The Jamaica Defence Force (JDF) has come a long way since its inception in 1962. As a result, the role of the JDF has become increasingly critical in charting the nation’s development, especially in the areas of youth, cybersecurity, and the blue economy.
The JDF’s transformation from a purely military organisation to one that also focuses on social development can be traced back to the 1990s. This was a time of great change in Jamaica, with a growing population of young people and increasing economic challenges. The JDF saw that it had a role to play in helping to address these challenges and began to develop programmes and initiatives aimed at engaging and empowering young people.
Today, the JDF’s role in youth development has grown significantly, and its impact is being felt across the country. One of the key ways in which the JDF is contributing to youth development is through its military training programmes. These programmes provide young people with the skills and discipline needed to succeed in life. They also help to instil values such as responsibility, integrity, and teamwork, which are critical for success in any field. The JDF’s military training programmes have been especially beneficial for young people from disadvantaged communities, providing them with opportunities they may not have had otherwise.
The most notable is the Jamaica National Service Corps (JNSC) programme. But it is important to note that even prior to the JNSC, the JDF was involved in youth engagement activities in partnership with the Ministry of National Security under its Citizen Security and Justice Programme (CSJP), under certified skills training was provided to young men and women from at-risk communities.
Since the start of the JNSC programme, the JDF has trained just over 5,000 men and women; 2,978 of whom are now members of the regular force, with the remainder gaining employment in other areas of both the public and private sector. This figure represents over 5,000 young people who are now better equipped to contribute to Jamaica’s development.
Within the long-term vision for the programme is that, on an annual basis, we will train 20,000 JNSC recruits. The activities required for the JDF to scale up its training undertakings are significant, both from a personnel and financial standpoint. Among the requirements to achieve this objective are increased accommodation, an increased holding of kit and equipment, meals, and increased training for the training staff; all of which will require increased budgetary allocations.
The cost, however, will pale in comparison to the benefits to be derived from reduced levels of youth unemployment; reduced numbers of young men joining gangs; and the restoration of peace and security — a pre-requisite for sustainable development in communities across the island.
The JNSC not the only medium for our focus in the youth and community engagement. It is one of five primary lines of effort that each brigade within the JDF is mandated to execute in their respective operational spaces. It is envisaged that this will provide and demonstrate to young men and women, viable alternatives to engaging in illicit activities.
Looking ahead, it is the JDF’s intent to realign and re-profile the JNSC to ensure that the public understands that not all entrants will be training to join the military. There will be various lines of effort (physically and conceptually links of the objectives to the desired outcome) within the JNSC programme, including but not limited to skilled areas such as auto mechanics, general construction trades, agriculture, et al.
The effective management and protection of Jamaica’s maritime space is largely the responsibility of the JDF and requires adequate investment in human and technological resources, which are now taking place.
While our maritime space is essential for the trade of goods and services, the fisheries resources within our territorial waters and exclusive economic zone (EEZ), if sustainably harnessed, also have the potential to significantly increase Jamaica’s GDP and directly impact the livelihoods of our many coastal communities and our fisherfolk.
There are potential opportunities being literally lost at sea by Jamaica. Our judiciary and other stakeholders do not appreciate the effort of our maritime forces and cost to taxpayers for operations conducted at sea. Illegal maritime activities within our waters are most commonly carried out by fishing vessels; most often Honduran, who operate on the Pedro Banks deploying numerous divers in pairs via canoe-type vessels to dive for conch and lobster. These divers, while engaging in dangerous diving practices, will walk the sea floor and remove conch, lobster, sea cucumber and may also steal fishing pots laid by local fishermen.
The large fishing vessels remove up to 20,000lb of cleaned lobster and conch with an estimated value of US$40,000 in a day. They not only engage in illegal fishing but also child labour and abandonment at sea. The total fines levied on the guilty do not cover the military’s operational cost to apprehend the criminals, nor does it offer restitution to the local fishermen who have been disadvantaged.
Jamaica will not be able to diversify our tourism product or create additional jobs in the industry if we are unable to protect our blue economy and prevent its exploitation.
With the worldwide ocean economy valued at US$1.5 trillion per year — a figure which is expected to double by 2030 according to the Commonwealth — it is essential that Jamaica begins to utilise these resources for the benefit of the nation. The JDF, for its part, will continue to utilise its assets to ensure that this resource remains a viable and a sustainable option for Jamaica.
In the rapidly changing world, cybersecurity has become a major concern for many countries. Jamaica is no exception, as the country is increasingly relying on technology to drive economic growth and development. The JDF has taken a proactive approach to addressing this issue by partnering with relevant stakeholders to develop a national cybersecurity strategy. This strategy is aimed at building the country’s resilience against cyber-attacks and to ensure that the critical infrastructure that supports the country’s economic, social, and political development is protected. Additionally, the JDF has been providing training to its personnel on the latest developments in cybersecurity to ensure that they are equipped to respond to cyber threats.
As security professionals, we also must consider how this threat is likely to manifest at the national level and impact critical infrastructure. Among the most recent public examples of this manifestation were the May 2021 shutdown of the Colonial Pipeline, which carries an estimated 45 per cent of all fuel consumed on the east coast of the US, and the November 2022 declaration of a state of public emergency by the Costa Rican Government after a ransomware attack led to tax, Customs and other government services being taken offline.
Considering the potentially devastating impact such an attack could have on Jamaica and, by extension, our ability to attract investment to our shores and, in keeping with our traditional, strategic approach to Jamaica’s security and defence, the JDF, in 2019, declared cyber as its fourth domain of operations, alongside the traditional domains of land, air and sea. The Strategic Defence Review (SDR) (2017 – 2037) has concluded that, “Cyber crimes represent the new frontier for criminals and a new domain for the country’s security forces.”
This declaration has meant that the JDF is not only fortifying its own internal systems, but we will also be heavily engaged in the training of cyber personnel from across the Jamaican public and private sector, as well as the wider Caribbean region at our Institute of Cyber Science.
It is not outside the realm of possibility that, in the future, investor decision-making will, in part, be guided by a country’s cybersecurity capability. The JDF is determined to ensure that Jamaica’s development prospects are not hampered by deficiencies in this area.
The creation of this pool of cyber-professionals outfit our ICT and cybersecurity teams with highly trained and experienced professionals. This is critical to providing a sense of security to our partners and investors that Jamaica is doing and will continue to do all we can to ensure that our ICT assets and services are secure, and that Jamaica will always be open for business.
For the past 60 years the JDF has demonstrated, in all its activities, our commitment to Jamaica’s long-term growth and development. Our SDR, further underscores the future of a modernised force while simultaneously, implementing measures to further enhance Jamaica’s security and her development.