David takes on Goliath in the defence industry
Electronic Specifier Editor Joe Bush talks to Hugh Griffiths, CEO of Inzpire, a training and mission systems provider to the military aviation sector, about how the company’s ethos and experience is helping it take on some of the big primes in the industry.
Despite only being founded around ten years ago, Inzpire is already a trusted partner to the Ministry of Defence (MOD) and has received a Queen’s Award for Innovation for its GECO situational awareness tool. A central focus of the company’s make-up is providing real life military experience and expertise with around 80% of its staff consisting of ex-military personnel.
Griffiths commented: “We’ve got around 800 years of cockpit time in the company and people who’ve flown all sorts of aircraft within our main team and our associate base. What really appeals to our customers is our military ethos. We’re run very much on military lines, with a military value set and a military culture.”
This is one area where the company feels it has an edge over the bigger primes in the industry who Griffiths feels adopt a far more aggressive, commercially oriented approach. “We are of course, commercial, we have to make money, but deep down, when you’ve served in the military for 20 years, which most of us have, it’s very difficult to stop caring about the person or persons at the operational end of things.”
The disconnect that currently exists between the big primes and operational personnel in the military sector has been leaped upon by Inzpire – particularly within its Mission Systems division – and the company claims that there are numerous examples of military equipment that’s been designed by people who don’t have any military experience or expertise and therefore, don’t have a full understanding of how it’s going to be used in real world operational scenarios.
A different approach
Griffiths explained that the company is trying to create a revolution in the defence industrial space which has not happened before, commenting: “We are trying to ignite a fire of honesty, integrity and trust, in an environment which has not had a lot of that. The military in general is extremely ambivalent about the big primes, and it’s fair to say that if you spoke to most military personnel they would not have a good impression of any of them. What we aim to do is instil old fashioned values like honour and trust in an environment that is currently characterised by a lot of toxicity, suspicion, mistrust, a history of over budget, and late deliveries of equipment that doesn’t do what it should.”
This ethos has helped Inzpire win a variety of significant contracts from some of the bigger primes – particularly the project to train Apache pilots at Middle Wallop and the provision of personnel to the UK Air Warfare Centre at RAF Waddington. At the heart of tactics, trials and development for the UK aviation military community, the centre is home to 92 Squadron - a ground squadron that performs tactical evaluation tasks. Originally around ten companies competed for the contract however, by the time of the decision making process every other company had dropped out due to lack of personnel with the required knowledge – leaving Inzpire as the sole bidder for the contract.
Another project win within the company’s Mission Systems Division saw Inzpire bid for a contract to provide a completely new mission planning and support system for Puma within the RAF. Griffiths added: “We competed against lots of big companies and big primes and in the end it came down to us and Thales. We won the contract in what was another David v Goliath story - where a small business of less than 100 people, that’s been around for less than ten years in a sleepy market town in Lincolnshire, can win a contract that is ten years long from a global multi-national defence giant.”
At the heart of Inzpire’s Mission Systems Division is the GECO situational awareness tool. Much more than a standard electronic flight bag, the device features a number of apps that can perform a variety of mission critical functions, from a system to keep aircraft safe from wires by alerting the pilot to their presence, to a function that can inform the pilot if a nearby SAM system can actually detect the aircraft with its radar and if so, whether the missiles it is carrying have the capability to bring the plane down. The GECO has been evaluated on the Eurofighter Typhoon and there’s currently a push to get the device in operation over Syria.
Inzpire’s Head of Mission Systems Group, Jonny Smith, commented: “With its i5 Core processor there is in fact more computing power in the GECO than there is in the whole Typhoon. So we have the ability to capture this processing power on some of these modern devices and do lots of things very quickly. The information on the GECO can be quite complex and the displays on some current aircraft just don’t have the display fidelity to show that sort of information – it’s coming in on the latest generation of planes such as the joint strike fighter and the Lightning II, but if you want to change something in a project like that it’s very expensive – whereas the GECO is on a tablet.”
It’s here where the company’s ethos once again comes to the fore – the device is designed by air crew for air crew (as simply as possible), and is able to present the required information in a very user friendly way. The simplicity of the GECO, and the fact that it is produced using some carefully selected commercial off the shelf (COTS) hardware, means it can be produced cost effectively, which assists with constrained defence budgets. The GECO is employed on 15 different platforms around the world, and there are around 400 systems fielded across those platforms. In addition, because the GECO is a tablet-based device it means that next generation technology can be incorporated into potentially ageing aircraft that wouldn’t otherwise have access to that sort of electronic capability - for example the F16s currently being used by the Royal Jordanian Airforce.
Using the same core software as GECO Air, Inzpire also launched the GECO Land late last year to meet the demand for greater situational awareness tools on the ground. Although the scale of the maps are different depending on whether you’re in the air or on land, the two systems are intrinsically linked and the principals in terms of navigation and 3D visualisation of the environment are common to both.
Where the GECO Land starts to differ slightly is that it is now being used as a hub for other systems. For example, ground forces will use a series of laser devices to locate or illuminate a target. Traditionally, they would use a pencil and map to mark out the calculated position to use their laser and use that as a reference. Now the laser can be attached to the tablet, which will provide rapid, error-free results which can be sent electronically to other personnel.
The cyber generation
Cyber security is a growing watch-word in our everyday lives and within the business community, and the defence sector is no different. Only a few months old is Inzpire’s Cyber Securities Division, of which Sophie Paul is the company’s Subject Matter Expert. Formerly a Director of Operations at the Defence Intelligence Fusion Centre at Wyton and latterly leading the development and generation of the RAF’s defensive cyber capability, she commented: “The Cyber Division is relatively new and comprehends intelligence, cyber and is now developing an anti-terrorism capability. The defence industry has realised that it has a number of platforms and assets where there is a lack of detailed knowledge of how robust those assets are in terms of cyber security. They don’t know exactly where the vulnerabilities lie within extremely complex machines like aircraft. The truth is they are vulnerable from the point of inception, through delivery and on to operations.”
This could essentially result in an asset being compromised prior to it even being delivered to the defence industry. This is something that Paul claims the industry is slowly waking up to, but it’s something that could be done better, quicker and more thoroughly, as vulnerability has to be tackled from the very origins of design.
She continued: “The problem the defence industry has right now is that they don’t know in detail where they are vulnerable - where is the threat surface? This has to be established in detail for all assets, otherwise you can’t go into a contested cyber environment confidently.
“You can be sure that an adversary in a contested cyber environment will concentrate on a small area and find a way through. On the other hand we have to understand the entire threat surface of a platform in order to anticipate and defend against a particular attack. We know that there are some high end cyber adversaries out there and although we may not be fighting them directly now, we may be fighting them indirectly and we need to have this understanding of where our threat surface is in order to defend and keep our assets secure.”
As such Inzpire are developing a cyber vulnerability investigation (CVI) capability and it’s here where the company’s make-up of providing previous military personnel and experience once again proves crucial as Paul continued: “It’s very tempting in CVIs to concentrate on establishing what’s connected, looking at huge diagrams and going back through engineering documents etc. That misses a massive part of the problem and that’s people. People will inevitably short circuit things - for a very good reason - they’re trying to get the job done.
“A diagram for a particular platform could work on paper but might not be practical in a base deep in Helmand Province for example. So people will try and work around things. This has to be understood, and that’s where we come in. The human dimension of cyber vulnerability has to be comprehended. We understand our customers and how people work, and we recognise that they make compromises to the doctrinal way of operating.”