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Why the military is struggling to keep up with IoT Innovation

By Max Burkhalter
May 17, 2018

It is difficult to imagine the U.S. military struggling in any arena especially considering the massive amount of funding it receives each year from the government and taxpayers. According to Defense News, the Trump Administration is planning a military budget of $686.1 billion in 2019. This is unprecedented and nearly $100 billion more than where it was in 2015, continuing an annual climb of more and more financial resources being allocated to the military.

Despite this incredible source of funds, the U.S. military is still struggling to fully leverage advanced internet of things technology. For those concerned with American safety, this is worrying news. The problems impeding the U.S. military regarding IoT are diverse.

A lack of rugged hardware
However, before discussing mental mindsets, there is another real impediment delaying military IoT effectiveness: a lack of rugged hardware. Most cutting edge tablets, smartphones and wearables aren't designed for even industrial use. These devices can be damaged by dust, impact or a multitude of other environmental factors, many of which are commonplace in military settings.

According to a report published on National Defense, this wasn't always the case. The military was an early player in IoT, using the best technology available. However, cybersecurity and increased commercial innovation have sidelined the U.S. armed forces, placing them in a realm of perpetual catch-up.

Thomas Burns, director of the strategic technology office at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, believes that part of the issue is the different priorities of each space. In commercial and consumer-facing enterprises, devices must be affordable and convenient above all else. The military must value security and hardiness as well. The most advanced tech is worthless if it stops working five minutes into deployment.

Even certain "hardy" hardware created for oil rigs and power plants isn't tough enough for mainstream military use. While the Department of Defense is prepared to spend big on rugged devices, it is unlikely that it will catch the creative innovation of the private commercial sector anytime soon.

Smartphones are incredible, but breakable, pieces of technology.Smartphones are incredible, but fragile, pieces of technology.

Unforeseen complications
The military has also been caught off guard by certain IoT aspects. For instance, the health benefits of Fitbit, and the regimented exercise the devices help encourage, is at first glance a natural fit for soldier use. According to the Washington Post, several military bases deployed the devices to their troops to wear during morning jogs and other periods of exercise.

However, many of these wearables can be tracked. The result of this hardware usage ended up revealing the location of several suspected military bases when GPS tracking company Strava published a global heat map of the data. Outside users could see not only where U.S. troops were but knew exactly how many were jogging at a time.

When considering soldier safety, this is an unacceptable security breach. Those who deployed the tech clearly didn't understand all aspects of how consumer wearables like Fitbit work. Any commerical device, wearable or smartphone, with built-in GPS functionality can, in theory, have this same software used to establish a tracking protocol.

This information is more often used by organizations like Strava, which was operating without malicious intent. Still, the potential for a life-threatening security breach exists, especially given that the data was published.

"Many drone manufacturures keep data backups."

Security concerns from other IoT
Wearables aren't the only existing IoT that is worrying military personnel. Drones and other unmanned aerial vehicles can transmit huge amounts of data. According to a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement public briefing, the U.S. Army and Department of Homeland Security are concerned about drones manufactured by foreign companies like Da Jiang Innovations.

While DJI isn't suspected of betraying U.S. interests, its data could be collected by its own or another government. Since it manufactures its hardware and keeps information backups, data like any obtained by that drone that crashed on the White House lawn in 2015 could be stored outside of U.S. control.

As drone use increases and more data is recorded, the military is rightly concerned about testing grounds and troop movements being accidentally uncovered and reported, jeopardizing soldier safety. However, it cannot stop the mass commercialization of UAVs.

Personnel shortage
At its heart, much of the military's IoT woes come from a lack of skilled personnel. The U.S. armed forces are competing with every private technology company in the country to recruit the top talent, and they don't always enlist all the staff they need. Those who enter the sector likely don't even consider the military when viewing top priority jobs after obtaining a degree.

Technology is changing at a rapid pace and even the U.S. military is struggling to stay ahead. Utilizing IoT effectively requires building a robust network infrastructure that can stand up to harsh conditions. Perle has the staff and the hardware to assist in such an endeavor. Contact Perle today to learn how we can help improve military IoT performance.


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