New Spokes in Global Defense

In the same way that a good craftsman chooses with care the right tools for the job, global defense planners are adapting their strategies to reflect the demands of increasingly changeable geo-political realities. As a result, investing in defense technologies has become akin to investing in wealth management; the tried and true may be the mainstay, but the new and the different is where the revolutionary—and decisive—may occur. The question of whether we were already moving away from conservative to less structured approaches in military thinking before COVID-19, is now mute. The pandemic caused significant shifts in attitude towards innovation across all major industries, not just aerospace and defense. In the case of the latter, however, these changes have been significantly amplified by events over the past 18 months, let alone the past few weeks. These have led not only to a marked paradigm shift, but to concomitant changes to type of defense hardware development needed to put that shift into practice. The fact that the US now requires major capital projects to be evaluated against what could be gained by alternatively investing the same funds in AI, makes a very significant point. So much so that it is difficult to find an analogy sufficient to convey the meaning adequately. So why AI?

Defense Spokes

Think of a modern-day Frankenstein experiment, except that instead of using flesh and blood, the human body is replicated so perfectly at a mechanical level that it retains every advantage of the biological original, but none of the disadvantages. As a result, there are few physical limits to speed and dexterity, and hardly any at all in regards to energy expended. Yet, without a brain equal to the task, all you have is the theoretical, or at best, vastly substandard performance. At worst you end up with non-working entity no more useful than a broken toaster. What is needed is brain power adequate to the fire power. This then explains the military push to developing artificial intelligence. AI and other advanced algorithms will be required, for example, if the next generation of pilotless wingmen are to equal their potential of providing unparalleled protection to human jet fighter pilots.

Developing software algorithms adequate to this, and other, even more demanding tasks, is clearly beyond the capability of the traditional defense contractor alone, which is where the theme of “new spokes in the wheel of global defense” becomes apparent. While historic military focused multinationals possess areas of advanced software expertise that intersects with the development of AI, they are far from exhaustive, and certainly don’t cover all aspects. Pieces of the puzzle are missing, some of them vital. For this reason, start-ups and companies with no historical relationship to the defense industry suddenly find themselves not only drawn into the ecosystem, but proactively sought out. Similarly, when it comes to those devices for which AI is being so assiduously developed to enable, such as swarm drones, the expertise necessary to achieve optimum success must come from outside the traditional aerospace and defense sector. Some of the proposed sources are surprising. A decade ago no realistic connection existed between gaming companies and strategic military provision. So, what has happened? In a word, convergence.

The gaming industry has become so comprehensive in scope, and reached such a level of superiority in the area of its own expertise, that the software/hardware it has developed stands as the obvious candidate to cope with the massive scale and complexity of future defense scenarios. Furthermore, it is an answer to that age-old challenge, the defense silo. Gaming is multi-disciplinary. It is part of a wider group of technologies including virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), and digital twin technologies. Yet, even these are only the beginnings of its potential. 6G will provide for full scale, holographic digital replication together with instant physical manipulation. To the gaming industry we must add others, principally those in biotechnology, quantum technology, nanotechnology, neuro-technology, autonomous technology, robotics, and 6G information technology/communications. It is not possible to detail the extraordinary potential that the convergence of these differing sectors brings to defense beyond the few examples given below, but it is an opportune moment to underscore that the fact that convergence is bringing a hitherto-fore unparalleled inventiveness and diversity to military/security development and procurement.

Referring briefly to anticipated technical benefits, these include direct neural interfaces giving an operator extraordinary levels of control over, for example, drone swarms. Artificial intelligence will sift through gathered intelligence far more efficiently than the human brain, allowing command decisions to be made more quickly and uncluttered by unnecessary information. On the other hand, positive information will include data gathered by “smart dust”; tiny computers designed to function over large areas as wireless but integrated sensor networks. Defense departments are already participating in new arenas of combat, such as cyber warfare, where the goal is not to knock-out physical infrastructures, but digital. The importance and intensity of this work is set to significantly increase.

We have already noted that advances in technology and political changes have brought about big shifts in military strategy, together with the type of hardware/software that now prioritizes development and procurement targets. Yet that is not the end of the narrative. As we have previously alluded, defense departments are now highly proactive in targeting start-ups, new companies and high-tech SMEs. The rationale is quite straight forward. If strategy and hardware are moving outside traditional parameters, and if defense is truly intent on taking the lead in innovation, and if the single technology dependence pit-falls are to be avoided, then development must be at the hand of many innovators. It is almost axiomatic that these are disproportionally found among newer, smaller, corporate entities. If this shift was already a matter of public policy, the impact of COVID-19 and recent global destabilization have greatly intensified it. These companies are, by nature, networked, inter-disciplinary and highly geared to co-operate with others in their ecosystem. They also tend to have much greater supply chain flexibility. Finally, that the US defense department cites them as generally more avant-garde, energetic and more commercially minded than the traditional defense subcontractor, is another critical affirmation of intent.

This all having been said, these new entrants can benefit from more established defense contractors, not least those in the area of developing chip packaging solutions. On the assumption that packaging will be “the easy bit”, all too often this is the last element of development to be given consideration. The good news is that decades of experience have allowed established packaging firms servicing the defense ecosystem to achieve optimum results, with the minimum number of iterations. Though the language of “trial and error” lacks the sophistication we tend to associate with high-tech maturity, it is, in fact, the cornerstone upon which all development takes place. What is often a discovery for ultra-tech SMEs entering the world of military procurement is that many packaging challenges have been faced before, but under different guises and in different settings. Sometimes the path to successfully packaging a new device is by drawing from a number of past solutions, some of them quite old. The trick is a combination of systems flexibility and for the device to be allowed to “speak” to the experienced process engineer. This is both synergy and convergence.    

With its origins in the Hughes Aircraft corporation working in aerospace and defense, then later as a leader in photonics, RF and other packaging for military uses, Palomar Technologies has decades of experience in supporting defense suppliers of many sizes, levels of maturity and years of engagement – with the added benefit that Palomar equipment is all Made in America. For more information, visit:

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Dr. Anthony O'Sullivan
Strategic Market Research Specialist
Palomar Technologies