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Ministry of Defence publishes new Science & Technology Strategy

techUK summarises the recently published MOD Science & Technology Strategy 2020.

The Ministry of Defence (MOD) has recognised that it must change how it invests in and develops capability to avoid falling behind adversaries. To secure and maintain both scientific and technological advantage the MOD has released its new Science and Technology (S&T) Strategy, which sets out the department’s priorities and approach to S&T in the coming years. The Strategy recognises that Defence needs to radically enhance its understanding of the current and future technological landscape, and provides a roadmap to achieve a future in which the UK is a Global Science Power that is fit to face the national security challenges of the future.

The Strategy is split into the following 5 sections, with each subsequent section building those earlier in the report:

  1. The Geopolitical context
  2. Understanding the future
  3. Making the right decisions
  4. Seizing the opportunities
  5. Strategy implementation and monitoring our progress

techUK has briefly summarised each section below. If you would like to read the full report, you can find it here.

The geopolitical context

The threat landscape is complex and has evolved significantly over the last few years. Whilst extremist organisations remain a concern, threats from peer or near-peer adversaries who are actively competing with the UK and its allies have increased significantly.

Technological advances in recent years have enabled adversaries to threaten the UK in a variety of new ways, which range from the subtle undermining of democracy and government institutions through to cyber-attacks and operations in the ‘grey-zone’ which sit below the threshold of armed conflict.

Alongside these geopolitical threats,  destruction of the natural environment and the widespread impacts of climate change continue to have a destabilising effect on security and stability, requiring Defence S&T to ensure that its portfolio covers a wide range of threats the UK faces now and into the future.  

Understanding the future

The MOD will look to revitalise its Futures programme, combining it with strategic analysis capabilities to identify and incubate understanding of the impact of emerging technologies and novel threats for Defence. This will be coupled with an understanding of the changing nature of threats to provide Defence with a single, comprehensive source of advice and direction on the promising technologies to prioritise, how they could be used and combined with future capabilities, the issues and challenges from the geopolitical context they could precipitate and the S&T investments and policies MOD needs to adopt.

Crucially, the MOD will prioritise S&T research that is most likely to be useful to military capability. This approach will also cohere activities through Defence Concepts, Defence Intelligence, Capability Planning and S&T to provide a unified evidential base for Defence to plan its future.

Making the right decisions

The MOD aims to create a coherent departmental approach with a strong scientific evidence base to underpin key strategic decisions. This will focus on prioritising the right investment in R&D while ensuring rigorous scientific thought is applied to wider policy and programmatic choices across the MOD.

To do this, MOD will:

  • Prioritise R&D according to the capability outcomes.
  • Refocus the Chief Scientific Advisor’s (CSA) S&T budget to ensure that Defence has decisive military advantage in the ‘generation after next’ capabilities.
  • Balancing capability needs with appropriate S&T resource to ensure provision of opportunities to develop future decisive military edge.
  • Identify and understand the capability challenges R&D must address and the outcomes required to realise the ambitions of the Integrated Operating Concept 2025 (IOpC25).
  • Shape the broader decision-making culture in Defence, supporting scientific literacy and relentless promotion of evidence-based decision making.

The MOD has identified five of Defence’s most significant enduring capability challenges, where emerging technologies can give the UK a decisive edge in the future, in the context of IOpC25 and looking beyond to future operating environments and the Future Force Concepts. These capability challenges are:

  1. Pervasive, full spectrum, multi-domain Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR)
  2. Multi-domain Command & Control, Communications and Computers (C4)
  3. Secure and sustain advantage in the sub-threshold
  4. Asymmetric hard power
  5. Freedom of Access and Manoeuvre

The S&T Strategy will aim to resolve policy issues before the point of technology maturation, and the S&T policy function will work collaboratively across Defence to identify critical emerging technologies and to develop forward thinking technology policies..

Seizing the Opportunities

The CSA will guide MOD and wider government partners in this endeavour as part of an enterprise approach. More broadly, the S&T research portfolio must balance needs across Defence and fund fundamental research to underpin the development of ‘generation after next’ capabilities and to sustain critical capabilities on behalf of UK Defence and Security.

Some of the capabilities that the CSA will continue to support include:

  • Chemical, biological, radiological
  • Cyber
  • Electromagnetic environment
  • Energetics
  • Forensic Science
  • Intelligence
  • Military Working Animals
  • Novel materials and weapons
  • Signature management
  • Survivability/threat evaluation

The S&T strategy outlines the MOD’s commitment to build on relationships with industry, academia and international partners in order to reaffirm a new S&T collaboration and engagement strategy. This will design-in collaboration, minimise conflicting priorities and merge S&T delivery. Primarily, MOD engagement with industry will focus on the future outcomes set out with the five capability challenges, providing a clear signal of intent to help guide endeavour in industry that aligns to Defence needs. The Strategy commits the MOD to avoid using military jargon when dealing with external partners, and to avoid pre-judging solutions.

Strategy implementation and monitoring progress

The MOD is clear that it will evaluate progress of the aims set out in the S&T strategy against the following metrics:

  • The five capability challenges
  • The benefits realised through the S&T investment portfolio
  • The sustainment of critical S&T capabilities
  • The impact of S&T on departmental policy and strategy
  • S&T collaboration and engagement.

These metrics will allow Defence to adjust and accelerate as it progresses and evolves intended impacts as more ambitious goals become achievable. The CSA will provide expert interpretation of these metrics and will guide the MOD towards world leading S&T outcomes.

The full goals are as follows:

In the short term

  • Publication of a Strategy Implementation Plan (SIP)
  • The establishment of the five capability challenges established at the heart of departmental R&D priorities
  • A revitalised S&T Futures and technology incubation programme
  • Clear policy positions on the critical S&T capabilities we need to sustain
  • A designed approach to S&T collaboration

Within a year

  • A refreshed S&T portfolio design
  • Close working across MOD and with other government departments on S&T intelligence and strategy
  • A published S&T collaboration and engagement strategy
  • Clear direction to academia and industry on our priority areas of focus
  • Governance in place to identify and intervene in non-coherent R&D activities

Within two years

  • Framework for Monitoring and Evaluation of S&T in MOD implemented
  • Establishment of an anticipatory policy framework
  • A clear focus on the generation-after-next capabilities within CSA’s S&T investments
  • S&T data is effectively curated and shared for Defence and Security Benefits
  • Agreements of a sustainable basis for critical S&T capabilities for Defence and Security across Government

Longer term

  • A challenge-led approach embedded in Defence Force Development
  • A seamless pipeline from fundamental research to capability in the hands of the user
  • S&T exploitation plans directly feeding into Front Line Commands capability management strategies and plans
  • A permanent cultural shift in the department approach to S&T
  • A cycle of production of the next set of capability challenges for Defence that are susceptible to disruption through S&T.


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