Exploring the Strides Made Towards an Integrated Force at DSEI 2023

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U.S. Air Force Capt. Ross Nelson, 374th Contracting Squadron contracting officer, tries on a helmet-mounted display at the Defense and Security Equipment International (DSEI) Japan exhibition in Tokyo, March 16, 2023. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Natalie Doan)

Earlier this month, coalition military leaders joined representatives and experts from more than 200 of the world’s leading defense and national security suppliers and manufacturers for one of the largest and most well-respected military conferences and expositions, Defence and Security Equipment International (DSEI).

This biennial event brings together military decision-makers and their industry partners to discuss the trends shaping the battlefield of the future, and the new technologies that will ensure military superiority for NATO and Five Eye nations today, and into the future.

And this year’s conference could not have come at a better, more impactful time for global militaries. This past 2023 DSEI Conference occurred at an inflection point, as global militaries pivot and begin to accelerate toward warfare of the future.

While the past few decades were spent fighting counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism operations, the fight of the future will not be an asynchronous one. The battlefield that modern militaries are preparing for involves adversaries that are near-peer threats with sophisticated capabilities. And this battlefield will extend beyond the traditional domains of air, land, and sea – reaching far into space and the signals and networks of cyberspace.

This new reality facing the militaries of tomorrow creates new requirements and the need for a new level of collaboration and cooperation that has never been seen – or attainable – at any time in the past.

“The current landscape has unique challenges,” Graham Davenport, Marketing Director Mission Systems for Collins Aerospace, recently explained in an interview with Defence Procurement International. “After years of counterinsurgency and counter-terrorist operations in multiple theaters where the difference in military power was stark, we’re seeing large scale combat operations (LSCO) against a peer adversary in a highly congested and contested environment.”

This new reality facing the militaries of tomorrow creates new requirements and the need for a new level of collaboration and cooperation that has never been seen – or attainable – at any time in the past.

The importance of joint, multidomain operations
The theme of this year’s DSEI Conference was, “Achieving an Integrated Force.” And for very good reason. With the threats of the future coming from peer, pacing adversaries, the battles of tomorrow will need to be fought as a combined force. But with the increasing power and range of effectors, allied nations and coalition forces will need to operate collaboratively but distributed.

Within militaries, themselves, there will be a need for multidomain operations – collaborative operations across all services and all warfighting domains. Each service operating in each domain will need access to real-time intelligence to make more informed, data-driven decisions. A common operating picture and situational awareness will be required to keep each service and disparate organization working to accomplish a shared mission.

What is needed now is more than just multidomain operations; it’s joint multidomain operations – a common operating picture, common situational awareness, and common communications and data sharing across the disparate services of multiple, allied nations.

But that’s not enough. The nature of tomorrow’s near-peer threats extends this requirement beyond the disparate services and organizations of one nation’s military. What is needed now is more than just multidomain operations; it’s joint multidomain operations – a common operating picture, common situational awareness, and common communications and data sharing across the disparate services of multiple, allied nations.

Battled hardened comms
The sophisticated capabilities that future adversaries bring to the battlespace also create challenges and new requirements. The near-peer adversaries facing today’s coalition partners recognize and understand the tactical advantage that a common operating picture and collaboration create, and will look to take it away. With increased capabilities to jam, intercept, and interfere with military signals and networks, modern adversaries will look to deny or degrade communications at the outset of any conflict.

The capability that our adversaries have to deny and degrade communications networks is on display right now in the ongoing war in Ukraine. Since the early days of the conflict, a technologically sophisticated adversary has made it a priority to deny Ukrainian satellite networks. They’ve also worked to eliminate access to position, navigation, and timing (PNT) solutions such as GPS, and intercept radio communications.

In light of these advanced jamming capabilities, it’s essential that coalition militaries not only have networks to communicate; they must be resilient, hardened, and feature advanced capabilities that eliminate an adversary’s ability to jam, interfere, or intercept communications. And any new capabilities added to legacy systems need to integrate and interoperate seamlessly to ensure mission success.

It’s clear that this year’s DSEI theme of “Achieving an Integrated Force” was both highly relevant and timely.

“The biggest challenge is trying to connect legacy platforms, systems and networks, with current and future capability,” said Davenport. “Although open architectures and the adoption of industry standards is definitely the way forward, there is still some work to be done on retro-integration to ensure interoperability with legacy capability.”

It’s clear that this year’s DSEI theme of “Achieving an Integrated Force” was both highly relevant and timely. But there are clear challenges to creating a collaborative, integrated force comprised of multiple coalition militaries operating in a cooperative but distributed nature. And one of the largest challenges is interoperability.

Bringing nations together
As networks and connectivity have increased in importance in military operations, each disparate Five Eyes and NATO nation built its own stove-piped networks and systems. And, in some cases, the disparate services within nations built their own stove-piped networks.

For information sharing and a common operating picture  to be possible across services – and between coalition militaries – these NATO and Five Eyes nations need to identify ways to get their disparate networks to interoperate. Thankfully, industry partners are working hard to bring these coalition nations together and make data sharing possible.

“This is an ongoing and complex challenge that is being addressed through multiple, incremental steps.” — Graham Davenport

Many of their efforts were on display at this year’s DSEI Conference. And the progress that has been made in just the two short years since the last time the event was held were impressive.

This summer, coalition forces joined U.S. military forces in the Indo-Pacific region for the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command’s Northern Edge 2023 exercise series. During these month-long, joint training operations, industry partners working in collaboration with military organizations demonstrated new technologies and capabilities that can make data-sharing possible across services and between militaries.

In the first round of exercises held at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson and Eielson Air Force Base in Alaska, Collins Aerospace demonstrated a suite of technologies that included solutions from its intelligent sensing, resilient networking, and battle management command and control portfolios. These solutions enabled seamless and rapid data connectivity and synchronization across coalition partners.

In the second round of exercises held at Kadena Air Base in Okinawa, Japan, Collins Aerospace demonstrated advanced AI-enabled communications systems that were able to rapidly distribute data to coalition partners. Leveraging the company’s airborne, platform-agnostic data hotspot, advanced AI-enabled communications, and intelligent gateway technology, Collins connected partners from The Five Eyes alliance and others to the data network, expanding joint force capabilities.

“This is an ongoing and complex challenge that is being addressed through multiple, incremental steps,” Davenport told Defence Procurement International. “Operational progress is being made all the time but our experimentations at major military exercises are helping customers understand the real potential and mission requirements our solutions can address.”

With a shift in focus to near-peer, sophisticated adversaries, a new generation of increasingly lethal and long-distance effectors, and an intelligence environment where every troop movement is known to the adversary, intelligence is more important than ever before.

Since the last DSEI Conference in 2021, Collins Aerospace has also demonstrated a new generation of directional communications solutions capable of operating in heavily contested and congested environments. These new directional communications solutions are capable of evading aggressive signal jamming and interference by directing signals directly to their intended targets, and away from the adversary.

“One of our primary accomplishments from Northern Edge included a successful demonstration of new directional communications technology. It tested how currently disadvantaged assets within threat areas could receive updated tasking and provide actionable information,” Davenport explained. “Integrating technology like this on legacy platforms can increase their survivability and operational relevance in highly contested environments.”

With a shift in focus to near-peer, sophisticated adversaries, a new generation of increasingly lethal and long-distance effectors, and an intelligence environment where every troop movement is known to the adversary, intelligence is more important than ever before.

Generating data, distributing it among coalition partners, and exploiting it for actionable intelligence that can guide decision-making is an essential element of modern warfighting. For this to be possible, coalition partners need to find ways to overcome the stove-piped networks in which they operate.

This year’s DSEI Conference was a showcase of how far industry partners have come to making joint, multidomain operations and an integrating force a reality.