TechVets The Podcast: Alex Burton and the tech rebellion against traditional military training

TechVets The Podcast: Alex Burton and the tech rebellion against traditional military training

Meredyth Grant

In this podcast we’re talking to former Royal Navy 2-star Admiral, now Director of the UK Pathfinders at Rebellion Defence, Alex Burton.

He spent 10 of his 30-year career on operations across the globe, including the Gulf, Indian Ocean, North Atlantic, Baghdad (where he was awarded the Bronze Star by the United States) and both Arctic and Antarctic Circles. He also ran seaborne security for the London 2012 sailing Olympics. 

We talk to Alex about why military training needs to move away from a traditional model and embrace technological advances and virtual reality battlegrounds.

Listen now:

In this podcast, we talk to Alex about why military training needs to move away from a traditional model and embrace technological advances and virtual reality battlegrounds.
Alex Burton is the Director, UK Pathfinders

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Key Points:

  • Alex believes a grounding in education will best serve new military personnel by giving them the lifelong skill of learning.
  • Technology needs to play a larger role in the training of recruits, from virtual reality battlegrounds, to more engaging classroom style learning.
  • Moving to the private sector for a period in-between military service can be hugely beneficial in giving personnel new experiences to learn from.
  • The British military needs to significantly improve its software used to make long-term, strategic decisions.

Synopsis:

Alex Burton, former admiral, joined the Navy after graduating from Durham with a degree in chemistry in 1986. He had first wanted to join the Navy during his teens, and so joined the Cadets. His degree was sponsored by the military. He says by doing a degree it helped give him the skills of lifelong learning that were so important in his military success. Particularly in more modern times, as 50% of teens go on to higher education, Alex explains that a greater grounding in education before joining the navy will help overcome the evolving technological challenges faced. he argues that a degree gives you an inquisitive mind, which is more important for success than the degree choice itself.

He goes on to outline his belief that an unstructured sabbatical scheme is something the military would benefit hugely from, allowing personnel to learn from experiences outside of the military and then bring them back in again. He uses the example of a Royal Air Force Two Star joining Rebellion Defences for 9 months between two appointments. James Murphy, CEO of Tech Vets, also weighs in on this at the end of the podcast, highlighting the success that can be seen in the Civil Service of people leaving and then returning later in their own career. As well as this, he mentions the role Tech Vets can play in facilitating this as a network that can bring employers and military personnel together.

Alex then brings up the importance of adapting the traditional learning style of the military using technology. Typical classroom learning needs to become more engaging, and relevant to the equipment personnel will go on to use. In addition, operational training should be taking place in a virtual reality, to allow for more realistic environments and adversaries, as well as to allow for scenarios to be paused, learnt from, and experimented within.

Both Alex and James talk about the importance of traits gained from the institution they grew in but also talk of the importance of unique traits, both positive and negative when moving on from the military. Alex uses the story of his pro-LGBTQ+ tweet that he describes as a rash decision at the time but is one that won him support from many people. Alex also mentions the transition away and moving away from certain aspects of military life compared to civilian life, citing the difference between his extravagant trip to Malaysia and sleeping in mud huts in Tanzania. James echoes this with the advice not to focus on salary, but simply learning first and then pushing forward after a couple of years of employment.

Alex goes on to talk about his work for The Tony Blair Institute for Global Change where he originally focussed on how technology can facilitate public policy change, before shifting towards looking at how the government could reach the ambitions of The Integrated Review with technology. He then goes on to talk about the work of Rebellion Defence and the software they make for the British and US military. He highlights that the company believes in open architecture and open APIs to create an ecosystem of different software from several companies, as Alex believes that is the only way to stay ahead of the technological battle. Alex also believe that currently the military disadvantage themselves by using operational level software to help make strategic decisions, which is not effective.