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If you do not have interoperability, you do not have an alliance

Systematic founder and CEO, Michael Holm, speaking with Senator Zed Seselja and Asia Pacific VP David Horton at the opening of the Systematic HQ in Canberra on 21 February 2022. Credit: Pernille Bille Tvedt

Systematic founder and CEO Michael Holm writes about the threats he sees Australia facing as he returns to a badly shaken Europe.

Systematic founder and CEO Michael Holm writes about the threats he sees Australia facing as he returns to a badly shaken Europe.

The Europe I fly back to tonight, will not be the Europe I left a fortnight ago. After two weeks here in Australia, meeting with defence and industry leaders, I will return to a continent shaken by war.

I am hoping that it might shake us all to our senses – for us in Europe and for you in Australia. Because it is time all democracies become serious about defence alliances.

The Russian invasion has shocked Europe. From Finland in the north, to Spain in the south; and from the United Kingdom in the west to Baltics in the east, European nations have – luckily – decided to stand with the wounded nation of Ukraine.

Their support started with financial sanctions, but it now extends to arms, ammunition and medical supplies. As powerful as these weapons and materiel may be, the fact that Western nations are standing together is our best chance of repelling the threat. Alliances give small nations an advantage.

We need to be honest here. The large aggressor state, where there is only one decision-maker, has an advantage too. That it can make strategic choices quickly.

In NATO, all 30 members are sovereign, democratic nations, teaming up and working together. Once we agree on what to do, we are strong. And, because all nations have a say, our military decisions are well-considered. Dictators live with the danger of making bad decisions and having no one to challenge them.

Just as NATO is vital to our security in Europe; alliances are the only way Australia can stand up to the large authoritarian states which seek to dominate your region.

I can see that Australia is rising to the threats you face. They are different from what Ukraine is facing. In the Indo-Pacific region, the threat is more likely to be from large nations occupying islands, not full-scale invasions of mid-size nations, at least at this point.

To prepare for that kind of conflict, I can see Australia is investing in the right assets.

Equally as important, you have already started building your alliances. You are an active member of Five Eyes. You are finding new ways to collaborate on defence with Asian democracies, including India, Korea and Japan.

But while it is one thing to announce you have an ally, it is another to be in a working alliance.

A real, working alliance means having a common picture of the world, where you both see what you are trying to protect. And you are both clear-eyed about the exact threats you face. Then you can work together to defeat those common threats.

This common operating picture, shared by allies, requires that the forces are interoperable. Interoperability makes alliances real. Alliances depend on it. If you do not have interoperability, you do not have an alliance.

To defend what we have, it is not just nations that need to work together faster. Defence industry companies need to work together faster too.

In Australia, I see immense potential for collaboration with partners.

Systematic is also in Australia to build alliances. We have found that the more defence industry partners we have in a country, like Australia, the more successful we become. We do not want to be a solo company, but as an integrator of many defence companies.

We do not agree with the practice of “vendor lock in”, where once a technology is adopted, it is hard to work with the tech you already have. Our defence customers should always have the freedom to connect our system with the data platforms, communications hardware and computers they already have. Even to move on to other systems if they choose to.

Nor do we attempt to “own” a defence customer by holding on to their data because we believe a customer’s data belongs to the customer.

We are not an “I” or “Me” company. We are a “We” company. We have open technology and open systems.

With local suppliers and local specialists as partners, rather than competitors, we can deliver a better solution for the Australian Army, Navy and Air Force. Why would we compete with local defence suppliers when they can add value to the solution?

We engage with partners in the industry who will build on top of our platform. And if the solution is transferable, if it can work outside Australia, we can promote it to over 40 countries around the world that use our battle management system. That will enhance the value of our system while strengthening the working alliance between nations.

From the very beginning, we have been about interoperability. It started with IRIS our interoperable message text format which we first built for the Danish Navy and later sold to the German Navy. Today we have more than 50 countries using IRIS. It is one of the ways that NATO member countries and the Australian Defence Force share in operations already.

When it came to building our SitaWare Battle Management System in 2004, many commentators thought we were crazy. They could not imagine the proud British Army could use the same command and control platform as the US Army and the German Bundeswehr.

Our ambition was to connect allies together. To move from a world of many different, bespoke command and control systems, to offering one commercial-off-the-shelf system. A system that any ally could use. We succeeded – hence the many defence force customers.

It astounds me to think I built this company from scratch. Today we have 1,200 people with us. Our staff join us for a purpose: bringing soldiers home alive.

Tonight, there are thousands of allied soldiers in huts and dugout positions across the Eastern fringe of the Baltic states. These combat units are among other things from Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, the United States and the United Kingdom and all these forces are interoperable. All protecting each other, seeing the threats others face and helping them, because they share the same battle management system.

This interoperability is enabling allied forces on the Eastern edge of Europe to keep each other safe. Interoperability is fundamental for any alliance or coalition.

Interoperability will always be part of what Systematic is about. Not only because, at the high level, we can see how it brings coalitions and partnerships to life. It is also because interoperability saves lives. Commanders can see where all the blue forces are. A clear picture helps ensure that battlefield casualties are blue on red, not blue on blue.

It also solves the one big problem alliances have the danger of slow decisions. Interoperability gathers relevant information fast. It shrinks the OODA loop. It improves decision making. Military action becomes faster. The probability of a win on the battlefield increases.

Interoperability makes global alliances stronger. In the Baltic states, we can already see how an effective, working alliance is helping Europe to stare down a frightening adversary. We are here to help Australia do the same.

Michael Holm is the founder of Systematic, the world’s leading supplier of C2 software. He recently visited Australia for the official opening of their Asia Pacific HQ in Canberra. To explore partnerships contact the Australian team here



If you do not have interoperability, you do not have an alliance
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