Industry 4.0 can boost military readiness, says Deloitte

07 August 2018 5 min. read

A new report finds that advancements in Industry 4.0 technologies can help defense organizations upgrade their readiness and effectiveness. Machine learning and real-time data from Internet of Things-enabled equipment can help planners better assess the capabilities needed for a mission, the assets' status, and the best way to spend money on capabilities gaps.

Commercial businesses are already tapping into industry 4.0 to improve their processes. Using vast volumes of data from connected systems (like a turbine or robot manufacturing arm) machines can analyze the real-time data from various sources and then automate decisions into physical world actions – like replacing worn-out bolts in a turbine before it actually breaks down. Robotics, analytics, and artificial intelligence can work together to make a more efficient factory, or to make the trains run on time. Italian train operator Trenitalia, for example, put sensors on thousands of its locomotives and used predictive maintenance algorithms to cut down on unexpected failures – decreasing downtime by 5-8% and reducing maintenance spend by 8-10%.

In a new report, Deloitte relates that US defense forces can improve their readiness – broadly ‘the ability of military forces to fight and meet the demands of assigned missions’ – through the integration of real-world, real-time data and Industry 4.0 tech. Currently, readiness is a ‘model’ built on metrics trying to represent the status of forces – providing leaders with summaries and not the underlying data. With 4.0 tech, leaders can get more accurate broad trends, but also real-time data streams taken from real-world measurements – the status and health of their personnel, weapons, and equipment, for example.Neural network machine learning and mission parametersAccording to Deloitte’s report, Industry 4.0 tech can help boost military readiness by answering three central questions. In response to ‘what capabilities are needed for expected missions?’, technology can help better ‘know the need.’ Responding to the question of ‘what is the status of those capabilities?’, Industry 4.0 can help strategists more accurately ‘know the assets.’ Finally, the technology can help military leaders ‘know the best action’ in response to ‘how to allocate the next dollar to improve those capabilities.’

In terms of knowing what capabilities are needed for a mission, machine learning can help get better answers. Using neural networks that mimic the human brain, a machine learning AI tool can be trained to link mission parameters like task, enemy size, terrain, weather, time, etc. to the size and capabilities of the force needs to accomplish the particular mission. Fed on data from-real world missions, the AI tool will be able to more accurately suggest capabilities for missions than humans working on assumptions or best guesses.

After figuring out what capabilities are required, planners still need to figure out the state of the assets needed to carry out the mission. Cutting-edge technology can help provide a real-world, real-time picture of the location and status of personnel, equipment, and infrastructure, according to the report.

With sensors already monitoring performance of major weapons systems, technologists could combine this data with equipment location on a common platform to give leaders a more accurate view of the resources available and what they can do. For example, they could see which snow plows across bases are functional, and then send working plows from a base not expecting snow to one likely to see a blizzard.Industry 4.0 can give real-time information on personnel, equipment, and infrastructureCollating personnel capabilities and qualifications with mission requirements would better enable commanders to put together the right team with the right skills for particular missions. Having the data readily available would allow planners to figure out the right mix of people for the job. Augmented reality could further link the people with highlighted capabilities with the task-at-hand – connecting knowledge about fixing a broken landing gear or translating Nepalese via a VR headset rather than flying somebody in.

Finally, sensors in tarmacs and smart buoys can give leaders real time knowledge of critical infrastructure, letting them know which runways or berths are open in real-time. Big data storage that allows for both mechanics and generals to analyze and discover insights relevant to them about military infrastructure would aid readiness immensely, says the Deloitte report.

In terms of knowing how best to spend money in order to bridge gaps between required and available capabilities, machine learning can do the heavy lifting. Drawing on real-world data snapshots of military forces, a ‘digital twin’ can be created to run detailed simulations across various missions. Examining how the forces perform can help planners best see where dollars should be spent to fill in capabilities – whether it's capacity, training, or materiel.

According to Deloitte, some Industry 4.0 elements are already in play in the US military. For example, the Air Force began utilizing the data from some planes to start feeding predictive maintenance algorithms. The real challenge, however, will be scaling up operations in what is a traditionally conservative and slow-moving bureaucracy.

In related news, the Pentagon recently signed an $885 million contract with consulting firm Booz Allen to help implement artificial intelligence technology. Booz Allen’s AI solutions will help the DoD analyze and process huge volumes of data in areas like national security (e.g. drone video surveillance) and health care (e.g. heart imaging).