The UK's Ministry of Defence (MoD) is set to launch a tech-innovation initiative to capture the latest in advanced technology in weaponry and defence systems, and support the development of new products in the field. An investment panel has already announced an £800 million innovation fund, which will be allocated over the next 10 years to secure this investment. Both individuals and companies will be invited to pitch their ideas on the future of defence technology once the program is officially launched in September.
The initiative is called the Innovation and Research Insights Unit (IRIS). It’s hoped that the IRIS will better perform essential research than the private sector is able, which lacks sufficient resources and competency in the field. The program will allow the MoD to compete equally with the US military establishment’s own innovation initiative known as the 'third offset' strategy, which is designed to maintain their military advantage through the use of the ultra-high tech hardware, including robotics.
The IRIS is not only about the disruptive technology, though. It is also designed to transform the existing MoD environment into a better one in terms of business. The program will primarily encourage the government to collaborate within the industry more effectively, as well as helping to foster relationships with academia, allies, and new providers to boost the competitive advantage of the UK defence.
Currently, the MoD already spends up to a fifth of its Science and Technology budget on disruptive technology projects, which include Unmanned Aerial System, inspired by the biology of the dragonfly, and the development of Animal Dynamics, the micro-drone that can improve intelligence gathering in complex environments. There is also a project to develop laser weapons that will provide an advantage in targeting and defeating aerial threats. The IRIS program will be added to current R&D initiatives, and in practice, won't look much different from an ordinary startup accelerator.
Once strategic and investment decisions have been made, selected applicants will be working in a designated hub that aims to speed up processes from the 'idea' stage to 'introduction to market' phase. In their official statement on the UK's government website, the MoD emphasized that the execution speed of products is of paramount importance for deployment of the best commercial practices and innovation within the department: 'The hub will act as a ‘defence and security accelerator’, ensuring that innovative solutions to our most pressing national security challenges are developed at pace to stay ahead of our adversaries.'
In the last 15 years, R&D spending by Britain's military has been in decline, although the government has halted spending cuts. Due to increasing security and external threats, the UK's military strategists are concerned about the advantage gap that exists between the UK's defence system and the military potential of other countries. Paul Everitt, the CEO of the British trade body ADS, said that the changing threat landscape requires an agile domestic industrial base to adapt rapidly and to deliver the changing requirements, and initiatives like the IRIS can help to encourage industrial breakthroughs to deliver major benefits.