Ministry of Defence unveils innovation priorities

Artificial intelligence and 3D printing are among the key areas of focus for the Ministry of Defence's latest approach to emerging tech

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) has set out key innovation priorities, with artificial intelligence (AI) and 3D printing being key areas of focus.

An assessment of which technologies will transform military operations, the Defence Technology Framework (DTF) and Defence Innovation Priorities (DIP) sets out the strategic technology roadmap and outline the investment plans for the department.

As well as detailing the MoD’s approach to identifying game-changing tools, the documents also announce the department’s intentions to have a “more sophisticated relationship” with the tech industry.

“We must make sure we are harnessing the power of innovation by working as efficiently and effectively with industry as possible,” said defence secretary Ben Wallace.

“Our transformed approach to using and procuring technology will not only help us secure our military advantage, but will help drive prosperity and create jobs across the country,” he added.

The DTF lays out seven technology “families” that will be applicable to its new vision, which range from AI and and advanced materials to energy storage and cutting-edge sensors.

Possible applications of these clusters, according to the framework, include deployed 3D printing, space tracking and communications, enhanced intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, as well as cyber defence, and automated logistics.

The DIP identifies opportunities where the civil sector can address problems in defence and seeks to “ensure the benefits of private sector innovation are translated effectively into the public sphere”.

The innovation vision includes a goal to integrate information and physical activity across domains – particularly space and cyber – and synchronise with other government departments to increase understanding and operational tempo. It also includes an objective to define how the department can access sufficiently skilled people to deliver its innovation outcomes.

The publication of the DTF and DIP builds on the Modernising Defence Programme announced in December 2018, which will invest £160m on fast-tracking new military capabilities onto the frontline.

Projects backed by the transformation fund under the programme include blood-clotting technology for use in the battlefield, as well as two new autonomous minehunter vessels to be used by the Navy.

According to the MoD, some £100m has already been invested in innovation so far, primarily in small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). Overall, the department spent almost £19bn with 16,000 UK suppliers in 2018.

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