Canadian armed forces delve deeper into social networking

Canada’s Department of National Defence (DND) is currently working with a simulation and modeling firm to investigate social networking technologies and eventually develop internal prototypes for the military.

DND’s project with CAE Professional Services  — the planning, and technology development arm of Montreal-based CAE Inc. —  was launched last year and is now moving into its second phase.

“We’re concluding the first phase of the project, which is to help the military understand the lay of the land,” said Chris Pogue, president of CAE Professional Services.

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He said the second phase would focus on more specific technology tools and the kind of security that could be embedded in them for military purposes.

In the U.S., the Department of Defense recently approved the use of social media by military rank and file. Some of its top officials have even launched their own Facebook pages.

Pogue said for any social networking application to be adopted by the Canadian military, it would need to possess security controls consistent with the armed force’s stringent demands.

“When putting information on the Internet, you need to be certain it does not fall into the wrong hands and no operations or personnel are jeopardized.”

He foresees two major possibilities for social media in the military.

One is for strictly professional use such as an operational network that helps soldiers and personnel communicate and coordinate activities in a “networked battlefield.”

Another model, he said, could be more like the civilian Facebook that would enable soldiers, families and friends connect with one another, or with common interest groups.

The CAE official said it is too early to tell what form a Canadian military social media app would take, but noted that one of the most useful features would be geo spatial capabilities.

“For both models, geo spatial technology which links data to mapping applications would be crucial,” Pogue said.

For example, the ability to determine the most up-to-date ash fallout patterns from the volcano in Iceland and push real-time warnings through applications, such as Twitter, would be valuable to military transport, fighter aircraft pilots and controllers.

“The same kind of information could be used by family members of military personnel who may want to visit a loved one stationed abroad.”  

Canadian Forces allow blogging

The Canadian armed forces haven’t officially adopted social networking.

However, some sites and apps, such as Second Life and iLink, are being used in the military domain, according to the report Investigating Virtual Social Networking in the Military Domain.

The report was co-authored by Jacquelyn Crebolder of the Defence Research and Development Canada (DRDC), and Sylvain Pronovost and Gerald Lai, both from CAE Professional Services.

Military personnel are allowed a certain degree of social media participation, according to Capt. John Dacombe, of the DND public affairs office.

“Our policy is people are free to use social media in their own time as long as they do not reveal restricted information or jeopardize operations and personnel,” he said.

He said though security is the biggest issue, military personnel are free to blog and use sites such as Facebook, as long as they don’t do this using DND networked computers, Dacombe said.

Some virtual military networks have proven quite successful in maintaining and strengthening the bonds between military personnel and between personnel and families, the Crebolder report noted.

Military.com is such a network, with a membership of 10 million from the U.S. armed forces and veterans.”

The network facilitates access to services and benefits for military personnel, families and veterans.

It also serves as a hub for prospective members, and keeps people informed on career and educational opportunities.

The report said the Indian Army has a virtual community on Orkut, the Google-owned virtual social network.

Civilian-military support groups have also set up social networks, such as The Canadian Aerospace Warfare Blog, SpouzeBUZZ, the Family Readiness Group and Armedzilla.

The report said social nets’ “passive-push” characteristic is ideal for quick and efficient dissemination of information within the military.

It said it is important to recognize the passive component of virtual networking, whereby information is fed to network members.

“Through push-based dissemination, the receiver is made aware of information that might otherwise have gone unnoticed, but that might in fact be useful.”  

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