Futures Lab Command Lead: Alex Aitken


Domain: Maritime
Years of experience in defence: 25

Brief summary of your career prior to Futures Lab:

I am a naval architect who has worked on ship design projects from pre-concept studies through new design and build support to in-service repair, conversion and upgrades. I started my career in the shipyards of Cammell Laird group, gaining hands-on ship design experience across a huge range of commercial and military vessels.

What does your role involve?

I engage with Front Line Command and wider MOD clients, predominantly in the maritime and T&E spheres to understand their needs and the challenges they face in providing the capability to counter evolving and emerging threats. I explore with the clients how Futures Lab, through the provision of impartial insight and decision support delivered by collaborative pan-industry and academic teams, can help them map the path to achieving the capability required. I work with the clients to scope the work, and then engage the Aurora Engineering Partners and our Provider Network to deliver the work.

What aspect of your role is exciting, rewarding, or interesting?

I am enjoying being involved in projects and programmes that are at the forefront of shaping future defence capability. This in addition to learning about the new and developing technologies that will deliver the solutions.

How important to you is teamwork? Are there any other factors at play which are crucial to you being successful in your role and key in the success of Futures lab?

By nature, I enjoy working as part of a busy, motivated team. We certainly have that within the core Futures Lab team which comprises both DE&S FCG staff, the FLCIT service personnel and the Aurora Partners.

Futures Lab’s model of delivering its outputs via collaborative pan-industry/academic teams not only appeals to me but is also an essential component of the service. I enjoy working with the partners and Provider Network in identifying and helping form diverse delivery teams to stimulate original thought.

How are you helping embed change in your domain?

Futures Lab’s governing criterion to deliver work via a collaborative multi-organisation team means its outputs are impartial and sit well with the Front Line Command. Navy Command, in particular, is recognising the need to tap into industry knowledge to help it understand potential means to solve new challenges it faces. Offering a service that provides unbiased opinion and insights, and does not result in the Navy receiving one single company’s opinion is proving very attractive and is encouraging uptake of the service.

Can you provide an example of a task you’ve led on and how this has helped to improve military capability for the MOD?

We recently delivered a task to WECA’s Novel Weapons team that provides the roadmaps to the UK obtaining the infrastructure necessary for the testing and evaluation (T&E) of the novel weapons concepts currently under development.

Why did you choose to pursue a career in defence?

Defence chose me!

What do you most enjoy about your job?

I love the variety and range of work I get to undertake. Most work is project based with a maximum one-year duration, so my tasking is constantly changing, whether it’s consultancy, design or bidding and sales. I also really enjoy the team nature of the work, working with colleagues, clients, suppliers and authorities. The environment provides a great opportunity to continuously expand my knowledge.

What is the most interesting/exciting task you’ve led on and why?

Being the arrangement & outfit lead on the design of the Royal Norwegian Navy’s Logistics Support Vessel, HNoMS Maud. It was a unique vessel design which was completed against a tight timescale. That said, the fantastic relationship with the client and the shipyard resulted in a very close, hard-working team that was entirely focussed on success (with a lot of good humour along the way).

If you could provide any advice to aspiring colleagues, what would it be?

Seize every opportunity. You will learn from it, whether the experience is good or bad.

What has been your career highlight?

Attending the naming ceremony of HNoMS Maud in Bergen, Norway in 2019. Seeing the completed ship “in the steel” for the first time was a very proud moment, particularly when I’d led so many aspects of its design. The event was also the opportunity to celebrate a very successful project conclusion with the client and the rest of the delivery team.

What is the best advice you have received?

Life is not a rehearsal.