Next-gen training is key to unlocking the true potential of our armed forces

Raytheon UK CEO Jeff Lewis examines how modernising the UK’s Armed Forces and creating new defence capabilities will play a key role in cementing Britain’s global status.

In the last 12 months, we have all grappled with a generation-defining challenge.

COVID-19 has reminded us that we need an unshakeable resilience in the face of future threats, including those that we might not be able to foresee. This must become a guiding principle for Britain’s businesses and economy as we embark on the road to recovery.

Britain’s defence industry is no exception. The sector continues to face enormous pressure to remain highly agile, while navigating challenging national and international environments. From new forms of artificial intelligence, to cyber disinformation campaigns, the entire defence spectrum has changed. These new and ever-evolving threats are no longer predictable or conventional, working only to intensify current uncertainties.

The UK government rightly recognises how important it is for our armed forces to deploy innovative solutions to these complex problems. That is why, in November last year, the prime minister announced a £16 billion four-year settlement to the Ministry of Defence to support and modernise the UK’s armed forces.

To bring this modernization effort to life, we must ensure that members of the armed forces have the right skills and talent to face evolving threats. Transformative training will be the catalyst for modernisation of the armed forces. By adapting our training processes and utilising the latest technology advancements, we can put people at the forefront of defence transformation.

It is fitting, therefore, that we started the year with the announcement of a contract that supports defence transformation through delivery of a new training system for a modern, global Royal Navy.

Alongside our strategic key partners, Capita, Fujitsu and Elbit Systems, Raytheon UK will deliver the next generation of maritime training, transforming the Royal Navy’s technology, training and learning solutions. The 12-year contract, named Selborne, will modernise the force’s entire training culture and ensure that technological transformation is a core tenet for the UK’s armed forces.

It will be built on a people-first strategy – using trainer and trainee experiences to deliver more personalised, flexible training, better suited for individual circumstances. It will optimise training pipelines to swiftly transition Royal Navy personnel to the fleet. New synthetic training systems will create a safer environment for Royal Navy trainees, and better prepare them for the operational challenges of the future.

The last year has taught us the importance of being adaptable and fleet of foot, and we look forward to working with a supply chain of over 25 businesses in this important part of Royal Navy transformation.

As we navigate the evolving impacts of the pandemic and the UK government looks to rebuild the economy, upskill the population, and develop resilient sovereign capabilities, its commitment to investing in the modernisation of defence capabilities is essential to further cement Britain’s global status.

Through modernising defence training, we can help ensure that our armed forces are equipped to secure our future. Now more than ever before, we stand committed to investing in the UK’s long-term prosperity, helping to keep our country secure and building a Royal Navy that can overcome the challenges of the future.

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Space Bridge to help UK and Australia get ahead in global space race

The UK and Australia have signed a new Space Bridge partnership to increase knowledge exchange and investment across the two countries’ space sectors.

The world’s first Space Bridge will unlock improved access to trade, investment and academic research opportunities, better advice to businesses and innovative bilateral collaborations.

The UK and Australia share future ambitions for space and have similar plans to increase the size and job creation potential of the sector. This agreement will further develop the longstanding relationship between the two countries which dates back to the 1970s when the Prospero satellite built in Farnborough, UK, launched from Woomera, South Australia.

The arrangement enhances cooperation between the UK Space Agency, UK Department for International Trade, Australian Trade & Investment Commission, and the Australian Space Agency, coordinating opportunities for the UK and Australian governments and companies to work on space-related activities, including sharing Earth Observation data to collaborating on robotic and artificial intelligence.

UK Science Minister Amanda Solloway said:  “The signing of today’s Space Bridge partnership, a world’s first, with one of our closet international allies, is another step forward in our ambition for the UK to become a globally-competitive space power.

“The bond will allow our most innovative space businesses and universities to collaborate and share best practice more effectively than ever. I’m excited to see how this partnership will unlock new space jobs in both countries while driving forward new ideas that could enrich all of our lives.”

Minister for Exports, Graham Stuart MP said: “Space exports hit £5.5 billion in 2017 and it is this international demand for our space goods and services which is driving the development of the UK’s vibrant and innovative space industry.

“Like the UK, Australia recognises the enormous potential of space science and recognises that closer partnership and alignment between our two sectors can boost progress and jobs in both countries. I believe that UK exports to Australia could grow by £900 million as a result of a Free-Trade Agreement and the Space Bridge programme can play a critical role in space contributing to this growth, and further strengthening our UK-Australia relationship.”

The UK boasts strong Foreign Direct Investment levels into its space sector and the Australian space sector reports a strong appetite to expand operations into the UK. Leaders for Australia and UK’s space agencies recognise the importance of stronger space ties between both countries, as the UK ramps up plans to become a leading global player in space.

The announcement comes as the UK and Australia begin the fourth round of negotiations on the Free Trade Agreement this week. We have already made good progress in several chapter areas including digital, telecommunications, customs, rules of origin, and procurement in previous rounds.

Australia is influential in the Indo-Pacific and a Free-Trade Agreement will help us pivot towards this dynamic area of the world. This will help diversify our trade, make our supply chains more resilient, and make the UK less vulnerable to political and economic shocks.

Dr Graham Turnock, Chief Executive Officer of the UK Space Agency, said: “As the UK extends its ambitions in space, it’s only right that we forge new and stronger alliances with new and existing partners all across the globe. 

This agreement has the potential to unleash innovation, promote knowledge exchange and build relationships that will help both the UK and Australia maximise the vast economic and scientific potential that the space sector offers. It will help create better opportunities and greater security for people in both nations.”

Enrico Palermo, Head of the Australian Space Agency. “The Space Bridge Framework Arrangement will help propel the Australian civil space industry into its next phase of growth, opening doors to build local capability, as well as significantly boost our collaboration with the UK Space Agency.”

The space sector is one of the fastest-growing UK sectors with 30,000 new jobs expected by 2030. The Australian space sector is also growing with up to 20,000 new Australian jobs expected by 2030.

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Why Is the Defence Sector Creating the Metaverse?

Writing for Defence Online, Craig Beddis, CEO and Co-Founder of Hadean, examines the concept of the metaverse and how it can play a crucial role in defence.

The metaverse is gaining traction. Never before has Neal Stephenson’s idea of a virtual world where we communicate through avatars seemed quite so appealing. With many of us unable to attend traditional social outlets, a virtual alternative seems both helpful and logical.

So what does the metaverse look like? From one person to the next you’ll get a different answer, but these loose definitions all possess certain common threads. The idea of a perennial, persistent virtual world that many of us can connect to is an integral tenet. Such worlds will be a social platform, with its own physics, economies and artificial intelligence. Recent advances in distributed computing and networking are making a sort of extended massive scale Second Life seem a very real possibility.

Although, quite how the metaverse will continue to evolve is dependent on the development and adoption of various nascent technologies, (such as VR, AR and XR), the central tenet of persistence is now a realistic possibility. Shifts in how computational load is rebalanced and distributed enable unpredictable worlds to live and breath without the underlying infrastructure crashing or running up astronomical costs. Entire ecosystems can grow, evolve and migrate, while flourishing cities can be built and shaped by the people that inhabit them.

So, who is building Metaverse?

The ability for simulations to grow ad infinitum without the risk of crashing has opened up a plethora of new design opportunities, and the pursuit of grand scale virtual worlds is an endeavour already being spearheaded by gaming companies. Those already familiar with building vast open worlds, are looking at how to populate them with ever increasing numbers of interacting players to partake in anything from concerts to sports to graduation ceremonies. What perhaps is a little more surprising is that the defence sector is also at the forefront of advancing the metaverse through its early life.

Although on the surface quite different industries, the defence and gaming sectors have somewhat fairly intertwined history when it comes to technology. Simulation and gaming engines play a key role in either recreating historical events or mapping potential future scenarios – anything from disaster planning through to construction projects. The long-term goal is to use gaming tech to create single synthetic environments, capable of accurately modelling geological phenomena, manufacturing processes, cityscapes, and even human behaviour to inform strategic planning and decision making.

The immediate appeal of this to those in the defence sector is the opportunity to create interoperable, layered simulations without the logistical or practical issues typically associated with large scale training scenarios. It would synchronise training efforts, highlighting the impact of anything from the weather and terrain to the movement of people – at the point of need. At the same time, data and credentials could be shared across a geographically distributed network.

Why Now?

Until now, such ambitious projects had been easier said than done. Creating a living breathing simulation of a real-world counterpart that synthesises a huge amount of data into a single coherent viewpoint requires a massive scale robust infrastructure across a

distributed network. Most pre-existing computing models are ill-equipped to handle the computational complexity derived from the volume of entities, data or rapid structural changes. Projects were put together piecemeal, and involved a vast array of incompatible tools leading to fractured architectures and even security risks.

Managing the ebb and flow of computational complexity had proved tantalisingly out of reach. Endlessly spinning up server after server creates astronomical costs, or large expensive teams to manually look after the infrastructure configuration and management; localised fluctuations are daunting and capable of crashing the simulation. But through dynamic and provisioning and distributed load balancing many of these infrastructural concerns are abstracted away. The barrier to entry is lowered and developers are able to create worlds of unimaginable complexity.

The metaverse that the defence industry is looking to design, involves bringing all the varying layers of a simulation including the terrain, satellite networks, IoT devices and human behaviour under a single architecture. All of which can change at scale, at a moments notice, even without direct interaction. Moreover connecting so many users and entities into a single viewpoint lays the groundwork for iterations of the metaverse that the general public might expect to consume – such as large scale social platforms inhabited by thousands of people across the world.

Ultimately, the strides made in recreating the real-world will have profound implications for the technology that underpins the metaverse. But to be successful, it requires an overhaul in the distributed computing technology stack and infrastructure, whereby access to near unlimited processing power enables immersive, complex and high-fidelity simulations. It is the defence sector, not just gaming or virtual events industries, at the forefront of this innovation.

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What should a naval surveillance capability offer?

Writing for Defence Online, David Eldridge, Sales Director at Chess Dynamics looks at the critical demands of a naval surveillance capability.

The surveillance capability of a naval vessel is the ship’s eyes, used to detect potential threats before they’re too close, and is vital to its operation and survivability. The nature of maritime operations, whether military or civil, places a high demand on persistent surveillance, aided by high-definition imaging and smart technologies which reduce the burden on the operator.

Here, we’ll explain the key factors to consider when selecting a naval surveillance solution and how a capability should be tailored to meet the specific demands of its intended application.

Properties to consider

Image accuracy, resolution and stability are the fundamentals of surveillance capability, enabling both detection and classification of objects of interest. These three key pillars ensure that potential threats can be identified, and accurate information shared throughout the command chain.

Vital to any surveillance capability is its ability to perform 24 hours a day, seven days a week and deliver persistent surveillance at maximum resolution. Through technological innovations and developments of new sensors, persistent surveillance can provide long range reconnaissance for the detection and identification of potential threats for the military, civil organisations and high value assets. A 24-hour operation, regardless of operating conditions, is crucial in a dynamic environment where many objects need to be identified and classified.

The broader integration of the surveillance capability into the ship’s bridge is also essential, as it enables surveillance-generated information to be considered alongside other sources such as radar, AIS and GPS. By integrating surveillance capability with the vessel’s additional sensors, cameras can be operated and moved into position based on objects or areas of interest. This brings together different information sources and therefore reduces the number of different screens or alerts that the operator needs to be cognisant of.

Surveillance, though, is a broad term, encompassing a combination of capabilities that go beyond reconnaissance. The addition of emerging technologies such as autonomous systems, artificial intelligence (AI) assistance, navigation and collision avoidance can enhance overall capability. In turn, this enables greater and more informed decision making which ultimately increases operational advantage.

Through technologies such as automatic video classification, the operator can be conducting navigational tasks and absorbing incoming information while the software automatically detects, recognises and identifies objects of interest. Connecting into AIS maritime databases, this can check the surveillance-obtained visual of the object against its classification to determine if the object is what it purports to be.

This greatly reduces the cognitive burden on the operator as the system effectively filters the information and only flags objects that are deemed risks or threats, or are unknown. These AI-based solutions also help improve the level of safety on the vessel, as they can auto-detect a target at a much greater range than through manual and human-centric processes.

In addition to direct operational performance, the lifetime of a capability in relation to its platform also needs to be considered, as threats will change and evolve – requiring operators to be in possession of greater information. Systems must therefore be straightforward to maintain and allow for integration of new technology – sensors or hardware – to enhance capability. This not only enables systems to be upgraded to counter new threats but also helps reduce its ongoing operational cost.

Tailoring a capability for its application

Operational environments and surveillance objectives are incredibly diverse in the maritime domain, and capability must be flexible to meet the specific task at hand.

For example, maintenance support and training must be considered on a case-by-case basis. If repairs at sea are likely, it’s important that a solution is modular and designed for availability – its components should be easily accessible and have health and usage monitoring (HUMS) systems built in. HUMS provides automatic diagnostics that can flag potential maintenance issues or failures before they occur, and a modular and accessible design means that engineers can locate and repair or replace components in a timely manner without the need for third-party experts onboard.

Alongside these design features, it’s important to consider the availability of in-service support for a capability. This provides confidence that the system will be available and can perform whenever it’s needed throughout its lifespan. These types of services ensure that essential spares are always available onboard for repairs at sea, regular maintenance is carried out while the vessel is dockside at base and that obsolescence can be addressed promptly, effectively helping prevent unplanned maintenance and downtime. It also allows for sub-system overhauls and technical refreshes to enhance the capability to counter new threats.

Finally, the flexibility of the capability is an important factor in specification. For example, for coastal surveillance purposes, the ability for a system to be installed on a coastal cliff or viewpoint to provide unmanned surveillance for a key area is a significant benefit. This allows a persistent and consistent surveillance operation with the data relayed back to a central operating base – reducing the need for an on-the-ground operator while essential surveillance data is generated.

A surveillance capability is not a one-size-fits-all solution. Beyond the functional features of a system, its specific components should be the result of careful consideration of the operational environment, and its through-life maintenance and upgrade requirements. Only through persistent and high definition surveillance can we expect to contain threats posed in today’s operational environment.

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Has COVID eliminated the labour shortage in defence sustainment…for now?

Writing for Defence Online, Bob Hogg, Global Marketing Director, Government, Aerospace & Defence Industries at SDL, examines the challenge of finding the next generation of technicians.

Once markets return post-pandemic, so will the challenges of finding the next generation of technicians.

Technical publications supporting operations and maintenance in the aerospace and defence (A&D) industries play an instrumental role in asset readiness and mission achievement. With experienced maintenance staff retiring and the long onboarding process for replacements, many of whom are not native English speakers, readiness could soon be at risk. Fortunately, modern technologies are providing new opportunities to utilise technical publications information in productive and innovative ways.

Q: What are the key challenges of finding the next generation of technicians?

There is a worldwide labour shortage for technical talent across industries. Recent studies show that 78% of organisations, across industries, currently have trouble finding, hiring and training technicians, resulting in a reliance on overtime and other stop-gap efforts. While the urgency has slowed due to COVID-19, the problem is not going away anytime soon and will challenge hiring managers again in the near future.

At the core of this shortage is global demographic changes. Lower birth rates coupled with the retirement of the Baby Boomers from the workforce is driving shortages across numerous industries and geographic regions. One of the hardest hit areas is for technical resources in the A&D industry.

Contributing to the shortage, 80% of operational, maintenance and support personnel in the global A&D industry are non-native English speakers, but all aviation industry technical documentation is written in English. This presents a significant added challenge since it can take up to two years to train non-native English speakers to build competence in Simplified Technical English (STE).

Q: The shortage is even more pronounced in technical fields, especially maintenance in A&D. Is the aerospace and defence industry on the cusp of an enormous skills gap?

Yes, exactly. As senior staff retire and take a wealth of knowledge and experience with them, organisations are realising that technical knowledge is critical to newer team members’ productivity. This knowledge is codified and made accessible to maintenance staff in highly visual forms residing on their electronic devices. This information contains years of knowledge from industry veterans that is missing from today’s younger workforce. Thankfully, modern technologies are offering a new approach to technical publications, helping older workers share their knowledge in a simple, easy to understand way.

For example, in the North American market, research by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics suggests employment within aerospace manufacturing has been on a steady decline since 2012. Back in 2000, there were 516,700 employed across the industry, but these numbers have dropped from 498,600 to 479,900 over the past three years. A more recent study (April 2020) by the Aviation Technician Education Council noted “Although the number of entering aviation mechanics in 2019 hit a 17-year high, those outputs will need to increase another 37 percent to meet 20-year demand projections”.

Q: So, how can technology help close the technician gap?

The historical approach to knowledge transfer was to train in the classroom and then reinforce in the field with hands-on approaches like apprenticeships. This remains a well-established approach, but has faced many challenges during the pandemic and only solves part of the problem.

Fortunately, technology has come to the rescue. Real-time learning can now leave the classroom and move on-site with In-Context Learning training platforms. These platforms can be used for refresher and reinforcement training that can be delivered in real-time, in any language and with senior technicians and apprentices in different physical locations.

Other technologies are also bridging the gap. Several of our defence manufacturing clients use Machine Translation (MT) to deliver dual-language technical publications within their Foreign Military Sales (FMS) programmes. Another real-life example is FMS product support across multiple languages because emails, live chat and documents are now vital when exchanging information between global FMS customers and their Factory Support Representatives.

Q: Whether in training mode or maintenance mode, having an interactive access to knowledge or best practice seems to be key. Is that the case?

Yes, there are many things that interactive tech pubs like an Interactive Electronic Technical Publication (IETP) can deliver, in a training scenario, on the maintenance line or by blurring the distinction between both.

An IETP is a set of information needed for the description, operation and maintenance of a product. The IETP is optimally arranged and formatted for interactive screen presentation to an end user – usually a technician – on an electronic display and offers conditional branching mechanisms for better decision making.

An IETP can deliver real-time chat and technical process instructions on a single platform that is enhanced with AI-based training and multi-language instruction. For example, when opening a control panel in English, the technician is presented with the option to view the next steps in Spanish or Chinese. Incorporating this technology into an organisation’s processes helps overcome both a language and experience shortfall.

This intelligent approach allows the accrued knowledge of technicians both past and present to be collected in one central location, with advice and workflows embedded into the publications. These publications can be viewed online or offline, depending on the technician’s need.

Q: This all sounds great, but in practical terms, what does it mean?

To start with, we can look at the benefits of embedding training into workflows. Technicians will be able to launch tasks and on demand training right from their place in the process. As more intelligence is added into the IETP, actions will be triggered based on Machine Learning (ML) logic that assesses time on a task and the technician’s navigation of required steps. ML algorithms can assess time on task or time on a specific step versus the norm and auto suggest additional assistance.

Interestingly, it will also look for “who else knows what” – such as linking the maintenance technician with the last person to work on this particular task in the workflow or a more senior technician who is available to advise or assist (either in-person or virtually). The platform will further empower the technician with more “in-context” learning as well as the ability to call an expert directly within the work process. Or, an auto-launched computer based training (CBT) video could be presented to them based on their time on task for that particular part of the maintenance, repair or refit process.

We also provide the ability for the technician to escalate a process into a virtual reality (VR) session, allowing the technician to connect live and show an expert what they are looking at. Together they can look at the equipment with overlays of the asset diagram. The tech can describe the problem or ask questions like: “See here, it says to remove the 5mm bolt – but there isn’t one. Am I looking at the right procedure, has the system been updated or is the manual wrong?” The expert in this scenario could be a senior technician or a virtual assistant seeded with full learnings from all of the most senior experts and continuously updated with new learnings from everyday activities.

In many ways, this kind of ever evolving smart learning can re-engineer the skills gap not just for the apprentice, but also the experienced technician. While closing out the final step in a maintenance task, critical information can be modified, essential task timings can be enhanced and the mean time to repair (MTTR) can be reduced from the evolving best practice learnings across the fleet – all without compromising the current mission objectives.

Better service quality and productivity, improved cost efficiency and reduced downtime are all linked to a technician’s proficiency development, making on-going and regular skills development essential. Modern technologies empower a new approach to technical publications, bridging the skills gap by passing knowledge from the most senior technical members of the tribe into organisational best practice that can be made available to all, anytime, anywhere.

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DPRTE Focus: Commerce Decisions supports Canada’s Future Fighter Capability project

As part of our build up to DPRTE 2021, Defence Online is highlighting a case study from official DPRTE Gold sponsors, Commerce Decisions on its involvement in Canada’s Future Fighter Capability project.

Project Profile overview

The Future Fighter Capability Project (FFCP) competition was initiated by Canada to acquire a new fleet of advanced fighter jets. The requirement was outlined in Canada’s defence policy, Strong, Secure, Engaged, to enforce Canada’s sovereignty and to meet Canada’s North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) and North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) commitments. The FFCP marks the most significant investment in the Royal Canadian Air Force in more than 30 years.

Introduction to the FFCP

Purchasing a fleet of fighter aircraft through a transparent competition while also delivering value for money is a complex process with many variables. The balancing of cost, technical requirements and economic benefits with such a procurement is no easy task. The project has an estimated value of CAD $15-19 billion, and in addition to the purchase of 88 advanced fighter aircraft also includes the procurement of associated equipment and weapons, and the set up of training and sustainment services.

Customer profile

The Future Fighter Capability Project is a multi departmental initiative involving the Department of National Defence (DND), Public Services and Procurement Canada (PSPC), and Innovation, Science and Economic Development (ISED).

Why FFCP needed our assistance

The successful acquisition of a new fighter aircraft is of critical importance for the Government of Canada. A modern fighter jet fleet is essential for defending Canadian sovereignty, enabling continental security, and contributing to international peace and security. This procurement also represents a once in a generation opportunity to create jobs and generate benefits for Canadians.

Through this competition, the Government wants to ensure that it gets the right aircraft, at the right price, while maximising economic benefits for Canadians. Throughout the process, all stakeholders participating in the procurement, including foreign governments, the fighter aircraft manufacturers, and Canadian aerospace and defence industries and manufacturers, were consulted and fully engaged.

Proposals submitted by bidders in response to a formal Request for Proposals (RFP) are rigorously assessed on cost, technical requirements and economic benefits. All bidders proposals are subject to the same evaluation criteria. Given the complex nature of these acquisitions, and the need for an open, fair and transparent competition, having an evaluation process that is underpinned by robust analysis is of paramount importance. That is where Commerce Decisions came in.

Steve Deaville, Managing Director, Commerce Decisions, said: “We are delighted that DND has selected Commerce Decisions to support this key Canadian project, enabling Canadian government and industry to benefit from expert procurement advice through the application of our best practice advice and thought leadership”. 

In May 2018, Commerce Decisions were awarded a contract to support the FFCP in the development of the proposal evaluation process via a Task and Solutions Professional Services (TSPS) Supply Arrangement. We added value and support by:

• Assisting the Project staff in developing the Bid Evaluation Plan for the competitive procurement process

• Supporting PSPC in its oversight role of the solicitation processes to ensure alignment with the competition risks identified, and provision of decision support data to ensure and unbiased approach

• Providing two senior procurement specialists to support the Project in the development of evaluation criteria (scoring methods, weights, etc), including review/design inputs to the more complex areas

• Assisting the Project in developing a new Life Cycle Cost (LCC) evaluation methodology, designed to measure the confidence in the cost estimates provided by bidders based on the level of information supplied, supplier risks, and risk transferred to Canada

• Providing decision support to Project leadership, through a robust analytical “assurance” process (Sensitivity Analysis), to enable an alignment between the evaluation process and overall Government of Canada procurement objectives

• Providing AWARD® Dataroom for managing engagement and communications with eligible suppliers, including clarifications management, the release of the draft and final RFP materials and requests for information in a secure, fully audited and effective interactive environment, and

• Supporting the Project through the draft RFP phase, by providing analysis to validate required changes to the RFP prior to formal release.

Via this support Commerce Decisions helped the FFCP achieve:

✓ Development of criteria scoring and weighting using robust and unbiased analytical methodologies

✓ Risk capture and confirmation of appropriate coverage in the evaluation scheme/process

✓ Assurance and testing of the criteria, weights and scoring systems to ensure that the behaviours of the model were fully understood by Canada and aligned with Canada’s needs for the competition

✓ Rationale for all key evaluation design decisions taken in support of approvals and review prior to RFP issue

✓ A robust bid evaluation strategy, guidelines and plans

✓ An auditable, controlled and streamlined mechanism for gathering and publishing all project information for suppliers

✓ Secure storage and resilient sharing of data to protect data for all stakeholders

✓ The development of an AWARD® evaluation module to support the secure and auditable recording of the evaluation process.

What’s next?

In July 2020, the FFCP eligible suppliers submitted proposals to Canada, in response to the Request for Proposals (RFP) released in July 2019. Canada is in the process of evaluating these proposals on the basis of the evaluation criteria developed, and documented in the formal RFP. This will lead to the selection by Canada of a preferred supplier for the delivery of the new fighter capability.

image courtesy of Commerce Decisions

Commerce Decisions is an official Gold Sponsor of DPRTE 2021

With DPRTE 2021’s Booking Confidence Guarantee you can now prepare to join the UK’s defence procurement community at DPRTE 2021.

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Dstl state-of-the-art robot trialled to seek out chemical agents

Official DPRTE partner, the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl), have successfully trialled a fully autonomous robot that will help defence and security personnel dealing with hazardous scenes.

Dstl scientists have developed a prototype robot so that humans and machines can now share the burden of detecting and report dangerous chemicals over large areas.

The Merlin Robot, developed by industry partner HORIBA-MIRA with funding from the MOD and the Home Office, autonomously carried out simulated chemical reconnaissance tasks over test areas covering up to 10,000 square metres.

Currently a single prototype, the Merlin robot operated continuously on tasks for several hours with ease, allowing personnel to monitor and manage the test incident scene from a safe distance, away from potential harm.

Chemical reconnaissance (recce) on foot and in specially modified vehicles is currently carried out by specialist personnel in the event of suspected or confirmed use of chemical agents, both in military battlefield and homeland security scenarios. It is a dangerous and laborious task requiring high levels of specialist training. In the future, however, autonomous systems could enable the task with significantly less burden on personnel and at lower risk to the deployed teams.

The trial, run under Dstl’s Project Servitus, was a follow-on to successful previous work conducted under Project Minerva, which investigated the use of ground-based and airborne autonomous systems to tackle hazardous scene assessment in areas contaminated with chemical agents, on behalf of the MOD and the Home Office.

Initially developed as part of Project Minerva, under Servitus the Merlin robot had an off-the-shelf chemical vapour sensor mounted so that it can be accurately positioned close to the ground. The robot’s AI-based object recognition and search and detection techniques were also further developed, including drawing on other Dstl-funded work on MIRA’s Viking re-supply and recce unmanned ground vehicle (UGV), enhancing the system’s autonomous behaviours and capability.

The Servitus trial tested different autonomous behaviours for search and mapping operations in exploring an area, obstacle avoidance and chemical mapping. The operationally realistic trial was undertaken with support from specialist C-CBRN operators from 27 Squadron RAF Regiment RAF Honington.

Non-toxic chemical simulants were sprayed onto the ground within a simulated operational activity, and both the military recce teams and the robot undertook the task of searching the areas to find and map the chemicals and plot clean routes.

27 Squadron RAF Regiment operators were provided with basic training on the Merlin and its tablet-based human machine interface, and given the opportunity to operate the robot, setup Merlin missions, monitor progress and re-task the robot as required. The users were quickly able to absorb the training and become proficient in commanding the robot, relishing the chance to work with the system.

Commenting on working with Dstl and MIRA, a spokesperson from 27 Squadron RAF Regiment said: “It was a hugely interesting project to be part of within the early development stages, and it was a pleasure to work alongside the MIRA and Dstl personnel who were very engaged, approachable and keen to listen to our observations and experience. The system has a lot of potential and testing our personnel against the AI of the robot was a good benchmark.”

By the end of the trial, Merlin had successfully demonstrated autonomous operation in area recce tasks that were both clean and contaminated, and had performed tasks to find clean routes through contaminated areas. Throughout the trial the embedded AI was pushed to the limits of object and obstacle recognition and successfully demonstrated its utility within a cluttered environment.

Dstl’s project technical lead, Andy Martin said: “Project Servitus has demonstrated the clear potential to make the job of military and emergency services users safer, more effective and future looking. The technology has significant potential in a number of fields, and work to explore the exploitation pathways within CBR and elsewhere is well underway. Building on Project Minerva, Servitus is another exemplar of cross-department and industry collaboration, with close working between government technical experts, industry and the military user community. It has been highly successful because of that.”

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Military to support the testing of thousands of students in England

UK Military personnel will provide planning and training support to secondary schools and colleges with testing at the start of the spring term.

The personnel are on standby to support secondary schools and colleges across England to roll out COVID-19 testing to students and staff as the new term begins in January.

The armed forces deployment across England builds on successful school testing pilots conducted in November and December. Personnel supported thousands of tests being carried out at pilot schools, demonstrating the value of lateral flow devices rapidly testing students in a school environment.

1,500 UK Armed Forces personnel are being made available to support the Department for Education and Department for Health and Social Care to ensure that students and staff can return as safely as possible to secondary schools and colleges across England.

The majority of personnel will form local response teams, providing support and phone advice to institutions needing guidance on the testing process and set-up of the testing facilities.

This will be done predominantly through webinars and individual meetings, but teams will also be on standby to deploy at short notice to provide in-person support to resolve any issues in the situations where testing would otherwise not be able to go ahead. Schools and colleges will shortly be provided with further information on how to request additional support if needed.

A small team of planners is embedded in the Department for Health and Social care who are supporting the Department for Education to help coordinate the support. The majority of personnel will be on task from this week as they start to conduct training.

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said: “The UK Armed Forces are stepping up once again this holiday. This week I have authorised over a thousand Armed Forces personnel to assist schools returning after the Christmas break.

“They’ll share considerable experience of testing across the country and the successful school pilots conducted this autumn.

“We are grateful for the professionalism and commitment they and our colleagues in teaching are showing to get students back into the classroom and on with their education.”

Every secondary school and college in England is being offered testing, with £78 million funding for schools and colleges to support this offer.

As well as additional funding, the government will provide schools and colleges with the kit they need and have introduced a staggered return at the start of term.

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said: “It is a true cross-government effort to make sure secondary schools and colleges have the support, guidance, materials and funding they need to offer rapid testing to their staff and students from the start of term.

“I am grateful to the armed forces personnel, and all the school and college staff, leaders and volunteers working to put testing in place. This will help break chains of transmission, fight the virus, and help deliver the national priority of keeping education open for all.”

Students will be expected to swab themselves in the vast majority of cases, under the supervision of a school staff member or volunteer who has been trained for the role. Teachers are not expected to take a role in the testing process.

This support is being provided through the Military Aid to Civil Authorities (MACA) process. There are currently around 2914 personnel committed to 55 tasks to support other government departments and civil authorities with the response to coronavirus. This includes support with community testing across the UK, the provision of ambulance drivers in Wales and testing support for hauliers in Kent.

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Saab receives follow-on contract from United Arab Emirates for GlobalEye

Saab has received a follow on contract with the United Arab Emirates regarding the sale of two GlobalEye systems, Saab’s advanced airborne surveillance system.

The order value is USD 1.018 billion and the contract period is 2020-2025.

The original contract with the United Arab Emirates for GlobalEye was signed in 2015. This contract is an amendment to that signed in 2015.

“We are proud that the United Arab Emirates continues to show great trust in Saab and our solutions. It shows that Saab remains on the cutting edge regarding advanced technology. The GlobalEye program is running according to plan and we have an efficient cooperation with the customer”, says Micael Johansson, President and CEO Saab.

The work will be carried out in Gothenburg, Linköping, Arboga, Järfälla and Luleå in Sweden and in Centurion, South Africa.

The contract was signed by the customer on the 30th of December 2020, hence the order was booked during the fourth quarter 2020.

GlobalEye provides simultaneous air, maritime and ground surveillance. It combines sophisticated radar technology with the ultra-long range Global 6000 aircraft from Bombardier.

image courtesy of SAAB

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Over 5,000 Armed Forces deployed in support of the Covid response

Over 5,000 Armed Forces personnel are currently deployed to support the response to the Coronavirus across the UK, working on 70 different tasks ranging from schools testing to the rollout of vaccines.

This is more than at any previous point in the pandemic and the biggest homeland operation the UK has ever seen in peacetime. Thousands more are supporting efforts through their day jobs in military planning, Defence Medical Services, Defence Science and Technology Laboratories and elsewhere.

More military personnel are being deployed to support community testing in:

  • Manchester – 800 personnel providing community testing support to the Greater Manchester Combined Authority
    • Kent – 390 personnel will support community testing
    • Swadlincote, Derbyshire – 130 personnel to establish and operate four lateral flow testing sites
    • Kirklees, Yorkshire – 75 personnel to establish and operate four lateral flow testing sites
    • Lancashire – 420 personnel to support asymptomatic testing

In Manchester another large scale task is now underway, with 800 personnel deploying from nine regiments across the British Army at the request of the Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA), through the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC).

These personnel will prepare to work across all ten local authority areas of Greater Manchester to carry out targeted asymptomatic testing of specific populations that may be at a higher risk of infection including social care staff, key workers, public facing occupations such as bus drivers, and those in high risk environments such care homes and shared accommodation for the homeless.

The task builds on lessons from previous asymptomatic community testing in Liverpool, Lancashire, Merthyr Tydfil, Medway, and Kirklees.

In addition to community testing, military personnel remain on-task testing hauliers in Dover and helping to establish ten new testing sites to improve the flow of traffic across the Channel.

1,500 Armed Forces personnel have also been provided to support schools testing, with local response teams providing virtual support and phone advice to institutions. Personnel also on standby to deploy at short notice to provide in-person support. Testing will continue as planned with two rapid Lateral Flow Tests available to all secondary school and college students and staff at the start of term to identify asymptomatic cases, break chains of transmission and beat the virus.

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said: “The new year will see new levels of Armed Forces support to overcoming this pandemic. Thousands of service personnel are working throughout the United Kingdom, wherever they are needed to assist the civil authorities.

“Manchester is the latest of those tasks and will be an important contribution to protecting the highest risk groups as the city seeks to recover. As a North West MP I am acutely aware of the considerable time many of us have been labouring under some form of lockdown and I hope our soldiers will help us get to the day when these restrictions will start to lift.”

Lt Gen Sir Tyrone Urch KBE, Commander Standing Joint Commander UK said: “I am incredibly proud of all the servicemen and women who have worked tirelessly for most of this year on Operation RESCRIPT, the military effort in support of the government’s campaign to tackle COVID-19.

“In recent weeks, our amazing staff have deployed at short notice to set up and staff community testing centres across the country in support of the NHS, DHSC, Devolved Nations and local communities. They have conducted a successful testing pilot in schools and contributed to vaccine rollout planning. Both Regular and Reservist personnel stepped up on Christmas Eve to help clear the backlog of trucks in Kent, setting up testing facilities overnight when they would otherwise have been spending the festive period with their families.

“I am humbled by the sacrifice and dedication of all our people from the Royal Navy, British Army and Royal Air Force as we continue to contribute to our nation’s fight against the coronavirus.”

The MOD has deployed 10 military planners to assist the Vaccine Task Force, with over 150 personnel deployed across the UK to support organisational and logistical components of the Deployment Programme. Two separate military planners are seconded to support the Vaccine Task Force Director. Additionally, 20 personnel are assisting with regional vaccine planning, end-to-end logistics and delivery.

From 11th January a Vaccine Quick Reaction Force is being established, with their training for the role beginning today. This will initially be 21 teams of six personnel assigned to the seven NHS England regions, able to provide surge support to the vaccine roll-out if required by local health authorities.

In Wales, 90 service personnel are deployed to support Health Boards in rapidly establishing and operating vaccination centres. For the first-time trained defence medics will also support the administering of the vaccine. Ninety-four military personnel, including medics and drivers, have embedded with the Welsh Ambulance NHS Trust to support them by driving Ambulances.

In Scotland, military planners are supporting the testing and vaccine programmes. Earlier during the pandemic Armed Forces personnel supported healthcare professionals to deliver testing at Glasgow Airport, and RAF Puma helicopters were deployed to Kinloss Barracks in Moray to provide emergency assistance to NHS boards and trusts across Scotland. In Northern Ireland the Defence Estate is being loaned to the PSNI for their use and the Armed Forces have placed medevac capabilities on standby for Covid-19 patients when needed.

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