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DSEI Day Three: The future of defence


Secretary of State for Defence Ben Wallace opened his keynote speech on Day 3 of DSEI with the statement that we can’t afford to stand still in Defence. Adversaries are studying our strengths and weaknesses and are challenging us in ways that we’ve not known before, so threats are moving on and we must too.

QinetiQ DSEI blog

He gave the example of the new National Shipbuilding Office announced on Monday this week, created to galvanise, promote and align priorities around the UK’s shipbuilding enterprise.

He spoke of the importance to refine relationships with international partners and instead of thinking in silos it was important to continue working in collaboration with allies. He gave the example of AUKUS, the long-term investment announced this morning between Australia, UK and US to support Australia with nuclear propelled submarines. When asked how this may damage relations with France, he said that France, UK and US continue to work together on many great programs and decisions to change direction on programs happen often, and in this case Australia took the decision that they did to further strengthen their strategic advantage.

A Green Royal Navy

One of the seminars in the Naval Forum today was on creating a Modern Greener Royal Navy, and focused on how plans to build more environmentally friendly future Royal Navy fleets are well under way, whilst at the same time ensuring ships remain efficient and resilient, and continue to achieve operational advantage.

Panelists from the Royal Navy, DE&S and engineering services firm Expleo talked about how global warming and climate instability - shifting coastlines and melting ice caps for example - caused by mankind using sources unsustainably are driving us to find more environmentally friendly technologies for future fleets. The panel also reiterated the need to be more commercially astute in partnership with industry, whilst leveraging these new technologies for the future pipeline of platforms, as well as those currently in service.

The need to encourage others to follow our example and attract future generations to sustain the UK’s position as a global green maritime leader is essential and projects like green offshore wind vessels and lower emission ferries are taking us in the right direction.

It’s important to align sustainable initiatives with the national shipbuilding strategy to create a safe, global, successful ship building enterprise and work towards our 2050 net zero commitment.

How are we doing this? Programs such as the Navy Transformation Program establish a baseline to understanding sustainable requirements, driving improvements in operational capability and most importantly, enabling independent operation as a global navy. More modular designs to build and adapt the platforms, and solutions for more sustainable disposal are key. Examples include improved hull and fin design for an overall more aerodynamic design, and antifouling paint to reduce drag ensure platforms are as environmentally compliant as they can be.

Thy went on to recognise that each ship has its unique challenges in becoming more sustainable and one size doesn’t fit all and the requirement to adopt output-based specifications of the Royal Navy’s needs to make clearer what they’re looking for from industry is key.

Expleo talked interestingly about the exploration of alternative fuels with the knowledge that no one fuel suits all ships and understanding global fuel supply infrastructure to support different fleets and in particular how to access them in hostile conditions.

Anticipating a crisis

During a seminar at the Land Forum, discussions were had about what could help the British Army anticipate a crisis as it develops to maximise speed of response. The session began by discussing the attitude and approach we adopt when reacting to certain situations. Crisis should not always be seen in a negative light from a military perspective. As a defence joint force, they discussed how they are actually at their best during a crisis which was demonstrated this summer in Afghanistan. Crisis plays to our strengths and truly demonstrates the resilience of soldiers and strengths in junior leadership training. There is definite opportunity to develop and succeed through learning from crisis response. Anticipating a crisis is not always clear through activities like tracking warnings often because of the chance of strategic shock, for example the Covid-19 pandemic. There may be warnings there, but people are not always ready to make decisions there and then. In addition to this, early reaction could be seen as being over paranoid, but we need to know where to look.

To deal with a crisis, all forces must join together and these layers of joint activity whether it be different types of training, people and places, this living flexible mesh network of training helps to enact real life situations which helps to prepare for conflict and crisis. However, surprise is always out there, sometimes we are just out of control no matter how prepared. We need to focus on ruthless simplicity in thinking, language, equipment, capability and in structures and organisation. Most forces like new complex ideas but they suggested it is better to strip back to the basics, to make us think about what we mean and how we explain things to our partners. Often we default too easily into overthinking, as we think this preserves us from scrutiny and challenge. We must avoid/minimise creating new terminology that takes too long to understand. Simple and clear writing helps speed of readiness and response as we are not needing to go back for clarification and understanding. This in turn builds in freedom and elastic resilience to planning which we need to react to crisis. Simplicity in all areas such as equipment, network access standards, common fuel, engine parts and more, also helps to deliver faster response to crisis. Successful organisations put emphasis on, and drive common protocol, sharing and helping design requirements which enable us to start to envisage a common operating picture. All of this helps forces to achieve advantage and react quickly when facing a crisis.

Sustaining operational advantage through synthetic training

During a seminar at the Airspace Forum, Synthetic First: The Next Generation approach to sustaining operational advantage, the RAF kicked off with some strong statements around collective training capabilities lacking in certain aspects and no longer being enough to sustain operational advantage. With it clearly being noted that there’s a training gap within the RAF, a spokesperson from BAE commented that we need to “Rewrite the way we train”. Synthetic training allows you to professionalise your skills before carrying out live training, providing an ideal environment to perfect your training offering. With 50% of all Combat Air Training currently taking place on synthetics devices, and it being estimated to reach 80% by 2040, synthetic training encouraged positive conversations around sustainability and the training of future generations at the Airspace Forum today.

RAF simulation capability ‘Gladiator’ was a significant topic of discussion, highlighting the trust it teaches in allowing numerous attempts to complete training in a sustainable manor, built on two decades of lessons on how to distribute training solutions. Synthetic training is notably embraced by younger generations, with it being introduced from the get-go, and a spokesperson from Boeing Defence UK, made an interesting point in that the older generations could feel reluctant at first due to the late introduction of simulation training saying “You don’t join the RAF to fly in a simulator.” Despite this, the panel were in agreement that the end result remains the same, following a fixed training path, so the right balance between live training and synthetic training is vital.

Listen to Mike Sewart and David Rosewell wrap up day 3 in the video below.