31 Jul 2017 - By
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What innovations will shape the future of defence procurement?

From drones and unmanned vehicles to robotics and 4D printing, the tools needed for keeping nations safe in the 21st century are changing and evolving in surprising ways.

With this in mind, the Ministry of Defence has made a concerted effort to encourage innovation in its business, and attract new and non-traditional suppliers to develop innovative solutions in the defence industry.

This is reflected in recent spending announcements, such as the Defence Innovation Initiative, which was launched last September to engender a new culture of innovation within the MOD and will see an investment of £800 million over the next ten years to “target new providers to boost the competitive advantage of UK defence and find answers to our most pressing national security questions from across sectors at pace”.

This approach is designed to help the UK keep pace with a similar shift in other parts of the world – including the US, where there have been strategic investments in disruptive technologies such as drones and robotics to maintain their military dominance. It is hoped that by encouraging innovative solutions and finding creative ways to solve pressing problems, the MOD’s culture will become more agile, creative and forward-thinking.

And it’s clear that innovations are needed. It is known that strategists within the Armed Forces are alarmed by the shrinking gap between the technological capabilities of Britain’s military compared to its potential adversaries, after a leaked report detailed the British Army’s concerns over Russia’s latest technological advances.

But what are the interesting innovations that will shape the future of defence procurement? We took a look and identified the following three key areas:

 

Drones and unmanned vehicles

Drones and unmanned vehicles have been growing steadily in the defence sector, but they will continue to become more evolved in the coming years as they become smaller, smarter and more high-tech.

For example, the MOD has already announced that it is working on ‘micro-drones’ inspired by the biology of a dragonfly in conjunction with Animal Dynamics. This will use cutting-edge micro-engineering for unparalleled levels of performance, and has the potential to have a huge impact on intelligence-gathering operations in dense, urban areas in the future.

Additionally, with drones becoming ever-smaller, militaries are exploring the use of ‘drone swarms’ which allow hundreds of tiny drones to operate as a single unit. This would be a highly disruptive innovation – while any individual aircraft, manned or unmanned, can be taken down with a single hit, a swarm would be able to take multiple hits and keep going.

Reports show that the UK Government is already exploring the possibility of drone swarms, after the US successfully tested one last year.

 

Robotics

Robotics is also likely to play a leading role in the defence sector in the future, with a number of developments and advances in the field demonstrating a clear military capability, as well as the potential to work collaboratively with humans in the battlefield.

For example, the MOD has announced it is working on a mobile robotic solution that can inspect incidents involving harmful chemical materials as well as detecting radiological and nuclear threats that humans would otherwise miss. In this instance, robotics offers the Armed Forces the clear advantage of being able safely to travel across hazardous terrains and execute dangerous surveillance missions.

As such solutions continue to become more sophisticated, autonomous and reliable, they will become more integrated within the defence industry as a way to complement, emulate and enhance human intelligence.

 

Next-generation manufacturing technologies

Another area that is likely to evolve over the coming years is manufacturing technology, as key players in the defence industry partner with some of the world’s leading researchers to develop a new generation of intelligent materials.

4D printing is one such technology, taking 3D printing to the next level by creating dynamic 3D-printed materials that can change shape by themselves when confronted with outside forces such as water, movement or change in temperature.

The research, which is currently being pioneered by scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology at their Self Assembly Lab, has the potential for a wide range of uses across virtually all areas of the defence industry.

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