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CDS Under Pressure, BAE Systems and University of Birmingham Form New Collaboration By Howard Wheeldon, FRAeS, Wheeldon Strategic Advisory Ltd.






Looking somewhat uncomfortable during the interview that he did with Andrew Marr on BBC 1 on Sunday, particularly when Marr brought up the delayed ‘Integrated Review’ and whether the Army would still need tanks in the future, Chief of the Defence Staff General Sir Nick Carter suggested that while ten years from now the balance between required manpower and equipment technology may well have changed he anticipated that over the next ten years the Army would require what he termed rather amazingly as its ‘metal boxes’.

While the above ‘metal boxes’ phrase might send a few ripples down the spine of members of the Tank Regiment, Carter’s remarks would seem to put the lid on any suggestion that the Army is about to lose its tanks. And if that is the case, then the same argument surely applies to other important armoured personnel fighting capability such as Warrior and Ajax.

BAE Systems and University of Birmingham Form New Collaboration

BAE Systems has over the past few years developed an innovative strategic university partnership framework with five leading partner universities, each chosen for its breadth of capability and excellence in future technology areas and that are aligned to BAE System’s ambitions. Partnering with the entire university as opposed to individual departments allows access to all specialisms and is consider to be fast and more efficient route to bring the required knowledge and expertise to the issue or idea in hand.

Having enjoyed a long relationship with Birmingham University as a member of the Birmingham University Business School Advisory Board until last year it will not surprise that I continue to take a huge interest in the University activities particularly where they reflect ongoing research and development activities. I have, for instance, previously written in relation to Professor Bob Stone, Director, Human Interface Technologies Team, Department of Electronic, Electrical & Systems Engineering – University of Birmingham who, working with the Royal Centre for Defence Medicine and various UK hospitals researching the use of Virtual Reality (VR) and Mixed Reality (MR) for physical and mental health restoration and rehabilitation, and for the training of future Medical Emergency Response Teams (MERTs) and of how this plays out within UK Defence Medical Service’s Pre-Hospital Emergency Care capability.

Last week it was announced that advanced sensing technologies which have the potential to benefit aspects of everyday life are to be developed as part of a new collaboration between BAE Systems and the University of Birmingham.

The two organisations have signed a Memorandum of Understanding to form an Advanced Sensing Technologies Consortium, drawing on leading experts from industry, academia and Government. This forms part of the Government-funded National Quantum Technologies programme to drive four UK-based hubs which includes a Sensors and Timing hub led by the University of Birmingham.  

Bringing together the best of British expertise, the consortium will accelerate the development and application of advanced sensing technology, as well as develop disruptive technologies that will benefit UK industry. These include:

  • New and novel navigation systems that do not rely on GPS: These technologies could offer breakthrough capability for resilient navigation in the shipping or defence industries where vehicles are operating in areas where GPS cannot be accessed.
  • Cognitive workload measurement: Developing sensing technologies that can measure mental workload. Such sensors could bring benefits to the medical industry when diagnosing conditions as well as industries with critical human operators e.g. fighter pilots.
  • Enhanced situational awareness sensors: These could deliver breakthrough capabilities for urban flight or autonomous vehicles.
  • Detection of difficult targets: Novel sensors that have the ability to detect buried infrastructure could see the technologies being exploited for use in hydrocarbon exploration, mining, construction, transportation and critical national infrastructure.

As part of the announcement, Julia Sutcliffe, Chief Technologist for BAE Systems’ Air sector, said:

“As experts in the defence, aerospace and security sector, we know sophisticated sensing technology is absolutely critical in our ambitions to develop intelligent systems that can survive in a complex and congested battlespace environment. Information provides a critical advantage and comes in many forms that sensors can deliver, from navigational aids to situational awareness.

“This initiative is aimed at accelerating the pace of exploitation of these developing capabilities, enabling us to take technology from a lab environment and apply it quickly in real-world scenarios.  For example, our test pilots are trialling novel technologies to measure cognitive workload both on the ground and in the air, meaning we can test how intuitive and effective it really is and ensure any learning is fed back into our research and development at an early stage.”

Commenting from the University, Professor Kai Bongs, Principle Investigator at the UK Quantum Technology Hub Sensors and Timing, and Director of Innovation within the College of Engineering and Physical Sciences at the University of Birmingham, said:

“We are proud to be collaborating with BAE Systems on this exciting programme. It has the potential to create enormous economic value and change the way we live. Novel sensor capabilities and digital twinning are enabling disruptive innovation in a faster and cheaper way, creating unprecedented benefit to society and the economy. We now need to accelerate the market pull by demonstrating how these new sensors can be integrated into high-value systems, change operations and our lifestyles.”

The new agreement builds on BAE Systems’ existing strategic partnership with the University of Birmingham, the UK Quantum Technology Hubs and suppliers of sensor systems in an effort to drive breakthrough technologies into a data-rich world.    

Technology and innovation are central to BAE Systems’ strategy, underpinning the continued development of its products and services. In 2019, the Company spent £1.5bn on R&D, of which £237m was self-funded.

AS previously mentioned, the University of Birmingham is one of five strategic university partnerships announced by BAE Systems in 2017.  With world-leading research in quantum sensing, virtual reality and immersive systems technologies, the partnership with Birmingham will help ensure that BAE Systems retains cutting edge capability in these areas.

The University of Birmingham hosts one of four hubs for the commercial development of quantum technologies as part of The UK National Quantum Technologies Programme (UKNQTP). This was set up by the UK Government in 2014 to turn advances in understanding of quantum technologies, which exploit the quantum advantages of matter and light, into commercial products. It created four regional hubs to focus on different areas where these might be developed for the benefit of society and the economy. UKNQTP supports the Quantum Technologies Challenge, which is part of UK Research & Innovation (UKRI), a Government agency that directs funding from the science budget of the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. The UKNQTP represents currently a committed investment of more than £1 billion, half from the private sector.

The Quantum Technology Hub alone has triggered over £100m of collaborative projects with industry partners, resulting in more than 25 new products.

CHW (London – 10th November 2020)

Howard Wheeldon FRAeS 

Wheeldon Strategic Advisory Ltd,

M: +44 7710 779785

Skype: chwheeldon



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