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Tech biz must be more export-focused, says defence kit minister

We like your startups – now help post-Brexit UK and start selling abroad

By Gareth Corfield, 15 Sep 2017

DSEI 2017 Britain should ramp up exports of defence tech wares after Brexit - and this means more than the traditional guns ‘n’ spyware, according to defence procurement minister Harriett Baldwin MP.

Speaking at the Defence Security Exhibition International (DSEI) yesterday morning, Baldwin highlighted the Ministry of Defence’s £80m-a-year Innovation Fund, intended to open up the MoD to new ideas and technologies, chiefly from the tech sector beloved of Register readers.

“Winning ideas included robotic ground vehicles, Uber-like delivery apps, unmanned air vehicles, including autonomous hoverbikes,” said the minister. “These winners will now share almost £2m to take their ideas of the drawing table and quickly get them into field testing with our army and allies.”

The £800m military tech crèche was launched last year in (where else?) Shoreditch to a mixed reception, with some industry delegates seemingly scornful of the notion that the MoD is trying to change its glacial procurement processes.

Amongst firms to have won further funding include Animal Dynamics, which makes a dragonfly-sized reconnaissance drone, Blue Bear Systems, a drone startup, and - of course - BAE Systems. Autonomous driving firm Oxbotica also got a namecheck in Baldwin’s speech: the company is set to begin public trials of its tech on motorways, as we reported in July.

Post-Brexit, exports are becoming increasingly critical for the UK’s economic survival, and Baldwin was keen to stress how much the MoD and its various agencies are getting on board with the programme. She said: “[Exporting] isn’t just good for the UK’s bottom line. Or to increase allied interoperability. It is something that spurs greater creativity. The approach we’re taking to build exportability into our thinking, to consider the needs of potential buyers, must become the rule rather than the exception.”

She continued: “We must ask how their system or new bit of technology will work not just for us, but for other forces. All of us can name numerous inventions that have made it into the mainstream, from the GPS to the World Wide Web; the jet engine to splashproof technology. They succeeded almost by accident.”

Baldwin also noted that the reason the UK won the contract for F-35 fighter jet avionics overhaul was “because our bid saw companies and government combining in a triumph of unity.”

Obviously the government hopes that sort of unity becomes the norm; as well as providing good headlines for ministers, it feeds into the whole “UK plc” vision of plucky Britain successfully flogging our products to an eager world market. Whether that plays out as hoped when the UK actually leaves the EU in March 2019 will be down to a combination of political skill and luck; neither of which are in plentiful supply at the moment. ®

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