Speech: Defence Innovation Initiative


War Hero
Welcome to the launch of our Defence Innovation Initiative.

The UK has long enjoyed a reputation as a world leader in innovation.

The exhibits on display here today demonstrate that remains true today.

You’ll see our new quantum gravimeter developed in tandem with the University of Birmingham that uses cold atom quantum technology to see through the ground so we can survey structures in minutes rather than weeks.

Look more carefully and you might even find our tiny new Skeeter drone based on the biology of a dragonfly.

Besides all this we have here flame retardant wool to protect naval crews and liquid explosive sensors.

If we’re so good at innovation why do we need a new initiative?

The answer is simple – we need to stay ahead of the curve.

Background and threat

Our Strategic Defence and Security Review 2015 underlined the significant technological changes that have taken place in recent years.

We’ve witnessed a technological revolution where the private sector, rather than the public now takes the lead.

It’s opened up our world - making cheap and sophisticated technology available to all.

And it has brought unparalleled global connectivity – exemplified by the rise of social media.

But that has brought with it major security implications.

We’ve seen how complex military and security technologies can find their way into the hands of our potential adversaries.

How they can use cyber, other new technologies and unconventional methods against us.

We’ve seen terrorist groups radicalise and recruit online from global population centres.

And we’ve even seen how a lone-wolf with a laptop can order kit on the dark web and strike without warning.

In the past, the UK adapted to changing strategic circumstances and new technological challenges through the development of new strategy, new doctrine and new capabilities ranging from nuclear weapons through very powerful conventional platforms and precision guided weapons to better intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance capabilities.

Today we’re focused on new disruptive technologies – from miniaturization and advanced computing to big data and 3-D printing with one of the most advanced militaries anywhere in the world and an industrial base to match leading the world in everything from wing design to intelligent systems.

Our history proves that we can always find the solution to pressing national security problems.

But the challenges we face demand something more.

Our organisation, our processes, our behaviour, our culture, all need to evolve further. We must address potential problems before they become actual problems and the Defence Innovation Initiative will provide that critical long-term approach.

More than science and technology, it’s about fundamentally changing how we go about our business.

And we’ve chosen this collaborative space in Spitalfields to show our determination to change the culture, remove barriers to creativity and harness the curiosity and ingenuity that has made us so effective in crises.

We must innovate on a grand scale and in a way that encourages and rewards changes in us, as well as influences the outcomes we desire.

Not innovation for its own sake.

But innovation as a business imperative.

To get the culture change we need, we’re introducing an initiative guided by Priorities, shaped by Principles, and informed through Partnerships.


Beginning with the priorities that will guide us on our journey – the most pressing strategic challenges we face.

First, to project credible military power, protecting our interests against sophisticated adversaries.

Second, to seek strategic advantage, shaping the environment to dissuade our adversaries from acting against our interests.

Third to deliver non-traditional and novel effects, full spectrum capabilities to increase our defence and security options.

Fourth, in an information rich-age, to make better use of big data to inform timely and effective decision-making.

Fifth, in a world of multiple concurrent threats, to enhance our agility and adaptability to respond quickly to shifting circumstances.

Sixth, to continue developing, delivering and maintaining our credible nuclear deterrence.

And seven, to make the most of our future workforce, giving us the skills required to deal with changing situations.

Each a complex challenge in its own right.

Together an enormous undertaking requiring the efforts of the entire Defence enterprise and demanding a new approach characterised by new thinking about technology about planning about doctrine.


Our initiative isn’t just about what we need to do.

It’s about how we do it.

Over the past few years MOD has improved markedly.

I’m proud our organisation has highly skilled individuals for whom innovation is part of the day job.

But to succeed means continually evolving our processes, organisation, and behaviours…ingraining innovation so we become innovative-by-instinct.

So our initiative also sets out key principles that will underpin our future way of working.

We will be systematic, matching our investment with the speed of our procurement and quality of our organisation.

We will be strategic, with a wide ranging forward looking programme of activity.

We will be inclusive, reach out the brightest and best brains across Government, industry and academia to find the solutions we need.

We will be open to risk, I will reward people who are inquisitive, who embrace change, and who are prepared to take the right kind of risks. As Mark Zuckerberg has said: “The biggest risk is not taking any risk”.

Finally, we will be faster, accelerating the transition from idea to service.

We’re investing heavily to put these principles into practice committing 1.2 per cent of our annual £36bn defence budget to S&T.

But this isn’t just about money, it’s about partnerships.

Our Whole Force – military, civilians and business people – working as one.


So the third element of our initiative sees us strengthening every component of that joint force.

That’s why we’ve set up the Innovation and Research Insight Unit, or IRIS, based in MOD Head Office.

It will inform the future direction of the MOD S&T programme and of security across government scanning the horizon for the latest trends absorbing the latest intelligence from the market, academia and industry so we can assess the threats and opportunities.

At the same time we’ll be tapping into the talents of industry especially those incubators of innovation our SMEs.

No longer do Government scientists dictate the pace of change.

Today the private sector leads the way.

Since 2014, we’ve committed some 20 per cent of our S&T budget to funding high risk …game-changing research into a range of Disruptive Capabilities everything from cyber to command and control from big data to Mine Counter Measures.

Already some of these novel ideas are reaching fruition.

On the ground SME Close Air Solutions’ new hyper reality training tech gives soldiers virtual reality helmets to practice simulated air strikes.

In the air, I can today announce we’ve placed a £2.5 million order for UK-designed and built miniature decoys to protect combat jets from missiles. The cutting-edge BriteCloud system, designed and manufactured in Scotland and Bedfordshire by Leonardo-Finmeccanica, is as small as a can of Coke but contains enough sophisticated electronics to disrupt radar-guided air-to-air and surface-to-air missiles. It will undergo flight trials on RAF Tornado aircraft later this year.

And, at sea, ASV Ltd has developed the Maritime Autonomy Surface Testbed, or MAST, a superfast unmanned boat with a unique Bladerunner hull shape, capable of tracking high-speed targets and dodging other ships without human assistance.

More recently our Defence Growth Partnership and the Centre for Defence Enterprise have been inviting businesses large and small to develop the next shift in persistent surveillance and immersive mission training capabilities, innovative sensor and communications technologies and autonomous systems.

But to break the mould we’re going further.

Next year our new £800m Innovation Fund will start investing in the first projects, focusing on our Defence Priorities.

Building on the “Centre for Defence Enterprise” model, our nascent Defence and Security Accelerator will soon launch the first calls under the Innovation Fund.

It will support the generation of ideas for Disruptive Capabilities with the best ideas asked to pitch before a dragon’s den style panel before accelerating promising innovation – from ideas to solutions and into service.

We’re not just looking for traditional defence companies here.

Numerous inventions from GPS and the world wide web to splash proof technology have started life in the military.

I want to reverse that as more non-defence companies bring their know-how to military matters.

We get to use their niche capabilities, advanced business models, and different take on life.

They get to realise the commercial benefit.

Already firms are stepping forward.

Companies like ‘LightArmour’ are developing lighter weight armour for those not only in defence and security, but for extreme sports.

While Nottingham-based Voicekey Limited are developing an innovative on-device, biometric voice verification system.

If you’re a firm brimming with bright ideas, the prospectus we’ve handed out explains how you can get involved.

Competition will be fierce.

But don’t be put off by Government bureaucracy, we’ve slashed red tape and streamlined our processes to make it easier for you to come on board.

So our Innovation Fund is more than just £800m fund.

It’s a way of ‘pump-priming’ industry and directing investment to focus on the capability of the future.

And to give government and business the best chance of success to generate the urgency, the challenge and the inspiration we need to succeed.

I will establish an external advisory panel to enable Defence to partner with some of the United Kingdom’s most-influential and forward-looking innovators.

Their expertise will shape our work putting a greater emphasis on learning and adaptation and holding us to account in the months and years ahead.

Besides strengthening our bonds with industry, we’re tightening our ties with international partners.

All sophisticated western militaries are having to respond to technological change.

We’re already collaborating with our American friends on Defence Innovation in the round, and are working on specific projects like quantum clocks to micro-UAVs

And last year US Defence Secretary Ash Carter and I challenged our two teams to go even further developing new technologies and concepts of operations.

We are glad to see NATO collectively beginning to engage with the idea to strengthen innovation across the Atlantic. And, as a signal of our desire to work with global partners, next month we hold an unmanned Joint Warrior exercise so nations across the world can test out their unmanned aerial, surface and underwater vehicles, their sensors and software in an operational environment off the UK coast. More than 40 such systems will be taking part in the biggest event of its kind.


So we live not just in a world of enormous change but of vast opportunity.

In the past, when the MOD needed to respond to challenges presented to us, we did.

So this is not business as usual.

We’re looking for much more than a simply technology-focused approach.

Instead, we much fundamentally change how we go about our business blending innovation, imagination, ingenuity and entrepreneurship, in pursuit of maintaining a military advantage in the future.

And now we’re looking for solutions to the Defence Challenges I’ve set out today.

Defence doesn’t hold all the answers.

That’s why our initiative is a call to arms.

A call to you the wider defence community, industry large and small, to think about how you can keep contributing to this agenda, and help us develop an atmosphere in which innovation can flourish helping to future-proof the nation.

The prize couldn’t be greater:

  • A safer Britain
  • A more prosperous nation
  • And the chance to write a new chapter in our innovative history.

Our future depends on your brains.

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