A Refreshing Look to the Future of Defence


Published 19th July 23

By Hetti Barkworth-Nanton, CEO of Ploughshare 

Defence Command Paper Refresh 2023

It’s safe to say that no one expected a Command Paper refresh so soon after the previous one was published. After all it was only two years ago, and it followed the Integrated Review. However, with the movement that we have seen on the Continent, the war in Ukraine and the effectiveness of an arguably under-equipped, but motivated and effective force against one that, on paper, should have steamrollered them – well, it was inevitable that many defence departments across the world would look inwards to learn lessons.

So, it was a fantastic opportunity that a Call for Evidence was sent out to the public sphere to input into the next Defence Command Paper. Industry, other government bodies, as well as the wider Defence Ecosystem came together to provide their opinions and evidence-backed anecdotal evidence to better the Defence ecosystem – and the results of that were published yesterday.

Ploughshare was one of the entities that was more than happy to provide evidence for this paper, and we’re incredibly happy to see that Ploughshare is mentioned by name in the paper on page 35 as a critical navigator in the journey to an ambitious new approach to the exploitation of Intellectual Property (IP), expediting military capability delivery, and helping the tech sector grow and create jobs. It demonstrates the value and utility we have as an organisation to defence.

A welcome introspection

That future is not 10 years from now. It is immediate, and technology, innovation, and invention are the very real, and very present need that the nation has.

We’ve seen defence, by MOD’s own admission, suffer at the length of time for change to be effectively put through the system. Our own brief is ensuring that there is a streamlined and efficient avenue to spinning out IP from Defence Science and Technology (S&T) and other innovators across the board. This in turn will accelerate military capability and the delivery of that capability. The desire to “reorganise our R&D, S&T and innovation structures to create a single joined-up system, reducing bureaucracy, increasing our ability to push S&T faster and more effectively into capability” is particularly welcome, as it helps us achieve this mission.

The only way that this can even begin to happen, however, is from continued investment in Research and Development (R&D) from government into those same technologies – whether improvements or novel – that will enable our Armed Forces to remain at the cutting edge of capability. The announcement of investing significantly more than £6.6 billion in advanced R&D to seize opportunities presented by new and emerging technologies is the tip of the iceberg with this. The prioritisation of nurturing and investment in sectors where military requirements exceed near-term civil demand is welcome also, given that a tonne of research potential exists within the labs in Dstl, DIANA, and beyond.

For each of our own areas of focus, Digital, Health and Wellbeing, Environment, Climate and Sustainability – the paper touches on all three of these as the priorities for defence and indeed come under the Five Critical Technologies that have been previously identified by National Science and Technology Council (NSTC). These are challenging, yet critical areas, outlined within the paper that need the problem-solving, innovation, and forward thinking that defence research has in abundance.

We, as a nation, are able to develop these ideas and inventions, and Ploughshare is able to help those ideas actually come to market efficiently and effectively, but often the obstacle is funding. Government funding can only go so far, and so a move towards involving and working far more closely with private equity and the venture capital community is also hugely important, and it’s fantastic to see MOD exploring this move to become closer to these actors. The relationships between the private equity and VC communities and National Security Strategic Investment Fund (NSSIF) and the NATO Innovation Fund (NIF) hold the key to unlock further research and ideas that are often languishing due to a lack of investment – and this is incredibly exciting to have more weight behind. The potential is huge.

A bright future

I’m hugely excited to see what the future holds for our researchers, our innovators, and the labs that some – frankly – incredible IP comes out of. We very much have the potential of seeing the next GPS, microwave, or skin-graft appear and have real impact on the world of defence, as well as the world at large. For government to be as forward thinking as they have been with this paper – as well as acknowledging where improvements can be made – only demonstrates to me an understanding of the impact that innovation can have to this country and to the world.

Ploughshare is proud to have contributed to this paper, and to have been singled out as the way to get innovation to the real world. We’ll continue to work for the betterment of the nation, and we have the people to help us do that. It’s a mission we’re all invested in, it’s a mission we’re all driven by, and it’s a mission that we will all – ultimately – benefit from.