IFS A&D: How defence is being redefined with new technologies [Interview]
Graham Grose, VP and Industry Director of IFS A&D talks to Defence IQ about the challenges facing the defence sector, current trends, new technologies, and IFS A&D prospects
An Introduction to IFS A&D
Defence IQ: Great to speak with you Graham. First of all, tell us a little about your career in the defence sector and IFS A&D.
Graham Grose: I’ve been with IFS now for 18 years. Prior to that, I worked at BAE Systems; and prior to that, I had a military career. When I was at BAE, I was doing a lot of work on joint strike fighter F-35, and as part of those discussions, Lockheed Martin had chosen to work with IFS.
IFS plays a substantial role in the F-35 project. Source: Shutterstock
I met IFS during the early competition days of F-35, and recommended a joint venture with BAE. IFS impressed BAE with the work they were doing with the Norwegian Defence Forces, and we formed a joint venture in the year 2000, where I was one of the founding directors.
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That ran very successfully for 13 years, and IFS emerged as a world leader and in 2013, we very amicably parted company with BAE Systems; who still a very strong customer of IFS by the way.
"What IFS is providing is the retail supply chain. That is to link aircraft and the wholesale supply chain which goes back into Lockheed Martin"
Fast forward to 2017, we rebalanced our portfolio, because the joint venture had a slight lean towards defence and Tier Ones. We bought Mxi Technologies which brought in 260-plus personnel, rebalanced the portfolio with some wonderful Tier One airlines, and we formed an A&D business unit. I now sit in that A&D business unit as the Vice President and Industry Director.
Defence IQ: Great! As I understand, you’re still doing work on the F-35?
Grose: Indeed, we still have a large role in the F-35. What IFS is providing is the retail supply chain. That is to link aircraft and the wholesale supply chain which goes back into Lockheed Martin.
Subsequent to the purchase of Mxi, and the incorporation of the IFS Maintenix product set, we now also work on the 135 engine. In addition, we’ve recently gone live at RAF Marham, the F-35 UK Centre of Operations, and the Maintenix product set has gone in there as well.
IFS A&D business focus
Defence IQ: It sounds like you have a fairly substantive role in F-35. What other areas are core to IFS?
Grose: We’re looking at six segments. If we go right across aerospace and defence, we’re looking at the operator in the air sector and MRO in commercial air. We provide service management solutions to airports like Stockholm, Oslo, Budapest and more.
On the defence side, we’re looking at the warfighter, air, land and sea; defence MRO operations - PBLs provided by people like Lockheed Martin and BAE Systems and then right back into the heart of the commercial defence operators, so their defence manufacturing solutions.
"We’re unique as a vertical in the sense that we take all the product sets to market"
Maintenix, we use with our defence aviation assets, so BAE use it for Typhoon Availability, and Saab uses it to manage Gripens. And then if you go wider than that, you’re back into applications in the MRO facilities, both on the commercial and the defence side.
Eurofighter Typhoon. Source: Shutterstock
We’re unique as a vertical in the sense that we take all the product sets to market. So, we have to assess the customer pain points and then match the product to the pain point. The A&D business unit brings the Aerospace and Defence domain knowledge to help the regions.
Defence IQ: Extending the service life of military equipment is also a big part of what you do.
Grose: That's right. our focus is on Tier One airlines and our defence in-service support. We see a growing market in defence for in-service support, and by that, I define it as performance-based logistics. That’s the way the market’s been going for the last decade.
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On the defence side, we’re seeing MoDs and DoDs across the world putting more and more emphasis and onus on industry to live up to their engineering predictions to support their equipment. Clearly, these big defence OEMs see their market in longer support tails.
"We’re seeing MoDs and DoDs across the world putting more and more emphasis and onus on industry to live up to their engineering predictions to support their equipment"
That results in longer support packages, and, in turn, links back to other issues such as the ageing workforce, IoT, etc. While we’re focusing on Tier One airlines and defence in-service-support, we pick up the other segments as they come up, and surface in terms of requirements.
Defence IQ: Fantastic! With regards to your final point, there is obviously a lot of new technologies constantly shaking up the defence sector that stems from increasing digitisation. What new opportunities are opening for IFS A&D in this regard?
Grose: Absolutely. I see things like IoT and virtual reality at the forefront and even happening today. At our world conference, one of our clients, TAE, demoed how their technicians and engineers are using VR and AR to help technicians hundreds of thousands of miles away in austere areas of Australia to service planes, look at technical documentation through the virtual-reality goggles, give advice, highlight areas, and then have that linked all the way back into IFS applications.
Artificial intelligence and machine learning
Defence IQ: Interesting. What insights are you seeing from your other clients?
Grose: I ran a session up in BAE Systems recently; they were very interested in digitisation, so it’s a huge theme for us. We as a company have to stay on the cutting edge of technology. In fact, we’ve got IFS Labs, always working at the forefront of developments in these spaces. At the moment, their current key areas are artificial intelligence, the implementation of wearables and other devices, and digital twins.
"If you examine something like AI, you’re looking at the whole panoply of what AI brings in terms of the human-machine interaction and predictive analytics"
If you examine something like AI, you’re looking at the whole panoply of what AI brings in terms of the human-machine interaction and predictive analytics and automation. However, we want to use what is available in the marketplace, develop that, and then bring that to the market. That’s from an IFS A&D perspective.
Defence IQ: Are defence companies and MoDs around the world aware of the weaknesses innate within legacy systems and software?
Grose: Definitely. Consider projects like the B-52 and the way it’s been updated. In addition, you can look at the Tornado, which has now been retired in the Royal Air Force, but that was extended with substantial midlife updates.
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It’s clearly an area that the big defence OEMs are looking at and have an eye to. When you have big marquee programmes like F-35, they tend to consume a lot of a defence budget. That can force the extension of life on other assets.
Cloud technology is becoming a standard in defence
Grose: In addition, I’m seeing more focus on cloud technology at the moment. Now, if you mention cloud and defence in the same sentence, people give you their full attention. In fact, my US team won’t get RFPs now unless they can show that they can provide cloud solutions; and they can work with Azure.gov, and with the people who can provide FedRAMP certification.
Cloud data management is still a concern. Source: Shutterstock
In fact, New Zealand is following a cloud-first policy. They’ve moved from an on-premise assumption to a cloud assumption. They’re working with the Australian Defence Forces on using a secure data centre.
Defence IQ: There is still a number of issues to consider with the cloud, such as data management.
"My US team won’t get RFPs now unless they can show that they can provide cloud solutions"
Grose: Indeed. There isn’t a commonality of solution globally, as I see it. Of course, you’ve always got the issues, when you’ve got a global programme like F-35. In these instances, you have to balance ITAR regulations that are imposed globally.
Those same regulations bring with it very strict data-handling. You might have the technology, you might have the secure data centre, but have you got the right nationalities handling the data? Unless you can put the whole thing together, you won’t get your system accredited.
Defence IQ: How does that affect the R&D process?
Grose: If you are working in a US defence industry solution, you have to have US citizens handling the data. So not only do you have to have the accredited cloud solution, so, in this case, use as an example Azure.gov, but you also have to be in a secure data centre and you also have to have US citizens handling the data.
An ageing defence workforce
Defence IQ: What are other pain points to consider. Your colleague, Rodney Lee, mentioned that an ageing workforce is a big one.
Grose: Definitely. Rodney stated in his article that the workforce was ageing, and the reality that a lot of the people in the OEM's have been part of the furniture for many years and are closing in on retirement, resulting in a loss of knowledge.
While you can upgrade assets, through technology solutions, such as additive manufacturing and 3D printing, ultimately, you’re still losing the knowledge from the technicians as they retire.
"While you can upgrade assets, through technology solutions, such as additive manufacturing and 3D printing, ultimately, you’re still losing the knowledge from the technicians as they retire."
Defence IQ: Precisely. It is happening in many industries, is defence suffering any worse in this regard?
Grose: It’s definitely coming to the fore in A&D. Fortunately; you’re seeing companies like BAE opening up new apprentice schemes to alleviate this. Whether UK, US or anywhere, it is a big issue. Technology such as virtual reality and augmented reality can help, but these are things that the companies are locking onto.
Increasing use of VR and AR in defence. Source: Shutterstock
Drones, digital replicas and cyber security
Defence IQ: What other technologies do you see coming to the fore in the lead up to 2020?
Grose: Digital twin is causing a lot of interest at the moment, and we’re seeing entities like DEA Aviation putting a lot of investment into that area. The ability to create a digital replica of a physical asset and mimic potential defects and faults, going forward, ultimately, you know, pacing and improving performance.
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Defence IQ: What pain points do you think will emerge from these new technologies?
Grose: In the military and commercial area, the industry is looking at the application of drones, and we’ve seen examples in the commercial and military market. Not necessarily a pain point as this will be carefully controlled. I see drones as a multiplier and enable of new capabilities like the ability to survey aircraft with drones.
Drones will become a multiplier. Source: Shutterstock
The major issues that will impact the military are the cyber-risks across the extended supply chain; those are the areas that people are watching very, very carefully at the moment.
"I see drones as a multiplier and enable of new capabilities like the ability to survey aircraft with drones"
Defence IQ: Is there enough the government and military are doing with regards to cyber security?
Grose: Tricky one. There have been so many issues recently, but I don’t think the military or the Government are overlooking it. I think we’re seeing more and more money being ploughed into that area.
We’re using the Product Enterprise Operation Intelligence, that looks at the protection of cyber-assets, and we’re working with a number of agencies to try and develop that application. At the moment, it isn’t a direct focus, but it is something where we’ve worked on and we’ve developed our product set to handle.
DoD and MoD procurement improvements
Defence IQ: What improvements can be made with regards to requirement handling?
Grose: In terms of general requirement handling, we’re seeing some improvements in this area that. They’ve introduced new schemes in the DoD procurement that really fast-track and ask the contractors to deliver agile sprints.
Once you clear the initial hurdles, they will introduce scenarios and test the contractor in sprints. If you can’t keep up with the test, you’re eliminated. Now you are going through a massive tick-and-turn requirement, going through a huge contracting process.
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We’re talking with regards to the EU and DoD. Now, you’re getting the contractor to the table quicker, which is positive for the contractor, and then you’re testing the contractor in actual delivery of the software in a genuine proof of concept, which is positive for all involved parties, and will play a big part in reducing the time it takes to get top operational status. It’s a natural progression between the old, classic paper and then contracting regime.
Defence IQ: Are there similar fast-track programmes in the MoD?
Grose: I sit on the MoD Industry Joint Integration Board, and we’re seeing a lot of openness and consultation around the new Defence Support Network, DSN, and we’ve been invited off to bidders’ conferences. And, indeed, they are funding some proof of concepts.
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It doesn’t seem to be quite as formalised as it is in the DoD, and I think that’s an issue of size. DSN will look at the future to be Defence Support Network. We’ve had senior officers come out to brief the Joint Integration Group, and there have been industry briefings which have been open to everyone, and industry have been invited to offer their ideas to the MoD, and, indeed, the MoD have offered to fund some of those ideas. So I think the answer is yes, but perhaps not as formalised.
Defence IQ: Is there any other new markets or segments you’d like to focus on?
Grose: We are genuinely globally focused. What we will be doing is expanding that focus. We’ll see probably a rebalancing of our staff; we’ll be putting more people into Europe and Asia-Pac.
Defence IQ: Any final points to mentation about the future of IFS A&D?
Grose: I think it’s been an extremely successful year. We’ve had some very big recent ones with people like Lockheed Martin, with the US Army. We’ve taken on a number of key aerospace companies like TEST-FUCHS and Lark. We’ve also been taking on various airlines or cargo airlines, like ATSG, delivering cloud applications in the commercial airline business.
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Defence IQ: Great to hear. I suppose that means you've got big numbers to deliver this year!
Defence IQ: Good luck in the future!