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MoD R&D PRIORITIES – NOT THOUGHT THROUGH

MoD R&D PRIORITIES – NOT THOUGHT THROUGH
By Julian Nettlefold, Editor BATTLESPACE

17 Oct 06. There was little doubt in the enthusiasm U.K. Defence Procurement Minister Lord Drayson showed when he launched the Defence Technology Strategy, which sets out the MOD’s research and development priorities for providing future UK military capability on Tuesday. Indeed he had shown the document to his children over their morning Corn Flakes. He is a ‘techie’ by training having a PhD in Robotics but appears to be lacking in the actual application of these projects outside his core competence of pharmaceuticals, a filed in which he has excelled and made a great deal of money.

The difference between R&D in the U.K. and the U.S. is that the U.K. has always taken a scientific route to defence R&D, i.e. it looks at a problem and develops a solution which may or may not be used by the military. This is how the vast workforce at DERA was kept alive until the floatation under the guise of QinetiQ. How much of the vast sums spent at DERA/QinetiQ ever saw the light of day as product, only Sampson springs to mind for recent developments. Has the policy been just to keep money flowing into the business looking at problems whilst they are actually procured under the DPA machine at Abbey Wood under competitive terms? Are there any discussions between the Future Requirements posts in the MoD, QinetiQ and Abbey Wood? Obviously QinetiQ and any other company will have to amortise the R&D spend over the life of the product whilst France, Israel and the U.S. subsidise R&D and it can be written off.

The difference between R&D in the U.K. and the U.S. is that the U.K. has always taken a scientific route to defence R&D, i.e. it looks at a problem and develops a solution which may or may not be used by the military. This is how the vast workforce at DERA was kept alive until the floatation under the guise of QinetiQ. How much of the vast sums spent at DERA/QinetiQ ever saw the light of day as product, only Sampson springs to mind for recent developments. Has the policy been just to keep money flowing into the business looking at problems whilst they are actually procured under the DPA machine at Abbey Wood under competitive terms? Are there any discussions between the Future Requirements posts in the MoD, QinetiQ and Abbey Wood? Obviously QinetiQ and any other company will have to amortise the R&D spend over the life of the product whilst France, Israel and the U.S. subsidise R&D and it can be written off.

We have been down this route before with grand R&D projects. The U.K. has a history of appalling R&D projects which grind on paying huge fees to scientist but are never developed commercially. It appears not be the ‘done thing’ to commercialise R&D, that must be left to other countries! The LCD is a case in point, developed by DERA but commercialised at huge profit by the Japanese. The current Procurement strategy also does not run hand in hand with high R&D costs. The DPA tends to buy the cheapest technology available which will fit the bill. Developing high costs R&D technologies without an application or Requirement is always a dangerous line to take. In addition, the Minister did not say how much of the costs that Industry would bear if the project dragged on indefinitely as many tend to do. The question of the IP is very important and must be addressed before one shilling is spent.

The Defence Technology Strategy (DTS) builds on the Defence Industrial Strategy White Paper published in December 2005 and has been developed in close collaboration with industry and academia. It outlines MOD’s research and development priorities in which MOD, Industry and academia will work together to encourage innovation in support of the UK’s front line forces.

The new strategy sets out in detail those technologies which the MOD believes should be supported and brought from concept to front line delivery more quickly.

Lord Drayson said, “This strateg

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