The future of defence is the Internet of Things

The Internet of Things (IoT) is an exciting opportunity for the global defence and security industries. On the battlefield, it’s not always viable or practical to install vulnerable terrestrial infrastructures such as towers, gateways and other land-based equipment. Constellations of low-cost nanosatellites can enable responsive and resilient connectivity for vast networks of IoT enabled sensors and devices in any location.

The most challenging future wars for land forces will likely be fought in contested
urban environments (CUE). Even if there is existing infrastructure in these locations, it could become damaged, compromised or non-operational. Defence agencies and security providers are looking to adopt new technologies to combat such issues, and IoT devices and nanosatellite connectivity are central to this approach.

Urban battle sensors

Australia’s Defence Science and Technology (DST) agency has tested the use of sensor technology, carrying out trials as part of the Contested Urban Environment (CUE) challenge in 2018. The Montreal trial involved a 250-strong cohort of Canadian, New Zealand, UK, and US defence scientists. Terminals that communicate directly with low earth orbit satellites were deployed, sending messages that included a timestamp, location and status.

The terminals were programmed to simulate the detection of a chemical attack and remained under surveillance throughout the exercise. The trial demonstrated the massive benefit of being able to quickly populate a large area with a network of IoT devices, and that wide-area aerial reconnaissance functions can be integrated with such devices.

Black box for the battleground

IoT has also played a vital role in the creation of the world-first personal black box-style “fight recorder, “that’s under development for Australian infantry. These recorders operate as location beacons, enabling nanosatellites to pinpoint and communicate the precise location of injured soldiers quickly. Additionally, the fight recorder records information which can be used to reconstruct what took place during an enemy engagement. The recorders can also monitor the performance of equipment and protective wear, enabling the Australian Defence Force to develop new procedures and improve equipment for future use.

Security in the field

A critically important aspect of implementing IoT is ensuring security and resilience, regardless of whether the setting is military, industrial or consumer. All data must be encrypted to prevent eavesdropping and authenticated to provide valid identification of the sender. IoT systems must also be able to detect efforts at tampering or forging messages reliably. Device identity must also be cryptographically protected to ensure privacy and to prevent metadata attacks. Weak security creates high-risk situations, and entire national infrastructures could be compromised with devastating results.

A “zero-trust” security approach is also needed, as it maintains data confidentiality, integrity, and privacy, even in the event where the underlying physical infrastructure is compromised. In a hostile situation, third parties must be prevented from determining the identity of over the air transmissions, or whether any number of messages are sent from the same device.

IoT is the next frontier for many industries, but defence, in particular, has much to gain from its use. By being able to communicate regularly, securely, and accurately from any location, the use of nanosatellites and IoT technology has progressed to a point where it’s affordable, accessible, and proven to work on the battlefield.