Expleo’s Marine Vice President, Jonathan Taylor and Operations Director Seamus Brogan respond to the UK Government’s Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy.

The long-anticipated government review of the defence sector in the UK didn’t disappoint. For engineering firms in the defence supply chain, which have bought into the trend of rapid technological change, there was plenty to feel encouraged about. The process of digitisation will fundamentally change our societies, economies and the relationships we have between nations – and the Government has clearly recognised the potential of science and technology as a form of soft power on the global stage.

From our perspective at Expleo, there were a number of eye-catching takeaways. For example, the strengthening of the National Cyber Force to “detect, disrupt and deter adversaries” is a welcome move. The key to developing cyber capability goes beyond tools and techniques. Visualisation and analysis of likely threats is every bit as important.

The Review notes that the nature of the threat is rapidly changing, both in the combat arena and non-traditional threats such as industry. Sovereign attacks on banks, hospitals, factories or schools now come under the umbrella of foreign aggression. Understanding what each threat looks like will prove vital for knowing how to stop it. In response, the UK is establishing a cyber centre of excellence to coordinate its defence strategy. Cross-fertilising experience from other industries such as automotive would provide an injection of competency.

Compress lead times

The creation of the Office for Artificial Intelligence is another exciting development. How the UK adopts AI and other digital tools such as robot process automation (RPA) will prove instrumental in achieving the Government’s aspiration to remain a “Science and Tech Superpower”. Automating tools and techniques required by humans can shorten project life cycles and help our UK infrastructure become more productive, but also allow employees to focus on more value driven and rewarding tasks. AI can eat into costs by increasing quality, compressing lead times and introducing greater concurrency with technologies like digital twin.

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Again, the defence industry is lagging behind others in this space – however the potential for rapid improvement is absolutely within reach. Expleo’s own work on RPA tools for tier one partners has shown that processes are achieved significantly quicker and in a more cost-effective way. Pulling this technology over from other sectors would offer speed to value.

Shipbuilding is another area to feel heartened by in the Review, which emphasises a pipeline of opportunities through to 2050, bringing longevity to those working in the supply chain. Six new next-generation Type 32 frigates are mentioned explicitly. The report also signposts an increased capacity to export ships – something the UK has backed off from in the last 20 years. How will this review dovetail with the forthcoming review of the National Shipbuilding Strategy? Again, the current signs are reassuring.

Significant boost

Where else? The Review gives considerable backing for clean energy technologies that will support the UK and the world in reaching carbon zero. Developers of propulsion technologies and energy-saving technology are likely to be winners as a result. The confirmation of Space Command and the ability to launch British satellites from the UK by 2022 is another impetus for the science and technology sector.

Overall, the Review feels like a positive step forward for the UK Government and its supporting industries. It’s refreshing to find such a focus on science and technology as a means of bringing innovation, increasing productivity and decarbonising society.

The Ministry of Defence is on a digital journey that is flowing concurrently with our own at Expleo. We are on the same page, in terms of investing money into AI, blockchain and cybersecurity. Our own business strategies are in line with Government policy, which is a source of confidence for the future.