Enter the digital soldier age

  • Letters
  • Sunday, 09 Feb 2003


GLOBALISATION, advancing and emerging stealth technologies, prevailing economic trends and increased terrorist activities are just some key issues facing militaries worldwide. 

The foremost revolution in military affairs (RMA) is the dramatic growth in information technology. This is a global trend that is transforming the security framework and will require the re-orientation of human knowledge, skills and attitudes. 

This calls for agility, adaptability and creativity - and a paradigm shift. 

Security remains a key priority, more so in the light of Sept 11 and the more recent Bali bombings, and the ever-increasing threat of terrorism. 

So, how will these new world pressures shape and affect the developing armed forces of the world? What changes are necessary for them to remain effective and, should it come to pass, be ready to fight and win? 

The Malaysian Armed Forces is by no means exempt from these pressures and is, in fact, in the midst of a major upgrading programme. Along with other military forces in the region, they are scrutinising how RMA will affect them in terms of new leadership and culture, structure, skills and training. 

The information age has created the knowledge worker. Likewise, in military organisations, the knowledge soldier is a growing phenomenon. 

Leaders who can manage new structures, processes, equipment, and transform the culture, are needed. A culture and work environment that recognises and rewards ingenuity, creativity, initiative and innovation must be promoted. 

Military forces worldwide have found that while the younger generation readily accept IT, leaders take more time adapting to newer technology. Learning has to be enhanced so as to ensure that technology is effectively utilised throughout the organisation from enlistee to senior management. 

Most armed forces have a hierarchical rank and file command structure. In order to be dynamic and open, a positive attitude to change must be embedded in the culture. 

Although new technologies have brought information access at unprecedented rates and many advances in weaponry, it will still be people - their intellect, senses, motivation and development - that will make the difference. 

Military organisations worldwide will have to also adapt their leadership capabilities to match technological advances. 

It will mean leaders having an understanding of and access to technology in order to make both strategic and tactical decisions. It will also mean developing a culture of continuous learning to keep pace with technology. Leaders need to create an open and collaborative systems environment as they keep pace with technological advances. 

This open leadership style will empower today’s educated, knowledgeable and skilled soldier to build a cohesive and effective force. 

Traditional military structures should be reviewed given the changing role of the armed forces in the region. Nations now seek worldwide economic cooperation and partnerships. 

Regional organisations, such as the Asean and Apec (Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation) promote, in a spirit of collectivism, the socio-economic growth and welfare of member nations. 

This development of bilateral defence relations among neighbouring countries will demand substantial changes in philosophies, strategies and, most of all, attitudes. 

Concepts and organisational structures for use by organisations such as the armed forces regarding RMA cannot be imported. Instead, these will have to be developed from within the organisation as the inevitable and increasing usage of higher technology takes place. 

Hierarchy in military affairs may have to be modified and replaced with a new form of command culture. Layers of middle management need to be retrained and redirected as vastly superior information networks lend themselves to flatter structures. 

The nature of command itself may need a fresh look in the years ahead as RMA will bring to the fore specialist roles in missile warfare, electronic warfare and intelligence gathering. 

Recent trends in the more developed military forces suggest that such specialists, in the future, may well be women and this will require a fresh rethink and look at operational and support employment and career progression profiles. 

How will militaries maintain their talent pool of competent, experienced professionals? How will training be provided to meet current and future needs of any particular job? How can organisations effectively harness the life-long learning of personnel? These are just a few of the challenges facing military organisations worldwide today. 

RMA will change the very nature of warfare. Superior numbers in aircraft, ships, tanks, submarines and guns will be less reflective of military power than the reliability and quality of what it carries by way of sensors, ammunition configuration modes, communications, avionic suites and stealth and strike capabilities. 

Strength will also be measured in terms of how agile these platforms are in integrating into a completely flexible, unified, technologically advanced, fighting force. The recruitment of qualified people who can master these new technologies and weapon systems effortlessly is crucial as they must be able to “fight smart.” 

The whole recruitment process will have to be redefined and redesigned with new minimum entry profiles for specific roles (army, navy and air force), different entry levels and different career paths. 

Better and new training programmes will have to be identified for the new technologies, weapons and capabilities in terms of operational and maintenance matters. The new learning strategy will have to focus on creating a blended approach incorporating both traditional and modern methods. 

To attract and retain the right people, a career in the armed forces must be perceived as a truly satisfying and rewarding experience. Thus, compensation and benefits will have to be examined closely as well. 

To obtain the best from its people, militaries must ensure that their key performance accelerators focus on all dimensions of human performance – organisational alignment, culture, strategic planning, leadership, communications, training and collaborative knowledge management -- all of which must be placed within a network capable of rapid deployment and reconfiguration. 

Military organisations around the world must address the challenges brought on by RMA in order to maintain their fighting capabilities and readiness for rapid deployment. 

They have to ensure they have the best people with the best weapons systems and supported by the best possible training. This is essential in maintaining a superior technological fighting force. 


o Trevor Page and Rajen Rao are practitioners in the Change, Learning and Performance practice of Deloitte Consulting, soon to be renamed Braxton. 

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