The UK Defence Industry firmly believes in staying at the leading edge of technology – for our national security – to equip and support our Armed Forces – and to keep us competitive on the world stage. The sector invests £3.3 billion annually in Research & Development. That equates to 14% of the total national R&D spend every year.
In the last two years, we filed more patent applications than the motoring and pharmaceutical industries put together. What does all this innovation lead to? Troops equipped to the highest standard, a thriving defence export business, and technical know how that helps keep Britain smart.
Innovation has long been associated with the defence industry – and with good reason, many of the seemingly simple, everyday technologies in use have their roots in the defence industry. Microwave technology, satellite navigation and even the internet can have their roots traced back to research carried out by the defence industry.
Many of the technological innovations from the defence industry are designed to improve the ability of troops in theatre to carry out their duties safely. Helicopters are a critical component of the UK’s operations as part of the UN force in Afghanistan and Thales’ ELIX-IR threat warning system is designed to keep pilots and passengers safe. ELIX-IR provides non-supersonic aircraft (Harriers as well as helicopters) with the ability to track hostile fire, not just from missiles but small arms and rocket propelled grenades too. In environments like Afghanistan, where sand can often partially obscure a pilots view, the ability to effectively see in the dark is vital and will contribute to saving many lives.
There are also a great number of smaller companies exhibiting this same thirst for innovation. Take Dreampact for example. A small company based at Heriot Watt University in Edinburgh, Dreampact won the MOD’s ‘Competition for Ideas’ in 2007 for their innovative iBall concept. The iBall is designed to be thrown by troops into dangerous rooms or areas and take real-time film, to enable a better assessment of the situation. This would drastically improve the likelihood of them surviving when entering unknown territory.
Although a small operation consisting of only a few employees, companies like Dreampact are a fine example of how the engineering ability and imagination of just a few individuals can create something from scratch that improves our troops’ ability to survive in the most challenging of environments.