Insights from Vistair CEO, Rob Morgan, from Avalon 2023, the Australian International Airshow, Aerospace & Defence Exposition, one of the largest aviation, military and defence industry shows worldwide.
At Avalon 2023 the overarching theme of ‘The Future is Now’ could not be more pertinent.
The Defence Sector and wider aviation landscape is in a time of flux fuelled by the incredibly fast pace of change, volatile geopolitical and other global events as well as ever-evolving technology. Agility, greater operational efficiencies, powerful operational insight and real-time, data-informed decision making are all key to keep pace.
However, legacy technology and processes, disparate, inefficient operations as well as a growing talent deficit, are slowing the sector down, when it needs more than ever to speed up.
‘Digital Readiness’ for the Now and the Future is not an option, its essential.
The resonating themes from Avalon 2023 can be categorised as follows:
- Alignment to enhance Sustainment - Tighter alignment of Defence Partners at a platform, technology and operational level for enhanced sustainment capabilities
- Simplify the Complex via Digital - Increased use of digital technologies, including the latest mobile & hand-held tech, to simplify operations, accelerate training and reduce the complexity of sustainment within ever more dynamic environments
- New, Agile Tech Partnerships to Reimagine Operations – Noticeable uptick in direct and more agile engagement with the technology sector – rather than through traditional primes – to more effectively unlock operational gains now, and on an ongoing basis, as technology continues to evolve quicker than underlying platforms.
These three themes are underpinned by a number of strong trends across the sector:
An ever-changing and increasingly demanding environment is requiring more seamless and streamlined operations across the Defence Forces.
As highlighted at Avalon, with increased geopolitical tensions across the Pacific region and more demands on Humanitarian Assistance & Disaster Relief (HADR) operations due to the increased prevalence of fires, floods and storms in the region -greater numbers of teams are needed in more places, more frequently, to deliver more. This is further complicated by the fact these teams are dispersed over vast geographic regions including the Pacific and across Australia. Similar challenges are mirrored in Defence Forces across the globe, further emphasising the need to simplify and streamline operations for maximum impact and reach. Digital transformation is crucial to make this happen.
Collaboration to reimagine the technology
ecosystem and double down on digital
There is an evident desire to work at an enterprise level across Defence Forces - to cut across traditional organisational and technical silos - and to engage more proactively with industry, particularly those industry players with relevant skills and sector experience, whether that be defence or civil aviation or from a transferable domain such as gaming technology for more agile and simplified operations.
To achieve this, there is a growing recognition of the need to work more collaboratively across the sector as well as with the right technology partners.
Central to the latter point is the recurring theme of the vital role that digital technologies and specialised technology partners play to:
(a) enhance team productivity and training;
(b) simplify operations to reduce the complexity of sustainment;
(c) ensure optimum performance of advanced platforms; and
(d) engage with geographically dispersed teams, a challenge highlighted earlier.
Key challenges that need to be resolved include:
- A complex mix of technical content platforms, typically with no single source of truth, with duplication of data and effort
- Multiple consumption methods (e.g. Airbus tools, Boeing tools, Engine OEM applications, SharePoint)
- Limited mobility for engineers and mechanics, making it difficult to efficiently access the latest information as well as negatively impacting maintenance productivity
- Manual or limited integration capability with primary business systems, creating additional complexity and risk.
These are challenges which we are addressing with our product suite at Vistair, leveraging digital across document management and unified safety & risk management with real-time data insights – unshackling teams from legacy systems and processes. Digital is critical to overcoming these challenges ensuring Defence Forces use systems more effectively, enable teams to be more efficient and to combine and leverage data for real-time insights.
Alignment across platforms to drive operational
efficiency and greater sustainment…
..to make sustainment as ‘simple’ as possible and teams as efficient as possible.
Another key trend is the convergence of hardware platforms for greater sustainment, by aligning with key partners such as the US as evidenced by the forthcoming introduction of Apache and other platforms. By achieving alignment across platforms, this in turn drives stronger alignment and increased simplification both operationally as well as back through the supply chain to scale operations and enable tighter collaboration across teams.
In addition to scalability, affordability is also key which brings a focus on the Modular Open System Approach (MOSA) so as to encourage the ongoing enhancement to digital technologies on core platforms, through allowing technology providers a more agile interaction with platforms without having to route back through the OEM.
Increasingly advanced platforms mean a single and straightforward source of truth concerning operation and configuration is key. For example, an incorrect configuration can impact the operational effectiveness of highly complex weapon systems.
This platform alignment is a key foundation of increased multi-partner delivery across ever more complex and dynamic environments, ensuring more resilience, scalable and affordable sustainment.
The talent and knowledge gap
Over and above the legacy tech and process issues to be resolved, the Defence sector is also challenged with a mismatch between the increased environmental demands being placed on teams versus capacity constraints across teams, which parallels the shortage of talent seen across civil aviation. A key pinch point across both civil and defence aviation, is the looming shortfall of maintenance engineers. This challenge has been expertly documented in a recent Oliver Wyman report Not Enough Aviation Mechanics
Attracting talent, empowering them and
maximising operations with the right technology
In order to attract and retain new talent, the tools and tech they use must mirror the ‘digital first’ lifestyle they are accustomed to. Essentially ‘empowering’ teams with the latest digital advances in hand-held technology and with the ability to harness real-time data in their day-to day to optimise productivity. Saving time and scaling teams.
Similarly, modernised training practices are critical to onboarding individuals and to helping them accelerate their ongoing development. One example is to leverage Virtual Reality (VR) technology, coupled with gaming industry technology. This has now reached a level that fundamentally resets the economics and effectiveness of training.
This approach enables tailored, more effective training for individuals whilst also minimising the need to pull much in-demand assets (e.g. an Apache Helicopter) off the line to facilitate training. Now individuals can experience personalised data-driven training with a VR headset and a tablet until they master core competencies before finalising training on a physical asset. This delivers enhanced training outcomes together with a fundamental step change in the economics of training. Some of the great tech providers playing their part in reshaping the way Defence and civil teams are trained going forward include Nexefy, Black6, Ryan Aerospace, S&IG, Krome Studios, SA Simulations, GH Solutions, Pennant plc and CAE.
Without doubt, using the latest mobile and hand-held technology is essential, leveraging the latest advances in Apple, Microsoft and Android devices coupled with leading UX (user experience) and UI (interface design).
Now is the time to invest in such digital technologies to attract, nurture and retain military personnel as long as they wish to serve, as well as to enable deeper engagement with reserve forces.
New thinking and new technology partnerships
Broadly speaking, there is a noticeable and increasing trend across the Defence Forces to engage directly with the technology sector, rather than through the traditional primes, to more effectively deliver tangible gains now and on an ongoing basis. This is driven by new thinking and a digital first mindset, focused on realising the simplicity, speed and seamless operations enabled by technology transformation that is needed today, and for the future, across the Defence sector and wider aviation industry.
This very much aligns with our vision at Vistair for the Defence sector and aviation industry at large, for increasingly connected, digital first flight operations and a unified approach to safety and risk management– underpinned by a focus on simplifying the complex and harnessing data for speed to insight.
Vistair works in partnership with many of the world’s leading organisations in Defence realising digital transformation across operational efficiency, safety and compliance with our market-leading product suite:
Vistair and RAF Air Mobility Force – Learn how the RAF is leveraging DocuNet, the most complete, efficient and innovative Digital Document Management System - for the Air Mobility Force-wide management of all air operations https://www.vistair.com/resources/case-studies/rafpair-mobility-force/docunet
Vistair and the UK Military Aviation Authority (MAA) - A collaborative partnership transforming Safety Management and the Safety culture at the MAA, delivering the Air Safety Information Management System (ASIMs), a highly intuitive, innovative and modern reporting system. Learn more about ASIMs: