SANDF needs to up its ICT game in the face of sophisticated threats – Maphwanya

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The South African National Defence Force (SANDF) needs to modernise its information and communication technology (ICT) and ensure its information systems are secure in light of increasingly sophisticated threats.

This is according to Chief of the SA National Defence Force, General Rudzani Maphwanya, who was speaking during the opening of the ninth Military Information and Communications Symposium of South Africa (MICSSA) at the CSIR International Convention Centre on 22 August.

Maphwanya warned that adversaries have access to new technology, and rebels in Mozambique and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) are “no longer fighting in the old ways. They are applying new technologies – they have drones,” and high-tech communications systems, he said. “Therefore, we need to up our game as well and be on top of the situation because we cannot be challenged by rebels.”

“The renewal and optimisation of the Department of Defence’s information and communication technology is one of the crucial prerequisites for supporting the defence force’s journey to greatness. Defence ICT is not just a support capability but an arm of the fifth domain of warfare,” Maphwanya said.

MICSSA 2023, which runs until 24 August, comes at the same time as the Snatch ransomware gang said it accessed 1.6 terabytes worth of South African Department of Defence “military contracts, internal call signs and personal data.” The group published a single file on its data leak site on 21 August as proof. It contained Defence Material Division personnel information, including contact details. In October 2022, Snatch claimed to have hacked defence company Hensoldt France.

The theme of MICSSA 2023 is Digital Transformation in Achieving Defence Information Excellence in the Journey to Greatness. The topic is especially relevant given today’s problem of asymmetric warfare, Maphwanya said, adding that promoting military information and communication in the Department of Defence is crucial in enhancing the SANDF’s effectiveness as communications are essential for military operations.

“By leveraging information and communication as a force enabler, our defence force will achieve real-time situational awareness, command and control. The integration of information and communications technology in the military can lead to improved operational effectiveness and enhanced situational awareness and then decision making becomes much easier and quicker,” Maphwanya told several hundred conference attendees.

“With the advancement of technology, any military can benefit from various ICT solutions such as secure communications, advanced data analysis, artificial intelligence, unmanned systems etc. We have noted in recent years that unmanned systems are taking over the battlespace.”

As ICT “has the potential to revolutionise military operations,” Maphwanya said, “this symposium is a great opportunity for all of us to stay updated on the latest developments in the field, and expand our professional network. I’m looking forward to gaining new insights…to better plan and execute operations in a smart way.”

He said, “it is the intention that MICSSA 2023 will continue the tradition of promoting communications between government, the SANDF and defence industries locally and internationally where ideas, strategies, requirements and potential solutions can be shared and discussed.”

“One of the objectives of MICSSA is how technology can drive the transformation of the SANDF. MICSSA will give an opportunity for stakeholders to share ideas for the better understanding of digital transformation and the impact of defence. At the end of the week, I hope the way is paved for a better understanding that will lead to constructive dialogue that will support the Department of Defence in its journey to greatness.”

In addition to presentations by the SANDF, Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, Armscor, State Information Technology Agency and other government entities, MICSSA features industry participation from a number of companies, including Trellix, Reutech Communications, Meniko, BCX, DAC Systems, Global Command and Control Technologies, Huawei, and Dell.

A large exhibition area showcases products and services from the likes of RapidM, Gerotek, Epson, Cyber Solutions, and other participants.