It’s time to start operationalizing wearable technology in DoD

Pilots from the 18th Component Maintenance Squadron carry research equipment for rapid threat exposure analysis while working at Kadena Air Force Base, Japan, April 29, 2021 (DVIDS)

Carrying technology is one of the hottest trade trends in recent years, but penetration of the Pentagon is quite limited. In this new analysis, Air Force officers Gabe Arrington and Christopher Mulder argue that the department needs to realize the potential of new technologies, despite issues of confidentiality and data rights that will need to be addressed.

The National Defense Permit Act of 2022 directs the Ministry of Defense to develop a digital health strategy to incorporate new and emerging technologies – including wearables that could use big data and forecast analysis to provide value-added opportunities to staff in the Ministry of Defense. While initial efforts will focus on improving the provision of clinical care, healthcare and patient experience, carriers need to move quickly to other operational settings.

The use of data from eight billion people of humanity creates an opportunity to create new medical technologies, healthier living conditions and optimally designed work environments. Even a portion of that larger population, such as the two million U.S. military personnel, would provide valuable insights and change the game in the operation of wearable technology. It is clear that the expansion of the use of wearable technologies in the Ministry of Defense can have positive consequences for both military capabilities and general health research.

Portable devices first became a major defense topic in 2018, when it was discovered that a working application tracked military data and the location of military installations, causing a fiery storm of unrest that led to new regulations. These provisions have evolved to the extent that wearable devices in military places are allowed, once they meet certain criteria. Now, if approved and complied with, servicemen routinely incorporate wearable technology as part of their daily attire in classified areas of military installations around the world.

While other challenges will arise, such as who owns the data and how it will be used, the operational impact on joint forces makes this maturing technology worth incorporating into DoD. Given the intention of Congress on this technology, department heads must strive to embrace its potential and enable every service.

The good news is that there is a clear test case: the Ministry of Defense realized the potential of wearable devices at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Department of Defense Innovation has built a system with Philips Healthcare called Rapid Threat Analysis, or RATE, in 2020. Designed to take advantage of commercial technologies, the user wears a Garmin watch and Oura Ring to provide data from 165 different biomarkers in an algorithm that takes advantage of predictable analysis, allowing potential patients to know up to 48 hours before symptoms appear. The Oura ring app shows three results (sleep, activity and readiness) that can be used to help a person’s ability to perform and recover at any time.

After RATE was successful with a sample of 8,500 employees, the director of DIU, Mike Brown, called it a critical ability and the Ministry of Defense proceeded to its rapid adoption. The program has expanded into services, and wearables are now common among Pentagon senior officials and around the Department of Defense, including West Point. [PDF]. This success offers an opportunity for the Ministry of Defense to expand the operational use of wearable devices.

Future capabilities for operationalizing wearables and increasing the military capabilities of joint forces, which we recommend based on our research, include:

Benefits of leadership

How many of us wear Apple Watches now that tell us to breathe from time to time or stand up? What if a military leader, of any rank, could program his carrying device to help them with their leadership style and application? Imagine if, say, Will Smith had been warned of his heightened emotional state before hitting Chris Rock on public television, giving him a chance to think about his actions before attacking. When a carrying device senses an increased heart rate or aggressive body language, a person in such a scenario may receive a sound tone, buzzing on the skin or a number of other reminders that indicate that now is the time to break free or change behavior. The built-in coach can help the leader how best to get through the challenging scenario for a number of susceptible behaviors.

Healthy living to maximize productivity

There is an increased emphasis on combustion pits, toxins in the workplace and on preventive training for physically active areas of the career, such as flight operations. In the future, wearable devices will include sensors that can actively monitor and monitor a serviceman’s exposure to toxins, mental states or severe physical conditions, such as soldiers carrying heavy loads for extended periods of time. With individual and aggregated data, leaders can make better decisions about how to train and fight optimally, while preventing excessive exposure to harmful conditions.

The Ministry of Defense must provide guidelines for overall health that each military department can use to upgrade its own programs. It can be used to launch wearable and other holistic health initiatives by using the formal budget process to methodically maintain and improve wearable technologies and additional comprehensive health support. Attention must be paid to data security guidelines.

Optional training regimens

The services are now extending the success of the RATE system in new ways. One use case will be to improve or perhaps even eliminate parts of fitness testing. The space forces are considering using monitored health data to replace PT tests, and the former Navy leadership has proposed the same to replace semi-annual tests. The Air Force has also begun testing wearable technology for flight operations. The 12th summer training wing at Randolph Air Force Base has become a hub for technological innovation following the inclusion of Air Force pilot training in its day-to-day operations. Pilots are now testing the Garmin Fenix ​​6, a smart water bottle Hidrate Spark and Oura Ring, to better understand the conditions of their pilots before flying on a mission. The military is also researching the technology, partnering with the University of Queensland to equip Alaska Army paratroopers with technology to increase their productivity in harsh environments. At a time when the military is looking for alternative PT methods to attract more tech-savvy people, the opportunities can be remarkable.

As with any new technology, there will be challenges. The obvious disadvantage of over-scaling wearable devices is the question of who has access to the data and for what purpose.

While the Ministry of Defense has the opportunity to partner with the commercial sector to operationalize wearables, it must also establish processes and infrastructure to protect this data from security breaches, especially from potential adversaries, and to prevent use outside of official purposes. of the Ministry of Defense. From a cultural point of view, commanders must learn to use data for operational decision-making in favor of the unit’s mission and be aware of building a culture of trust in which medical data will not influence the commander’s opinion of someone’s performance. Yes, these are serious issues that need to be well thought out, but they will not be vital as long as these technologies are not on a scale – and can be addressed once the department begins to integrate wearable technologies into the military.

A well-executed plan that respects the confidentiality of troops and includes their participation can mitigate most risks, and technology has the potential to maximize the combat capabilities of joint forces for years to come. Portable devices are not a panacea for all the current challenges of the military, but they are a good place to start exploring what is possible.

Lt. Col. Gabe S. Arrington, USAF, is a National Defense Fellow at the Center for a New American Security in Washington, D.C. and a Fellow at Seminar XXI at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Prior to his current appointment, he was Executive Officer of the Deputy Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Colonel Christopher P. Mulder, USAF, recently completed a veteran leadership program at the Bush Institute, where he is researching overall health.

The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policies or positions of any agency of the United States government or other organization.

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