In many ways the business of warfare has remained unchanged for thousands of years, the debate between mobility and protection, the need to take and hold ground and the arts of deception are subjects that might have been discussed by the Romans or ancient Greeks. Also true is that the military has always been at the vanguard of technology and innovation.
Within the UK the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory or DSTL has recently become responsible for leading the defence science and technology (S&T) research programme – designing, formulating and commissioning programmes with industry (large and small), academia and other research organisations.
This of course begs the question, what exactly were they doing before?
As part of these changes the Defence Technology and Innovation Centre at Shrivenam will close, saving approximately £5million per year in running costs and its duties transferred back to DSTL.
If one looks back through the history of the UK, in all areas of science and technology, it is simply littered with example after example where the combination of science and engineering has provided the military of this nation with an advantage.
Admittedly, in recent times, innovation in military matters has been somewhat lacking with many key systems and technologies coming from others but as we inevitably look beyond the recession and the recognition that the nation’s economy is too reliant on financial services we need to start thinking about nurturing and encouraging innovation in British military technology, with its inevitable commercial spin-offs.
Science and technology research funding has been falling steadily in line with defence spending, whatever Gordon Brown will have you think, this has to be reversed now and some of the more promising technologies bought to commercial fruition.
There are projects in both the short and long term, combining science and engineering.
We have blogged this before but its importance to the UK should not be underestimated; it is in fact the first aircraft designed and built solely in the UK for 40 years with full sovereign control. It is innovative and has real potential. Recently returned from Australia where it has completed a number of operationally relevant tests Mantis is now likely to benefit from sustainment funding at a low level until the SDR concludes. Its big brother, the Taranis UCAV, is also ticking along at a relatively sedate pace.
The UK has for a long time been at the forefront of armour technology with Chobham and Dorchester composite armour making western armoured vehicles the best protected. Unfortunately, we seem to have fallen behind with some aspects of armour, notably reactive armour, where Israel has a market lead. Hoping to pull this lead back is a little known technology called Super Bainite.
Super Bainite is the result of a process developed by DSTL, QinetiQ and the University of Cambridge that allows armour to be produced at a low temperature called isothermal hardening. The result is an extremely strong armour without having to resort to steel alloys which means it can be produced at a fraction of the cost of conventional steel plate armour.
So yes, we can innovate.