Nowadays, distributed ledger technologies (DLT) are becoming a matter of interest for researchers due to the potential multi-sectorial applications beyond finance where it was originally used. As the technology has met the initial purposes of financial organizations beyond expectations, experts of different other sectors are getting serious in further exploring it.

Blockchain was originated as the fundamental protocol to sustain the digital currency by incorporating a data security layer and providing user transparency and confidence about electronic transactions. The peer-to-peer system stores and shares a digital ledger of data using cryptography to guarantee confidentiality.

Therefore the system not only minimizes the risk of compromise but also imposes radically greater costs for the attackers to do so. These properties made proponents of DLT think that the technology might defy organizational boundaries by securely storing data across suspicious or untrusted entities. Despite this potential, real-world use of blockchain and DLT is still very limited and therefore both public and private sectors are looking to exploit the opportunities.

New US law paves way for the potential use of DLT in defense

The technology has drawn the attention of the U.S. Department of Defense. A series of federal laws entitled “The National Defense Authorization Act” (NDAA) that describes the annual budget and expenditure of the department, now incorporates a provision requesting study into the possible use of DLT for defense purposes. Section 255 of the NDAA bill going by the headline “BRIEFING ON USE OF BLOCKCHAIN TECHNOLOGY FOR DEFENSE PURPOSES”, states that the Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering will provide to the congressional defense committees a briefing on the potential use of distributed ledger technology for defense purposes within 180 days after the date of enactment of the Act.

The briefing would include several aspects regarding the possible use of DLT including an explanation of how the technology might be used by the Department of Defense to improve cybersecurity, beginning at the hardware level, of vulnerable assets such as energy, water, and transport grids, through distributed versus centralized computing.

The briefing will also hint to the use of DLT in the possible reduction of single points of failure in emergency and catastrophe decision-making by subjecting the decision to consensus validation through distributed ledger technologies, improvement of the efficiency of defense logistics and supply chain operations, improvement of the transparency of procurement auditing, and innovations to be adopted by the private sector for ancillary users.

A recent trend in the NDAA bill is the inclusion of many provisions that are minimally related to the Department of Defense. Lawmakers tend to inject other bills into this because unlike most bills, the NDAA is considered more important and is almost sure to be passed. However, the bill still experiences criticism and there are numerous opponents because it put forward the law allowing the military to detain any person deemed to be a security risk for the country, for indefinite periods without habeas corpus or legal procedures.

Other government entities are also exploring the DLT for defense purposes

Recent research aimed to understand how DLT might be of use to the Defence Support Network (DSN), the platform used to sustain UK Armed Forces with materiel and equipment. Drawing on academic and commercial models, a framework was created for assessing DLT use cases which measures utility, the convenience of execution, and outcome.

DLT and DSN experts were interviewed on possible use cases. Results indicate that use cases involving codification, certification, and supply chain provenance should be further investigated for potential implementation. The researchers concluded that the DSN can use DLT on a pilot project basis, however, these should be carefully selected as DLT is at the budding stage right now.