Three ways blockchain could benefit the defence sector

28 October 2019

While blockchain has typically been associated with cryptocurrencies and other financial services, the technology is now being developed for use by other industries with capital assets.

The defence sector is no exception. Blockchain can deliver real efficiencies for suppliers operating with increasingly complex and connected platforms, as well as offering a more accurate and robust system for providing maintenance and support on a global scale.

At the most basic level, blockchain applications create a digital ledger of transactions that take place on a peer-to-peer network. These transactions don't necessarily need to involve the exchange of money – they can relate to any event that takes place, such as when a new part is installed in a platform or system. In addition, blockchain participants have access only to the information they’re entitled to, enabling defence suppliers to improve visibility into their own businesses while safeguarding their data from competitors.

In this article we’ll explore three ways in which blockchain could drive business improvements within the defence sector.

1. Improved through-life support

One of the key benefits of using blockchain is the ability to offer improved through-life support for both new and existing defence assets. A good example is the Hercules C-130, an aircraft that’s been in service for more than 60 years. While the C-130 has proved to be extremely reliable, its longevity means that record-keeping for maintenance and repairs can be a time-consuming and manual process.

Clearly a digitised service and maintenance history created using blockchain is going to be more efficient and accurate than relying on handwritten notes or entries in disparate databases. It would provide the maintenance, repair and operations (MRO) contractor with valuable data around how often a platform or system has been serviced, the age and quality of its component parts, and who carried out any previous maintenance. This would drive down the cost and time taken for routine services as the MRO contractor would be better prepared for the maintenance work required for each individual platform, system or sub-system. Ultimately it would enable a more predictive and cost efficient approach to be taken.

2. Better understanding of activity being undertaken

Linked to the previous point on through-life support is the importance of providing context on how defence equipment has been used. For example, most aircraft are currently scheduled for services based on a set number of flying hours, but that fails to take into account the different activities that the aircraft will have undertaken. A flying hour in a combat zone is not necessarily equal to a flying hour in training.

Another important consideration is the environment in which defence equipment has operated. If machinery has been used in the humidity of the jungle or in the desert, the impacts will be different. A maintenance system built using blockchain could make it easier to record this information, giving more granular data on a fleet’s activities and what will be needed at the regular services.

3. Customer management and commercial models

Defence technology is often customisable; suppliers will have several customers who buy the same core product but then customise it with unique options or sub-systems. Keeping track of these customised products, the software they use, and their service history is only becoming more complex as defence technology becomes more sophisticated.

Blockchain has the potential to streamline this process, as each new piece of equipment can be given its own digital birth certificate that logs the specific sub-systems or parts that have been installed and by whom. This will help suppliers to better serve their global customer base and will also build trust and accountability into the supply chain.

This potential for revolutionising record-keeping could also bring with it new commercial models for support services. When delivering new equipment, defence suppliers could provide on-going support and maintenance programmes based on data relating to the equipment’s activity and wear including levels of damage or deterioration.

Ultimately, we’re only beginning to scratch the surface of blockchain’s potential uses in the defence industry. As the technology develops and defence suppliers invest more money into R&D, we’re likely to see ever more innovative and impactful applications. There are challenges that will need to be overcome, with PwC’s Global Blockchain Survey showing that lack of trust is one of the biggest perceived impediments to blockchain adoption. But the potential for this technology is obvious, so all that's left is for pioneers to take the first step.

Craig Kerr

Craig Kerr | Aerospace and Defence Consulting Leader, PwC United Kingdom 
Profile | Email | +44 (0)7714 229399


Tony Raper | Senior Defence Advisor, PwC United Kingdom
Profile | Email | +44 (0)7799 343631