Home Editor's View Focusing on R&D

Focusing on R&D

by Brian Sims
Brian Sims BA (Hons) Hon FSyI: Editor of Risk UK

Brian Sims BA (Hons) Hon FSyI: Editor of Risk UK

Pre-dating a Strategic Defence and Security Review scheduled to take place later on this year, the Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies (RUSI) report entitled ‘The Future of Research and Development in the UK’s Security and Intelligence Sector’ explores the UK’s R&D roadmap to 2020, duly identifying a series of recommendations for the British Government and stakeholders across the security and intelligence community.

Authored by Charlie Edwards (director of the National Security and Resilience Studies Group at RUSI) and Calum Jeffray (that same group’s research Fellow), the Whitehall-based Think Tank’s excellent document suggests that, in recent years, UK Government spending on R&D in security and defence has fallen faster than in any other area.

At the same time, the Security Service and intelligence agencies face an ever-more diverse range of “technically competent adversaries” and yet “have less control than ever” over the development of new technologies.

“Investment in R&D in the UK has continued to fall over the last 30 years,” explained Edwards. “In 2012, the year for which you’ll find the most recent figures, R&D amounted to 1.72% of UK GDP. This was lower than the 2.06% average for the EU and far short of the Government’s target to have increased UK R&D investment to 2.5% of GDP by last year.”

RUSI states there’s a widespread belief that current levels of funding for R&D activities in the security and defence sector are insufficient. “This is problematic in the area of national security, where operational priorities often necessitate innovation that’s fast and responsive to the needs of the security and intelligence agencies without any disproportionate financial burden.”

While the Government and its agencies have indeed taken notable steps of late to increase their level of transparency and open up the market to a broader range of “young and technically adept” SMEs, RUSI believes that “significant obstacles” remain when it comes to linking Government requirements for national security with emerging capabilities across the private sector.

Addressing the significant challenges around sustaining technological advantage, the RUSI report explores ways in which to improve engagement between Government, private investors and industry operating in this sector to ensure that R&D investment is strengthened, priority capabilities are understood by investors and that all critical proficiencies are maintained.

Key recommendations are that Government needs to attract more private investors to the security sector by increasing market confidence. There must be clearer indications from Parliament on technology policy, strategy and procurement which, urges RUSI, would improve investor confidence and help industry to “better allocate its R&D resources” in priority areas.

Investment in R&D for security must be increased and the ‘culture of secrecy’ broken down for investors “unable to gauge market requirements” and the return on their fiscal injections.

Today’s threat environment is hugely complex. With budgetary pressures ongoing, RUSI’s desire to witness an increased market confidence that will attract new private finance in security and intelligence R&D simply must be facilitated by Westminster.

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