Hello, I'm Julia Sutcliffe, Chief Technologist for BAE Systems’ Air Sector business.
The green military agenda
Sustainability is an important priority for our customers. In the 2021 UK Integrated Review and Command Paper, Air Chief Marshall Wigston positioned the RAF at the forefront of the green military agenda with sights set on a low carbon force structure in the 2040 timeframe.
In a traditional sense, 2040 is just around the corner, but there is nothing traditional about this time. We are at this amazing intersection of the fourth industrial revolution and the green industrial revolution - and these two change vectors if harnessed appropriately will completely revolutionize our processes our products and our services.
We will need to work together, more so than ever before as there’s no silver bullet, no single answer to this challenge. It’s a through-life, multi-domain, pan-sector challenge.
A collaborative effort
So industry will galvanise its supply chains and partnerships – just from BAE Systems alone that’s over 7000 companies and academic institutions in the UK alone, and when we stand alongside our partners such as Rolls Royce, Leonardo, MBDA and the many others who provide capability to the RAF, it’s a huge collective opportunity.
Equally important is attracting and developing talent – equipping the workforce with the skills demanded by Industry 4.0 and net zero.
And if we are going to succeed we will need to catalyse innovation and experimentation not just within our sector but into and across the civil and commercial domains – we may fast-follow in many areas but we must be part of the conversation to influence, shape and harness innovation to support our requirements.
Industry’s Approach to Net-Zero
Taking a ‘whole industry’ approach, we are investing in processes and technologies from Industry 4.0 that drive a fully digital enterprise, allowing us to maximise the efficiency of our estate, of our operations and our value chain, metricating what we do to create a ‘living lab’.
Investing in low to zero energy carbon products, such as large scale solar farms, ‘smart’ buildings is a journey we’ve been on for the last decade and most recently you will see our partnership with the Royal Navy and the development integrated energy solutions at Portsmouth Naval Base.
You will see us investing in our processes to create leaner lighter products with a lower carbon footprint. You will see us creating innovative products that reduce or replace the reliance on fossil fuels and you will see us move towards a sophisticated approach to electrification for complex products.
Factory of the Future
The enterprise transformation taking place throughout our sector, the digital way of working underpins everything from design to disposal, from back-office to front line.
Technologies like Data science, cobotics, IoT, Augmented Reality, Synthetics and AI are allowing us to rapidly design and integrate efficient, light-weight systems. Multi-million pound investments and collaborations across blue-chip companies, SMEs and leading Universities are driving innovation in facilities such as the Factory of the Future, in Warton Lancashire.
Harnessing the power of technologies such as Additive Layer Manufacturing allows us to put matter where it matters. You see a bracket from a Tornado aircraft and now a fully optimised bracket designed by Artificial Intelligence software – this couldn’t be designed by a human nor could it be built traditionally, but it can be 3D printed and it saves vast quantities of material, storage and logistics associated with traditional products.
These techniques allow us to create a large engine mount for Typhoon, in 60 days – it used to take 100 weeks!
Agile methodologies are allowing us to left-shift the lifecycle so we can design, virtually test and validate designs and builds far more quickly than ever before, reducing the lifecycle carbon footprint.
Hangar of the Future
We must take an integrated, whole lifecycle approach to Net Zero, it is not simply enough to replace one piece of the jigsaw.
Future support and training solutions will build on that same digital thread or digital twin to enable more accurate forecasting of scheduled maintenance. And technologies like augmented reality will enable technicians to complete more complex maintenance tasks at pace. I can’t overstate the need for the digital enterprise. Let me scale it for you:
Today Typhoon operates in the world of Terabytes – so if 1 grain of rice is a byte, Typhoon generates a container ship’s worth of rice over a number of sorties. But in the multi-domain world of 2040, systems will be operating in the world of Zettabytes – enough rice to fill the Pacific Ocean.
Making ever greater use of high-fidelity synthetics and VR to train pilots has a significant impact on the carbon footprint today. In 2020 we completed over 9,000 training events in the Synthetic training facilities at RAF bases at RAF Coningsby and RAF Lossiemouth, representing nearly 13,000 flying hours conducted virtually. This saved around 75 million litres of aviation fuel – equivalent to 184,000 tonnes of CO2.
Energising the Future
In big handfuls, only a fraction of the carbon cost of a product stems from its manufacturing. The supply chain takes up a big amount but by far the biggest comes from the operational use of the products – which in the aviation world means fuel.
So we can create leaner lighter products that use less fuel. We can also create uncrewed products, which opens a whole vista of options once we’re no longer accommodating a human. For example, PHASA 35, designed by tech SME Prismatic, is an example of a new product, high altitude long endurance solar powered vehicle which can operate within the stratosphere for 12 months without landing or refuelling. A persistent, low carbon asset.
Or we can replace fossil fuels from the fuel system. In that regard, the Ministry of Defence’s certification of Sustainable Aviation Fuels is great step forward- bringing biofuels into the UK critical pipeline infrastructure and downstream distribution network, will enable the real carbon cost-benefit analysis of this type of alternate to be evaluated.
You will also see investment in new processes and plants to create e-fuels or synthetic fuels. And you will also see development of more sophisticated electrification architectures. And inevitably we will combine all of these approaches depending on the operational need and the performance required.
Consider Tempest. Fast Jets are highly optimised and built around the integrated electrical, thermal, fuel, hydraulic, propulsion system. At peak load, the sensors, stores and on-board systems draw energy equivalent to the demands of a small town.
We therefore investigate a range of options from alternative fuels, hydrogen fuel cells, intelligent electrical distribution and load management approaches and we draw on the best technology from multiple industries, such as formula-e battery technologies from motorsport with Williams
and high-efficiency heat exchange options from space industry with Reaction Engines Limited.
Ultimately we will create solutions that align with net-zero, but meet our customers operational performance demands. And ultimately as sustainability and security go hand-in-hand, new products and products that can operate in more harsh environments will be essential.
Our Commitment to Net-Zero
Finally, we are all on this journey, not because it is a requirement, but because it’s the right thing to do. It is inspiring our people, our supply chain, and our communities.
The appeal of this agenda can’t be underplayed – it is a huge attractor for our sector, it demands collaboration by its very nature and allows us to harness the technological power of the 4th industrial revolution. It is creating a hot bed of innovation where diversity of thought and ideas are flourishing.
From the very smallest ideas to address our carbon footprint, to the large scale new platform innovations, we welcome the UKG’s Climate Change and Sustainability strategy, we are inspired by the RAFs leadership in this space, and we embrace the opportunity to working together to accelerate change.