Adopting Big Data analytics used by commercial sector could help save money and lives at MoD

A collaborative approach with the commercial sector on Big Data analytics could enable the Ministry of Defence (MoD) to benefit from cutting-edge skills, helping to save money and lives through greater financial efficiency and operational effectiveness, according to a new paper from the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI).

DARPA Big Data

Big Data for Defence and Security highlights the possibilities offered by Big Data analytics to reduce the MoD’s risk of ‘data asphyxiation’, and calls on two three-star officers – one in MoD Centre and one in Joint Forces Command (JFC) – to act as Big Data Champions applying technologies and techniques from the commercial sector to defence. 

Big Data, the term used to describe very large datasets that are too awkward to work with traditional hands-on database management tools, and Big Data analytics, the process of examining and interrogating Big Data to derive insights of value for decision making, have been used in the commercial sector to extract ever greater insights, business intelligence and, ultimately, more reliable predictions of the likely evolution of events. 

Key recommendations from the report include:


‘These developments in the commercial sector have parallels in governmental and military arenas. The intelligence world already collects more raw data than it can analyse, with perhaps as much as 95 per cent of imagery never being viewed by analysts. Similarly, government policy-makers collect more data than they can handle yet simultaneously often lack robust, data-based evidence on which to plan and manage the business of the Ministry of Defence.’ 

‘The consequences of not dealing effectively with these challenges in the defence and security sector are potentially profound – extending beyond those associated with market competition that drives the commercial sector – and include loss of life and operational failure.’

'Government and industry face similar pressures to increase performance and speed of reaction, driving a need to collapse the distance between policy, planning and action. Emulating the intuitive understanding of human analysts with automated processes designed to search for patterns in huge, complex datasets could help. The most immediate benefits are likely to be in areas such as departmental and financial planning, programme management, and in key JFC enablers such as operational logistics and intelligence, as well as operational planning as a whole.’

‘Over recent years, with an ever-growing reliance on network-centric operations, governments such as those of the US and the UK have allocated significantly increased budgets to improving their ability to collect intelligence, largely as a response to the demands of both the changing nature of global terrorism and military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.’

‘This data comes from a number of sources and platforms. It is varied and increasingly ‘unstructured’, with large quantities of imagery and video generated every day... One MQ-9 Reaper sortie collects the equivalent of twenty laptops’ worth of data. It is therefore not surprising that much of this information can only be retrospectively analysed, rather than being fully exploited in real time.’

‘Big Data analytics have a potentially significant role in helping to manage the data deluge and assisting analysts to focus their efforts on analysing content rather than searching for relevant information.’

‘The MoD should build on the huge investment in this area being made by the commercial sector and in doing so ensure that the MoD is well-positioned to track and exploit further commercial technological developments as and when they occur.’

One of the sponsors of the report, James Petter, EMC’s Vice President and Country Manager for UK and Ireland, commented that, "Even with shrinking budgets and continued operational constraints, the military is yet to wake up to the immense potential of thoroughly analysing the masses of existing information it is constantly collecting. Not only will it multiply the nation’s defence capability but significantly, it will make warfare safer. RUSI’s report highlights the role for leadership, experimentation and focus in driving adoption of these new tools and techniques to ensure we avoid obsolescence. This could literally be a matter of life and death as the armed forces work to ensure a brighter and safer tomorrow." 

The RUSI report, Big Data and Security can be downloaded here:

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