Stacks of paper and maps in the cockpit of a fighter jet still characterize the real working environment for many service men and women. In this regard, the air force is out of step with civil aviation, in which navigation, weather and communication data has long been handled by way of iPad and other digital means of communication. As is so often the case, this disparity is rooted in data security concerns. To grasp the reason for this, one simply needs to visualize the worst-case scenario in the defense sector. Metadata stolen while using WhatsApp, for example, may ultimately even be sufficient to shed light on the current position of a military unit. The effort enemy reconnaissance needs to expend to accomplish this is comparatively low in the age of artificial intelligence. So, should the sharing of information rather remain analog, as it was in the past? Or are the benefits offered by a digital working environment the way of the future?

Agile, real-time communication improves the quality of leadership

Within Germany’s federal armed forces, a concept has become established which aims to describe the most significant value added by digital tools – leadership capability. This refers to the notion of commanding units in such a way that they have access to the information they need at the right time. The aim is to ensure that every unit and soldier has access to precisely the information they need to fulfill their missions – in other words, neither too much information nor too little. It stands to reason that such a complex process can nowadays be organized much more easily using digital devices than it could in analog times. That is why switching to digital devices is essential for ensuring troops remain competitive. However, there is some good news for the supporters of radio devices. They will continue to exist, but in a digital form and as a complementary option to a digital device.

Young people engaged in military service are digital natives

In the field of defense, it is not only the processes that are changing. The demand for digital solutions has grown continually over the past few years amongst soldiers. After all, those currently doing their military service are digital natives. Not so surprising, considering that they have been using social messaging services since early childhood. It would thus be counter-productive not to use this intuitive communication behavior to benefit the army. Otherwise, the desire for modernity may become so high that private smartphones, including WhatsApp and other messengers, are used for communication. If that happens, the risk to data security is very high, as the data that could be tapped by the enemy using digital means is comprehensive and highly sensitive. This includes details regarding the coordinates and locations of units, numbers and movement of troops as well as encryption or even health data. So, how can the leap into the digital era be achieved in a secure manner?

Employ certified communication solutions

The ideal approach for meeting the exacting requirements in the defense sector is to opt for container-based communication and collaboration tools which have been approved for use with data classified as “VS-NfD”. This approval from the German Federal Office for Information Security (BSI) is, incidentally, a mandatory prerequisite for even qualifying to become a service provider within the German Armed Forces. In addition, the NATO RESTRICTED classification level boasted by Materna Virtual Solution’s SecurePIM Government SDS also presents another significant advantage for military units, as it ensures that communication and security interfaces are able to function within the defense alliance. SecurePIM Government SDS processes all data within an encrypted software container. The claim “all data” is meant seriously. This means that photos taken in the field are not first uploaded to a third-party cloud environment, but only processed strictly with the container.

Pilot project in the cockpit builds trust

When it comes to digital transformation projects, experience has shown that pilot projects have an important role to play. Ideally, they lead to positive experiences and thus build trust within those participating. Materna Virtual Solution recently had the opportunity to bring such a pilot project to a successful conclusion. When procuring 1,400 iPads for pilots, it emerged that they lacked approved software for communication and collaboration. By way of the SecurePIM Government SDS solution, which supports both Android and iOS, the iPads could successfully be integrated into the unit’s communication structure. The tablets not only ensured a tidy workspace and agile, real-time communication, but also provided another concrete advantage over the previous analog situation. Should one of the devices fall into enemy hands, the data will no longer be exposed in the form of printed documents but can simply be made to “disappear” from the device remotely from a central office. This sounds like magic and is certainly an important breakthrough for digital transformation within the cockpit.