Using the power of data to improve defence systems 

Raytheon UK’s Data Capability Group is growing its team due to mounting customer demand 

If a machine-learning model tells you that it’s OK to step into the road because no cars are coming, you still might want to check both ways to be certain your model is accurate. ML models are not infallible; they can produce predictions that are overconfident. In life-or-death situations, such as on the operating room table or in military decision-making where certainty is critical, mistakes are unacceptable.

Researching and applying explainable methods, as well as quantifying the uncertainty around ML model predictions, is just one of the recent projects from Raytheon UK’s Data Capability Group. They specialise in next-generation data technologies and cyber defence, and their research has given the group a collection of techniques and tools to take to customers that are using ML and artificial intelligence to quickly analyse vast volumes of data to inform or predict likely scenarios.

A growing customer demand for data science-driven solutions like these is behind the group’s recruitment drive to expand its expert team of Ph.D. researchers, data scientists and engineers.

“It’s about making our mission-critical research impactful and therefore mission-ready. To be able to scale with the sort of ‘ask’ that the customer wants, we need to increase our technology readiness level,” said Matthew, a lead data scientist within the group.

To grow, candidates will be recruited into one of the Data Capability Group’s three specialist teams:

  • The Strategic Research Group – focusing on strategic AI research.
  • Machine-Learning Operations, or MLOps – meshing engineering processes with data science to deliver production-ready AI systems.
  • Data Engineering.

“With our workload and headcount at critical mass, we require more software engineering, DevOps and data engineering expertise. Therefore, we’re establishing Data Engineering and Machine-Learning Operations teams alongside our Strategic Research Group. It allows us to mature the products that we want to build and support that early research to speed up our readiness,” said Matthew.

A rapidly evolving landscape

The Data Capability Group evolved out of the Strategic Research Group, which was first formed in 2018 to deliver internally funded research projects. When the Strategic Research Group’s remit expanded to provide solutions for several UK government customers, this created the need for two sister teams covering machine learning and data engineering.

The combined group now offers a diverse range of services covering AI security, generative modelling, autonomous agents, space analytics and data analytics at scale.

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Optimising data-driven defence solutions 

The Data Capability Group is looking to expand at a time when militaries, government agencies and businesses are learning the value of data science but are struggling to adapt it to their needs. Michael, the MLOps lead who joined the team in January 2022, is tasked with growing this capability. He says that’s where tools like MLOps and AI are coming into the fore for the company’s customers.

“The idea of being able to use data through data science, AI and ML is extremely important and a key differentiator for addressing the types of problems our customers encounter,” said Michael. “There’s an increasing recognition that AI and ML technology can make a tangible difference in operational systems, but you need to find a way to deploy those systems robustly and securely. MLOps is the principled approach to achieving that.”

“Data science, AI and ML technologies are transforming lots of different industries and are disrupting how they operate... being able to use these technologies is really important and a key differentiator for resolving the types of problems that our customers face.”
- Michael, Strategic Research Group MLOps lead

Data science skills shortage

The Data Capability Group typically seeks to recruit people who have worked in data science and software engineering, but with mounting demand to deliver more projects, there is greater incentive to consider candidates from unconventional backgrounds.

“MLOps is an emerging discipline, so there are few candidates with those skills out there. While we would be looking for core technical competencies, the main thing is having a curious mindset and being able to grow and learn new things,” Michael said.

Hiring a diverse team in terms of gender, race and culture is also high on the agenda.

“Diversity is so important, especially in data science and data engineering, due to the analytical nature of our work and its effect on people and society at large,” said Gillian, the group’s Data Engineering lead.

“As a group, we’re often presented with different challenging use cases, which allows for many opportunities to research and develop revolutionary technology that can impact lives. This creates an exciting team culture and it’s this, matched with the intellectual curiosity and courage of my colleagues to make a difference, that I find most rewarding,” Gillian said.

Sourcing talent through academia

Raytheon UK regularly engages with academia and the Data Capability Group is no exception. It has built collaborative research relationships with several academic institutions including the University of Bath’s doctoral school for Statistical Applied Maths and the University of Lancaster’s Data Science programmes, among others.

The company also sponsors the final-year projects of students pursuing Master of Science, or MSc, degrees – a measure the company hopes will strengthen its talent pipeline.

Ollie, an MSc Applied Maths graduate, is one of two former sponsored students the group has hired into data scientist roles.

“For my thesis project, I spent three months helping Raytheon UK build a machine-learning system that sorts through hours of CCTV video footage and automatically finds when certain actions happen within that footage, saving time,” Ollie said.

“I’ve been interested in data science for a long time, but I didn’t think it was a career option until Raytheon UK presented the masters projects to my class. That’s when I realised that the pathway from my Applied Maths degree to a data science role was possible.”

If, like Ollie, you’re ready to rise to the challenge and make a difference, apply to join our team here: Be the gamechanger | Raytheon UK