The engineering industry is ever-changing as emerging and disruptive technologies constantly raise exciting new possibilities. Maintaining a technical edge through continuous innovation and investment is crucial, especially in defence, to successfully compete on the world stage. Great Britain has always been a nation of inventors, from Thomas Savery’s steam engine (commercialised by Thomas Newcomen) to James Dyson’s revolutionary domestic technology. As a nation we also have some of the finest universities in the world with almost a third of the world’s top ten universities located here. But despite this, as a nation we have not always supported the development of our technology as much as we need to.
In the area of defence, constant innovation is more important than ever when the threats we face are constantly changing. Our adversaries’ use of technology increasingly makes the jobs of our security forces ever more difficult. We must focus on inventing new world-beating technologies to stay ahead. We also need to collaborate. Large and small organisations need to build on each other’s’ strengths and adopt a collaborative, agile approach to managing and applying technologies for a common purpose.
We’ve also seen a revolution in the traditional providers of technology. The IT and automotive sectors could lead the way in areas that have historically sat within defence.
Defence companies have been forced to reconsider their approach to R&D as a result. We must collaborate to be able to compete in such an environment. We have to combine the scarce skillsets and expertise that exist across different organisations and academic institutions to offer cutting edge products and services to military customers and governments.
At BAE Systems our thinking has resulted in us embracing an innovative and complementary approach. We are working with academia, Government and a multitude of SMEs in our supply chain to harness emerging and disruptive technologies, as well as making strategic investments.
The Broadsword Spine e:textile is a great example of this approach working in practise. The Broadsword Spine e:textile acts as a data backbone for body worn equipment and has been developed in conjunction with Staines-based Intelligent Textiles Limited. Another great example is the £20.6m investment we have made in British firm Reaction Engines to accelerate their development of SABRE™, a new hypersonic aerospace engine.
Our close work with Government has seen us join other organisations in sharing our expertise on the High Value Manufacturing Catapult, as well as supporting the Ministry of Defence’s innovative work with SMEs to pull through defence technologies into rapid application. We are also proud to share our engineering expertise providing ‘in-kind’ support to UK Sport and Land Rover Ben Ainslie Racing technology has aided the pursuit of marginal gains across a host of sports.
BAE Systems is also acting as a mentor to help develop talent. We are supporting Cyber London (CyLon). Described as Europe’s first start-up cyber security incubator, CyLon offers professional training and mentorship to cyber technology start-ups, drawing upon the expertise of seasoned entrepreneurs, academic cybersecurity researchers, government officials and senior executives of customer organisations. We have also begun working more strategically with a number of universities with mutually beneficial research programmes. Recently we signed strategic partnerships with the universities of Cranfield, Southampton, Manchester and Birmingham.
Our approach is providing direct benefits to our customers and significantly reducing the amount of time it takes to apply new technologies to existing programmes. As part of a £1bn investment in production facilities, learnings from the automotive industry saw the introduction of overhead monorail systems in the Integrated Assembly Line for the new F-35 Lightning II aircraft at our Samlesbury site – allowing more units to be produced more efficiently than ever before. .
Bringing this more open and collaborative ethos to life at BAE Systems required a cultural shift and new strategic directives. We had to look at how we could integrate technology and work with others outside our organisation. But the changes have already paid dividends and we would hope that our experience will be valuable for other companies.
For our country to remain a global leader in technology and innovation, large businesses, SMEs and Government bodies must collaborate and work together to deliver real value to the UK.