole network of interoperable capabilities such as uncrewed aircraft and advanced data systems to create the next generation of air combat.

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Deeply understand the power of the cloud continuum

The message is clear: cloud in defence is here – and here to stay. But for defence agencies – and the nations they protect – to realise the full benefits, there’s a clear need to accelerate and escalate the pace of the entire organisation to cloud speed. This means stepping back from specific applications of cloud to take a wider and more holistic view of all of its aspects and implications, including the need for workforce reskilling and transformation.

What’s needed is a concerted drive to equip the cloud-enabled organisation with a cloud-enabled workforce – one with the agility to react and iterate faster to meet changing needs, and to reduce the time to design, build, pilot, deploy, and test new capabilities with processes such as DevSecOps becoming the new norm. Cloud can also support this transformation by enabling an on-demand talent marketplace that gives flexible access to designers and experts across the world.

The workforce is just one of the key elements that defence organisations must bring into the scope of their cloud vision if they’re to get the most from their investments. From microservices to data lakes to operating models to interoperability with allies, a wider perspective is vital. As with the Tempest air combat platform, the real power comes from the seamless integration of all the elements into a unified system.

What’s next?

All of this underlines why cloud in defence is at an inflection point – and why a new approach and mindset are needed to navigate the transition successfully. In my next blog, I’ll zero in on a topic I touched on briefly above: empowering the modern warfighter with cloud. Meantime I would love to hear from you if you agree that cloud in defence is at inflection point? Please reach out to discuss.

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Nick Andrews

Senior Manager – Cloud Transformation, Defence