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General document | Horizon Scan of Emerging Technologies and Trends for ADF Combat Service Support 2016


Strategic planning is supported by an understanding of emerging trends and technologies. This report provides such a horizon scan for Combat Service Support (CSS). Global trends and the results of science and technology literature scans across seven domains (power and energy, transportation, robotic and autonomous systems, materials and manufacturing, sensors, information and communication technology, and health technologies) are presented. Technologies of interest are further assessed in terms of their usability, potential costs and comparison with the existing options. A comparison to the results of the scan of the previous year is provided, and previous recommendations updated. Finally, an analysis of emerging trends and technologies draws out new recommendations, including for ongoing horizon scanning activities to be combined with development and assessment of detailed concepts of employment for some maturing technologies that offer significant benefits for ADF CSS.

Executive Summary

Strategic planning is supported by an understanding of emerging trends and technologies. This report follows on from previous horizon scanning studies for the Australian Defence Force (ADF) Combat Service Support (CSS) in line with Army Research and Development Requirements ARDR 16/0044 and 16/0054. This is done through scans of science and technology (S&T) literature as well as consolidated reports. Technologies of interest are further assessed in terms of their usability, potential costs and comparison with the existing options. The report covers seven technology groups based on previously developed ADF-tailored taxonomy: power and energy, transportation, robotic and autonomous systems, materials and manufacturing, sensors, information and communication technology (ICT) and health technologies. The scope of the report covers technologies that are directly relevant to logistic operations, as well as those that are likely to have wider impacts on military operations.

Global trends: The current meta-trends are characterised by accelerating technological change and digitisation of most aspects of life, with associated concerns around cybersecurity, privacy and automation of jobs. Western societies have witnessed wide-spread disenfranchisement with the established government and economic models in the context of continued economic instability, urbanisation and ageing population. Climate change concerns include an increase in the rate and severity of natural disasters, mass migration, resource shortage, and loss of coastal infrastructure.

These trends are likely to affect the nature of military operations as well as the characteristics of potential adversaries. Easier access to sophisticated technology by nonstate actors makes the terrorist threat more widespread and harder to detect. Cyber-attacks and espionage are becoming a standard part of national toolkits for exerting influence in many countries. Use of unmanned systems and artificial intelligence (AI) at the tactical level is likely to accelerate the pace and lethality of engagements, while developments in hypersonics will extend their speed and range. Climate change effects may entail additional requirements for humanitarian assistance, stabilisation and border security operations. Furthermore, these operations are likely to be more dispersed and disaggregated, develop faster and take place within civilian settlements in urban, littoral or amphibious environments.

Power and energy: Developments in power and energy are characterised by a global shift towards cost-effective renewable energy systems. Hybrid technologies such as hybrid generators represent an intermediate stage in this trend and are already used in military operations, as are portable and flexible solar panels. Research continues into energy scavenging for small devices, hydrogen fuel cells and wireless charging. Battery designs continue to evolve and are closely watched as enablers for several other industries.

Transportation: Apart from autonomous and semi-autonomous vehicles, developments in transportation technologies include new container designs and novel airless tyre designs. Work continues in improving the precision of air-drop technology, and a resurgence has occurred in use of airships.

Robotic and autonomous systems: Use of unmanned systems and associated countermeasures on the battlefield has been steadily increasing over the last 15 years. Logistic operations may, in turn, benefit from additional unmanned distribution options. Warehouse robots are used by a number of large commercial companies, although this has yet to successfully transition to military warehouses. Work on human augmentation through exoskeletons continues with systems ranging from the ‘soft’ unpowered OX1 to the armoured, powered TALOS2. Unmanned high-altitude airships that can stay in the air for months at a time offer additional capabilities in surveillance, communications and airbasing.

Materials and manufacturing: Additive manufacturing (AM) is now seeing widespread adoption in the aviation industry and rapidly growing buy-in from other sectors. New developments feature printers that are cheaper, faster, incorporate a greater range of materials and allow embedding of (limited) electronics. Other developments of interest in the military domain include new types of protective, lightweight materials, electromagnetic cloaking materials, self-healing systems and new water generation and treatment technologies. Sensors: Sensor research facilitates the growing phenomenon of the ‘Internet of Things’ (IoT), although the manifestation of this trend is more prevalent in civilian than in military organisations. Novel sensors also enable more sophisticated detection devices such as the Black Canary for airborne chemical detection. Research continues to develop sensors for GPS-independent navigation and laser-based spatial awareness.

ICT: Digitisation of enterprises, the IoT and the associated generation of ‘big data’ is one of the most significant influences shaping social and economic structures in recent times. For military logistics, this means more sophisticated logistic information systems with a greater range of predictive and risk-management capabilities, although often at the expense of system transparency. Sophisticated AI systems have moved closer to becoming a major disruptive influence in both the military and civilian domains. In communications, the availability of small cheap satellites is increasing access to space for communication and surveillance. At the same time, large companies such as Google and Facebook are working on solutions for ubiquitous global connectivity. Mixed and virtual reality systems have recently entered the consumer market and developers are starting to explore applications in data visualisation, tele-assistance, tele-maintenance, and training.

Health: Health technologies draw together advances from a broad range of fields. Robotic surgery is now commonplace for certain types of procedures, although tele-surgery is not yet widely used. AM is used to create customised bone replacement implants, as well as printing some less complex organs such as ears and skin. Sensors and microelectronics are contributing to more sophisticated prosthetics and health-state monitoring devices. Miniaturised portable diagnostic systems reduce the requirement for large pathology laboratories. New approaches are being investigated in wound management and control of bleeding.

Technologies of interest: In assessing technologies of interest from this and previous horizon scanning reports, it is noted that some are now being adopted by allied military forces. This presents an opportunity to leverage allies’ experience in the operational use of technologies such as hybrid generators, portable solar panels, energy-scavenging suits, atmospheric water generators, virtual reality panels and additive manufacturing. Concepts of employment can now be developed for maturing technologies such as AM, unmanned supply systems, portable diagnostics and health-state monitoring.

New technologies recommended for close watch include airships and on-demand manufacturing of pharmaceuticals. Airships offer an additional option for large-scale distribution of materiel, infrastructure, and services without a requirement for air-fields. However, protection requirements, extreme weather conditions and platform cost are likely to hinder their use in contested and degraded environments. Technology for ondemand manufacturing of pharmaceuticals is at the initial prototype testing stages and is not yet practically useful for military operations. A close watch is recommended due to its potential for improving robustness and efficiency of Class 8 supply chains once the range of pharmaceuticals improves.

Potential disruptors: New technologies that are likely to directly impact military operations include swarming, AI, armed unmanned systems, and the coordinated use of cyber-warfare. Technologies that may be transformative within the wider society include advanced battery designs (as enablers), driverless vehicles, AM, quantum computing, genetic manipulation and neural interfaces. These developments have some mutual interdependencies and converging of effects that can disrupt existing economic and social models.

Broad recommendations for assessment of military applications of emerging technologies from this and other studies include:

  • Consideration of command and control options in degraded and contested environments •
  • Development of long-term data management and exploitation plans •
  • Incorporation of emerging technologies in red-teaming •
  • Ongoing horizon scanning studies •
  • Development and assessment of detailed concepts of employment for some maturing technologies that offer significant benefits for the ADF CSS.

Key information


Ksenia Ivanova and Guy Edward Gallasch

Publication number


Publication type

General document

Publish Date

December 2016


Unclassified - public release


Technology Horizon Scanning, Logistics, Combat Service Support, Global Trends, Technology Assessment