Challenge and Solution Series – Big Data | RAF 100

In collaboration with:

Challenge and Solution Series – Big Data | RAF 100

Alfred Gilbert
September 22nd, 2017


Modern aircrafts generate a lot of data. According to recent estimates, these machines are producing upwards of 98 billion gigabytes of information on an annual basis. This equates to between roughly 5 to 8 terabytes per flight. When considering the amount of supplementary information created by the support and technological networks related to modern flying, the true big data figures are drastically increased.


The modern RAF utilises thousands of sensors throughout their operations as part of sophisticated digital systems, ensuring pilots and ground crews have access to real-time data on critical variables relating to geographical location, plane performance, flight operations and more.


In line with this growth in data production, it has become easier than ever for stakeholders and support networks to optimize and improve their varying management strategies, operations and technological solutions for compatibility with the needs of the RAF and MOD. Flight routes can be altered to avoid storms thanks to satellite weather systems; pilots can use auto-pilot tech to reduce mental and physical exertion during flights; and even in commercial settings, passengers can be updated on flight schedules via onboard WIFI. Ultimately, this wealth of data helps to provide further information of how systems are performing, leading into better insight on how they can be improved.


With hundreds of planes, thousands of missions, and an increasing reliance on sophisticated technology within the RAF and MOD, modern flight is now producing far too much data from too many variables for humans to effectively manage. Key information is being lost and becoming back-logged. This inhibits the ability of modern militaries to react in a timely and appropriate manner to changing variables. Whilst the RAF and MOD have historically been reactive, they are aware of the pressing need to become pro-active in their operations. This is critical to staying at the forefront of global defence.



Case Study

As mentioned, big data is a crucial tool for a modern military. Planning, conducting, and analysing missions is invariably reliant upon real-time information, and the vast numbers of technologies this requires.


Hypothetically, if improperly managed, this data can also be a huge limitation on the abilities of the RAF moving forwards.


Take for example a surveillance flight mission over a hostile region. As part of this, a huge amount of data is not only being collected on the actual images being captured, but also on the aircraft machinery itself, communication networks between the pilot and base, on current and predicted weather systems, and on potential threats from both the sky and ground.


All this information will be relayed to a central base in real-time for analysis. Out of the variables listed above, it would be fair of an analyst to consider weather data to be the least important information source to the success of the mission. Because of this, the team focuses on the perceived high-value data relating to hostile movements and surveillance images.


But what if a storm then rolled in and started heading towards the flight path of the mission? If analyst teams were easily capable of staying on top of the varied data, they would have been able to quickly plan a new flight route around the dangerous weather system, or communicate with the pilot to turn back. However, in this example, weather data has been deemed secondary to other information streams as the human analysts cannot cope. The pilot is therefore at risk, and the inability of the management and data team to appropriately handle the large amount information is the direct cause of this. Not only could this mismanagement put thousands of pounds of technology at risk, but it can also increase risks to the life of a priceless service man or women.




In line with the above issues, it is clear just how important efficient and effective big data management is throughout the entire operational scope of the RAF and MOD. There is a tangible desire to harness the exciting opportunities and power related to proper big data collection, manipulation and analysis.


In line with this, the RAF and MOD are looking for the next companies and innovative technological solutions that will help them transform current systems and processes. Whilst other operational areas and sectors are starting to see rapid progression in terms of digitalisation and mechanisation, the Royal Air Force need to make sure that the infrastructure and systems that they rely upon are at the forefront of innovation. Without proper access to information, the Air Force will not be able to enjoy the same level of success in its future, as it has done for the past 100 years.


If you would like some more information on any of the topics discussed and Military big data opportunities, email .


Find out more about the Royal Air Force 100 Event and What is STEM

Make sure to follow us on LinkedIn to access our exclusive RAF 100 content! #raf100event #WhatIsSTEM

“ Modern aircrafts generate a lot of data, producing upwards of 98 billion gigabytes of information on an annual basis. ”

Register Interest