jHub: Connecting world-class technology and talent to military users

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 Connecting world-class technology and talent to military users1

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.  

Up for the challenge: JFC demonstrate operational capability with Exercise Saif Sareea 3

Joint Forces Command (JFC) provide the foundation and supporting framework for successful operations by ensuring joint capabilities like medical services, training, intelligence, information systems and cyber operations are developed and managed. 

JFC’s operational capability was put through its paces in the UK’s lead exercise of 2018, as Exercise Saif Sareea 3 (SS3) took place in Oman across October and November. Taking its name from the Arabic for ‘Swift Sword’, SS3 was the third UK-Oman joint exercise, with the previous two taking place in 1986 and 2001. 

JFC were responsible for the coordination, shipping and delivery of the equipment for the exercise, managing sea and air transportation, often heading to the new Joint Logistics Support Base prior to and following the exercise. 

The process started in late July as two roll-on/roll-off (RORO) ships left the military port in Marchwood, near Southampton and sailed into the Port of Duqm mid-August, each with a cargo of over 3500 tonnes. The shipment included vehicles such as Warrior Armoured Fighting Vehicles, Scimitar CVRT (combat vehicle reconnaissance tracked) and Bulldog personnel carriers. 

Unsurprisingly, delivering an exercise on this scale brings a host of complex challenges for JFC and the wider Ministry of Defence, from ensuring 24/7 medical cover to making sure the supply drinking water isn’t exhausted. 

Up for the challenge JFC demonstrate operational capability with Exercise Saif Sareea 3 1

The UK has a long and established defence relationship with Oman, with strong bonds and shared values. SS3 was the largest joint exercise of its kind for 15 years, underpinning one of the UK’s bilateral strategic partnerships. 

A total of 5500 UK Regular and Reserve military personnel participated in the exercise alongside over 60,000 Omanis from the Sultan’s Armed Forces. 

The exercise was split into five phases, with the first seeing the British Army deploying 2000 soldiers, incuding 800 operating on the ground as exercising troops, 185 Armoured Fighting Vehicles and other equipment from the UK to Oman. This was followed by a two-week period of national forces training, before the integration of the UK Battle Group with Omani forces. 

SS3 culminated with a final test exercise and a firepower demonstration showcasing the combined effects of UK and Omani forces. 

The exercise provided numerous opportunities for collaboration between British and Omani forces such as air-to-air refuelling of Royal Air Force of Oman and RAF jets, and soldiers from both nations working closely on the ground.  

The firepower demonstration brought together weeks of hard work in a series of simulated attacks on targets. Streamed live to a VIP area in an inland location, an amphibious assault by Royal Marines and Omani troops onto a beach location in Eastern Oman with fast-roping from RAF Chinook helicopters of 27 Squadron, combined with naval gunfire support, formed the first element of the demonstration. 

The second phase of the demonstration, viewed by Omani officers and officials, Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson and the Chiefs of UK Defence Forces, started after Omani air defences shot down a ‘rogue’ drone aircraft. This was followed closely by various attacks from the air and the ground. This included airstrikes by RAF  Typhoons, Omani F16s, Omani Super Lynx helicopters and Army Air Corps Apache helicopters before Javelin anti-tank weapon firing destroyed more targets.  

Fire and support, combined from Omani ground forces and British tanks, helped to secure ‘enemy’ ground forces before simulated supply drops were carried out by Omani C130 aircraft with support from airmen from RAF Brize Norton.  

A flypast brought the demonstration to a fitting conclusion, showing the capability of the partnering nations. 

Ultimately for Joint Forces Command, SS3 represented the chance to put into action its world-leading ability to deploy internationally in challenging environments and run the vital functions of a successful exercise.