Lucy Walton, Head of Training at FalconWorks, BAE Systems Air, delves into the role of technology, the changing face of training ecosystems, and the delicate balance between competition and collaboration in the defence industry.

Walton provides an insider’s perspective on the pressing challenges facing BAE Systems in the upcoming year. From resource scarcity to the transformative power of emergent technologies, she offers a glimpse into the dynamic landscape shaping the future of defence training.

Through a Q&A session, she navigates the complexities of synthetic environments, adaptive learning, and the pervasive influence of artificial intelligence, shedding light on what lies ahead for one of the industry’s leading players.

Harry McNeil, Defence Reporter for GlobalData and Army Technology (HM): What do you see as the major challenges for BAE Systems over the next year?

Lucy Walton (LW): The big challenge is resources. There is so much going on in defence in a very short time. I don’t think anyone whether it was an industry player or the military would tell you that resource isn’t one of their biggest challenges. Another part of what exacerbates that challenge is the rate and pace at which technology evolves. If you look at how technology has been used in the conflict in Ukraine, you can see how quickly innovation has been brought to the fore by militaries and the defence industry, which has traditionally been a very slow-moving industry. Resources to keep pace with technology is where the biggest challenge comes. 

HM: Which emergent technology areas do you think will have the biggest impact on your industry in the next five years? Maybe focus on what sort of emergent technology areas BAE Systems is focusing on most.

(LW): There are two things for me from a training perspective. The first one is synthetic environments and simulation. Someone made a great quote: “Wars in the past used to be won in live environments, and in the future they’ll be the planning and preparation will be done in synthetic test ranges.” The question everyone is asking is how do you get the complexity and fidelity of simulation so the training experience is better?

The second big opportunity which BAE Systems is looking at is around the learning ecosystem, which comes with a whole raft of different technologies that sit within adaptive and self-paced learning. People don’t want to learn like they used to learn and we are now training Generation Z students, those born between 1997 and 2012, and the apprentices who start with us in four years will be Generation Alpha, who will be different again. Attention spans are very different. The average attention span of a Gen Z is about 13 seconds. That’s a challenge.

Our trainers have got to get information to the student in 13 seconds, not a one-hour PowerPoint presentation. So we are looking at digital learning environments, the whole learning ecosystem which looks at how you gamify learning. How do you make things more interactive? How do you harness technologies like artificial intelligence (AI) to help us with instruction? We say use humans for the best and AI for the rest because we don’t have instructors in the way we used to.

HM: Are there any emergent technology areas you feel are being overhyped regarding their potential impacts?

LW: There is nowhere you can go now that no one’s talking about AI. Everyone’s excited about ChatGPT and learning language models. Everyone’s becoming or wanting to be an expert in AI because they play with ChatGPT. But, how do you have explainable AI? If we ask AI to make decisions for us or help train our people, how do you know the way it has got to that answer? We can use AI for our benefit, but let’s ensure it’s assured and explainable. We need to get to a lower level of granularity when we talk about AI; what do we mean?

HM: Who do you view as your competitors? How do you feel BAE Systems is performing compared to them?

LW: This is a challenging question in defence. Every one of the primes is a competitor to us. Every one of the major primes is a competitor in defence, but they’re also our partners, our suppliers, our customers. I always like to refer to them as our ‘competi-mates’. We work closely alongside many companies that you would consider to be competitors such as Lockheed Martin, CAE, Babcock, Airbus, and Boeing. All of the major primes you end up working with in some shape or form in defence; it might not always be in training. I think you could say every one of them is a competitor, and every one of them is also a business we work with in some way.

As I said before, resource is a challenge for all of us. If the industry isn’t holding the mirror up to ourselves to say how we are helping the resource challenge by working better together, then we’re doing it wrong. I had a really good conversation at the Military Flight Training Conference recently, where I talked about intellectual property (IP). Based on how you look at IP, when you design and manufacture a platform versus when delivering services like training and support, we all have to behave differently. Because we all need to be more interoperable by design, and it is very ingrained in us all to protect IP. We’ve got to have a mindset shift because I want to go to sleep knowing I’m safe and doing everything I can to protect the people that protect us. That is a principle that every one of our competitors would subscribe to. Unless the industry holds the mirror up from a support services and training perspective to say we have to continue to work together more effectively, we will never get there. 

HM: Lastly, is BAE Systems finding the current trading environment tougher or easier than this time last year?

LW: It’s different. Rather than saying it’s tougher or easier, the challenges are different. All our customers have very similar problem sets. From a training perspective, they want to get people through training quickly. They’ve got resource challenges, need help getting instructors, and technology is evolving so fast. Our customers’ challenge with training is bringing all that together into something meaningful. If we do this right, our customers get their training objectives met and not VR headsets gathering dust in the corner. It’s not necessarily easier or harder. The challenges are different.