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Digital Defence: Powering Your Digital Capabilities, Defining Your Digital Culture

Simon MacWhirter
11 Jul 2023

The 54th Annual Paris Air Show was a busy week, but a successful one for the global aerospace and defence industry.

It was impressive to see innovation on display across the civil aviation, space, and defence sectors. We witnessed a lot of conversation throughout the week around digital transformation and digital readiness as we look to the future of A&D. As we reflect on our time last week in Paris, we are already looking ahead to another event we are planning for this fall… DSEI 2023 which will be held in London from September 12-15. Digital capabilities are defined in different ways throughout A&D, so I want to take a moment to delve into the importance of a digital culture in the defence sector, why it is crucial to understand the driving forces behind this need for digital transformation, and how organisations can prepare for it.

In today’s interconnected world, relying solely on conventional defence strategies and outdated systems is no longer viable. Embracing a digital culture to better use digital technology has become essential for national and international security, as well as maintaining a competitive edge in the A&D industry.

Navigating a complex geopolitical landscape: the need for advanced defence digital capabilities

The rapidly evolving geopolitical climate has led to increasingly complex threats that, in turn, drive different needs in national and international defence. The frequency of emerging threats and pressures originating from the rising boldness of other countries, the need for consistent maritime deterrence, and the continuous advancement of terrorist abilities and goals add to the rapidly evolving security situation.

We also face challenges in other areas: resource scarcity, sustainability, and the need for efficient delivery are increasingly evident in material supply networks, workforce availability, preparedness, and long-term affordability. Intelligent industry and connectivity are not always paramount in responding to geopolitical shifts.

As a result, defence capabilities, products, and services have had to become more sophisticated, with a $2 trillion push by governments worldwide toward intelligent, connected systems and assets. From sub-surface to geostationary satellites, these systems must deliver accurate decision-making information, optimal asset performance, and availability to meet affordability, sustainability, and availability targets.

The UK government has recognised the need to modernise and integrate defence capabilities by taking a whole-force approach and increasing the use of technology and innovation. The UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) is developing a Digital Strategy for Defence that focuses on a digital backbone, a digital foundry, and an empowered digital culture. This strategy aims to prioritise funding and specialist skills to achieve greater value for money with its £4.4 billion annual digital expenditure.

Defence products are evolving to address new threats and mission priorities, becoming more sophisticated and complex than ever before. Advanced metalwork and cutting-edge carbon structures are the foundation for top-notch digital platforms.

The growing demand for connected and insight-driven services necessitates a transformation across all tiers of the defence supply chain. Embracing new internal capabilities and competencies that bridge the gap between the physical and digital worlds is essential for maintaining a competitive edge in an increasingly complex and technologically advanced landscape.

The convergence of OT and IT

Information abounds as we become more data-centric, and so it is crucial to integrate across various domains, from supply chain to battlefield. The convergence of operational technology (OT) and information technology (IT) is becoming increasingly evident, opening up new opportunities and enhancing defence capabilities.

According to a 2022 GlobalData research paper titled ‘Internet of Military Things‘ (IoMT), real-time information sharing is critical between military sectors. The report provides an overview of the market by considering the global IoT market and identifying civilian solutions that can be adapted for defence environments. These include wearables, electro-optical/infrared systems, and command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (C4ISR) systems and infrastructure. Though estimating the market size of IoMT is challenging due to the sensitive nature of the research and development, the IoMT market was valued at $439 billion in 2019, rose to $486 billion in 2020, and is projected to grow to $807 billion by 2025, with a compound annual growth rate of 11% over the period.

As the linkages between OT and IT become more pronounced, innovative solutions emerge, enabling defence organisations to leverage the latest technological advancements. One such example is the use of digital twins, virtual replicas of a physical system, or process, that can monitor, analyse, and optimise the physical world. In a recent Capgemini Research Institute (CRI) report, researchers found 73% of A&D organisations now have a long-term roadmap for digital twin technology, and investment is ramping up, being projected to increase 40% from the previous year.

The implications of integrating IT and OT in the defence sector are far-reaching. For instance, the use of digital twins and connected systems can enable predictive maintenance, reducing equipment downtime and ensuring optimal performance. Additionally, the integration of IT and OT can enhance situational awareness and decision-making capabilities, allowing military organisations to respond more effectively to emerging threats and challenges.

As author Will Roper put it in a paper released in 2020 in line with a new digital push, this is a paradigm shift for military tech dominance: “In design, engineering, software, manufacturing, testing, and sustainment, Matrix-like simulation realism is happening: components and processes rendered so realistically they become digital twins of reality.”

Adoption and change management: defining a digital culture

The defence sector faces specific challenges when it comes to adopting new technologies and embracing change, due to its inherently slow-moving nature, security concerns, budget limitations, and general conservative outlook. However, the shift from a “need to know” to a “need to share” mindset is becoming increasingly important as the industry seeks to leverage the benefits of integrating IT and OT.

Private industries, such as Formula One, have been quicker to adopt digital technologies and engage in the digital journey. These organisations prioritise data-driven decision-making over anecdotal information, recognising the value of real-time insights to drive performance and innovation.

For the defence industry to undergo a similar transformation, it is crucial to build trust in data and promote its adoption across all levels of the organisation. When personnel understand the importance of data and rely on it for decision-making, they are more likely to actively contribute to and extract information from connected systems. Whether in new capability introduction, service or disposal, businesses must be as effective and integrated, if not more so, than the products and services their customers and end-users need. And keeping your digital culture current will attract the best new talent on the market.

As leaders and experts in the defence sector, it is essential to continuously develop our own skill sets and adapt the organisational culture to embrace digital innovation. For instance, a Chief Information Officer (CIO) might consider taking on the role of a Chief Digital Officer, driving digital transformation across the organisation. Similarly, Chief Engineers and Operations Directors should incorporate digital innovation, experimentation, and development into their delivery plans, ensuring that the organisation remains at the forefront of technological advancements.

By developing the necessary skills and fostering a culture of innovation and collaboration, defence organisations can overcome the unique challenges they face and maintain their dominance in an ever-evolving landscape.

Final thoughts on the Paris Air Show, and on to DSEI

Powering your digital capabilities and defining your digital culture are essential activities to stay ahead in our interconnected world, enabling the defence industry to overcome challenges, adapt to emerging threats, and remain at the forefront of innovation.

This message was prominent throughout the Paris Air Show last week, and we look forward to continuing discussions with our clients after the Paris Air Show comes to a close. We will next be present at DSEI in London from September 12-15 where our themes of connected defence and digital technology will once more be front and centre. We will be at booth H1-456 and we would be honoured to have to come by for a visit! We welcome the opportunity to share our views in more detail.

Meet our expert

Simon MacWhirter

Senior Vice President and Global AE
A former electrical engineer in the aerospace industry, Simon has spent the last 25 years at Capgemini using this background to advise service and manufacturing clients on the benefits, challenges and transformation digital technology can make to their businesses. Now a Vice President and Global Account Executive, Simon is responsible for Capgemini’s work with one of the largest defence organisations while making sure they have the right capabilities to adapt their IT and OT systems to rapidly changing geopolitical challenges.