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The Ministry of Defence (MoD) has launched a science and technology strategy, setting out how the department will maintain technological advantage in the future.
The strategy said the MoD has realised that it must “change how we invest in and develop capability to avoid falling behind our adversaries”.
“Through science and technology (S&T), we can seize opportunities and pre-empt future threats,” it said. “We must act differently in order to meet these challenges and pursue a highly technological and innovative future to realise our ambition of becoming an integrated high-tech armed force.
“We must radically enhance the way we understand the current and future technological landscape to achieve this future. We must fuse this insight, together with policy implications, to ensure we identify and integrate emerging technologies into generation-after-next capabilities for our armed forces and deliver the capability outcomes we need.”
The strategy added that this requires a full shift from simply seeing science and technology as a way to solve problems, to a “strategic theatre of competition”.
“It is not enough just to develop world-class S&T and apply it to defence problems – we need to go further, actively using our S&T system as part of a broader UK approach focused on delivering national advantage through S&T,” it said.
The MoD has set out five capability challenges where emerging technologies can give the UK a “decisive edge” in the future.
These include full-spectrum, multi-domain intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) to respond to threats and opportunities of emerging technologies affecting the ability to conduct ISR through affordable systems, developing capability for multi-domain integration and ability to coordinate effects globally, enabling the department to execute joint operations against adversaries with resilient capabilities.
The capabilities also include securing and sustaining “advantage in the sub-threshold – improve the UK’s ability to compete against adversaries below the threshold of conventional conflict and address our vulnerabilities” and develop highly capable systems “to target adversaries in new ways across all domains; develop novel means of delivery of hard power and effective protection against highly capable adversaries”, it said.
The government will also generate affordable, survivable capability, responsive to rapidly evolving threats operated “within a denied electromagnetic environment and be interoperable with our allies and partners”.
Defence secretary Ben Wallace said UK defence is “in a very real race with our adversaries for technological advantage”.
He added: “What we do today will lay the groundwork for decades to come. Proliferation of new technologies demands our science and technology is threat-driven and better aligned to our needs in the future.”
The MoD aims to act differently in order to “pursue a highly technological and innovative future”, and said it is important to “respond appropriately to technology-driven issues and prioritise the right investment research and development (R&D) while ensuring that across the department, rigorous scientific thought is applied to all our wider policy and programmatic choices”. However, it added that it is important to distinguish clearly between S&T and R&D.
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“S&T generates the enabling technology and system building blocks required for R&D,” it said. “R&D then integrates and matures these building blocks to operational capability.”
The strategy sets out short-term and long-term goals, aiming to future-proof the MoD’s technology approach.
“If we wish to compete in the global technology race, we must make a step-change in our efforts to understand the future, and then act decisively to take advantage of this knowledge,” the strategy said.
The MoD plans to increase collaboration across defence and be more efficient and effective in searching for new S&T, finding out which developments will be useful to the defence sector.
“We need to use new technologies to draw meaning and inference from the wealth of external data, exploit novel approaches to human networks to gather personal insights from a wider range of experts, and better fuse all of that with our existing internal analysis to promote sound, joined-up decisions,” it said.
In the short term, the MoD will publish a strategy implementation plan, establish the five capability challenges at the head of the departmental R7D priorities and revitalise its S&T futures and technology incubation programme.
Within a year, it will refresh its science and portfolio design and publish an S&T collaboration and engagement strategy, and within two years it will establish an anticipatory policy framework, curate and share S&T data effectively and implement a framework for monitoring and evaluation of S&T in the MoD.
Launching the strategy, chief scientific adviser Angela McLean said: “We need a clear focus on what we want science and technology to achieve.
“I will champion a challenge-led approach, based on trends across science, technology and the military, to set out what we need to be able to do in the future and how we can build towards it through our S&T activity.”