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How to tap the potential of the military market

07 Mar 2005

The UK's Ministry of Defence can help SMEs and universities fund state-of-the-art research. Neil Whitehall, operations director at one of its technology centres, explains how.

Cutting-edge technology is vital for providing the armed services with battle-winning capabilities. In the UK alone, the Ministry of the Defence (MOD) spends £450 m (€653 m) each year on defence research. The good news for the photonics industry is that the MOD is keen to work closely with small-to-medium enterprises (SMEs) and academic institutions throughout Europe to stimulate innovation and test emerging technologies.

In order to make this collaboration as efficient as possible, the MOD has recently formed four Defence Technology Centres (DTCs) with the aim of accelerating the development of early-stage technologies for use in its equipment programmes. The most relevant DTC to OLE readers is the electro-magnetic remote sensing (EMRS) DTC, which organizes collaborative projects in the area of innovative sensors (see the box adjacent, "EMRS-DTC explained").

For anyone interested in getting involved with EMRS projects, here are the answers to some frequently asked questions:

What are the benefits of getting involved with projects through EMRS-DTC? The defence market is characterized by long procurement cycles. For SMEs, these extended cycle times have always been financially problematic as the time between initial engagement and point of reward is difficult to bridge. However, by engaging with defence sector prime-contractors via an EMRS-DTC research project, SMEs can form valuable relationships and establish themselves as providers of key technology.

How do the projects operate? All projects are operated under contract to the EMRS-DTC prime contractor, BAE Systems Avionics. Projects are reviewed quarterly through meetings with the EMRS-DTC team and MOD representatives. Projects in related areas of technology are grouped together for review and participants share knowledge and experience to help overcome any problems, which adds an element of positive peer review to the management process.

What is a typical project duration and financing arrangement? All projects are fully funded and the originators (commonly called "science providers") retain full ownership of their intellectual property. Science providers can benefit through technology-licensing agreements if their research is successful. They are also free to seek licensing agreements in non-military markets. Projects are typically of between one and three years in duration. The terms are constructed to be highly attractive as this guarantees a strong "technology push" from the science base into the DTC.

How can SMEs and universities get involved or bid for projects? Each year, between October and the end of December, the EMRS-DTC holds an open call for research proposals. This process is available to all and information on military-sensing requirements is published to help the science base understand how their capabilities may be relevant. At bidders' conferences, the DTC team describes the terms and conditions under which work is contracted, and the application process bidders need to complete.

Do I have to be based in the UK? No, the model is one of open opportunity. The UK Government's policy is to support engagement with European partners and it regards defence as a global market.

Inside the EMRS-DTC programme we currently have a project with VTT Electronics (Finland) on low-temperature co-fired ceramics, and we have a project with Blue Horizon Inc (US) on rapid development methods. Our project with Element 6 on diamond MESFET technology includes partners at Ulm University (Germany) and our work at Thales Optics (North Wales) on diffraction grating modelling includes materials development work at Thales Research & Technology in Orsay (outside Paris). UK defence research has an international dimension, where security permits, and where there is a capability that does not exist in the UK.

How can I find out more? The annual conference is the DTC's main channel for the dissemination of unclassified output. This year, it will take place on 16-17 June at the Edinburgh International Conference Centre. At the conference, the EMRS-DTC science providers can show their work to the military sensing community where its potential will be assessed. The event provides an excellent opportunity for those organizations considering applying through the DTC's annual call for proposals to view the entire programme and position their own proposals to maximum effect. Bookings for the conference commenced on this month. For further information on the EMRS-DTC and this year's annual technical conference, see www.emrsdtc.com/conferences.

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