Defence in the age of disruption

by suzanne joy campbell |

Communication , Technology

As Australians remember the catastrophic losses of brave soldiers without a hope 100 years ago at Fromelles and Pozieres, it pays to recall that it was Second Industrial Revolution which changed the face of war for the 20th Century.

Now the disruptive forces of the Fourth Industrial Revolution are blurring the boundaries between people, the internet and the physical world transforming security and defence.

The proliferation of devices, hyperconnectivity, the rise of data and analytics, global supply chains, technology convergence and the increasing power of the individual are all disrupting defence. The plane upon which intelligence, surveillance and war now operate is increasing cyber.

It is not surprising the Center for a New American Security recently concluded that although the major powers of the 20th century still retain privileged access to advanced military capabilities in the short term, the medium- and long-term pictures look less certain.

Devices and hyperconnectivity

In November 2015 the United Nations reported some 3.2 billion people were online, representing 43.4 percent of the global population with 56 percent of the households projected to have Internet access by 2020. At the same time they reported almost 7.1 billion people, over 95 percent of the global population, now has mobile coverage.

While the internet and platforms including Apple (iMessage), Facebook (WhatsApp and Instagram), Google, Microsoft and Snapchat and others propelled the Arab Spring, this year they have been shut down to halt coupes, rallies and dissent in Bahrain, Thailand, Turkey, Uganda. Also, legislation has been foreshadowed in the United Kingdom and litigation instigated in the United States for their apparent facilitation of violence.

Concurrently, the internet of things is calculated to grow from 4.9 billion in 2015 to 12.2 billion by 2020, representing nearly half (46 percent) of total connected devices. In this context, the ownership of essential chip making capability will is of increasing corporate and national significance as demonstrated by the recent acquisition e.g. ARM by Softbank.

While individuals and industry focus on the utility and productivity of network devices and low-cost sensors and actuators for data collection, monitoring, decision making, and process optimisation, all present security risks at some level as recently seen with point of sale devices and many can be weaponized, e.g., drones and autonomous vehicles.

Cyber-attacks present a particular threat to national assets including government databases e.g. Australian Bureau of Meteorology and Australian Bureau of Statistics, banks, energy grids, healthcare facilities, and transportation systems. Surprisingly, Gartner has forecast that by 2018, only 40% of large enterprises will have formal plans to address aggressive cyber-security business disruption attacks, up from 0% in 2015.

Global supply chains, technology convergence and the increasing power of the individual

Peter W. Singer in Wired for War has summarised these trends,  “The investments to create satellite navigation and the Internet may have originally come out of DARPA [Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency], but now any terrorist [anywhere in the world] can pinpoint targets with GPS devices they buy off”

Military applicable devices are no longer the preserve of traditional defence players, nor are they produced in a single sovereign nation. Supply chains stretch around the world, e.g. iPhones can be used by soldiers to obtain real-time surveillance from drones and to coordinate with fellow troops via text messaging.

Once scarce information is now easily accessed by individuals to contest established power relationships as e.g. WikiLeaks, Offshore Leaks Database, and Snowden

Anyone can access computer hardware and software resources delivered over a network via the cloud; they can access the Dark Web, trade in Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, instigate or purchase distributed denial of service attacks (DDoS) and shield their activities from network surveillance using Tor.

Individuals will set the pace of change because they can, Lone Wolf attacks are inevitable, and high-tech surveillance will blur the line between national security and civil liberties.

Data, Data Analytics and Supercomputers

Data is the new oil for both economic models and socioeconomic models which coupled with supercomputers is driving Artificial Intelligence (AI). AI is however only as good as the data it crunches.  The success of Google, Facebook, and Microsoft in applying AI to recognise objects in photos and understand human language are only possible because of their enormous quantities of data.  Companies and countries that want to use AI will need to have, acquire or access vast quantities of data, which will, in turn, become even more valuable as AI advances.


As traditional defence industry companies in developed nations continue to experience consolidation, restructure, and dwindling defence budgets, new weapons like Stuxnet, the Little Boy of cyber war, have changed the future of war.

In response Mayhem has won this year’s Cyber Grand Challenge, to create software that can defend networks against attacks without human intervention. This software is designed to identify threats and react to, defend, and seal off vulnerabilities from future attacks.

While combat readiness remains crucial for defence forces – the definition of readiness is changing with physical fitness no longer a prerequisite, and its importance subject to further decline as wars become more technological, office based-based and robotic. Defence forces will seize the automation of knowledge work, rely on increasingly capable robots with enhanced senses, dexterity, and intelligence and necessarily recruit more highly skilled and trained military personnel.

This year has seen the release of the Australian 2016 Defence White Paper which sets out a plan for defence capability and industry development. The paper has been complemented by commitments to submarine construction and the purchase of additional Joint Strike Fighters. The year has also seen the launch of the Government’s new Cyber Security Strategy, the appointment of the first Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Cyber Security, Dan Tehan and launch of AUSTRAC

The definition of defence, its nature and response capability will be shaped by disruption and will require stronger defences, faster and agiler responses, and local and global partnerships to craft collaborative responses to new and unusual challenges.

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  • Great Post Suzanne. As we look towards AI and robotics, to distance the traditional human instigators of so-called legitimate violence from its physical delivery, it is wise not to forget the ability of a lone wolf to inflict massive harm on large numbers of innocent civilians. It seems to me the battlefields of the future will increasingly encompass civilian targets and digital delivery and neither is currently controlled or even monitored to any get extent. I believe this presents social and privacy challenges we have never encountered before.

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    Suzanne Joy Campbell

    BA Sydney, MLib UNSW, GDipIB Sydney, GAICD

    With more than 25 years of IT and telecommunications experience, I have been privileged to work in senior roles at Telstra, MCI Worldcom, Unwired and KAZ and to lead teams to establish, restructure, rebuild, transform and grow domestic and international companies to deliver significant results for our customers.