African Military leaders should adopt digital technology to enhance combat capabilities


A digital battlefield network concept

Digital technologies are a powerful tools to enhance military warfighting capabilities and preparing for a future driven by data, autonomous systems and immersive technology.

Most African military forces view digital technology as a luxury for advanced or wealthy nations; others see it as an opportunity. To fully stay in step with the growing and constantly changing world, employing digital technology early is an opportunity to boost the potential for efficiency and battlefield effectiveness. South frica has played a major role in pioneering battlefield digital technological revolutions in Africa and the world.

The use of digital technologies comes from the determination to push back the boundaries of the possible — not only to prepare for the future but to solve very real problems today. The key technologies to take the front-burner in future warfare includes;

  1. Artificial Intelligence
  2. Big Data
  3. Cyber-security and Warfare
  4. Battlefield Network Connectivity
An integrated Air Defence Guidance System concept


Switching to digital technologies would definitely transform the way military operations is conducted. Innovative technologies is an extraordinary enabler of long-term growth and development. Innovative digital technologies makes military operations easier, going beyond the battlefield to provide solutions to complex maneuvers.

Digital warriors

Sudan future warrior program

A Sudanese Army Digital Future Soldier concept
The Sudanese Army “Kombo” system

So far only Sudan has taken the necessary steps to enhance its fighting capabilities in the nearest future through its ambitious advanced infantry fighting digital module known as the “Kombo Future Soldier System”. The module consists of a new combat gears for its infantryman developed locally under the code-name “Kombo”. According to the Sudanese Army high command, the Kombo system is a Digitilized Integrated Soldier Combat System (SICS) to provide individual soldiers and squads with advanced combat equipment in order to enhance its fighting capabilities. The Kombo Future Soldier System works by regarding the soldier as a platform or carrier for the integrated advanced combat technologies and it focuses on these key critical areas:

  • Firepower-Lethality Technology
  • Day/Night sight technology
  • High Performance Computer Technology
  • Self-Organising battlefield network/ICT
  • Ballistic Protection
An integrated Enhanced Battlefield Network concept

In no distant future, it is hoped that other technically advanced nations like South Africa, Nigeria and Egypt would emulate the Sudanese Army future soldier concept.

With the emergence of new forms of warfare and new generations of weapons, the infantryman  has a decisive role to play, calling for radical changes in land forces operations.


A paradigm shift has taken place over the last few years due to a combination of factors. First, urban terrorism has become more extremist both in terms of the number of human casualties and the symbolic significance of the attacks. Terrorist organisations and armed revolutionary groups like Al Qaeda, Boko Haram, Al-Shaabab and others are keen to project strength and power far from their direct sphere of influence. This displacement of violence is accompanied by an information war aimed not only at shocking public opinion, but at creating a climate of tension in the societies targeted, destabilising them where possible and advancing the assailant’s ideology within the population.

Squad integrated combat data information system concept

Second, opponents are no longer armed groups like the Red Army Faction, or nationalist organisations like the PLO or ETA. They are more like emerging states, Boko Haram group being a case in point, with a territory, an administration and substantial financial resources. They also have well-equipped armed forces, compelling their opponents to focus less and less on counterinsurgency and increasingly on high-intensity conflict.


And third, we are seeing a re-emergence of former major powers, such as Russia and China, the will and the means to acquire powerful, high-tech military capabilities. These states are no longer content to operate within their traditional spheres of influence: Russia is asserting its power in Syria, while China has been placing its pawns in the Sea of Japan and the South China Sea. With defence technological and industrial bases that are modern (Russia) or under development (China), these states are not only able to compete with Western companies in export markets, but can also supply extremely powerful defence equipment to other powers that can afford it.

While emerging powers like Egypt, Algeria and Kenya are developing their industrial base to consolidate their military strength.

An Enhanced digital integrated combat information network concept

Intercontinental theatre

The corollary of these three key developments can be found in today’s conflicts.

First, theatres of operations have expanded, taking on an intercontinental dimension that has not been seen since World War II. The Sahel-Saharan region, Syria, Iraq and European nations affected by terrorism now constitute a single theatre of operations, where we face the same enemy on the home front and abroad. Warfighting is no longer limited to external operations. We are seeing a return to territorial defence and an increasingly clear continuum between defence and security. Today we are in an age of hybrid warfare, a combination of conventional counter-insurgency and high-intensity combat to counter the growing military capabilities of the armed groups we face (armoured vehicles, man-portable air defence systems, etc.). Counter-terrorism efforts can no longer simply include intelligence gathering by governments, intervention by security services and prosecution by the judicial system.

They must combine all forms of combat — conventional counter-terrorism, counter-insurgency and full-scale armed confrontation. Nor has information warfare ever been waged on such a scale or played such an important role. Opponents striving for mass mobilisation (cyber levée en masse) communicate extensively and exert their influence through social media and channels that are difficult for a democratic state to suppress.


In view of these radical changes, African nations must rethink the size of their armed forces and their deployment strategies. Artillery, for example, will once again play a decisive role. Land forces will also need to focus on producing mass effects by deploying more personnel, developing collaborative combat and optimising joint

African nations must rethink the size of their armed forces and their deployment strategies operations. Above all, modern armed forces will need extremely
effective C4ISR (Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance, Reconnaissance) capabilities.

Air supremacy contested

Studies conducted by a strategic research institutes today are based on the hypothesis that the most African nations will probably no longer enjoy air supremacy by the year 2030. This is partly because of the emergence or reemergence of defence industries with the capacity to export defence systems that perform as well as some of those produced in the West. How do Africans deal with this challenge?

The logical first response is to focus on the suppression of enemy air defences (SEAD) using UCAVs (Unmanned Combat Air Vehicles)
like Nigerian’s CH-3 UCAV system or long-range supersonic and/or high-manoeuvring weapons. These could destroy an adversary’s air
defence capabilities or deplete them sufficiently for a second phase of the operation to be launched, with well-protected combat aircraft
deployed across the theatre to jam enemy radars.

If the SEAD campaign were to fail, other effectors would need to be deployed, in the first instance to protect land forces deprived of air cover. These effectors could be used offensively and/or defensively. For offensive roles, the cyberwarfare capabilities that are now being developed, as well as electromagnetic weapons, could disable the electronics used by the adversary’s C4ISR systems. If the enemy’s systems cannot be put out of action, weapons like the SAMP/T will be needed to create a protective shield over our land forces, with other systems providing close air support, pending the arrival of directed-energy weapons (lasers, etc.), which will represent a step change in a force’s capacity to destroy hostile aircraft and missiles.

A land force deprived of air cover will also be partly deprived of air support. In this case, as well as performing their extended air defence role, artillery systems will need to offer powerful fire support capabilities both close to the front line and deep into enemy territory. With their smart munitions and powerful radars, these systems can strike targets with high precision, even at long range. But they will be unable to match the mass effect of air strikes by multiple combat aircraft operating in the same zone. At the same time, to counter an enemy with very substantial firepower, the first phase of action could be conducted by robotic effectors such as remotely operated armoured vehicles.

Drones of all kinds can play a crucial role in urban combat. In the first battle of Fallujah in 2004, for example, Predator tactical UAVs were used to conduct strikes on targets of opportunity and other targets in civilian areas that could not have been reached by direct fire without significant collateral damage. In the medium term, future military commanders will thus have a range of solutions to choose from and the ability to take appropriate action against each adversary depending on the requirements of each situation.


Technological advances are made through the joint efforts with academic researchers, universities, public and private research institutes, start-ups and SMEs. Cooperating with civil technology industries and making policies to that effect would help high-tech ecosystems to flourish and achieve remarkable levels of creativity and efficiency.

Although military technologies are advanced and capable, they are always intended to improve the lives of the people, soldiers and societies the military serve.

Going digital

Connectivity between systems of systems that all depend on the same C4ISR capability is driving a deep-seated digital transformation within modern land forces. Satellite links, more and more drones and robots deployed on an expanding range of missions (ISR, communication relays, electronic warfare, destruction, engineering, logistics, etc.), sensor networks, central data storage and processing… With all these developments and the central role played by C4ISR, air-land combat is already in the process of going digital. Each development raises issues such as data protection in the cloud, cybersecurity of connected object on the battlefield, cyber offensive capabilities and the relentless march of robotic systems. Tomorrow’s engagements will likely see the deployment of an initial line of remotely operated ground, naval or airborne systems, which will be the first to draw enemy fire. These systems will have varying degrees of autonomy, but humans will nonetheless continue to take the final decision in combat situations.

When digital technologies have been fully assimilated into military doctrines, land forces officers will be able to focus on their core tasks of defining and directing tactical or theatre-level manoeuvres in exactly the same way as a combat aircraft pilot, by virtue of the aircraft’s data fusion capabilities, can focus on core air combat tasks. Tomorrow, as connectivity improves (higher data rates, better data security, more interoperability, etc.), combatants and their various levels of command will be able to fight with a virtually complete vision of the battlefield and the actions taken by the different players. This is the promise of digital transformation. Unlike Fabrice del Dongo, who could see no further than a few hundred metres in the Battle of Waterloo, future soldiers will share a common vision and know their respective positions.


With sensors everywhere, commanders will direct manoeuvres based on a complete, constantly updated picture of the situation, receiving details about which units are still in action and where supplies (munitions, fuel, etc.) or medical support are needed.

Culled from Thales Systems e-magazine on Adopting Digital Technologies in Western countries”

Patrick Kenyette

Freelance journalist and Photographer, and regular African Military Blog contributor