The annual Military Communication and Information Systems conference (MilCIS) took place in Canberra this week, showcasing the latest information and communication technologies (ICT) with updates from the military on major projects and the challenges the sector faces.
Defence’s Chief Information Officer Stephen Pearson opened proceedings by acknowledging challenges he’s faced during his time in the role, along with a roadmap for major projects currently underway.
“I’ve been in the job for about nine months, and it’s been a massive learning experience,” Pearson said. “There’ll still be some bumps in the road. We’ve had a few. I can say that we’ve got a lot of great collaboration with our partners… I’m confident we’ll get there.”
Pearson also gave some updates on the Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) and Enterprise Information Management (EIM) programs.
“EIN is on track for government approval in February. This is a critical program for Defence… it’s a key enabler of our fifth gen warfighting capabilities.”
“It’s also a time for us to review the [ERP] program strategy. It’s a time for us to recalibrate and look at our own resources and how we’re using industry and [delineating] roles and responsibilities.”
Rear Admiral Michael Rothwell, head of ICT Operations in CIOG, outlined the full scope of Defence’s current network operations.
“Across 400 locations, we have: 120,000 work stations; 230,000 network connections; 110,000 desktop phones; 10,000 servers; 30,000 mobiles; 14 data centres; 50 floating data centres; and one million annual service requests.”
In a panel discussion afterwards, ADM pressed Pearson on what information he will take to government following former DIO director Frank Lewincamp’s review into the ERP, and whether the program is still on track to meet planned timelines.
“We’re course correcting for ERP,” Pearson answered. “We’re looking at how we are going to operate ERP in conjunction with EIN. The timeframe for the landings of those is part of what the review looked at and we’re still unpacking that.
“We have some tenders out that I can’t discuss that will help us plan. So, we’re looking at alternative ways to undertake this [project].”
Dr Andrew Dowse of Edith Cowan University, formerly head of ICT Operations and Strategic J6 in Defence, pointed out that Australia’s investment in research and development is decreasing relative to other OECD states.
“The R&D component is essential to systems that are best of breed, not just off the shelf,” Dr Dowse said.
Some of the program highlights included a brief by LTCOL Mick Hose on the JP 9102 satcoms project, who gave some insight into how his team identified Defence’s operational ICT needs.
“We took the model of two joint task forces (JTFs) deployed simultaneously,” he said. “That’s two JTFs in 2025 with every terminal lighting up at the same time.”
“We looked at historical and commercial trends dating back to 1991 on how the demand for [data] is increasing. It’s not flat, it’s not linear – it’s exponential.”
On the basis of thorough modelling involving all three military services, LTCOL Hose posited that two JTFs will require transmission speeds of up 1.8 gigabits per second in a primary coverage area between the 91st and roughly 160th meridians east, with secondary and tertiary coverage areas over the rest of the globe.
A separate panel discussion on innovation saw some interesting back and forth between participants. COL Shaun Love, Director Land Network Innovation, opened with a soft rebuke of previous speakers.
“My aim is to counter some of the commentary that has happened over the last couple of presentations. That isn’t to denigrate what they said, but [disagreement] is a fundamental of innovation.
“Perhaps the real impediment to innovation is this audience, and I count myself amongst you.
“Agility requires someone to be a bit funky. To think outside the square. And that requires a framework where you have to accept risk and embrace failure as a pathway forward. That’s difficult to do when we’re beholden to a nation that presses government on how it applies its funds.”
“I don’t think any of us disagree with you,” COL Dan Hartigan, Director Joint Command and Control, said.
“The question is how do we apply limited people, limited money, and limited time to get the innovation outcome we all agree we need?”
“We need to yearn to learn,” Love replied. “There’s an environment of learned helplessness that bounds us down a path of set process.”
GPCPT Jerome Reid, Director Plan Jericho, argued that budget is no impediment to innovation.
“We all have a responsibility to make some hard decisions and carve out the time and money to innovate,” he said.
“Just saying ‘we don’t have the money’? I don’t buy that.”
Further coverage of MilCIS will be available in the December/January edition of ADM.