Innovation is the key tool to enhancing the operation of the UK Armed Forces. Advances in technology hold enormous potential but also pose risks as they become available to adversaries who may seek to use them nefariously.
The shifting global landscape now sees the private sector driving the rapid pace of technological, social and cultural change. Innovation is therefore important to maintaining the UK’s military advantage into the future as the Ministry of Defence seeks to maintain a strategic edge.
Based within UK Joint Forces Command (JFC) in London, jHub is the innovation centre for the Command and comprises a small team of military and civilian staff, known as ‘Innovation Scouts’.
The team, coming from diverse backgrounds in the British Army, Royal Navy and Royal Air Force as well as civil servants and commercial and financial officers, reach within JFC to gain an understanding of their needs and also reach out to suppliers to identify opportunities and solutions.
The unit provides a marketplace for ideas and connects challenges faced by users to solutions offered by tech providers – both non-defence SMEs and existing defence industry suppliers.
jHub doesn’t conduct scientific and technical research but instead looks to exploit market-ready technology, with a specific interest in building ‘MilTech’ -cutting-edge digital technology that can be adapted for military use.
The unit looks to repurpose high Technical Readiness Level (TRL) technology from areas not traditionally with a defence focus, to provide software or hardware or to solve a process or people issue.
jHub has four areas of focus: artificial intelligence; autonomy data analytics; simulation; and behavioural sciences.
The unit works with the seven organisations within JFC to identify problems such as capability gaps or areas for improvement. Industry is then invited to submit their solutions in the form of a proposal.
Utilising a traditional funnel design, jHub then works to a four-stage process.
The first stage is Rapid Evolution, which identifies whether there is a good match between user problem and supplier proposal.
The second – Opportunity Assessment – assesses whether there is sufficient user desirability, technical feasibility and business viability to take the product into the next stage. A series of questions is used as a framework and an internal jHub panel will assess each Opportunity Assessment before progressing to the next step.
The third phase – the Pilot Stage – sees users test the product/service in the field to see if it meets their needs. Pilots can take anything from one month to six months depending on the product and culminates in a formal presentation to the JFC Innovation Board.
The final stage will see the pilot results presented to the JFC Innovation Board, which is tasked with coming to a decision as to whether to take the pilot forward into core.
The jHub will place a premium on diversity and difference as a mechanism for generating new thinking but, ultimately, an innovation will be judged a success when it delivers capability into the hands of users.