News story: Autonomy on the front line: Defence Minister announces world-leading UK...

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During her keynote speech on DSEI’s Innovation Day, the Defence Minister announced twenty-five winners of the MOD’s “Last Mile” challenge.

Earlier in the year, the Minister challenged industry and academia to design pioneering technology to get vital supplies to soldiers on the front line. Developing systems for unmanned delivery of combat supplies will reduce the risk to troops and improve efficiency.

The challenge looked to draw on the rapid progress of the private sector in the development of delivery drones and automated deliveries. More than 140 organisations from small-and-medium-size-enterprises (SMEs) to large defence companies submitted entries.

Winning ideas include disposable supply trailers, autonomous hover-bikes and airborne vehicle ‘swarms’. Twenty five projects were chosen with a total contract value for this phase of almost £2 million, which will produce demonstrator models of the concepts for testing by UK personnel.

Part of the MOD’s £800m Innovation Initiative, and led by the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl) with the Defence and Security Accelerator (DASA), the contracts are worth £3.5 million over three years.

Minister for Defence Procurement Harriett Baldwin said:


The Last Mile Challenge is a great example of how we are engaging with a real range of businesses and harnessing innovation to help our military right up to the front line. From these autonomous vehicles to next-generation body armour, we are investing our rising defence budget and £178 billion equipment plan in the technology that will keep our Armed Forces and the UK safe.

With 141 international delegates from 60 countries, DSEI showcases British business and innovation across security and defence on the world stage. The Defence Minister toured the exhibition and in a key note speech, announced the latest investment in advanced equipment for the UK’s Armed Forces.

Building on ongoing work to cut red tape for SMEs, the Defence Minister also announced the launch of an overhauled Defence Suppliers Portal, which streamlines engaging and bidding for contracts with the MOD. Working more effectively with SMEs a key defence priority, and the MOD has committed to spending 25% of procurement money with SME suppliers by 2020

The Defence Minister also highlighted advanced combat clothing and body armour on display at DSEI 2017, as part of the Army’s “Future Soldier Vision”. Working with partners including the Royal College of Art, the project is developing advanced textiles, stronger and lighter body armour, and a new high-tech helmet with state-of-the-art communication systems. Read more about that announcement here.

And finally, the Defence Minister also announced the transformation of the Disposal Services Authority (DSA) into the Defence Equipment Sales Authority (DESA). DESA will generate revenue for the UK and build closer collaboration between UK industry and international customers, providing the best possible financial return to the UK taxpayer.

Today’s announcements come after a range made by the Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon yesterday including bomb disposal robots.

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