The deployable fourth industrial revolution

As industrial innovation drives a new range of intelligent tools and services into the open market to be accessed by anyone with sufficient resources, defence, security and critical infrastructure organisations suddenly face a stark challenge – how to rapidly convert emerging commercial technology into assured deployable capability with the power to deliver an advantage in mission-critical environments.

A new range of disruptive technologies, collectively labelled ‘The Fourth Industrial Revolution’ (4iR) will imminently transform the way we live and work by fusing the physical, digital and natural worlds together. Incorporating machine learning, artificial intelligence; synthetic training; autonomous systems; and data analytics, 4iR technologies are all distinct areas of innovation but the characteristic they all share is an ability to transform industries, economies and processes.

This new wave of technology offers society considerable potential for positive change including the promise of greater efficiency and productivity, increases in service personalisation, and improved safety and security. But it also offers significant challenges for any organisation trying to adopt these technologies in the real world, where the influence of users, regulations, and volatile market forces all have an effect.

For defence, security and critical infrastructure (CI) organisations, the challenge of deploying 4iR is acute. These industries are no longer at the forefront of research into the technologies in question. Defence in particular has traditionally led technology research to achieve capability advantage and then seen the outputs of that work bleed into corporate and consumer organisations where they quickly deliver benefits. For many 4iR technologies this is no longer the case. Due to a buoyant global innovation investment environment and pockets of public fiscal austerity, the majority of 4iR technologies are now developed by commercial firms solely for corporate and consumer use.

This presents a number of critical problems for defence, security and CI:

  1. Most 4iR technologies have not been designed with these markets in mind. So whilst they have the potential to transform our approach to conflict, hostile and humanitarian situations, they cannot yet be deployed in these environments with acceptable levels of assurance. We need to create the standards, guidelines and testing platforms to generate confidence around resilience and performance in the field.
  2. Most 4iR technologies are not technically mature. They remain in the early stages of development and exploitation. Most are not ready for deployment in mission-critical and hostile environments. They require considerable technical engineering before they can be considered operationally resilient.
  3. The number of secondary factors beyond the technical challenges that can either affect or are affected by 4iR technology adoption is considerable. How will these technologies impact the workforce of the future? What new business models need to be considered? Are there ethical considerations? What legal framework exists to manage the fallout from errors, mistakes or accidents? These are all relevant issues that need to be understood and carefully navigated as part of any mission-critical 4iR deployment.

What makes these challenges so pressing is that the availability of many 4iR technologies makes them easily accessed by adversaries, often at relatively low cost. Rarely subject to regulatory barriers and rules of engagement, hostiles are not just acquiring 4iR capability with ease, but also rapidly deploying them with increasing levels of success. In asymmetrical warfare this rapid extension of the range of available weapons is a global threat of considerable scale that must be addressed.

Defence, security and CI players around the world are therefore in an extremely challenging position. The emergence of relevant technology from commercial environments and their rapid adoption by both friend and foe is forcing them to follow an unanticipated direction of travel, regardless of the fact that they did not design the systems and approaches involved; they were never fashioned with the defence and security mission in mind; and they cannot be easily accommodated within existing processes.

At QinetiQ, we know that enabling the effective deployment of 4iR technology as an assured capability delivering real advantage is a critical priority for global security. Achieving this requires a change in three main areas:

  1. We must understand the considerable range of contextual factors impacting the ability to adopt 4iR technologies. We can then deal with them at the design stage not right on the cusp of deployment.
  2. We must bridge the gap between the commercial 4iR roadmap and the defence/security/CI mission by combining broad technical understanding with deep domain knowledge.
  3. We must identify, design, create and drive the unusual collaborations required to fuse knowledge and experience from across multiple sectors into a single understanding.

QinetiQ has the unique combination of expertise required to deliver improvements across all of these areas. We understand both the trajectory of 4iR technology, and the defence, security and CI missions, allowing us to help customers transfer emerging technologies into safe, practical and assured capabilities they can use to gain advantage in the real world.

But we also know we cannot achieve the required level of transformation alone. We recognise that a collaborative cross-industry approach is essential. To this end, we are launching a campaign to generate and share knowledge across the defence, security and CI communities about how we all achieve that vital goal. We will be working with a range of customers, partners and interested third parties to build a single body of content that acts as a hub of insight on how to introduce 4iR technologies into mission-critical and hostile environments with assurance and resilience.

We start today with an initial collection of original thinking that demonstrates some of the topics to be considered. Over the course of the next six months we will be proactively engaging with organisations across the markets we serve to regularly add new insight and help us incrementally build a definitive practical playbook for The Deployable Fourth Industrial Revolution. 

Our call to action is simple – work with us in partnership to share the thinking, create the content, and communicate the outputs to address a major challenge for global defence and security. Together we can transform 4iR from a commercial R&D roadmap to a deployable suite of technology that generates and assures defence/security capability for proven advantage.