Innovation is critical to the future of the UK defence sector

The latest round of armed forces redundancies announced last week by defence secretary Liam Fox poured fresh fuel on the smouldering debate over cuts to the UK’s defence budget.

From swingeing personnel reductions to the axing of the Harrier, and continuing controversy over the initial lack of aircraft for the UK’s new aircraft carriers, concerns persist over the impact of last October’s defence review on one of the UK’s most critical industrial sectors.

One might expect gloomy pessimism to be the dominant emotion of a sector set against such a backdrop. But if The Engineer’s experience over the past six months is anything to go by, the UK’s defence sector is in a bullish mood. Indeed, not only are its key companies determined to innovate in the face of adversity, but many industry insiders have suggested that austerity should be turned into a positive that the need to do more with less could act as a spur for innovation.

There’s no doubt that government would certainly like people to think that’s the case. In response to the cries of protest over the UK’s shrinking armed forces, Liam Fox last week insisted that extra money allocated to the equipment budget from 2014 will actually enhance the UK’s defence capability. While in our interview, Fox’s colleague, defence procurement minister Peter Luff, professes a deep admiration for the SMEs driving innovation in the defence industry. One wouldn’t really expect a politician to say anything else, but from our feature on the UK Royal Navy’s next generation of frigates, to our in-depth look at a cunning new approach to submarine countermeasures, the stories in this defence-themed issue do tell a positive story.

One particularly evident trend is the growing importance of tapping into expertise from other sectors an approach to innovation that’s brought to life in our feature on the Wildcat, an adapted off-road rally car, whose speed and agility could potentially provide better protection than any amount of armour.

“If The Engineer’s experience over the past six months is anything to go by, the UK’s defence sector is in a bullish mood”

The defence sector is becoming increasingly skilled at exploiting expertise from elsewhere but there’s still a long way to go. Few areas of industry are so bound up with notions of sovereignty, secrecy and security, and ensuring that the defence industry has the right mechanisms in place to harvest the best ideas from the UK’s diverse technology base will become ever more important.

Next week, The Engineer will be hosting a roundtable debate on this very issue at the DSEI show in London. To have your say, or put a question to our panel, leave your comments below