It’s a well-known fact that communications are key to all military deployments; whether being used for situational awareness for a specific mission, for resupply of troops or for the general passage of information and orders process, communications play a vital part in ensuring the military machine keeps moving along from start to finish.
There is a plethora of communications systems in service ranging from long range High Frequency Radios to the shorter range Very and Ultra High Frequency Radios that sit alongside a wide range of Satellite based communications radios. All these methods help deliver important real and near real-time situational awareness to the soldier on the ground from both voice and data feeds.
Vast amounts of time are spent by military communications experts planning, trialling, and testing various types of methods and configurations to ensure the communications are the very best they can be and giving the soldier on the ground one less thing to worry about. With the creation of the ‘Artificial Intelligence Machine’ it begs the question, if the military were to take this ‘new option’ under its wing, could it help planners and operators cut down on time spent planning, programming, and live testing networks, therefore enabling them to spend more time training users and maintaining equipment?
The birth of AI has enabled huge leaps forward to be made with planning and testing of various scenarios, none more so than within the communications networking world. Whether employing the use of Satellite communications or the sometimes-controversial Global 5G network, AI will no doubt play a key role in enabling a faster deployment of networked communication nodes, hopefully creating faster and more accurate data being utilised by the soldier on the ground setting up the network in the first instance.
Creating AI has brought about the options to not only test human built systems and networks, but also to see how data - whether voice or pictorial form - will move along the network. This can bring about a multitude of options ranging from re-routing around a specific region for a tactical advantage, to weighing up if it is more cost effective ‘in data terms’ to plan through a certain area or not. These types of tests would have previously taken days and even weeks of planning and preparation along with applying complex algorithms and calculations to maybe get the desired results.
Additionally, in most situations, the end users and planners would also then need to put boots on the ground to physically test and adjust on comms recce’s that are both costly and for the most part, extremely difficult to achieve. AI gives the flexibility to move away from this dated and laborious way of working. You could argue that the system would be expensive to bring into service, but if you place it against the cost it already takes to carry out the same functions and add that to the dangers that can be avoided not having to deploy troops to carrying out tests, I think the introduction of AI would produce a vast amount of financial savings in the long run.
Communications bearers could obviously benefit greatly from the use of AI. Satellites are known to be one of the more stable bearers, mainly due to the speed and stability it affords to the user once connected and locked on. Having said that, Satellites are expensive and give off a huge signature when transmitting, which could give away strategic positions of troops on the ground; something to be avoided where possible. Not all of this could necessarily be completely eradicated, but certainly planned and ‘war gamed’ much easier with AI. If the planner could enter his parameters - for instance Area of Operations, Radio System of choice and areas of avoidance - and hit ‘go’ in an AI application, without having to then deploy to test, the planning phase of a deployment could be cut short by weeks.
AI also brings the benefit that it is machine learning all the time. This could alert users to potential failings in the satellites in use along the network, giving the network administrator time to avoid any failures, once again giving the user on the ground the best situational awareness to complete the task in hand.
Another communications bearer that could be affected is 5G. Due to the relatively short amount of time it has been available, 5G is less stable and/or available in some parts of the world than others. With the use of AI, users may benefit from administrators being able to optimise the network bandwidth of the 5G network to enable the planner to bend and shape the network to benefit to the deployment. This may also allow system administrators to lower and raise the amount of bandwidth utilised to provide more strength to a connection as and where required, again creating a faster connection to the end user on the ground. Another potential use could be carrying out Path Profile Analysis. This would be a significant upgrade to what is currently in service and could almost guarantee communications at a site selected by AI, without recce, accurately taking into consideration all types of terrain and atmospherics.
Of course, it isn’t just Army communications that could benefit from AI, all three arms of the forces extensively use radar for a wide variety of reasons and the 5G network could provide a vital backup connectivity role to radar systems in use across deployments. With AI’s machine learning, it could potentially find and rectify faults before they become an issue to the user at the station, creating a vast network based solely on a continent’s already existing GSM network, that in most countries is already reasonably stable and proven. This again could cut down on the huge test and adjust phase of a deployment, saving millions of pounds not to mention thousands of man hours.
AI can also aid Radar Satellite Communications by assisting in the implementation and usage of beam hopping and anti-jamming forecasting along with managing interference and behaviour modelling. In space, AI could be employed to track satellite movement and orbit predictions which could help in planning radar deployments across multiple continents. This could assist in early warning against drone-based missile, or even ballistic missile attacks.
In short, if the Ministry of Defence were to take on the use of AI across all three arms of the forces and implement it to include communications, we could benefit from huge advancements forward. This includes planning, fault finding and testing, and the use of current systems that are in service on deployments and training exercises across the globe, at a fraction of the cost and training burden.
Given the ever-changing landscape of military operations and what is currently happening across the Middle East and Eastern Europe, there could be an opportunity to get ahead of the rest of the world’s leading militaries with deploying AI sooner rather than later, in effect benefitting the most important piece of the puzzle - our Soldiers, Sailors and Air persons in theatre.