With economic uncertainty and unresolved Brexit issues on the horizon, it’s a troubling time for the UK’s aerospace industry. Paul Everitt, chief executive of ADS, has discussed some of the key issues, and how we can choose the right path to ensure stability.
“No deal Brexit is the worst possible outcome, and our position has not changed since the referendum in 2016,” said Paul Everitt, chief executive of ADS, the trade organisation representing more than 1,000 companies across the UK aerospace, defence, security and space sectors.
“At some point, we need to take a more pragmatic approach, and have a sensible discussion in Parliament,” added Paul, speaking at a pre-Paris Air Show briefing. “It’s probably too late to reach an agreement by 31 October, as nothing much happens within the EU in August, but I just hope that over the next month or two, we can have a more honest dialogue.”
He added that if we go for a no deal Brexit, the benefits and advantages – when compared with our current trading environment – are not there. Moreover, nations outside the EU “will not do trade deals with us until they know what type of relationship we have with the EU. The relationship with the EU is fundamental to our future trading arrangements”.
And when it comes to smaller manufacturers they don’t have the resources – money or warehousing – to stockpile enormous amounts of material, added Paul.
SMEs are also struggling to keep hold of the ‘buffer stocks’ they need, and even though “the small companies I interact with aren’t distressed – yet – they’re just in a holding pattern right now”.
“What we really fear is a slow and steady erosion of our competitiveness, over several years, leading to UK firms missing out on big investments,” said Paul. “We’ve already seen a decline in UK aerospace R&D since 2017, as companies move their investments elsewhere. UK companies are also being told that they can’t take part in tendering processes due to the uncertainty surrounding Brexit.”
However, on a more positive note, Paul argued that the UK is still a “key aerospace player within the European market, and nobody is going to give up that position without a fight”
BAE Systems and Envitia will deliver one of the Navy’s first AI projects, the autonomous submersible. The Royal Navy’s Route Survey and Tasking Analysis (RSTA) project aims to deliver an automated capability for detecting and rendering harmless underwater mines in UK waters by 2022. Currently, a fleet of mine-hunter ships use sonar to detect anomalies on the seabed, but the AI-enabled submersibles to be developed by BAE Systems Applied Intelligence and British geospatial data company Envitia are expected to work in a fleet to scan objects, identify threats and make decisions about what action to take much faster.
Based in West Sussex, Envitia is prime contractor on the project. The company, active in the UK and the US, was established in 1989. It works primarily in the defence sector, and specialises in using open-source solutions to apply AI and machine learning to complex geospatial data problems.
“AI is set to play a key role in the future of the service,” commented Admiral Sir Philip Jones, First Sea Lord. “As modern warfare becomes ever faster, and ever more data driven, our greatest assets will be the ability to cut through the deluge of information to think and act decisively.”
The project builds on Envitia’s previous work on the programme to develop the NELSON common data platform, which are designed to deliver access to Royal Navy data at sea and onshore. The company will also deliver geospatial services into NELSON, to ensure that RSTA has accurate and up-to-date maritime data for each mission.
“Envitia has a strong heritage with maritime data,” commented CEO Nabil Lodey . “This project demonstrates the successful journey Envitia has been on since last year, working with our customers to utilise authoritative data to aid mission planning through to post-mission analysis. This application has the potential to transform mine surveying and increase the efficiency of the Navy mine-hunting capability, and we are proud to be leading the way.”
RSTA is part of a wider hydrographic capability programme and mine countermeasures. The goal of the project is to task a fleet of autonomous vehicles to analyse mission conditions using machine learning to improve its success rate.
Successful flight demonstration of the Network for the Sky programme is a significant milestone, the company claims. Network for the Sky (NFTS) is a secure mobile communications system intended to link together the various military assets that might be used in an active wartime situation, operated from an overhead airborne command platform. For the tests, Airbus used a multi-role tanker transport (MRTT) aircraft, a military version of the civilian A310 airliner.
The system combines satellite and ground communications, air-to-ground, ground-to-air and air-to-air tactical links, 5G mobile communications and line-of-sight laser connections into what Airbus describes as a “resilient, unified, secure, highly interoperable mesh network”.
In operations, this would replace or at least reinforce limited bandwidth and interoperability networks currently used by aircraft, UAVs and helicopters, allowing them to operate as an integral part of a high-speed network.
The demonstration scenario in which the MRTT took part simulated the establishment of wideband communication links between a ground operative, a fighter jet, the airborne platform and a combined air operations centre (CAOC) on the ground. Both the ground operative and the fighter jet had to send video in real-time to provide situational awareness to, and receive instructions from, the CAOC.
The ground operative was located in Getafe, Spain, and equipped with the standard handheld radio used by NATO forces. The jetfighter obtained imagery of interest in the area while also acting as a communication node between the ground operative and the MRTT, which was flying at 30,000 feet within a 150km radius in secure airspace. The fighter relayed information to the MRTT via a wideband line-of-sight datalink. The MRTT used a satellite link to send its data to a link location near Washington DC, which returns communications to the CAOC in Europe via a terrestrial link.
This seemingly complex data path demonstrates the real-time operation of secure end-to-end communications, known as a hybrid network, which according to Airbus represents the future of military communications and meets the needs of Armed Forces to be able to use a wide range of networks while allowing these to be managed dynamically and transparently. Such a system allows secure Internet protocol communications to be established, links in real-time and the available bandwidth to be allocated datalink space on the operational priorities.
Technology involved in the demonstration included Airbus’s new tri-band satellite antenna, Janus, along with the latest version of the Proteus satellite modem, which is resilient against interference and jamming, and Airbus’ aircraft links integration management system (ALIMS). The exercise paves the way for the development of the capability for smart connectivity that will allow MRTT to act as a high-end communication node. Airbus expects the connected airborne battlespace to offer full operational capability by 2020.
“This unique demonstration is a significant milestone in realising our vision of secure connectivity, which will enable the future air combat cloud and enhance real time execution of military missions,” said Evert Dudok, head of Communications, Intelligence & Security at Airbus Defence and Space.