Defence Innovation Fund set to unearth defence and security pioneers

 

New challenges in defence and security call for new approaches. The Defence Innovation Fund is designed to encourage and unearth pioneering developments to help meet our evolving defence and security needs. MOD DCB features writer Mark Lane reports.

This year the Ministry of Defence’s new £800 million Innovation Fund will start investing in ground-breaking projects which will help it meet its defence priorities.

It will support the generation of new ideas, with the best ideas asked to pitch before a Dragon’s Den style panel.

Part of the aim is to harness pioneering developments in the non-military sector which could have defence applications.

Launching the Defence Innovation Initiative in September 2016, Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon MP explained: “We’re not just looking for traditional defence companies here. Numerous inventions from GPS and the World Wide Web to splash-proof technology have started life in the military.

“I want to reverse that as more non-defence companies bring their know-how to military matters. We get to use their niche capabilities, advanced business models, and different take on life. They get to realise the commercial benefit.’’

The Innovation Fund is part of the Defence Innovation Initiative, which itself came out of the 2015 Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR), which recognised the need for a new approach to innovation.

It aims to harness the talents of academic and industry experts, especially in SMEs, to create disruptive capabilities, using the UK’s science, technology and research base to develop new capabilities, more quickly.

Apart from uncovering specific, concrete products and applications, the initiative is also intended to change the culture of defence, creating a greater awareness of imaginative ways of problem solving and becoming more open to risk taking.

It also aims for closer collaboration with allies and partners, for example taking opportunities to work with the ‘Third Offset Strategy’, a US Defense Department initiative to use the technical capability and capacity within American industry and academia, leveraging technology to stay ahead of possible adversaries.

The SDSR underlined the significant technological changes over the preceding years, a technological revolution driven by the private sector, rather than the public.

One effect of this has been to make sophisticated, yet low-cost technology widely available. This – coupled with the rise of social media and unparalleled global connectivity – has had major security implications.

Potential enemies can now access complex military and security technologies and use cyber, other new technologies and unconventional methods against us.

“We’ve seen terrorist groups radicalise and recruit online from global population centres. And we’ve even seen how a lone-wolf with a laptop can order kit on the dark web and strike without warning,’’ said Mr Fallon.

“In the past, the UK adapted to changing strategic circumstances and new technological challenges through the development of new strategy, new doctrine and new capabilities ranging from nuclear weapons through very powerful conventional platforms and precision guided weapons to better intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance capabilities.

“Today we’re focused on new disruptive technologies – from miniaturisation and advanced computing to big data and 3-D printing – with one of the most advanced militaries anywhere in the world and an industrial base to match, leading the world in everything from wing design to intelligent systems.’’

In the face of these new challenges, the MOD has identified seven key priorities. These are:

  • To project credible military power, protecting our interests against sophisticated adversaries;
  • To seek strategic advantage, shaping the environment to dissuade our adversaries from acting against our interests;
  • To deliver non-traditional and novel effects – full spectrum capabilities to increase our defence and security options;
  • To make better use of big data to inform timely and effective decision-making;
  • To enhance agility and adaptability to respond quickly to shifting circumstances;
  • To continue developing, delivering and maintaining a credible nuclear deterrence;
  • To make the most of the future workforce, providing the skills required to deal with changing situations.

To meet these priorities, the MOD will operate by certain principles. It will strive to be systematic, strategic, inclusive and faster, accelerating the transition from idea to service.

Mr Fallon added: “We will be open to risk; I will reward people who are inquisitive, who embrace change, and who are prepared to take the right kind of risks. Finally, we will be faster.’’

Under the Innovation Initiative. a new Defence and Security Accelerator has been formed. Launched in December 2016, the Accelerator will build on the work previously carried out by the Centre for Defence Enterprise (CDE).

The Defence and Security Accelerator will help government defence and security departments work with industry, academia and allies to rapidly develop innovative solutions to pressing national security challenges.

In a public consultation last year more than 500 people from industry and academia generated some 200 ideas to shape the Accelerator.

Their input highlighted the need to build on the success of the Centre for Defence Enterprise. In eight years CDE placed more than 1000 contracts – 43% with SMEs, 29% with industry and 28% with academia.

The MOD says the Accelerator will help suppliers overcome the barriers to exploitation and one of its jobs will be to deliver the Single Defence Challenge, as part of the Defence Innovation Fund.

The first Innovation Fund challenge is a themed competition to meet a clear defence need to operate in the information age. The Accelerator will work closely with suppliers from concept through to potential uptake of ideas, technologies and services, supporting both the suppliers and potential users in achieving innovation and value.

Acting Head of the Accelerator, Rob Solly, said: “Over the coming year, we will be adding new capabilities to the Accelerator, including new ways to collaborate and increasing our team of innovation partners. The upcoming challenges allow us to develop and demonstrate new ways we can support the uptake of innovative technologies and processes that provide advantage to national security, whilst also benefiting UK prosperity.’’

The challenges of the Single Defence Challenge are to:

  • free up personnel through the application of innovative use of machine learning algorithms and artificial intelligence to maintain military advantage
  • allow for the rapid and automated integration of new sensors
  • improve operator cognitive capacity and greater human-machine teaming

This Accelerator themed competition is just part of the Defence Innovation Initiative, and contributes to meeting Defence Challenge 4 – Decision Making in the Information Age.

Up to £3 million is available for phase 1 of this competition. The Accelerator expects to fund a number of projects, with research lasting up to six months,and phase 1 deliverables completed by the end of November 2017.

Up to an additional £3 million will be available for phase 2 of the competition.

Last month, the Accelerator also launched the Accelerator Enduring Challenge to find solutions to defence’s ongoing requirements.

Competitions and events available through the Accelerator will be advertised on its website: https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/defence-and-security-accelerator

 

 

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