Science and technology in optimising security, defence and security

This speech was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

Speech delivered by Philip Dunne, Minister for Defence Equipment, Support and Technology.


Thank you Professor Bernard Silverman and City Forum for that introduction and for inviting me to join you here to open today’s round table event with many of the country’s leading defence and security scientists.

I am quite sure that some of you, at events like this, are quite capable of standing up and explaining with convincing authority what the world is going to look like in ten, twenty or even thirty years time.

You may be able to describe a compelling vision of future threats and future technologies.

Oil shortages and global famines; bioterrorism and space wars; Chinese hegemony and European superstates.

Much may be foreseeable by commentators and academics, but the reality for those of us in the Ministry of Defence is that we cannot know with certainty what is going to happen in the future.

That is not to say that we are helpless against unpredictable events.

We cannot prevent the passage of time, but we can influence its course and prepare for its currents.

Our national security strategy laid out potential threats and prioritised perceived risks.

It depicted a world in which the only certainty is uncertainty. Where national events can very quickly escalate to global crises and where threats to the UK can come from diverse and unexpected sources.

We can mitigate risk through international development, investment in multinational institutions, diplomacy and capacity building, but at some point we know that military intervention will be required to protect our national security.

The Defence Science and Technology Laboratory and our Development Concepts and Doctrine Centre do some excellent work looking at the types of scenarios in which our armed forces might be required to intervene.

But they would be the first to admit that they possess no crystal ball, which is why they look at many scenarios, not one.

And the key to responding to an unknown future is flexibility.

For the Ministry of Defence that is about developing armed forces and defence capability that can deal with a broad range of tasks.

So to use the language of this conference we cannot afford to prepare for just a single type of “game changer”, we must consider all possible game changers.

Our blueprint for agile, adaptable armed forces is Future Force 2020.

Importance of technology

To be effective Future Force 2020 must have the best equipment available: class leading platforms, complex weapon systems and supporting ISTAR assets.

But it not just about kit. Our armed forces must be well trained and understand how best to use their equipment.

A profitable and high tech British defence and security sector is essential to achieving both those goals.

It is difficult to know what our next security challenge will look like, but I confidently predict that the private sector and our world class academic institutions will be central to helping us deal with it.

From cyber, to space, to nano technology, Britain has world leading companies underpinned by world leading scientific research, developing applications, some of which I have already seen helping our armed forces.

Encouraging this technological innovation to flourish is vital to our national security and our prosperity, contributing to export led recovery.

In my new role I have responsibility for Defence exports as well as procurement, so encouraging responsible defence exports is a particular priority for me.

And it is partly to stimulate this growth which is why the MOD has protected its annual investment in science and technology at 1.2% of the defence budget, over £400 million a year

The idea of guaranteeing a minimum level of science and technology funding is in line with recommendations from Lord Heseltine’s recent thought provoking review. He highlights the valuable role that government investment can have in catalysing private sector innovation.

And that is why more than 60% of our science and technology budget is spent outside of government, including a new £32 million research contract which we recently signed with BAE Systems to explore the next generation of maritime capability.

The structure of the contract is designed to maximise the reach of our science and technology funding.

Although the project will be managed by a team from BAE, there will be numerous participants in the research, from large companies, to academia, to SMEs.

Lord Heseltine also mentions the contribution that SMEs make to the economy and in particular to innovation.

I, like my predecessor Peter Luff, whom I know relished his role in supporting science and technology, am a champion of the SMEs doing innovative work in the defence and security sector.

I know that SMEs are not the only source of original thinking in our sector, but they often provide the niche expertise which can lead to breakthroughs in defence applications.

The Centre for Defence Enterprise has already done some excellent work in supporting SMEs in this area, helping them to commercialise their high tech ideas.

In the last four years the CDE has received nearly 4,000 proposals for funding, resulting in around 600 contracts valued at around £35 million.

It will be holding a marketplace on 3rd December where those SMEs who have successfully demonstrated innovative technology will have a chance to present their capabilities to our prime contractors, boosting their prospects of being introduced into the supply chain.

And there are some amazing ideas and technologies which have been developed by the innovators we have funded.

One example, on display at this CDE event will be Blue Bear Systems Research Ltd, which is developing a morphing wing for small UAVs based on the dynamics of a bird wing. This project exploits the design work already done for us by Mother Nature to help ensure our next generation of UAVs will be faster and more agile.

Another example is the heat sensing compact video camera developed by Dreampact Ltd, which can be handheld or rifle mounted for surveillance or gunsight use in conditions of total darkness, fog, smoke or dust.

All of the projects featured at the CDE marketplace demonstrate the ingenuity and practical focus of the SMEs we are working with.

But for you to understand how we are using CDE to leverage innovation I want to tell you the story of a company called Crib Gogh.

Crib Gogh was a one-man company based in Stoke-on-Trent developing innovative load-carrying systems for soldiers; mainly vests and rucksacks with ergonomic weight distribution and energy dissipation.

Crib Gogh received an initial £56,000 from CDE, followed up by a second contract from Dstl.

Thanks to this funding, the company is now able to submit proposals for production-level equipment into DE&S, the part of the MOD that acquires and supports equipment and services.

It has developed a lightweight prototype stretcher that is now under assessment by Dstl.

The project has boosted Crib Gogh’s profile enabling it to develop relationships with specialists in lightweight materials and pursue export opportunities in Europe and Asia.

The company has increased its turnover allowing its expansion and the recruitment of an additional employee with 2 more posts being considered.

Our approach to SMEs, even to a business as small as a one-man band, is to support, not stifle.

So we fund SMEs to work on specific projects for us. They keep the intellectual property rights for their work, and can develop them however they want, once they have completed their project with us.

And the commercial potential for defence related intellectual property can also be shown by the success of P2i. This company was created to exploit the liquid repellant technology coming from a Dstl project, which developed clothing to protect Service personnel from chemical attack.

P2i’s revolutionary nano-coating process dramatically reduces the surface energy of a material, so that when liquids come into contact with it they form beads and simply roll off.

It is so successful that P2i has been able to position itself as a world leader in this field.

The technology has been successfully applied to a wide range of products, such as electronic devices, filtration products and clothing, including Kangol hats now being marketed by the US actor Samuel L Jackson.

So our science and technology investment can stimulate commercial applications well beyond the defence sector.

My view is that the MOD does have an important role to play in dipping into a dynamic pool of innovation to drive defence applications forward, which can lead to economic benefits for the nation far more valuable than just for the immediate defence objective.

But we only get that by leaving companies free to innovate.

Current operations

As the Minister for Defence Equipment Support and Technology I have 2 main challenges:

First, to ensure that our armed forces have the equipment they need for today;

Second, to ensure that our armed forces have the equipment they need for tomorrow.

The nature of our business means that a good proportion of the MOD’s endeavour and resources will always be focussed on current operations of the day.

So our first priority remains Afghanistan.

This is where the men and women of our armed forces are making the greatest sacrifices and this is where we must put our main effort.

But meeting current requirements is not distinct from developing future capabilities.

War does not stand still, it evolves, measures and countermeasures.

We have been in Afghanistan for more than 10 years now; and in that time the equipment used by our troops has changed, in some areas, beyond recognition.

Providing the equipment for current operations involves a never ending feedback loop, the needs of theatre, the development and testing of solutions, the deployment of novel capabilities and then returning to the new needs of theatre.

Today is yesterday’s tomorrow: the equipment being used in Helmand now is the product of research and development effort from years in the past.

And the gears of counter-terrorism have forced us to shorten the time between identifying a need and deploying a solution, to save lives and to increase capability.

The rapid development of the Foxhound patrol vehicle, partly funded by the MOD’s science and technology budget, is an outstanding example of this.

Foxhound employs world leading technology to provide an unparalleled balance of protection, weight and agility for a vehicle of its class. It can drive away with only 3 wheels and its engine can be replaced easily and quickly in challenging conditions.

Foxhound took just 40 months from concept to initial operating capability, an impressive timeline for such an advanced platform. Forty months to design it, build it and deploy it.

Thanks to this urgency these vehicles are now being used by our troops in Afghanistan.

And these vehicles are not just of utility to our operations in Afghanistan. They are so flexible and capable that they will form the backbone of Army 2020, the blueprint for our future army.

This flexibility was built into the design.

Not only is Foxhound built to work in a wide variety of environments, but it has the potential to be modified easily in the future, for example, by replacing the current crew compartment with an alternative configuration to meet future requirements.

The adaptability of Foxhound and the speed at which it was taken from concept to operational deployment were only possible because of a strong partnership between the MOD, the defence scientific community and the defence industry.

Good communications between the customer, the developers and the manufacturers were at the heart of the project’s success.

And we can rightly be proud of Foxhound, which was designed and built in Britain.

To me, it represents a model for how the MOD and Defence Industry can collaborate to deliver innovative operational capability: urgently, flexibly and above all intelligently.

I want the MOD to apply these principles to all of our procurement.

Intelligent customer

We have already made great progress towards this goal.

The defence budget has been balanced for the first time in a generation, eliminating the vast £38 billion black hole we inherited from the previous administration.

Many difficult decisions have been taken.

Difficult, but necessary decisions.

Keeping the MOD’s equipment and support spending within the £160 billion budget envelope we have set for the next 10 years is essential.

Maintaining the overheated, essentially aspirational, equipment programme of the last government was not an option.

It would have condemned us to face future conflicts hamstrung by a deficit.

Crucially, the budget now includes proper contingency funding, which will allow us to respond proactively to future events.

But procurement reform is not just about fiscal management, it is also about ensuring the best equipment for our future armed forces and the best value for money for the taxpayer.

That is why we are looking at improving DE&S to allow an injection of private sector expertise, tools and processes.

I am not a great believer in the wisdom of one sector above another. I believe that we can all learn from each other: government, industry and academia.

Becoming a more intelligent customer requires dialogue.

International co-operation

That dialogue must include international co-operation.

For in a world of new realities, with fiscal constraints and unpredictable threats, none of us, not even our friends here today from the US, can afford to maintain all possible capabilities to deal with all possible eventualities.

Collaborative research is not just nice-to-have, it is absolutely essential if we are to maintain a technological advantage.

No country can claim to have a monopoly on innovation.

And in defence research we are working with a number of countries bilaterally, or through organisations such as NATO: from traditional allies such as Australia, with whom we have recently signed a co-operative facilities arrangement, and France, where 60 projects are under consideration for collaboration, to emergent powers such as India.

Last year our Chief Scientific Adviser signed a letter of arrangement with his Indian counterpart agreeing to pool science and engineering experience on areas such as advanced explosives and factors affecting human performance on the battlefield.

It is really important that we work alongside a diverse range of partners, especially on issues of technological interoperability.

In circumstances where we don’t know what the next operation will be or who we will need to work alongside, building interoperability is essential.

We need to ensure that technology remains an enabler, not an inhibitor.


So in conclusion, I’m afraid I have been unable to give you a simple and definitive answer on how to deal with future uncertainty.

I have tried to offer some vision of building flexibility into our armed forces so they can respond to the future, whatever shape it takes.

For the MOD it is a case of hedging, not speculating.

A vibrant science and technology community in this country is at the heart of our strategy.

I can’t tell you what our next major operation will be. I can’t tell you what the next significant technological advance will be. I can’t even tell you, with certainty, what the next threat to the UK will be.

But I can tell you that it will be the ingenuity and drive of our scientists and businesses, and the bravery and dedication of our armed forces that will allow us to respond in the way this country has always responded.

History has shown that Britain has in-built resilience.

Tanks, radar, computing, necessity has always born us invention.

We should never be complacent, but we should always be confident that we can and will deal with the future.

I trust that you will use today’s conference to help define where the defence and security industry can most benefit our armed forces of the future.

Thank you.