Home Big Data - A Big Bet: Applicability in the Defence Forces

Big Data - A Big Bet: Applicability in the Defence Forces

Beyond the immediate, we are facing a future where security challenges will be less predictable; situations will evolve and change swiftly; and technological changes will make response more difficult to keep pace with. Threats may be known, but the enemy may be invisible. 

- Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his first address to military commanders


In the last decade the growth of data across the world has been unprecedented. Roughly 2.65 Billion Gigabytes (1Gigabyte = 109 Bytes) of data is created each day around the world. If you burned all of this data created in just one day onto CDs you could stack them on top of each other and reach the moon – twice! A Single MQ-9 Reaper drone mission collects “the equivalent of 20 laptops” worth of data. The US ARGUS ground surveillance system collects more than 40 Gigabytes of information per second. Google processes roughly 22 Petabytes (1Petabyte = 1012 KB) of data a day. Every minute we send 204 million e-mails, generate 1.8 million Facebook likes, send 278000 Tweets and upload 200000 photos to Facebook. Since it is huge, many challenges are faced about the management of such extensive data. Guess what companies like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn do with your social media footprints, likes, comments etc? Do they engage it in any way to add subscribers? How does Google give you the shortest route and information you are searching even before you have finished typing? How is that you are flooded with mail from different product companies after you searched for it in the Internet? Facebook is about to use an algorithm, a mathematical formula that predicts what users might want to read. These are few examples of Big Data in use to enhance productivity. Countries like USA, Britain, Canada, Australia and Germany have ventured into defence initiatives with Big Data. Defence and security forces are also going to face information deluge once the various automation projects, Operational Information Systems (OIS) and Logistic Information Systems (LIS) become operational and starts generating data as per IT Road Maps of the organisations. Big Data is arguably going to be one of the most important Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA) in the time to come.

What is BIG DATA

Big Data generally refers to data sets that cannot be analysed by the normal relational database tools since they were not designed to deal with vast data problems. Instead, it requires special software running on special machines. For the purpose of this article “Data” becomes “Big Data” when it outgrows current ability to process, store and cope with it efficiently. Another important characteristics associated with Big Data is its Volume (massive),Variety (structured, semi-structured or unstructured) and Velocity (the speed at which it is generated, gets refreshed and disseminated). The dynamic nature of the data demands large amount of computing power, specific design features and fast networking.

What is Big Data Analytics

Big Data Analytics is ‘the process of examining and interrogating Big Data sets to derive insights of value for decision making’. Big Data Analytic tools facilitate the examination of large amounts of different types of data to reveal hidden patterns and correlations that are not otherwise easily discernible. Numbers do not speak for themselves. Data has to be interpreted by attaching meaning to it so that insights can be derived to enhance productivity. Organizations that adopt a full range of big data analytical capability can discover what is happening, determine why it is happening, predict what is likely to happen and prescribe the best action to take.

Big Data Exploitation in the Commercial Sector

Today, data is available at the Websites, Billing Machines, data from Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) and Customer Relationship Management (CRM) modules of the enterprises, RFID tags, Network Switches and Social Media. This is facilitating Big Data Analytics in all areas of business. Big data is a hot topic today because technology is making it possible to analyse all available data in its native form. Amazon.com handles millions of back-end operations every day, as well as queries from more than half a million third-party sellers and is an established leader of e-commerce. Wal-Mart handles more than 1 million customer transactions every hour, to keep their customers happy which is a need now. Facebook handles 50 billion photos from its user base and still growing.GE uses big data to monitor the health of their gas turbine throughout its life cycle thus having edge over its competition. Boeing Inc. uses big data to monitor the health of the aircraft engines. Movies renting company in USA, Netflix Inc. used its Big Data capabilities to anticipate what subscribers might want.

Imperatives of Big Data Capability in Defence

Defence and security related data being generated from multiple sources will have to be fully analysed for military operations and better situational awareness in future, especially in the joint services arena. From an operational perspective, “bigger picture” will be required for optimal resource deployment leading to successful operations.Big Data platform can give a single view of information which will be more coherent and will be in real time.

Logistics of the future will require dedicated resource monitoring system to have asset visibility. Enterprise Resources Planning (ERP) implementation like Computerised Inventory Control Project (CICP) of the Ordnance Corps will automate their logistic management. On the data collected by CICP, Big Data can provide advance Business Intelligence (BI) tools for Pattern Recognition, Modeling, Simulation and Forecast. This can add value since all procurement can be based on analysis of pattern of consumption leading to a lean inventory stock. Real-time route optimisation of all types of convoys which are GPS and RFID enabled can be done by studying the pattern of data generated from convoy movements fitted with sensors. Similarly critical equipment and vehicle having a bearing on the operational efficiency can be fitted with sensors and study of the data generated by the sensors showing all wear and tear will change the maintenance philosophy of armed forces .Big Data applications in the field of Health, HR and Records Management is also getting popular.

Similarly in the field of cyber-security, where network managers will be dealing with millions of attacks every day, Big Data analytics can be applied to spot advanced persistent threats – such as socially engineered attacks designed to steal government information which has happened in the past (Chinese attack on our Websites). Most hackers have a modus operandi, which once identified can be used to predict the form of future attacks and put appropriate defensive measures in place. For military intelligence, algorithms can be developed to analyse hundreds of thousands of open-source documents generated each hour and compare them to billions of historical events and then have predictive capability to anticipating specific incidents and suggest measures proactively. Automated analysis technology on intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) data can be created as part of Big Data initiative which will allow the operations branch to work with ease on future platforms which are data intensive.

Opportunities and Challenges for our Defence Forces

Data generation in the defence forces is also increasing and hence it will give rise to many opportunities in future. Big Data with computational analysis, can deliver insights enabling commanders to proactively identify hot spots for operational planning. Some challenges in terms of requirement of qualified Big Data scientist, security policy related to data cleansing from legacy applications and achieving standardization and change management issues can be overcome by following an evolutionary path of implementation which should be in synchronisation with the IT Roadmap of Armed Forces.


Knowing how to extract meaningful, actionable insights from the data collected will be crucial for successful operations in future. Additionally, Big Data encompasses data generated by machines such as sensors. Sophisticated analysis of the massive datasets was not possible before analytic tools were developed specifically for Big Data. The consequences of ignoring Big Data and associated ‘third-platform’ technologies (cloud computing, mobile devices and social media) in the defence and security sector could be profound. We should tame big data before our adversaries use it to gain an advantage over us. We are in the development area of big data and hence all challenges and issues regarding big data can be overcome and benefits of big data analytics achieved if defence forces support and encourage fundamental research within their organizational framework.

The article is part one of a two-part series. Part two shall follow soon.

The author is Senior Fellow at CLAWS. Views expressed are personal.


1. Books

  • R Ramakrishnan & J Gehrke, Database Management Systems
  • GE Intelligent Platforms.
  • A history of Big Data with links to supporting articles.
  • IBM What is big data? — Bringing big data to the enterprise.
  • “Manufacturing: Big Data Benefits and Challenges”. TCS Big Data Study
  • Big Data at Work: Dispelling the Myths, Uncovering the Opportunities by T H Davenport
  • Doing Data Science by Rachel Schutt
  • Big Data Now by O’Real Medias

2. Web Sites

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Haridas M
Senior Fellow
Contact at: [email protected]
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Good Read ...............
Brig PK Jhamb
You have nicely covered the stats of how big the Big Data is. Impressive.\r\nYou have also shown that Army too has Big Data and the need to look towards it. Presently, I doubt if anyone in Army is paying any attention to it; leave aside taking benefit from it. Yes, Army can benefit a lot from it provided first we prioritize areas where we can benefit most. In my view most important areas in priority one should be CI/CT int collation / analysis and wpn platform maint (AD, Arty, Avn and A Vehs).\r\nI think in Part 2 of your article you are bringing out a model to shortlist fields of Big Data gathering and its analytic which Army requires in the identified areas. Otherwise, I will say you will be searching for a screw in an ocean.
Rajni kala
Well written............
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