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Protecting our troops with science and technology: AI experimentation with Deb

Dr Deb has a history of leading change and innovation in Defence – from designing armour for vehicles; protecting UK bases from mortars; and, now, harnessing the game-changing power of artificial intelligence (AI).

Dr Deb currently works in the Defence Artificial Intelligence Centre (DAIC) as a Dstl Fellow and is the Technical Lead in the AI Experimentation Hub. Her most recent work involves exploring how Large Language Models (like ChatGPT) can be repurposed for Defence to produce lessons learned. In another project, Deb is using machine learning techniques to support and enhance imagery analysis of vast amounts of data by using automated detection and identification of objects within satellite imagery.

Her love of science and technology and her passion for continuous upskilling has driven Deb to deliver innovative solutions for Defence and awarded her an OBE.

After studying Chemistry at the University of Birmingham, Deb spent a winter in the Artic Circle while completing her PhD at Cambridge University on Artic ozone depletion. She spent the early years in her career working in academia, and joined Dstl in 2003, working on Chemical, Biological and Radiological (CBR) hazard modelling.

When the opportunity to deploy as a Scientific Advisor to Basra, Iraq presented itself, Deb eagerly accepted it. While deployed on this operational role, Deb worked directly to solve life-threatening challenges faced by our forces on deployment, including protecting bases from rockets and mortars, and understanding operational threats to armoured vehicles in conflict areas. Continuing to work on urgent operational requirements, her next team led the Parsifal armour surge programme. Deb and the team were recognised with a Chief Scientific Advisor Commendation in 2008.

Her next deployment to Helmand, Afghanistan in 2009 was the highlight of her career as she saw tangible evidence of how her work in science and technology (S&T) can save lives. Deb designed improvised armour for Foden and other Demountable Rack Offload and Pickup System (DROPS) logistic vehicles, protecting them from IED strikes.

I will never forget the feeling when I found out these vehicles [whose armour I designed] were blown up and the occupants were able to walk away unharmed. That is my motivation to keep what I am doing for our Forces,

said Deb.

Over her next few roles, Deb continued to use her expertise in science and technology to make operations safer for our Forces.

Now, Deb is leading a team within the DAIC that is developing innovative uses for AI across Defence. Deb is building on her experiences from the field to tackle Defence’s challenges, like applying AI to SONAR data to detect objects in/on the sea. Another AI project is supporting Defence to recruit and retain the people it needs to face future challenges.

Diversity and inclusion are key elements to her team’s success. By bringing people together from government, industry and academia under a ‘one team’ culture, her team is able to effectively address difficult challenges and ensure that our work on AI is ambitious, safe and responsible.

The DAIC was established in 2021’s Integrated Review to harness the game-changing power of AI across Defence. It is capitalising on the UK’s status as a global superpower in AI by enabling military use cases through working collaboratively with international partners, across government, academia, and a wide spectrum defence suppliers. The DAIC is a federated organisation, with coordination across agencies within Defence: Defence Digital, DE&S, Dstl and the Digital Foundry.


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