The Department of Defence’s head ICTO operations, Major General Michael Milford told young IT professionals there was tremendous scope to pursue a career in the armed forces, which continued to grapple with several technology issues.
Speaking at the Australian Computer Society’s YITCON event this week, Major General Milford spruiked opportunities for IT specialists to be involved in deploying cyber security, mobility, simulation and biometrics technology and even unmanned aircraft or ‘drones’.
“There is enormous range of opportunities available in [Defence IT] from cyber security, deployable networks at the front-end of the military to enterprise level personnel and pay systems,” he said.
“Every ICT specialisation there is out there in the industry, there is a use for in Defence either in a military or civilian role.”
Major General Milford said there was an increasing need to solve Defence’s information management problems resulting from the enormous of data generated by emails, video feeds and biometrics systems from overseas campaigns in places like Afghanistan and Iraq.
“The ability to be able to store that [data] effectively and get it back when [we] need it is still a problem at the moment,” he said.
“Having spoken to a variety of companies, it sounds as if there are simple solutions to it, but to be honest, it’s a little harder than that.”
The Australian Defence Force – which runs the third-largest network in Australia – was also driving towards “joint warfare” where the army, navy and air force work together at all times, which creates a “high level of complexity” for its IT.
Defence’s radar, sensors, video feeds and weapons guidance systems were all encrypted, which meant there was a big requirement for IT security systems, “with the added complexity of not only being able to talk [between] ourselves but [to] other government agencies, police forces, UN organisations and allies.”
“While to the user it [Defence systems] can seem fairly simple and seamless; for the people that pull it together … it’s a complex and demanding job but certainly interesting.”
Smartphones and drones
The department was “not too far” from using smartphones on the battlefield, said Major General Milford. It was recently wrapping up a pilot program to equip soldiers with smartphones. Earlier this year, the US Department of Defense approved the use of RIM BlackBerry 7 smartphones on its network.
“Surprisingly enough they [smartphones] last remarkably well and can be replaced very easily,” said Major General Milford. “A smartphone device these days has as much information management power as one of our entire headquarters deployed in Vietnam.”
Robot technology and unmanned aircraft or ‘drones’ is “something that the military is watching intently,” he said. On September 4, an ABC Online report said the Australian Defence Force planned to spend $2 billion on drones for maritime surveillance and to intercept asylum seeker boats.
According to Major General Milford, “there are plans to use surveillance platforms to the north of Australia but certainly no plans to have weapons systems on drones.”
“Most of the technical issues in terms of running drones have been solved; the issue here is about getting [high bandwidth video] feeds back into our network effectively and getting them where we need them to go.
“Largely that’s about having decent infrastructure in place so we can do that; we are in the process of putting in a wide area network across Australia that will enable us to have that backbone.”