SMEs set to benefit from UK Defence and Security Industrial Strategy
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SMEs set to benefit from UK Defence and Security Industrial Strategy

By Harry Lye 25 Mar 2021

Small to Medium Enterprises (SMEs) are set to benefit from the UK’s new Defence and Security Industrial Strategy (DSIS) which promises to refresh the Ministry of Defence’s (MOD) commitment to working with them and reduce barriers, improving access.

SMEs set to benefit from UK Defence and Security Industrial Strategy
Digital Concepts Engineering’s X2 UGV with fitted Vitavox Outacom system alongside the company’s X3 UGV and a Challenger 2 Main Battle Tank (MBT). Image: Digital Concepts Engineering.

Under the plans set out by DSIS, the MOD is set to publish a new SME Action Plan aimed at increasing opportunities for SMEs to do business with the department.

The Defence Technology Exploitation Programme currently being trialled in Northern Ireland will be expanded into a UK-wide initiative designed to foster better collaboration between SMEs and larger prime contractors.

The founder UK immersive close-combat training technology specialist 4GD Rob Taylor told Army Technology: “The DSIS appears to show the government’s renewed commitment to support and enhance British SMEs in the defence sector, supporting innovative businesses and giving them the space and tools needed to develop and deliver world-leading capabilities.

“This is a welcome first step in building an environment where specialist, veteran-led companies like 4GD can pursue previously closed-off opportunities and help level up the domestic defence market”

Lionel Nierop director at Digital Concepts Engineering (DCE), a UK developer of advanced robotic control systems and uncrewed vehicles including the X2 uncrewed ground vehicle (UGV) that has featured heavily in the British Army’s testing of robotic capabilities, said his company was excited to see the plan’s to improve SME engagement.

Nierop said: “We are excited to see that the Government’s plans will address many obstacles inherent with the status quo, in particular by considering the longer-term implications of procurement decisions, and we particularly welcome the news that defence procurement will be reviewed to enable more SME participation.”

DCE has seen success with its robotic systems developing an optionally-crewed Warrior Infantry Fighting Vehicle (IFV) for the British Army in 2018, and recently seeing success with its X2 and X3 UGVs.

Nierop added: “Overall the plan validates DCE’s significant investment in developing solutions to enable the robotic capabilities of the army’s future fighting force.

“We look forward to working with the army, MOD and the wider defence industry to make the vision a reality.”

The Department for International Trade will also establish a Defence and Security Faculty which as part of its export academy will aim to help SMEs do more business overseas.

The move to improve export support was praised by Angus Hone, CEO of Blighter Surveillance Systems, a UK manufacturer of electronic-scanning (e-scan) ground radar and counter-drone systems.

Hone told Army Technology: “We were delighted to see the government committing to further support for SMEs in the sector.

“As a small company looking to address both the home market as well as capitalise on export opportunities the commitment to better direct access here as well as renewed export support through DIT’s Export Academy was very well received. We look forward to building our relationship with the government going forward.”

Unlike the security sector, SME involvement in the defence supply chain typically tends to come as subcontractors to larger programmes rather than working directly with the MOD.

Plans will also see the creation of a Defence Suppliers Forum (DSF) SME Working Group to be chaired by the Minister for Defence Procurement Jeremy Quinn.