Group Managing Director Programmes and Support Nigel Whitehead, discusses the benefit of disruptive technology and how staying ahead of the curve is vitally important to BAE Systems.
Group Managing Director, Programmes and Support: Nigel Whitehead
On Friday I spoke at a Financial Times executive breakfast briefing on disruptive technology. My main message was that well thought through advances in science and technology are generally a good thing and should be embraced by companies and individuals alike. Change can often be unsettling, but the truth is that if you don’t disrupt your own approach then someone else will.
Whether it’s a new market entrant or a new threat posed to the military, we in the defence industry are comfortable with the notion of disruptive technology. Staying ahead of the curve on new technology is vitally important to us, and in 2014 BAE Systems spent £1.34 billion on research and development (of which £137 million was funded by the Group).
Some examples of disruptive technologies that will likely impact us in the future include:
- Augmented reality: an opportunity to revolutionise how we design and manufacture products, how we conduct training, and enable operators to take control of their environments like never before;
- Robotics: used in assembly and low volume manufacture, including ‘co-botics’ where humans work safely alongside robots to enhance production line efficiency;
- Self-healing materials: new advances in materials technology offering the potential for self-repair;
- Cyber resilience: the ability to use cyber techniques to defend against enemy threats;
- Quantum computing: a leap in computing capability which could solve problems orders of magnitude faster than today.
Artificial intelligence is also an important area for us. Intelligent systems can help our armed forces to do their job more effectively, keep them out of harm’s way, and enable them to make better decisions, faster, though it’s important that a human is always part of the decision-making process. What we are talking about here is human–machine collaboration. Typhoon is a great example of this. The flight computers fly the aircraft taking inputs from the pilot, freeing the pilot to focus on being the master tactician and principal decision maker.
Partnerships are essential if we are to unlock the full potential of disruptive technologies. We work closely with a range of partners, including governments, other major defence companies, SMEs and universities, to deliver new capabilities and cost and efficiency savings to our customers. The Taranis unmanned aircraft demonstrator programme is a terrific example of industry and government working together with an eye on the future. It has been designed and built by BAE Systems, Rolls-Royce, GE Aviation and QinetiQ working alongside the UK Ministry of Defence, military staff and scientists, as well as a significant number of other UK suppliers.
After my talk I joined a panel to discuss these themes in more depth. The other panel members were: Dave Coplin, Chief Envisioning Officer, Microsoft UK; Nick Jennings, Regius Professor of Computer Science, University of Southampton; and Mike Bell, Global Connected Car Director, Jaguar Land Rover. Please see the full video of the briefing below.