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AI adoption ‘surging’ across global defence sector

New research has found data is driving digital transformation in defence. Embracing automation will be key to harnessing this information.

By Ryan Morrison

Artificial intelligence adoption throughout the global defence sector is “surging”, with 86% of industry leaders polled in a new survey saying their nations had recently adopted AI and were exploring its potential. The research also says AI’s biggest impact could be in uniting air, sea, land, space and cyberspace battlegrounds.

AI is helping militaries and defence contractors make use of large sets of data from sensors and information gathering (Photo: artpage/Shutterstock)
AI is helping militaries and defence contractors make use of large sets of data from sensors and information gathering. (Photo by artpage/Shutterstock)

The report from BAE Systems Digital Intelligence surveyed 400 senior business and IT decision-makers working in the defence and aerospace sectors. Based in the UK, Canada, Australia, Nordics and the Middle East, they were asked for their perspectives on the evolving battlespace, focusing particularly on the role of future technologies such as AI, space tech, and quantum computing.

The industry leaders revealed that AI was already being widely deployed, and used for enhanced situational awareness, reducing costs through improved efficiencies and turning ideas into reality more quickly. BAE says its own use of AI includes autonomous air systems and deeper analysis of output from multiple sensor systems and input types.

Paul Spedding, head of strategy innovation and marketing at BAE Systems Digital Intelligence, said AI has a powerful role to play from strategic planning through to tactical operations. “We must embrace AI, but we must also ensure that we understand how it reaches its recommendations and the implications of bias and limitations on data sets if we are to ensure users can trust the tools we provide to help them,” he said.

Digitisation and big data are also causing a fundamental shift in the defence space, the survey revealed. This is driving the need for AI and machine learning to process the vast amount of data being generated. This is also in turn causing the lines between the physical and digital realms to blur and militaries are having to adapt to this new reality. This includes the use of digitally connected devices, extended reality training and data-driven decisions.

As well as major advances in the use of AI, the report also revealed broader digital transformation happening throughout the global defence space. Of those surveyed, 98% said nations must evolve processes to navigate the changing information dynamics. A further 93% said it was vital that land, air, sea, space and cyberspace domains integrate.

Data driving the defence digital transformation

This deeper integration of the different battle domains, known as multi-domain integration, will allow for a proactive response to cybersecurity attacks, the report revealed. This includes having single points of truth and data across all areas of the battlespace.

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Of those responding, 86% said that future wars will be fought in an information battlespace. This means digital capabilities are central to any modern military strategy and 98% agreed an evolution of processes, built around digital transformation, will be essential for navigating the complexities of modern defence.

Mivy James, digital transformation director for BAE Systems’ Digital Intelligence business, said a key benefit of multi-domain integration is in operational effectiveness, particularly the ability it presents to provide a holistic view of an entire situation. “We’re seeing a decline in the clear distinction between traditional domains in modern warfare and we need to differentiate less between the physical and digital space and create digital threads between domains to manage this evolving threat,” she said.

Sidharth Kaushal, a research fellow at the Royal United Services Institute think tank, explained that system integration across multiple domains and nations would be complex, raise its own cybersecurity concerns and prove controversial – but is essential. “While there’s unanimous agreement on the need for greater integration, particularly in our collaboration with allies, we must be prepared for the inherent challenges this brings,” he said.

“Integration at this scale isn’t just about technology; it’s a transformative journey prompting us to revisit and potentially disrupt long-standing procedures. It’s essential that we approach this evolution with caution, ensuring we balance the promise of unified systems with the potential risks they might introduce,” Kaushal explained.

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