“Defence technology has been flipped on its head”
Luca Leone of AERALIS talks about the changing technology landscape and how newer recruits are helping solve industry challenges through the Joint Information Group Vanguard (JIG-V), in advance of its launch at the Annual Information Vanguard conference
The rapid pace of technological change and how to ensure younger generations enter the sector are just a couple of the challenges which will be discussed at Team Defence’s inaugural JIG-V 1st Annual Information Vanguard (InVan) Conference on October 18 at Rolls-Royce in Bristol.
The conference is the first Team Defence event aimed at newer-entry professionals within the MOD and the defence industry. The event will include accelerated format presentations from some of the most innovative projects in British aerospace. For more details, visit the Team Defence event page. One of the first topics up for discussion will be “An Air Force for the 2100s and Beyond”, featuring Team Tempest, Reaction Engines and AERALIS.
Katherine Simmons talks to Luca Leone from Team Defence about current challenges in the defence landscape and how the conference will help the industry to retain young talent. Leone is also Head of Programme at AERALIS, which is aimed at delivering advanced military pilot training utilising an innovative modular designed aircraft.
What are the challenges and opportunities currently facing the UK and global industry?
Luca Leone (LL): “One of the biggest challenges is the rapid pace of technological change. Where previously, defence-developed technology led the way, later being incorporated into everyday use by the commercial world, including everything from duct tape to digital cameras and the internet, today that has been flipped on its head.”
“Now, companies such as Google and Apple have much larger development budgets driving technological development, these innovations then need to be brought into defence arena. The challenge is how to implement these into the military space when the return on investment could be much smaller. Access to this innovation is then made harder as more organisations implement rules and strategies stipulating that they will not work on defence programmes.”
Another of the challenges is not just the volume of skills required, but a change in the type of skills. With the increased focus on areas such as artificial intelligence, big data and software design, the usual approach to recruitment and retention has to change.
What are the consequences from this changing landscape for the defence industry?
LL:“As we have said, skills have to keep pace with the rapid pace of change. The defence industry now also has to compete with other industries such as the finance sector when it comes to attracting skilled staff, especially in the cyber skills domain, an industry that can often offer higher salary packages.”
Defence is now looking to learn from best practice in other sectors to combat these challenges, this includes work with professional sports organisations all the way to the automotive and formula one industry.
How will events, such as this one organised by Team Defence, help alleviate these challenges?
LL: “The JIG-V 1st Annual Information Vanguard (InVan) Conference will help Team Defence present a different slant to solving the challenges and problems within the industry and will draw on the minds of the newer entrants into the industry.”
“As well as defence specialists, the JIG-V is also be open to professionals within the wider supply chain and non-defence specialists to ensure greater diversity. We already have representatives from the RAF, Defence Science Technology Laboratories (DSTL), Defence Solutions Centre and most of the large prime contractors; we are now looking to open that membership wider.
“Each of the projects will tackle a different approach to an industry challenge. Our first topic at the launch event on October 18 will be looking forward to the next 50 and 100 years as we discuss “An Air Force for the 2100s and Beyond”. This includes speakers from organisations such as Airbus, GKN and Faradair, along with our keynote from AVM Rochelle, Chief of Staff Capability (Air), Royal Air Force”
“The conference will also look at strategic issues which will affect the industry such as attracting a diverse workforce and the ethics and legality of key technologies such as artificial intelligence.”
What are the key barriers to getting future generations interested in defence?
LL: “There is no silver bullet – it is a combination of a number of things. The biggest challenge is getting people into STEM subjects early. Often people leave it too late when it comes to getting into university.”
“Where Team Defence’s is looking to focus however is ensuring skills are then retained within the industry. For example, if someone chooses to leave their role with one employer, we do not want to lose them to other industries. Our aim is to engage not just the talent in prime contractors, but also the supply chain and ensure they are engaged within the industry.”
How will future generations of fighter aircraft differ from the F35? Will the role of pilot change?
LL: “My personal view on Tempest is that’s it’s not just an aircraft, it’s a huge system of systems and technology project. One of the most important things is to understand what’s going on underneath - there are already more than 60 different technologies being developed under that aircraft skin.”
“Tempest is a collaboration led by the Royal Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office with recent announcements of partnership with the Italian and Swedish Air Forces. The industry component is led by BAE Systems, Rolls-Royce, Leonardo and MDBA. It will be a step change from aircraft such as F35, as it is not just a single platform to manage. The pilot must also be an information manager with data flows from various platforms, including potentially unmanned systems such as Lightweight Affordable Novel Combat Aircraft (LANCA), Loyal Wingman and Low-Cost UAV Swarming Technology (LOCUST), so the Tempest pilots could also be managing 1,000s of data nodes.”
“The new pilot training will take place using virtual cockpits. The AERALIS programme is ensuring that pilots are not just trained to fly just the aircraft itself but to manage that information overload. Immersive experiences and reconfigurable cockpits will be used to test their skills and ensure they are able to cope with massive volumes of data flowing in from those external sensors and systems.”
“We will be improving and shortening training through technologies borrowed from other industries such as commercial aerospace and Formula One racing, along with a focus on gamification to ensure we are getting the most from the people in the process.”