Over the next 30 years, the U.S. military will find itself fighting more battles in urban areas as populations rise across the globe. Cities such as Shanghai and Beijing currently contain more than 20 million residents each, and the United Nations expects the number of "megacities"--with populations surpassing 10 million people--to increase from 28 in 2016 to nearly 50 by 2030.
Residents in those areas will use smartphones, tablets and wearable devices, and be connected to the internet. As data sources become more widespread, the proliferation of "internet of things"-enabled devices--electronic tools that use the web to interact with each other and with the physical world--offer increased benefits for situational awareness, signals intelligence and communication, military and industry leaders have said.
"You need to distribute IoTs throughout the city, everywhere you can possibly think to distribute them, to gather every type of signal that you think is relevant and... analyze those against known parameters," said Thomas Burns, director of the strategic technology office at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.
But these devices could also open troops up to potential attacks from adversaries who exploit cybersecurity gaps, and the Pentagon must develop tools that allow service members on the ground to communicate in increasingly congested environments, while keeping their assets safe.
The Defense Department was an early user of internet-of-things technology, utilizing it on Army programs such as the Nett Warrior integrated dismounted situational awareness and mission command system, and the Force XXI Battle Command Brigade and Below communication platform, said Keith Gremban, director of the Institute for Telecommunication Sciences at the National Telecommunications and Information Administration within the Commerce Department.
But as commercial industry has surged ahead in developing new ways for users to communicate, sense, process and actuate data through connecting devices, the military has been slower to harness the technology, he said at a recent Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association MILCOM conference in Baltimore.
"When I started my career, the cutting-edge work was all in defense," he said. "Is DoD still a player in IoT [or] have they drifted out?"
Burns said the devices could help troops monitor urban areas in the future, particularly as megacities continue to proliferate. He called it "crazy" to consider...