DSEI 2019: Day three - planning for the future today

Day three of DSEI looked intensively at the ways in which new technology could be adopted by defence both quickly and, more importantly, realistically. With the threat of disruptive technologies ever-present across all domains, the opportunity for the defence sector to adopt and convert existing and emerging commercial technology at pace could provide a phenomenal advantage in mission-critical environments in the very near future.

Digitisation – the new arms race

Military advantage is being eroded due to the digital revolution and new range of disruptive technologies, collectively labelled ‘The Fourth Industrial Revolution’ (4iR) are now a reality (see QinetiQ’s view here). However, technical capability is not always the challenge – the UK Royal Air Force (RAF) and the Ministry of Defence (MOD) still have some of the best capabilities and platforms in the world. The challenge is technical adoption – providing those capabilities and platforms with right information, presented in a useful way and in real time. Chasing this information advantage will be next arms race.

While amazing engineers in the defence sector can develop some of these technologies, there are some areas where other industries are simply miles ahead. As Andrew Rogoyski from Roke highlighted, there is a need to calculate what can and can’t be done within the realms of defence; given the avalanche of change, the defence community must be clear about which technology to invest in, adopt and create, to mitigate any potential risks.

electric propulsion insights

Modernising while remaining competitive

Procurement has traditionally been a lengthy process for large firms and critical government deals; but in the modern age of rapid technology, this can impact the speed at which a company can grow and adapt to the needs of its customers. So how can you modernise while remaining competitive?

The NATO Support and Procurement Agency (NSPA) brings together, in a single organisation, NATO’s logistics support and procurement activities, providing integrated multinational support solutions for its customers. While they must ensure that NATO money is appropriately utilised and that their offering remains competitive, their answer to modernisation is to place customers and partnerships at the centre of what they do. The NSPA Chief of Staff highlighted the issues with the Army’s current procurement system - reactive and bureaucratic - and spoke of the need for the move towards being proactive and streamlined. It is essential that investment is based on the needs and the passions of the present, particularly when planning for the ‘future force’. Learning from industry and academia through partnerships, new approaches and systems can accelerate the path to the end goal; something which is very much starting to catalyse within UK Defence, even if not around the globe.

Making submarine technology more accessible

While many issues we face in defence today can be combatted by collaboration, some things simply still come down to cost and/or size. As factors such as climate change effect the physical environment and tensions worldwide are seeing bolder moves from adversaries, anti-submarine warfare (ASW) technologies are becoming paramount for navies across the globe. With an increase in underwater operations, a renewed focus has been turned on ASW solutions in order to identify and track submarines.

ASW solutions are typically large and therefore require even larger specialist ships to operate them. The physical size and cost of them has historically put this capability out of reach for militaries with smaller vessels or more restricted budgets. However, to meet the modern needs of ASW, technological developments have led to miniature acoustic sensors that can provide access to effective and affordable ASW technology in a more condensed format.

The framework invites surface and subsea innovations

Information at the speed of relevance

So what happens once sensors, such as those referenced above, capture information? The defence sector is no longer different to other industries when it comes to accessing and exploiting information in real time. Speakers throughout DSEI have emphasised that the military advantage, once advancing only front line commands, is clearly being eroded. Digitally transforming the defence sector to be able to better access and exploit information in real time is no longer a nice to have, it’s a must.

The business advantage is clear (think Netflix vs Blockbuster); so is the military advantage. Knowing as much about your audience (or enemy) as possible, where they are, messages they receive and being able to act, plan and respond to that information as needed is vital to re-establishing military advantage through information. This has begun to gain traction, but will be a key focus for the sector over the next decade.

QinetiQ does day three

So many of the important topics from the keynotes and seminars at DSEI have been evident in the conversations taking place at our stand. Our final day of Smart Talks looked at new technologies that have been co-created with customers, those which are breaking boundaries and approaches which are driving innovation at a faster pace than ever before. Check out our video below for a unique snapshot.