Why is the cloud useful for the defence sector?

Written by Wilfried Kirschenmann, on 16 June 2021

The Tech Intelligence series explores various tech topics: cloud computing, cybersecurity, blockchain, and more. Today, let's take a quick look at the development of cloud computing in the defense sector.

When observing recent armed conflicts, major powers consistently resort to coordinated attacks between different branches of their military services. Take, for example, Operation Serval (2013). This operation aimed to deploy a special forces contingent (COS) as quickly as possible. It aimed to support Malian forces in slowing down the offensive progression of Islamist armed groups (Ansar Dine, MUJAO, and AQMI). This lightning intervention required coordination between the air force, army, navy, DGSE, DRM (military intelligence), gendarmerie, and of course, allied forces. It is precisely on these lightning attacks involving multiple actors that the Cloud plays a key role.

The use of cloud computing is conceptualized in defense as the "Multi-Domain Combat Cloud," aiming to enhance defense and attack capabilities through information superiority. Specifically, it is a decentralized information network (cloud), cyber-resilient (able to adapt its cybersecurity policy regardless of events), and collaborative in the domains of air, land, sea, space, and cybersecurity. The aim is to connect nodes for all forces in all domains, enabling intelligence and exchanges in real-time. This integrates existing practices in each domain, allowing them to retain their strengths.

The cloud: a strategic environment

Information superiority allows the attacker or defender several advantages. Firstly, the cloud provides an environment conducive to processing Big Data from IoT. Many military equipment are connected to IT services (whether it's weaponry, transport, surveillance, etc.). The challenge is to master and manage this data to improve storage, management, analysis, security, and availability processes.

Secondly, the more nodes (connected bases) connected to the same cloud environment, the more operational the technology becomes. The cloud reduces the natural segregation between each environment (land, sea, air, and orbit). Ultimately, this speeds up the decision-making loop (choice of actions or targets).

Synergies and close coordination between intelligence actors upstream, various command levels, and field services in each environment will be at the heart of future military challenges to make cyberspace a new environment of confrontation. The amount of information generated on the battlefield, the computing power needed to process this information, and predictive algorithms will become elements of strategic advantage. Therefore, securing the IT environment is necessary to preserve one's interests.

Data processing will allow the creation of predictive models. Modeling-simulation-optimization (MSO) tools pave the way for a new form of conflict, predictive warfare. Indeed, if it is possible to accumulate and process so much data, it is possible to establish scenarios (models). This way of anticipating (enemy movements, potential targets, weaknesses, etc.) helps to reduce uncertainty when deciding to engage physical forces and thus reduce potential losses.

Cloud in action

The goal of combat cloud is for it to be operational throughout the mission. It must not be subject to terrain, weather, or attack conditions. Indeed, it must retain its autonomy (each unit must retain control of its IT environment). Finally, it must be agile.

Thales Group presents the following example: In a naval conflict involving two frigates connected to the same cloud environment, one of them suffers an electromagnetic attack that renders its sensors and radars unusable. The second one does not suffer the attack; it will transmit the information it obtains about the enemy's position using its operational sensors and radars. This sharing of information via the use of the cloud will help the paralyzed frigate locate the enemy and retaliate in turn. We can also imagine the following scenario: Both frigates are victims of the attack; the commander decides to deploy a military satellite to locate the attacker. The coordinates (or even images) will then be transmitted in real-time to the naval deployment. This is the entire point of data federation.

The cloud also plays a role in integrating other technologies into the military. Advances in artificial intelligence make it possible to create groups of small robots. These act collectively to carry out missions in a coordinated manner. For example, the formation of fleets of drones that react and reorganize when one of them is destroyed. This swarm shares and communicates in the same cyberspace to make collective decisions. This would be difficult to achieve without a unified and decentralized environment like the cloud.

Who are the combat cloud actors?

In France, there are two integrators. However, we do not have a major player in the cloud market. We are forced to rely on our American allies. However, integrating cloud technology into the military is a matter of national security and sovereignty.

To do this, Thales Group has chosen to use Microsoft's cloud (Azure), and Airbus Defense & Space has chosen Google's (GCP). The two European integrators are responsible for securing the cloud environment provided to the armed forces to preserve the confidentiality of internally shared data. Military services operate in a particular environment (operational theater, advanced or distant operational bases). The environment must therefore be configured differently from a commercial system. As mentioned earlier, each system must maintain a certain autonomy. It must also be able to operate offline (due to terrain and weather conditions). Physical infrastructures (servers, storage) must also be adapted to the terrain with greater resistance.

Thales Group's solution was chosen by NATO forces because it meets the "Federated Mission Networking" standards (interoperability, information exchange, and intelligence exchange). Another example demonstrating the utility of the cloud in cooperation between command networks. This is also the case for conduct during operations but this time between nations.


The use of cloud computing in the military redefines the way wars are fought. Indeed, the human environment pushes us to act faster and more precisely. Coordination thus becomes a central element. Collecting, processing, analyzing, and sharing data increases flexibility and decision-making. Tomorrow's conflicts will require actors to have significant agility and innovation. Indeed, this will be necessary to predict the adversary's behavior. Only by unifying the different military branches can strategic advantage be obtained.

While in the United States, the war is raging between AWS and Azure to obtain a partnership with the Pentagon for the implementation of a cloud, the French military is advancing in cooperation with Thales and Microsoft. However, the threat of the Patriot Act and more recently the CLOUD Act, which give authorities oversight over data processed by American companies, poses a serious problem of sovereignty over our information systems. Would the solution be to internally create our own cloud environment?