For decades, drones of some form or another have been used in the military.  However, the rate at which technologies are evolving has changed the IT infrastructure that military and civilian agencies must have in place to effectively use them.  At the recent C4ISR conference held in Crystal City, VA on May 3, Dr. Greg Gardner, Chief Architect, Defense and Intel Solutions at NetApp was part of a panel discussion entitled The Unmanned Movement: Unmanned Systems in the multi-Domain Battle, where industry leaders came together to discuss how the unmanned systems are creating both opportunities as well as challenges for military and civilian agencies.

The communications and data consumption models of today have evolved in ways that no one could have possibly planned for, but Dr. Gardner believes there are parallels that can be drawn from the communications methods of the past. In 1844, Samuel Morse sent the first telegraph message from DC to Baltimore, forever changing the national communication system. The ability to communicate across disparate geographies created a wave of modernity for the United States, and as Dr. Gardner says, “a personal mobility in a way that nothing else had before by creating business opportunities, social relationships, and of course military implications.” Gardner continues, “unmanned systems – whether drones or submersibles, and I would even argue, the Internet of Things, are parallel to what we had in the past. These technologies are transporting data at massive speeds, creating similar opportunities to what was experienced then.”

One of the first recorded uses of unmanned systems was by Austrians in July 1849 after they launched around two hundred pilotless balloons mounted with bombs against the city of Venice. Less than two decades later in the U.S. Civil War, Confederate and Union forces both flew balloons for reconnaissance missions. The MQ-1 Predator is perhaps the most well-known of all military drones used today. According to the U.S. Air Force, “The Predator system was designed in response to a Department of Defense requirement to provide persistent intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance information combined with a kill capability to the warfighter.” Today, drones are also used to take aerial video to identify patterns of insurgent activity over time for intelligence purposes. In 2015, U.S. Air Force drones collected nearly three times as much video over Afghanistan and Iraq as in 2007.

Data provides the intelligence to federal and civilian agencies and drones are a mechanism for gathering it. But today, drones are playing multiple roles in warfighting tactics. In recent years, terrorist groups have been using small commercial drones to drop explosives on targets in Iraq and Syria. As a response to this, the world’s largest manufacturer of drones, Chinese company DJI, has programmed its drones so they are unable to fly over Syria and Iraq as an effort to help combat the war on terror. Dr. Gardner believes that “China has recognized the sensitivity and is helping to prevent ISIS from using drones to make attacks.”

Gardner also points out that unmanned systems don’t stop in the air. Many don’t think about the impacts of submersibles, but, the “vast majority of data travels under the sea via fiber optic networks. The cables are at a depth that manned vehicles can’t get to, so they have to be monitored with submersibles. It is stunning to think about how fragile the network really is. Data is everywhere and has become the lifeblood of organizations. We must protect it.”

Find out how NetApp is aiding the DoD with data management solutions that support their mission here.

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