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Harnessing real time data to improve military readiness

Mogens Madsen
9 Feb 2022

Digital twins serve as the real-time virtual counterparts of physical objects or processes. Digital twins of machines or factories have been used specifically in the industry to streamline and optimize production.

Although the concept originated earlier from NASA’s attempt to improve physical model simulation of space crafts in 2010, the same technology today creates winners in Formula 1 racing and will in the future be used in developing in the digital cities. Elements from this technology will also be able to provide an optimized and effective enhancement of military capabilities. We all know by now that organizations that have the knowledge and understanding of their total amount of data and can apply this knowledge in an innovative approach in their daily tasks and decision making, will make the most progress in a digital development. So why wouldn’t the armed orces exploit the advantages that come with the technology?

Formula 1 Racing and the Digital Twin: Where’s the Connect?

I was inspired by how technical data collection is being used to improve results in Formula 1 races. Each F1 team’s factory consists of 1000+ employees toiling hard as one to build just two cars that only two drivers will drive in highly pressurized conditions. F1 now uses digital twins to produce these cars, because their data-driven environment can help create simulated race machines and virtual avatars make the right decision in a split second. Also, the F1 winning team is also known for its efficient operation as a troop. And there I drew the parallel with a force that is always ready to win – the military.

Engineers and technical experts collect huge amounts of data from testing and live races. Then they create digital avatars of racers and vehicles. Tech experts monitor the digital twin during races, where the vehicle’s various sensors continuously provide data, describing the vehicle’s overall condition. By looking at the digital avatar’s tire pressure, erosion, and heating under the influence of its speed and weather during operation, engineers know the optimal time for changing the tires. The vehicle’s various sensors continuously provide data on stability or the need for intervention – either from the driver in the form of driving into pit to refuel, or from the technical/ mechanic personnel who stand by in the workshop.

Of course it is not enough to gather knowledge if it is not translated in time into actions in a very compressed time course, as a Formula 1 race is.

Drawing a parallel between racing and military equipment

Just like the Formula 1 scenario, the defense industry can also use similar technology to perfect military equipment. Considering the use of helicopters, armored fighting vehicles, and other ground-based vehicles (often Top equipment in SAP material structure building) for maintenance and management, it is important to take into consideration the material status and configuration data at each component level. Only then a technical, logistical, and operational data overview per military unit for equipment management can be established. Combining this data-driven insight with inventory levels, maintenance plans and strategies, sourcing and procurement, sales and distribution will enable the organization to effectively use, operate and maintain, and eventually terminate the materials. It also enables a live data overview for Top equipment, and the possibilities for operational and technical planning of usage scenarios.

Using SAP and non-SAP systems for military equipment management

Live data on military equipment often come from various data sources. Technical and logistical data for both Top equipment as well as components (equipment), including data related to planning, modifications, and maintenance, are usually maintained in both SAP and non-SAP systems.  Further data about Top equipment operating time often comes from aircrafts, helicopters etc. to SAP as well as non-SAP systems. When linked with third party systems for operations and predictive maintenance, the system-run algorithms lay the foundation for a combined overview of future maintenance, repairs and modifications. If the availability of qualified personnel (service technicians, pilots, operators, etc.) and physical facilities (e.g. work centers and operative testing facilities) can be added to the equation, a solid overview of up- and downtimes can be created allowing for logistical and operative planning.

In the military sector, as per the function or capacity of the equipment whether it is used in an offensive or defensive mission, system changes are updated in SAP or non-SAP systems to ensure that current operating time measurement is in place for all components in the actual material structure. The top equipment in SAP will continuously be updated with actual material structure, including the approved structure, consequently determining the maintenance requirements for all components of aircrafts, helicopters, and other assets.  Wherever relevant, automatic data transfer from equipment placed in stationary facilities such as radars, pump stations, critical buildings will provide real-time data for daily operations.

Some components can be programmed or activated to continuously feeding operational data, whereas others will have measure points updated when the operating time for the facility is registered (aircrafts, helicopters, combat vehicles, and other ground based vehicles). Combined with manual registration of data entries in SAP driven through daily maintenance routines, a comprehensive, real-time data overview is created for future material purchase strategies.

Overview for military personnel and actions

The technical and logistical overview can be combined with personnel data and data telling about ongoing activity and status related to personnel. Personnel data is crucial to determine operative capacities in relation to military operations, as well as when carrying out military exercises. Just as the equipment data helps judge capacities ready for operations (aircrafts, helicopters, ships, and vehicles), the personnel data helps identify qualified people to use and operate the material, e.g. if the radar operator has undergone proper training or whether the aircraft pilot has passed the necessary fitness exams carried out by the medicinal staff. All such data are registered in different degrees of classification with appropriate user access and control.

Creating a live ‘status board or image” on SAP

In SAP different data structures can be merged together with different info types and data fields that are needed to create a holistic picture of ongoing business. Business knowledge on all data types, their classification level, and overall management models of defense are part of building up a status board. Status on depot transactions, shipping, purchase, equipment, buildings, personnel (qualifications, educations/ medical status, and their readiness or preparedness) seen in a security, technical, logistic, and operative angle, could be part of it. For example, if it is the readiness status of an aircraft is in question, the system will combine the data about the operability of the high level material structure with data on its predictive timelines of maintenance and repair.  Such comprehensive visibility/information can be gathered even in ongoing operations enhancing resource management and planning.

If we combine SAP and non-SAP data knowledge with live information from the ground – for example, data on refueling activities, ammunition loading or unloading, need for access to special buildings or workshops areas, we will have more insights on operative readiness. Often you will be able to use data from ERP or other subsystems to set up an almost real time, command, control, communication, status board.

Communicating the status image across the board

The status picture that comes from using data and structures maintained in SAP and/or other systems is not only a material operation status management tool but also an online knowledge sharing platform ensuring a comprehensive overview across the maintenance and operational structures. Complemented with everyday means of communication (mail, etc.) and a real status registration platform with look-up options in a closed network, this guarantees transparency across all operations. In the event of sudden changes in the status of material capacity, the status image serves as a communication platform for changes that are crucial for prioritization and corrective actions.

The use of military master data can create digital twins to support military preparation and plans for materiel, personnel, buildings, etc., where capabilities are always measurable and predictions can be made about possible uptime, stagger lines and availability. This can be combined with GIS, ongoing tasks and resources that are related to the core task. Understanding the value of business processes and their data support foundation in an ERP system is more relevant than ever in the military contexts of digital and innovative applications in the future.

About the author

Mogens Madsen,
Managing Consultant, Capgemini

Mogens is an experienced Project Lead with a demonstrated history of working in area of business development and information technology in an economical and logistical perspective. A graduate from Forsvarsakademiet he is skilled in process management, supply chain management, cost management and organizational compliance.