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Enabling Platform Modernisation


James Bambrough - Head of CTO Concepts and Services

How can defence create the necessary conditions to ensure that Land Forces have the platforms needed to address the evolving threat?

Challenger 2 tank in field

Modernising land platforms has been a consistent theme in defence for decades, but several factors have given the conversation a renewed urgency. Among these is the nature of the modern threat, which is more diverse and unpredictable than ever before; with new adversaries working at pace and embracing technologies for their advantage. There is a growing realisation that a platform cannot stay the same throughout its 30-year plus service life while threats evolve around it.

Let’s begin by talking about what platform modernisation is not. It isn’t innovation for innovation’s sake; nor is it procuring a portfolio of individual technologies because they are the latest developments and trends. Modernisation must be mission-led, putting the needs of the armed forces first. Coupled with a knowledge of current user requirements is a need for horizon-scanning, to understand what the platform will be required to do in the future and how it must be equipped to perform those duties.

Clearly, where capabilities become obsolete, they must be removed from service – otherwise we would still be pushing trebuchets into battle. However, the conversation on modernisation should not be framed as a competition between industrial-age and digital-age capabilities. The truth is that we need both, as to compromise on either one creates risk to our troops and, by extension, our national security.

The conversation is therefore about what combination of capabilities will give our armed forces the best chance in both a fight against a peer adversary, and in asymmetric conflict against small-state or non-state actors. We need to create the conditions for industrial and digital capabilities not just to coexist, but to complement each other to the extent that they become greater than the sum of their parts.

That work starts now by augmenting the platforms we currently have in service to meet modern needs; while planning for the next generation of land platforms. Which technologies are useful? Which are compatible? As mentioned above, bolting technologies onto a platform is easy, but integrating them to create a coherent, battle-winning capability is not. Retrofitting is made more challenging by the fact that today’s platforms were not designed to change throughout their service life. That is not to say it is not possible, but the augmentation of legacy platforms with modern technologies requires an integration partner that knows how to negotiate the pitfalls.

While maximising the value of what we have now, we must also consider how we intend to get the best platforms of tomorrow. To avoid the integration challenges associated with current capabilities, we must procure platforms that are designed specifically to evolve iteratively throughout their service lives. The key to building an adaptable platform is modularity; a reliable and versatile base to which capabilities can be introduced or removed at pace as threats evolve. These must be based on open architecture that allows technology from multiple partners to be plugged in. This ensures the best solution to an urgent requirement is available at the time of need. It also makes economic sense, as it gives small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) a route into the global defence supply chain, fostering innovation and supporting employment nationwide.

This new way of working will see the formation of a collaborative ecosystem, built around a sandboxing culture in which emerging defence challenges are quickly identified and solutions proposed and tested at pace. The change needed is as much about culture and thinking as it is about the procurement of physical equipment – possibly even more so. Unleashing the potential of this innovation ecosystem requires a shift in mindset that may feel uncomfortable to an industry often fixated on certainty. It is disadvantageous to spend a decade defining requirements for the perfect platform, when that perfection only lasts until the threat changes. Advantage will come from fielding a minimum viable product that can be iteratively adapted throughout its service life to stay ahead of changing threats.

QinetiQ has developed a series of content which looks at land modernisation in more focus, from whitepapers to interactive tools, videos to podcasts. These will launch at the beginning of April. Want to be the first to receive it? Click the button below.