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Phill Sutton

Research & Development United Kingdom

Prof. Phill Sutton CBE FREng PhD

Future Forces Forum

Visiting Professor of Science, Engineering & Technology Strategy, Department of Electrical & Electronic Engineering
Imperial College London



Novel Employments for Autonomous Military Systems (AMS)



  • Advances in artificial intelligence and other enabling technologies are fostering the development of the next generation of defence systems with gradually increasing autonomous functions and capabilities.
  • Proliferation of systems at various degrees of autonomy in support of military operations is a reality.
  • The potential for greater levels of independent decision-making by lethal and non-lethal systems of technologies exists and indicates that the time is right to consider what military capability might be achievable in the medium to longer time-frame.


Scope Of The Exploratory Team (ET)


There is a need to focus on understanding the future trends in autonomous systems, presenting both new concepts, capabilities and opportunities in military operations, and, at the same time, the challenges and emerging threats posed by systems at various levels of autonomy used by adversaries. 


It has been agreed that the main activities of the ET will be the following 5 tasks:-


1.    Survey existing works on novel impacts of AMS (e.g., where do humans become a limitation).

2.    Survey existing works on emerging technologies.

3.    Investigate and understand key turning points in historical major warfare innovations (e.g., steam to sail, cavalry to tanks, etc.).

4.    Conceive new system concepts enabled by AMS.

5.    Determine what warfare areas are amenable to new AMS system concepts

Curriculum Vitae

In March 2011 Phil Sutton set up his own company to enable him to work with some of the UK’s top universities and other national and international organisations focusing on strategic topics (for example increasing the benefit to the UK from its universities) and advancing new science, engineering and technology (SET), particularly in remote sensing, signal processing, autonomous systems and cyber physical engineering systems. His main commitment is with the Department of Electrical & Electronic Engineering of Imperial College London where he works as Visiting Professor of SET Strategy, but he also works with Cranfield University, University College London (UCL) and Queen’s University, Belfast. In addition, he works for MOD providing SET strategic advice as well as advising other UK Government Departments.

He became UK MOD’s Civilian 2* Director for Science and Technology Strategy in April 2010 following his appointment to the post of Director General Research and Technology in June 2004. His principal role was to set the strategic direction for MOD’s science and technology (S&T) for endorsement by the Defence R&D Board. On behalf of the MOD Chief Scientific Adviser (CSA) he was responsible for S&T strategy and policy including international research collaboration. He also led a ‘challenge’ function looking at more cost effective and future-proof ways of achieving MOD business. He is a past member of the MOD Joint capability Board (the customer for delivery of military capability and the equipment and support programme).

Prior to these appointments, from 2002 Phil was MOD’s Head of Technology Development and of the Research Acquisition Organisation, responsible for the S&T axis of the whole of the MOD non-nuclear research programme. From 1998 to 2002 he was Head of Corporate Research (appointed as a Senior Civil Service 1*) responsible for all MOD’s non-nuclear long term research programme including long term speculative research and combined MOD/Research council grants to Universities.

From 1996 to 1998 Phil was Head of the Battlefield and Vehicle systems Department at the Defence Evaluation and Research Agency. From 1992 to 1996 he was Chief Scientist of the Above Water Sector of the Defence Research Agency covering topics such as Electronic Warfare, combat systems, signature control, platform technology, systems integration and human sciences.

Phil Sutton graduated with an Honours Bachelor degree in Physics from Southampton University in 1975 and then joined the Admiralty Surface Weapons Establishment (ASWE) in MOD. He obtained a PhD in Electronics under MOD sponsorship also from Southampton in 1982. Returning to ASWE, he was promoted to Individual Merit Senior Principal Scientific Officer in 1989.

Phil Sutton was awarded and has continuing visiting Professorships at Cranfield University on emerging technologies since 1990, at Imperial College London with the Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering in signal processing and strategy since 2006, and also on sensor systems and emerging technologies in the Electronic and Electrical Engineering Department of UCL since 2011.

Phil Sutton was made a Commander of the order of the British Empire (CBE) in the 2012 Queen’s New Year Honours list and is a Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering, a Fellow of the Institution of Engineering and Technology and a Fellow of the Institute of Physics.

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