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Digitising Defence 

Why effective digital transformation is key to the long-term future of the defence industry

The defence industry has faced challenges throughout its history, but today those challenges are on an unprecedented scale. In addition to perennial financial, political and regulatory issues, the changing nature of warfare is presenting significant new hurdles that cannot be quickly overcome without a major shift in industry mentality.

One area where fast, long-term change is required is how digital opportunities are leveraged. With technology playing an ever-increasing role in modern defence strategies, effective digital transformation is quickly becoming one of the most important tasks the sector has ever undertaken. Adoption of new applications such as cloud computing, mobile/wearable tech, and the Internet of Things (IoT) can not only slash infrastructure and logistical costs, but exponentially increase operational efficiency at the same time.

However, herein lies a problem. While the defence sector is synonymous with innovation in certain areas like speciality materials and weapons systems, it’s lagging behind the private sector in adopting many ‘consumer’ technologies that hold the key to effective digital transformation. There is much speculation about why this is. A deep-rooted resistance to change is often cited, but lack of direction and focus on technological investments is equally to blame, creating a scattergun approach that costs a lot but achieves little.

The Defence Innovation Initiative marked a turning point

Fortunately, the appetite for digital transformation is increasing. In response to the issues outlined above, the MoD has thrown its considerable weight behind an ambitious new undertaking – the Defence Innovation Initiative. This £800m fund is intended to give rise to the adoption of exciting new digital technologies and ready the MoD for the rigours of the future.

Table 1: Areal weight comparison of glass and ceramic – glass composite armour windows (available on the market)

Key areas of focus for digital transformation

With a new mentality towards innovation and digital transformation coming to the fore, there are a number of key areas that are expected to benefit most from fresh investment. These include:


Greater utilisation of digital technologies such as automation can quickly transform operations, saving resources and boosting efficiency. The growing use of automated drones in the field is a great example of how this kind of technology is already being used to improve situational awareness without putting soldiers’ lives at unnecessary risk.

Away from the field, drones can speed up vehicle and building maintenance tasks through faster visual inspections and secure report logging via the cloud. Further potential economic benefits include a significant reduction of labour costs over time, alongside performance gains and less human errors.

Mobile communications and wearable tech

The ability to communicate effectively is one of the most critical assets for any soldier in the field, but a lack of strategic investment in this area means many legacy End User Devices (EUDs) are heavy, cumbersome and extremely power-hungry. This has created a trend towards consumer grade communication devices due to their lightweight, cheap price tag and ease of use. Unfortunately, such devices simply aren’t built to withstand harsh environments or deliver the power and reliability that today’s soldiers need.

Fortunately, there’s a growing number of specialist communications devices available today that deliver the best of both worlds, offering the intuitive functionality of a consumer device alongside the rugged reliability needed for effective communications in the field. Many of these are also compact and light enough to be worn on a chest harness, offering much greater access to intelligence while on the move.

The importance of strategic partnerships

While the benefits of effective digital transformation are clear, they can’t be achieved overnight. Trying to do too much too quickly, without a strategic plan and roadmap in place, will almost certainly result in failure. For this reason, outsourcing and strategic partnerships will play a pivotal role in effective digital transformation plans. Unlike the past, there are now a wealth of proven specialist vendors and manufacturers offering flexible, innovative solutions to many of the digital challenges faced.

Rather than trying to create custom solutions from scratch, Commercial Off-The-Shelf (COTS) solutions tailored to the needs of the defence industry can be procured for a fraction of the cost. Many vendors even offer bespoke military options ranging from custom BIOS settings and integrated military connectors, through to camouflage finishes.

Strategic partnerships can also unlock the power of the cloud, delivering highly flexible environments designed to optimise military efficiency. This includes military-grade interfaces, highly secure communications and logistical planning/tracking applications, ensuring one device can fulfil all demands placed on it.


In the face of challenges both old and new, it’s increasingly clear that effective digital transformation holds the key to the future of the defence industry. However, success ultimately hinges on the ability to focus strategically. With this in mind, it’s critical that defence organisations spend wisely, choosing proven and established partners to deliver meaningful, long-term change.

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