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The Gadget Show: UK innovation supported by MoD investment strategies

The Ministry of Defence has put its latest cutting-edge technologies on show at the Department of Business, Skills and Innovation in London.

The Centre for Defence Enterprise (CDE) is a programme the MoD has been successfully running for a number of years. Through CDE the defence department invests in emerging, innovative and disruptive technologies – which are sourced from a variety of different industries, not just defence – that could be used in future military operations.

A number of these technologies developed under the CDE scheme were on show this week in London. Among those included an e-textile, which is a material that allows electricity to flow through it, potentially meaning soldiers can ‘plug’ and charge their ever-increasing number of electronic mobile devices directly on themselves; gunshot detection systems; an imagery-based system to locate hostile forces from the air  that integrates with COTS GPS; an ‘ex-fix’ bike which is being used by injured troops for rehabilitation; and a number of robotic innovations to improve battlefield logistics.

Since its inception in 2008, CDE has invested £23.5 million to fund the R&D of some of these ground-breaking technologies. £10.1 million of this has gone directly to SMEs.

Peter Luff, the DE&S Minister well-known for his support of the SME community in the UK, said:

“It is essential that small and medium-sized enterprises have their own platform within the defence industry. Championing these firms requires us actively to encourage and drive greater pull-through of innovative ideas into applications and contracts.

“The Centre for Defence Enterprise will mentor smaller companies, guiding and helping them to maximise opportunities for exploitation on the international stage. The Centre for Defence Enterprise will be a promoter – giving these firms the opportunity to present their innovations to leading defence and other suppliers and users.”

CDE demonstrates how the government is fostering the UK’s technology and manufacturing sector to innovate and prosper with world-class solutions. The programme may not be perfect – too few ideas are funded and there’s a grey area (or, rather, there’s a big commercial gamble to consider should the technology take-off) when it comes to IP ownership – but we should be proud of what CDE stands for and some of the technologies it is nurturing and refining.

Investment is a key theme for MoD this week after earlier announcing the Industrial Engagement Policy (DSIEP), which is designed to encourage global defence suppliers to invest in the UK sector and underpin British exports in an increasingly competitive market. It’s been launched as a follow-on strategy to the recent ‘National Security Through Technology’ White Paper that set out MoD’s new approach to procurement.

Minister Luff said: “We have had long and successful relationships with our overseas-based suppliers and I believe they will continue to see the benefits of our new Industrial Engagement Policy and will want to be seen to continue their significant and valued contributions to our vibrant defence and security sector.”

But keen to dispel talks of this being bad for British business, at the International Armoured Vehicles conference in February Luff gave a clear message during his keynote speech. “Wherever possible, we’ll be looking to meet our defence requirements through open competition in both the domestic and global market,” Luff said.” However, the strength of British industry means our companies should not fear this competition … We will help sustain the necessary skills, infrastructure and intellectual property we need to allow us to build and safeguard our national security.”

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