Arms shows are bit of a anticlimax. They are not full of Yuri Orlov type characters (Nicholas Cage, Lord of War) offering to sell a dodgy batch of AK47’s or a secondhand T72 tank – one careful owner. Instead a large part of what’s on show is related to the more mundane side of defense – pots and pans (in green), connectors, cables, torches etc. But there is also the business end of defence – APC, small arms, rockets, special ops, and helicopters. Situation awareness was a big theme from miniature UAV like the Maviric with 45 minutes duration to the large Watchkeeper and Euro Hawk with duration in tens of hours.
This year DSEi had a softer edge to it. There was greater focus on the civilian usage scenarios – homeland security, civil defiance, policing and commercial security. For example using miniature UAV’s for looking for lost people or crowd control – lot cheaper than a helicopter.
So after looking at rocket launchers and dry firing a couple of Heckler & Koch and FN sub-machine guns I got down to why I was there – looking at system of systems (SoS).
For the last 15 years the military has had a strong focus on Network Centric Warfare (NCW). NCW is based on the idea that in modern warfare conventional and irregular is a set of interacting systems sharing information and collaborating towards a common goal (simplification but it will do). For example a British soldier can send target information to an US helicopter which in turn relays it to a frigate that fires a GPS guided missile to destroy the target. The solider, helicopter and ship are all autonomous systems working together as a system of systems to deliver a desired end effect spanning land, sea, and air. The DSEi affords a rare opportunity to see these SoS all in one place.
SoS is really taking traditional systems theory to the next level and has important implications in non defiance. One very exciting area is Telemedicine (see Gartner Hype Cycle for Telemedicine, 2009), from monitoring your blood pressure over a mobile network to carrying out complex surgery remotely. For example external devices see the individual as a system to be monitored with functions like a circulatory system – that’s convenient medicine already thinks in terms of systems. Information is transferred either manually or automatically to your mobile phone which then sends it to a healthcare provider system which analysis’s the data for potential health problems. You, the monitoring device, mobile phone and the network are all separate systems – only together as system of systems do we telemedicine.
All of these examples; defence, medical, and social networking are based on systems which are collaborating either physically or virtually for common and individual goals. This has serious implications for architecture, design and the whole process of development. How do I understand my customer’s world? How do I architect my capabilities in a way they can be part of a larger system of systems? How can I use and extended existing system in new and innovative ways?
The future belongs to those who can see and understand the big picture but also understands the wants and drives of the individual system – you and me.