Military Embedded Systems

Cybersecurity: What the defense industry needs to unlock to stay ahead


August 07, 2023

The deployed assets of the defense industry are undergoing constant technology improvements, but along with advancement and digital development comes the need to upgrade cybersecurity to support these changes. Some statistics predict that more than 50% of businesses could experience a data breach during 2023, so cybersecurity – particularly in the critical military arena – must keep pace with technological advances in order to secure all assets and associated data. New land, sea, and space technologies will all require a strong cyber backbone.

Many top aerospace and defense (A&D) manufacturers, defense forces, and defense contractors are adopting advanced technologies to keep themselves ahead of hostile forces, ensure that the warfighter is further away from danger, and help military logistics planners exploit these new technologies to the fullest.

Cybersecurity is the cornerstone

The ever-increasing number of digital technologies being used and relied on for manufacturing, operating, and supporting military assets will inevitably lead to more cyber vulnerability.

An underlying software strategy that ensures all new assets and manufacturing processes – including autonomous ships, operating environments, and digital manufacturing operations – have the tightest cybersecurity is crucial. In case of an attack the software must be able to detect, report, and solve security problems efficiently to safeguard operations.

The importance of cybersecurity in 2023 is reinforced within Deloitte’s 2023 aerospace and defense industry outlook: “Most A&D companies are expected to also focus on creating visibility deep into their supply chains to improve supply control and coordination and to better manage third-party risk. Industry players will likely reinforce the need for cyber­security, cloud privacy, and the resilience of the systems and automation to be prepared effectively for any risks within core operations and with key suppliers.”

Cybersecurity is a key requirement for supporting software infrastructure across the entire military supply chain due to the recent increase in cyber warfare. Organizations’ systems must be pen-tested and have enough built-in protection to avert and react to attempted data breaches or cyberattacks.

There exist four key areas of potential that can be unlocked in this journey; each development will require software with underlying cybersecurity in place.

1: Three-quarters of A&D organizations look to improve their logistics footprint with additive manufacturing.

Quicker repairs of vehicles, ships, and aircraft are now possible as 3D printing is gradually being used more by deployed military forces. In fact, 3D printing is now allowed for design and prototyping of safety equipment and medical supplies for military use in the field. The advancements in the use of 3D printing to help with the construction of bunkers and runways has been bolstered by the U.S. military’s development of the largest 3D printer in the world, which is able to print metal parts 30 feet long, 20 feet wide, and 12 feet high. This breakthrough is only the start of increased use of 3D printing by military forces, as nearly three-quarters of the industry leaders polled by IFS believe it will become a standard practice for the defense industry in the next decade.

Traditionally, military forces get their replacement parts from external suppliers, a process that can take as many as 25 days, giving enemy forces precious time to target supply lines. 3D printing has replaced this long lead time, enabling printing of replacement parts as needed, which bolsters the self-sufficiency of military forces and reducing maintenance wait time. The logistics footprint of forward-thinking bases will be reduced through 3D printing as well, as it enables forces to be deployed in bases in more remote locations due to the minimized requirement to be connected to major supply lines.

Despite all the positives that come with additive manufacturing, depending on where the parts come from it can sometimes cause problems. With the combination of third-party vendor networks and internal additive manufacturing, two traditionally individual fulfillment paths can lead to conflicting asset readiness times due to the difference in speed in which replacement parts can be accessed. This disparity highlights the need for artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) tooling to enhance decision-making; the AI/ML tools can aid decisions on the best fulfillment path for a decision which is usually made by traditional logistics personnel.

2: Industry 4.0 technology will help bolster Maritime 4.0 and digital shipyards.

Industry 4.0 has accelerated changes in the manufacturing sector and has now moved on to A&D manufacturing sectors – for example, shipbuilding. “Maritime 4.0” is beginning to show benefits in terms of improved efficiency when designing, manufacturing, and constructing ships with better coordination, clearer operations, and maintenance. Despite only being in the adoption stage of its journey, the digital shipyard market is expected to experience rapid growth, with global professional services firm Lloyd’s Register valuing it at $693 million in 2022 with expected growth to $3.967 billion by 2030, for a combined annual growth rate (CAGR) of 19%.

To help with the design and construction of ships, three technologies – artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), and digital twins – are propelling the development of digital shipyards and Maritime 4.0. Lloyd’s Register states that “the shipbuilding value chain may be empowered to make better decisions and deliver smarter assets by sharing and integrating data from the influx of new AI and ML-based technologies that are now becoming evident in both shipbuilding and operational sectors.” (Figure 1.)

[Figure 1 ǀ The future USS Santa Barbara (LCS 32) – commissioned by the U.S. Navy in mid-2023 – is the newest Independence-variant littoral combat ship (LCS), a technologically advanced class of mission-tailored, optionally manned ships that operate in near-shore and open-ocean environments. The LCS can integrate with joint, combined, manned, and unmanned teams to support forward presence, maritime security, sea control, and deterrence missions around the globe. U.S. Navy photo.]

For its part, the U.K. Department for Transport recently invested £206 million ($270 million) to support the net-zero-emissions goals within the U.K. maritime industry. These Maritime 4.0 technologies – aimed at enabling a green maritime future reducing CO2 pollution and emissions from shipyards – will need the support of cutting-edge software, and it will also need to match expected growth in the sector. The construction of such large assets in increasingly digital shipyards requires an industry-specific and enterprise-breadth-wide software system that is able to manage such a unique construction process.

3: Uncrewed ships set to increase by a third – removing warfighters from danger.

The U.K. Royal Navy recently gained a game-changing testbed ship with a large surface area for launching uncrewed aerial vehicles and autonomous underwater vehicles (UAVs/AUVs) set to be tested by NavyX, the British navy’s autonomous technology accelerator unit. With autonomous vehicles’ reduced need for operating crew, there is room for an operation center and a meeting room aboard the ship. Importantly, the testbed ship will enable the Royal Navy to deploy the MAST-13 AUV, a waterborne drone capable of identifying mines while also gathering information on hostile ships. Meanwhile, in parallel developments, the U.S. Navy is unveiling its third unmanned surface vessel – dubbed “The Mariner” – which is a ship fitted with a government-furnished command-and-control system, a virtualized Aegis combat system, and an autonomous navigation system. After a few more upgrades, the Navy says that it hopes The Mariner will deploy sometime during 2023. Going forward, the U.S. Navy Navigation Plan (NAVPLAN) to modernize its fleet includes a desired force level of 523 ships by 2024, including 150 unmanned surface and subsurface vessels, making up nearly a third of the fleet.

Autonomous ships will reduce the number of warfighters sailing into danger when on missions, as uncrewed vessels can enter areas that were previously seen as too dangerous or inaccessible for crewed ships. No longer needing to house personnel means bigger payload capacity, including more fuel, enabling longer deployments or the ability to carry more sensors for advanced surveillance.

For autonomous vessels, maintenance controls must be amplified to ensure full mission capabilities and total asset readiness, as a lack of actual crew aboard has implications for maintenance and sustainment. There is increased criticality of ships’ self-monitoring across systems, and failure projections must be embedded within the design to predict and plan for downtime. Without manned inspections, on-board self-diagnostics and monitoring systems must connect to the broader digital twin ecosystem, a level of automation that cannot be met by yesterday’s systems and processes, which means that systems must be modernized.

4: The next frontier is space, as military forces begin to embark on more space-driven missions.

Space is becoming increasingly demilitarized, and the market is expected to take off over the next couple of years, with a 2023 Fortune Business Insights study predicting growth from $14.21 billion in 2022 to $31.90 billion by 2029, for a CAGR of 12.25%. The space domain is currently being used to navigate and track forces to avoid detection when delivering supplies, enable precise strikes on hostile bases, and improve communication while tracking potential threats. The race is on to get ahead in a more militarized space domain, and intergovernmental organizations such as NATO are getting their priorities in order as military forces gear up for increasing reliance on space-driven operations. In 2022 this mindset led to NATO publishing an “Overarching Space Policy,” which details the fundamental aspects of the space domain and its importance in preserving the alliance’s security and prosperity.

The document confirms that, as part of its policy, NATO will address space as a coordinator between members with space-based assets. It also identifies some key functional areas of focus for the need for space systems, including space situational awareness; intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR); space-based monitoring of Earth-based domains; satellite communications; position, navigation, and timing (PNT); and shared early-warning assets. The military arena can expect increased focus on the space domain in 2023 and beyond, as more organizations become part of a growing military ecosystem.

Security-centered approach will be the enabler

As these new and promising areas of technology and operations come to the forefront operations for A&D manufacturers, defense forces, and defense contractors, it is imperative all these advancements rippling through the industry must prioritize the importance of a strong and secure digital backbone. Cybersecurity is a key requirement to enable these developments to advance and thrive.

Matt Medley is senior product manager at IFS, tasked with ensuring that solutions meet the demanding needs of defense service and support organizations, defense manufacturers, and defense operators. He has served as a consultant, program manager, and project manager in aerospace and defense organizations. Matt – a graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy and a certified flight instructor – served for 12 years in the U.S. Air Force, achieving the rank of major and logging 2,500 flight hours in the C-130 aircraft. He holds an MBA from Kennesaw State University and a master’s degree from Webster University and is a certified project-management professional.


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