Defence & Security

Expert Panel Debate on AI & Autonomous Technology

Published on
March 19, 2024


The audience at this sold out event were treated to an enthralling discussion on how AI & Autonomous Technology have the potential to transform the battlefield by becoming force multipliers with enhanced capability while simultaneously depopulating it and therefore reducing risk to life.

The panel debate, chaired by Forces News presenter, Claire Sadler, started with the biggest security threats first; and it was widely agreed that in this day and age the UK military is being asked to do more with less, and when faced with an enemy in the Ukraine that uses attrition as a main tactic, this issue is exacerbated. An increased focus on higher quantity, lower cost military UAVs is required, but the west’s concurrent over-reliance on supply from China means that we need to look at building more resilience into our supply chain first.

The main frustrations in UK defence

Discussing the main frustrations in UK defence, the slow and disjointed movement by Government innovation frameworks was linked closely to the inability of UK MoD to give straight answers across the multitude of change programmes. Indeed, there is plenty of opportunity but filtering out the noise and identifying problems that need to be fixed, and understanding how to align yourself to them is extremely challenging. Whereas it appears that the MoD haven't a comprehensive understanding of the applications of AI, machine learning or autonomy, and while the AI and exquisite technologies are not getting funded by defence, they do actually know this and are trying to address it. NatSec technology companies producing for dual use and looking to extend into new markets is also proving to be more difficult than it should, and even companies looking to enter the defence sector are struggling to get the help they need.

Regulation slowing down innovation

The resultant regulation born from concerns around the risks of AI slow down innovation. While many companies feel regulations will fall at their feet, others work closer with them so need more engagement earlier to avoid slowing down. Crucially, the immaturity of regulation in comparison to innovation in defence can’t articulate to AI innovation, so as an interim measure Government is discussing this with industry meaning the onus is on industry itself to shape this. Indeed, Government collaboration across partners can result in different standards across countries, so again industry needs to engage and influence from an early stage.

Hardware <> software integration

Discussing the biggest growth area in defence AI threw light on hardware manufacturers trying to also produce software – and vice versa – in effect attempting to dominate market share as ‘one stop shop’ suppliers, where in actual fact these specialisms need to be split up so purchasers can mix and match from different suppliers to obtain the best combination and not be locked into long single source contracts. This decoupling is also vital for SME growth so they’re not continually throttled by the larger companies dominating the space, and a shift away from exquisite systems being produced by primes can enable AI and autonomy to act as force multipliers.

China-supplied UAV components

The previously discussed issue of Chinese supplied UAV components was again addressed following a poignant question from the floor asking whether UK defence can strip out these components altogether; the biggest hurdle is that in the commercial space the lowest cost options will always naturally be favoured, and Chinese technology is at the forefront of innovation. Whereas DJI can’t sell to the west, China is simply investing in other suppliers to indirectly get around this block, so the UK just needs the desire to get into this space; if we can create a centralised procurement system then it could serve UK manufacturers better and gain momentum. This de-globalisation approach would mean that UK SMEs could compete better, and as Government wants this it is there to play for as the landscape is changing.

The key takeaway from this discussion is the necessity for collaboration across our industrial base. This approach will enable us to more effectively meet ongoing demands in an increasingly stretched operating environment, while also facilitating rapid development and iteration of complex technologies.

Speaker Biographies

Lloyd Fallesen founded Karve in 2021. He is a former Royal Marines Commissioned Officer, with 12 years’ service including numerous operational tours and specialist international deployments. Karve’s entrepreneurial approach to sales strategy and business development is directly drawn from Lloyd’s diverse experience in some of the most demanding corporate and government departments. This includes working across multiple strategic UK Defence transformation programmes, as well as strategy execution in a multi-agency security environment.

Karl Eze is CEO of Point Zenith, a national security and defence company supporting disruptive startups, defence primes and government agencies to develop and deliver game-changing future sensor, uncrewed system and AI capabilities. Amongst other services, Point Zenith provides Civil Aviation Authority Operating Safety Case submissions, regulatorily compliant training course design & delivery and operational support, ensuring its clients are compliant by design.

Kelvin Hamilton is a successful entrepreneur with a wealth of experience in robotics, autonomous systems and manufacturing. Kelvin is the Founding CEO of Flare Bright and leads the commercial team whilst remaining heavily involved in guiding product and technology development, including Flare Bright’s core Machine Learning ecosystem.

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National Security Director
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