Armed with technology

2 mins read

Earlier this month, the global defence industry came together at the Defence and Security Event (DSEI) at the ExCel centre in London’s docklands, with more than 1600 exhibitors showcasing state-of-the-art equipment, including advanced weaponry, security devices, protective clothing, armoured carriers and drones.

Emerging technologies, such artificial intelligence and big data analytics, additive manufacturing, advanced and smart materials, virtual and augmented reality, unmanned systems and remote sensing, are being appropriated by the world’s military and are now seen as essential to improving the effectiveness of modern armed forces.

Established defence companies no longer dominate and much of this technology is being sourced from and developed by commercial companies, research institutes and academia.

In his address to the DSEI conference. Britain’s First Sea Lord Admiral Sir Philip Jones highlighted the speed at which technology was transforming the military and pointed to the Royal Navy’s plans to employ the latest in consumer technology, using capabilities such voice control and augmented reality in future warships.

He cited the new Type-31e frigates which, he said, would feature different app-based tools to access the ship's data.

“These will be operated from a series of touchscreen displays, Siri-style voice-controlled assistants and, perhaps, even augmented reality technology.”

BAE Systems unveiled what it described as a ‘ground breaking’ wearable cockpit technology concept. By adding augmented and virtual reality (AR and VR) features to its Striker II helmet-mounted display (HMD), BAE says it could replace current physical cockpit layouts. The full-colour HMD projects AR and VR interactive displays and controls directly in front of the pilot’s eyes.

The technology is said to allow pilots to customise the cockpit display and the way in which they interact with it, based on their preferences and mission objectives. As a result, it can improve situational awareness, speed decision-making and the ability to upgrade cockpits affordably and rapidly in line with aircraft enhancements.

Jean Page, lead technologist in human factors with BAE’s Military Air and Information business, said: “The HMI in current generation cockpits is dominated by the physical layout of displays and controls. As combat aircraft are enhanced with new weapons and sensors, our challenge is to develop technology which goes beyond the restrictions imposed by traditional cockpits.”

Connectivity and power also loomed large, with Raytheon UK unveiling a 10-channel power switch node (PSN) in response to emerging in-field and operator requirements for military land vehicles.

“For land, sea and air applications, military platform power requirements are evolving at a pace,” said Brian Gallacher, head of vehicle systems at Raytheon UK’s Mission Critical Solutions. “There is a growing need for ‘smart’ power systems that are versatile, adaptable and easy to maintain, and which also provide better overall protection for the systems they power.”

Suitable for use in any vehicle that uses MilCAN or JStd 1939 for inter-system communications, with Ethernet as an option, the PSN is also a ‘location aware’ line replaceable unit.

“That means it can be pre-programmed for a number of different roles within a variety of vehicles, and will execute whichever programme corresponds to the vehicle within which it is installed and its rack location,” explained Gallacher. “This helps reduce the number of variants that would otherwise need to reside in the operator’s store inventory as well as reducing the logistics burden and improving mission availability.”

The technology and innovation landscape is expanding in focus, accelerating in pace and growing more complex. It was obvious at DSEI that, driven by disruptive technologies, future military capabilities are evolving rapidly and helping to reshape the global defence industry and the many industries that support it.