For the first time, the creation of specialized information security company was announced by Minister of Defence Andrei Raukou on February 25, 2018. Answering the question of the ONT correspondent, whether it is planned to create information operations troops in Belarus like in Russia, Mr. Raukou said that the Belarusian military department is closely involved in information security, cyber security and there are relevant structures in Belarus, “plus this year we are forming a specialized company that will deal with this issue”. The goals and objectives of the company were not announced, but it was possible to make a conclusion from the context of the words said by the Minister of Defence: the company would deal with information security issues, more precisely, information technology security.
Information about the formation of such a company has recently appeared (noteworthy, this happened the next working day after the accusation by the United States against 12 Russians on suspicion of interfering in American elections with the help of information technologies). But this time the company was called the information technology company (IT company). The Ministry of Defence informs that the unit will be staffed by military servicemen from among the citizens who have achieved the greatest success in the field of information technology: as a rule, having a higher professional education in specialties interesting for the Ministry of Defence and expressing a desire to serve in this company. Each specialist of the IT-company will have a academic adviser, the servicemen will perform specific scientific and applied tasks in the interests of the military department, as well as continue their participation in the already initiated scientific programs.
The company will be organized on the basis of the Military Academy of the Republic of Belarus (initially the Research Institute of the Armed Forces was considered as a base for the company). This information indicates that the company will be an analogue of scientific companies established five years ago in Russia. Such companies are formed for virtually every type of Russian armed forces at military-scientific (educational) centres and are staffed by the graduates of universities of natural science and technical specialties. Each of them is assigned to an academic adviser.
The activities of scientific companies of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation are largely associated with information technology. For example, the main scientific and applied tasks of the 5th scientific company (of the Russian Federation Ground Forces) relate to the automation of data collection and analysis, the development of decision-making assistance systems, the creation of databases and 3D-modelling. As for the tasks of the IT company of the Belarusian Armed Forces, the head of the military academy indirectly mentioned them in an interview. A number of tasks can also be understood from the document containing examples of the projects. In particular, these are tasks such as designing and creating databases, developing mobile applications for Android and iOS, mathematical and computer simulation of combat operations, and others. It can be said that the tasks voiced are not in many ways different from tasks of the above-mentioned scientific company of the Russian Armed Forces.
The required qualifications for servicemen of a company allow a quick reorientation of its activities from applied scientific research to solving special tasks of the Armed Forces. Thus, mobile applications can be developed both for technical issues or popularizing the Armed Forces (for example, special games) as well as for conducting reconnaissance and control of the masses. The collection of large masses of people at a given place at the right time using the Pokemon-Go game, determining the coordinates of military facilities based on the Strava fitness application, transferring to the enemy the coordinates of firing positions of Ukrainian units using Russian mobile applications for artillery shooting – these are the examples of abovementioned activities.
A unit of this kind in the amount of 60 people, with the addition of certain specialists in the humanities, is fully capable of conducting large-scale information operations, but one can hardly expect such a thing in the near future. Firstly, most of the work is likely to be dedicated to the development of specialized software, and not to the network impact. Secondly, it is doubtful whether one can be successful involving the IT specialists, who for the most part are working for outsourcing from NATO countries, to influence these states directly. But, nevertheless, a resource (reserve) of the armed forces to conduct fairly large-scale information operations will be created.
Scientific and scientific-production companies of the Armed Forces of Russia largely act in the interests of the military-industrial complex. According to the words of the head of the Military Academy of the Republic of Belarus Mr. Lisouski, the Belarusian IT-company military personnel can also involved to ensure the interests not only of the Ministry of Defence, but also of the State Military Industrial Committee (SMIC). The research departments of the Armed Forces, to which the IT-company will essentially belong, carry out research and development activities commissioned by the Ministry of Defence and within the framework of economic agreements with enterprises of the military-industrial complex. For this, the scientific staff of the Armed Forces receive appropriate funding (pay, wages).
Here a number of problematic issues arise. Firstly, specialists called up for military service will receive the minimum allowance for soldiers, which is not dependent on the volume and quality of work performed. If free work in the interests of the Armed Forces can be somehow understood, then free work in the interests of enterprises, to put it mildly, is not fair. Partly the situation can be resolved by the conscripted troops’ signing contracts. For the graduates of higher educational institutions distributed to enterprises with low wages, the reallocation to the Armed Forces and signing a contact will be possibly a good option. But it is hardly possible for employees of the High Technologies Park – the wages there are incomparably bigger. Secondly, there may be some issues with intellectual property (in other words, academic advisers or customer companies can arrogate to themselves the projects of the servicemen).
In many ways, the activities of the company will be determined by the professionalism and scientific qualifications of its command. The problem moments here can be the use of conscripted specialists for the purpose of carrying out dissertation research of academic advisers, the performance of obviously unpromising research and development (including those set by enterprises), the separation of the company’s activities from solving information operations tasks.
Among the problems that are directly noted by military personnel of the scientific companies of the Russian Federation, the following should be highlighted:
— at first, after the creation of a company, a lot of time was spent on the arrangement of barracks and workplaces;
— the ratio of physical work of the “drag and drop” type to the main activity in the abovementioned 5th scientific company was 30:70;
— the purchase of additional equipment or replacement of the current one takes a long time due to the need for coordination and irregularity of funding;
— the solution of the main tasks is hampered by other works: the creation of reports, documentation, presentations, clerical work, etc. It can be said with confidence that such problems will arise in the newly created Belarusian IT-company.
It can be assumed that the IT-company will also be used to select additional personnel for the existing information security units, for example, the Main Information Technology Security Centre of the Armed Forces. The company can also become a forge of promising scientific and pedagogical personnel for the Military Academy and the Research Institute of the Armed Forces. For this, in Russian companies, service in scientific companies is presented as an alternative to graduate school – after completion of service, servicemen have the opportunity to defend a thesis on the basis of army research. At the moment in Belarus it will be problematic to make the time spent in the company an alternative to postgraduate education. But it is possible to make it an alternative to a master’s degree (with additional studies).
In general, the creation of an IT-company is a positive, albeit belated, initiative by the command of the Belarusian Armed Forces. It is very good to create such a resource in the Army. But time will tell how this resource will be used.
Yahor Lebiadok, specially for Belarus Security Blog