The ministry of defense of the UK is planning to invest up to 800 million pounds in the next decade, encouraging innovation and ‘disruptive technologies’ delivering capabilities that will enable the military to cope better with changing environments. The new innovation initiative will be open to allies, industry partners, small and medium enterprises (SMEs), academics, and investors who will have the opportunity to introduce cutting edge innovation for the military. The commitment to innovation on a global stage will be on show in October at exercise Unmanned Warrior. More than forty companies from across the world will test their unmanned vehicles in a complex operational environment, off the UK coast.
first funds to be disbursed in April 2017
The MOD has committed up to 20% of its Science and Technology (S&T) Programme to Disruptive Capabilities (DisCap); these represent technologies with truly game-changing applications. DisCap funds high-risk research that challenges existing military and security strategy and tactics. These projects seek to provide an operational advantage and freedom of action, as well as delivering political and economic benefit from the UK being able to contribute world leading niche military capabilities.
Such capabilities include future weapon systems that can reduce the UK’s dependence on high cost, complex munitions, new interventions to change the MOD’s approach to recruitment, deployment, and training as well as new autonomous systems to cope with complex environments. DisCap projects are funded across core themes, which evolve to maintain relevance with future operational needs. DisCap will be opening up to external S&T ideas through the Defence and Security Accelerator. This will be trialled in January 2017 and focus on a specific problem area aligned to one of the Defence Challenges.
One of the tools for this innovation program will be the ‘Defence and Security Accelerator,’ an innovation hub to be set up by the MOD to accelerate ideas from conception through to application. The Accelerator will be a managed network which uses the knowledge, facilities, and skills of its partner research institutes and innovation centres to support suppliers’ journeys from concept to delivery and, crucially, works hand-in-hand with Government procurement bodies to pull novel solutions into service.
The innovation ecosystem it builds will provide opportunities for customers and suppliers to work together in physical and virtual collaboration spaces; these will act as safe environments where stakeholders can identify, experiment, incubate and demonstrate novel ideas and solutions. It will bring together a unique set of stakeholders for each of its programmes to identify and overcome barriers to exploitation – whether they are technological, procurement, legal, regulatory or financial – and work with its ecosystem to spin solutions into Government for national security and out for prosperity. Key to the Accelerator’s success will be an ability to draw on potential solutions from outside of the traditional Defence and Security supplier base and, through its partner centres, exploit solutions in parallel sectors to help boost national prosperity. To begin this journey, MOD will build on the Centre for Defence Enterprise (CDE) model, which already has successful experience identifying novel solutions from Small and Medium Sized Enterprises and Academia, and look to move beyond technological solutions into services.
The defence department will develop a series of challenges to stimulate research and development on the most promising innovation opportunities. The Department will seek solutions to important Defence and national security priorities through open engagement and partnerships with traditional and non-traditional suppliers, other government departments and key allies. The pilots will address ‘Accelerator Pilot Innovation Calls’ that will help test the mechanisms put in place for harnessing the cutting edge innovation that originates from outside of Government. The first set of pilots are in Autonomy; with a US/ UK collaboration on Assured Resupply logistics and ‘going the last mile’ and a challenge call with the Home Office on Hazardous Scene Assessment.
The ministry promises to ’embed innovation throughout the Department’s organisation, workforce, process, and culture,’ and includes better integration of military concepts, emerging technologies and capability development. It also calls to adopt a new ‘culture that is innovative by instinct’, by incentivising and rewarding the innovative behaviours, such as risk taking across the enterprise. Another aspect of this new approach is the establishment of an ‘open innovation ecosystem’ that capitalises on innovative expertise at the MOD and other national security departments and builds effective, efficient and fertile partnerships with innovators in industry and academia, as well as with key allies and partners. Among the parameters this approach will measured with will be the ability to accelerate promising innovations from idea to solution.
According to Defence Secretary Michael Fallon MOD has established an Innovation Fund of around £800 million over ten years, to provide the freedom to pursue and deliver innovative solutions. The Fund will take forward the best ideas, from inside and outside of Defence, in an open competitive process. Answers will be sought to address challenges based on Defence’s most pressing problems but with an open mind to other, unexpected opportunities. Furthermore, the Fund will not seek to favour particular areas of innovation (technological, procedural, etc.) but will seek to enable as broad a scope of innovative solutions as possible. The Fund will evolve rapidly over the next few years, with the understanding gained through its early operation being used to improve corporate approaches, innovation systems, and mechanisms to realise the innovative potential of an even broader range of Defence activities.
The Innovation Fund will enable Defence to adopt an open and entrepreneurial approach to selection, funding and development. To fully exploit the potential of innovative ideas it will seek to embrace risk when appropriate. Risk taking should allow the Department to stay ahead of potential threats and better match the pace of agile and fast moving companies, increasing the chances of selecting and developing viable ideas.
The mechanism for the Innovation Fund will continue to develop through consultation in Autumn 2016. The agreed process, which is expected to employ a ‘Pitch’ Panel alongside more traditional methods, and the first defined challenge, will be published in December 2016 and the Innovation Fund will be open for bids early in 2017. This will allow the best ideas to be selected in time for the first funds to be disbursed in April 2017.