Recent asymmetric conflicts and peacekeeping missions have driven a surge in the adoption of biometrics in military operations, particularly of capture systems to confirm the identity of civilians by armed forces. This has led to a revolution in the way systems are deployed in remote locations, via portable rugged systems that offer full ABIS capability coupled with handheld devices to facilitate full mobility. These devices are backed up by sophisticated intelligence centrally managed systems that cross-check unique identifiers with behaviour and geographic location.
The launch of practical computerised systems has rapidly revolutionised civil defence, most notably airport security and access controls; for example biometric systems were used to identify construction personnel on the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park and are still used today during the Park’s redevelopment.
Before the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts, there were few applications for biometrics in military environments beyond verifying the identity of personnel entering bases and gaining access to restricted areas. That changed during the conflicts and subsequent peacekeeping efforts, as military personnel moved freely among, and offered employment to, civilians in an effort to win hearts and minds.
To succeed in this new environment, biometric systems have evolved to optimise size, weight and power (SWAP) to support a portable format, and to cope with the rigours of challenging climates, while at the same time not intimidating civilians. This new demand has helped drive a growth against the grain of defence cuts. The Strategic Defence Intelligence report The Global Government Biometric Systems Market 2014-2024 suggests the sector will be worth $6.9bn by 2024.
But underlying the technology drivers is a more basic need for the verification of digital identity that is valid globally. Biometric systems were developed because traditional forms of identification are unreliable and cannot provide proof positive of an individual's identity - passports can be forged, entry cards stolen and databases hacked. Biometrics in military operations combined with other data can give absolute assurance of identity in difficult, hostile and often remote locations.