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Air Power 2017: Flexibility vital for RAF success

14th July 2017 - 8:55 by Alice Budge in London

Air Power 2017: Flexibility vital for RAF success

Novel partnerships must be improved to ensure the Royal Air Force is equipped to operate in increasingly contested operational environments, a former director of the United Kingdom’s Special Forces (UKSF) has argued.

Lt Gen (Retd) Sir Graeme Lamb told day two of the Air Power Conference that partnerships between defence and commercial enterprises would play a ‘pivotal moment’ in the nature of warfare.

‘This is a pivotal moment… this is not just another moment in time where we continue to adapt where we have been… it is a paradigm shift,' Lamb argued.

He drew on the recent liberation of Mosul to demonstrate the complexity of today’s enemies, commenting on the fact that while Daesh may have been removed from the city, its ‘cyber caliphate’ is alive and well from ‘Birmingham, Alabama to Birmingham, UK’.

He explained that if the RAF was to avoid being caught in a ‘whack-a-mole’ approach that tackles only the symptoms of emerging threats and instead adopts strategies that tackle threats at their root cause, then the military must work with novel partners to achieve this.

However, tackling the ‘core underlying cause is by far the more complex and demanding problem’ and to do so will require far better relationships between the defence industry and the commercial sector to facilitate adaptation and exploitation of new technologies.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is already challenging many existing RAF doctrines and practices but to maximise its potential it must not remain as ‘a fringe concept’, according to Lamb.

'It is not a case of using AI to support your particular problem. It’s about how you partner with AI.'

Improbable is one such technology startup which is actively exploring the ways that AI and virtual reality can be used for military applications.

Herman Narula, CEO of Improbable, emphasised the opportunities new companies like his offer to the RAF.

He explained how a more flexible approach to partnerships will be central in providing the RAF with the latest technology and enable it to fully exploit the rapid advancements being made in areas such as virtual reality and AI.

‘Working with partners in new innovative areas is an exercise in risk. It’s about being tolerant of the fact that a lot of initiatives and projects will fail,’ Narula explained.

He went on to add that as an outsider to the defence industry he believes that the way innovation was balanced with risk was a fundamental problem, which could stymie the ability to ‘create new capabilities and be able to adapt to new technologies’.

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