Among the consequences of digitalisation on the armed forces' operational and strategic environment, we see the emergence, in increasingly clear and concrete terms, of two new battlefields — space and cyberspace. Until now, both have been areas of influence and friction, but in the coming decades they could become areas of increasingly explicit confrontation.
In cyberspace, this development will be the result of growing platform connectivity, which will create an increasing number of points of entry for an adversary to conduct destabilisation, intelligence gathering or destructive operations. In addition, growing dependence on IT infrastructure and the concentration of critical data in data lakes will increase vulnerability not only to cyberattacks but to physical attacks on the data centres where these cloud solutions and data lakes are hosted.
On 13 March 1912, Commander Charles de Rose, one of the pioneers of French fighter aviation, wondered how the role of aircraft would change the face of warfare. "Will aeroplanes destroy other aeroplanes? It is still too early to answer that question." Cyberspace is now part of the contemporary battlespace. The digital transformation that makes it possible or necessary for military forces to use cyberspace for collaborative combat, and/or to engage in cyberwarfare, is a technological revolution that brings radical change to the modes of action, or indeed the modes of organisation, of the armed forces. Will artificial intelligence one day destroy weapon systems? It is still too early to answer that question…
Cyberspace offers new opportunities in terms of military capabilities by making it possible to share data within joint and allied forces and between different operational environments. But this avalanche of data also contributes to the "fog of war", meaning that some form of artificial intelligence will be required in the chain-of-command's decision-making process.
Collaborative combat, supported by the digital transformation, will afford superiority in the theatre of operations. Underpinning this superiority is an ecosystem of technological innovations and means of combat, with concepts of operations that accommodate new defence systems developed in cyber secured environments and able to operate in contested environments (bandwidth, resilience, stress) as a result of the proliferation of cyber weapons.
Within this ecosystem, the armed forces need to work with trusted defence contractors in an approach that transcends traditional silos, just as information systems have themselves become computerised data exchange ecosystems (platforms) that are reshaping technical, organisational and legal paradigms. In this digital revolution, with France in the position of a digital colony, we heartfully plead for the consolidation of this ecosystem which will guarantee our strategic autonomy.
In space, the arms race is just beginning. Several factors are in play here. Satellites are already instruments of sovereignty, with space systems providing major capabilities such as secure telecommunications, image intelligence, signal intelligence, navigation, early warning and space surveillance. These systems significantly increase military effectiveness at strategic, theatre and tactical levels.
Access to space, and the ability to use space to defend the nation and protect national security, are now major strategic requirements, and they must be protected to ensure the resilience of the armed forces and the freedom of action of military leaders, from strategic command down to tactical level.
As the number of private and public players in the space sector grows, so do the risks and threats encountered in space. Not only is the quantity of space debris increasing, but unidentified objects could approach our military satellites, quite possibly on intelligence gathering missions.
Today's risk landscape summons us to better protect our satellites and improve our situational awareness in space. It needs to be possible to characterise an act of aggression against a space asset of military value, in order to prove malicious intent and identify who is responsible, or failing that, to determine where the act originated, in the same way as we do today when a cyberattack occurs.
As the space surveillance situation stands today, France and Germany both have their own radars. For the French armed forces, Thales is developing the C2 system for situational awareness in space, and is proposing to adapt this system to share the information generated by these sensors, and to add new crisis management functions. To better protect satellites, Thales proposes to embark local surveillance systems on future military satellites. Thirdly, Thales is developing technological building blocks for in-orbit servicing vehicles and is urging the military authorities to consider adapting such spacecraft for in-orbit security missions.
The militarisation of space recently reached an important milestone with the official launch of a Space Force by the United States. The major space powers cannot remain indifferent and may react, effectively making space the scene of new sovereignty claims in the coming years. France and Europe quickly need to develop an ambitious strategy in this area. Cyberspace has already crossed a frontier in that several nations have formed cyber forces to withstand and counter cyber threats. However, we will not resolve the issues of strategic autonomy posed by these two battlespaces unless customers, developers, defence contractors and users all work together to define operational requirements, and until they share the same vision of the roadmap needed to meet them. In a world where digital technologies are evolving very fast, superiority on these new battlefields will not be achieved without adopting more agile methods of development and procurement that are better suited to the hypercomplexity of tomorrow's systems.