Maintaining the nation’s defence and security


Georgia Langdon on how civilian companies and the military are working together to the benefit of the UK.


Built upon a strong tradition of manufacturing innovation, the skills and expertise found in UK industry have a vital role in maintaining the nation’s defence and security. Without this contribution, the Armed Forces would not be able to rely on the equipment and services required to fulfil their operational responsibilities at home and overseas. Accounting for 20 per cent of the global market, UK defence and security companies also play an important part in re-balancing the nation’s economy, and represent major exporting opportunities. However, as the shape of UK defence and security changes and becomes increasingly intertwined, the demand on industry has shifted to meet complex new range of security challenges.



As defence industry analyst and commentator, Howard Wheeldon, suggests “wars are won and lost today not by the availability of equipment and troops but by technology”. This relatively recent revolution in military affairs is based predominantly on the development of highly sophisticated telecommunications, electronics and information technology. Indeed, a significant proportion of new military’ network enabled capability’ has been developed by civilian companies focused on the commercial market.

The crossover between common technologies is reflected by a crossover in demand, as military and civilian security professionals cooperate on an increasing number of operations. The Armed Forces and the security services will of course continue to have separate requirements and specific equipment is designed for these purposes. As Wheeldon puts in, “the need for the UK to have a primary defence capability that is seen as an active deterrent will remain unchanged.” However, in cases of environmental or security issues, the overlap of functions between the military, para-military and non-military powers proves a clear case for prioritising the dual use of defence and security technology wherever possible.

As western governments actively seek cost and time efficiencies across defence programmes, security and defence applications are progressively being drawn from a shared technical base. The technology used to detect Improvised Explosive Devices, for example, also has an important role in civilian life, screening people for weapons and hazardous materials.

Surveillance is another area where similar requirements, whether it is for protection of national borders or to monitor emergency humanitarian operations, call upon common resources. Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV), for example, clearly demonstrate how equipment can be adapted to the particular needs of the customer and are today used by the military, crisis managers and coast guards alike. Similarly, space technologies exemplify how satellites and earth observation systems are applicable to both defence and security concerns.

As the market becomes increasingly competitive, major defence companies are starting to identify synergies in new markets and demonstrate their cross-sector capabilities. Dr Alex Ashbourne-Walmsley, Associate Fellow of the Royal United Services Institute, agrees: “With a few exceptions, such as complex weapons or the nuclear deterrent, the once clear boundaries between defence and security are becoming increasingly blurred. Large traditional defence and aerospace companies such as Northrop Grumman or BAE Systems are growing and prioritising heir security businesses. Even in a time of tightened budgets, governments are willing to spend more on security, especially cyber security”.


Security on the frontline

Global acts of terrorism and volatile geo-political situations have shocked and fundamentally altered traditional thinking about security. Where once defence and security issues were addressed separately “security is now an increasingly important element of how the public feel that the Government is protecting national interests within the defence concept” explains Howard Wheeldon. Moreover, “the need to ensure greater internal protection from potential enemies and the threat of terrorism has required new and radical thinking toward provision of greater internal security”. Supported by record financial investments, security is now broadly defined by four main pillars: border control; civil and citizen’s protection; cyber security and critical infrastructure protection. In Americas case, this has led to the establishment of a Department of Homeland Security.

The UK’s approach to homeland security has also evolved in response not only to overt terrorism but to dramatic weather and civil unrest. This change in emphasis is highlighted by the recent deployment of the Army and Royal Marines to areas cut off by extreme flooding and the Mayor of London’s current (albeit controversial) conviction that the introduction of water cannon – equipment traditionally confined to the arsenal of paramilitary- is the “most economical interim solution…to prevent disorder on the streets Brett Lovegrove, Chair of the LCCI Defence and Security Committee and former Head of Counter Terrorism for the City of London Police, confirms that “the private and public sectors are very interested in ex-military know how. There is talk about some police forces deploying UAVs in addition to helicopters, for example. This will need ex-military expertise”. Indeed, Sussex police has just announced that it is currently trialling small UAVs at Gatwick Airport to help officers monitor the area.

Most importantly the UK government has also pledged £860 million to support the National Cyber Security Strategy until 2016. This is just as well. Contemporary society’s increasing dependence on interconnected infrastructure – think transport, information and energy – exposes significant vulnerabilities in the system. Additionally, the advancement in technology and now widespread access to information makes it that much easier for hostile or malevolent activity.

The complex, intangible and often unpredictable battle being fought in cyberspace presents a major and well-documented threat o national security – and responding to this challenge fundamentally requires a united front. “Tackling the increasing threat of cyber-attacks will inevitably influence the shape of the UK’s Strategic Defence and Security Review in 2015,” said Dr Ashbourne-Walmsley. “But with the strain on the defence budget showing no signs of easing, the Ministry of Defence will be looking for other government departments, such as the Home Office, to share the burden of the cost of protecting the UK from this non-traditional threat,” she added.


Cross-over and cooperation

The future of the defence and security industry without the backing of technology is clearly out of the question; however technology in itself cannot guarantee security. In order to maximise the benefits of the multi-functional capabilities being developed by industry, it is essential for civil and military leaders to foster cross-sector integration more broadly between the defence and security communities. Interoperability not just of technology, but between people is crucial, since many humanitarian operations for example, rely on civil, security and military forces working closely together. The only way new threats, conflicts or crises can be comprehensively tackled, it is claimed, will be by combined training to coordinate these efforts.

There is, of course, a limit to what the defence and security industries can share with the Private and Public sector. What they can do however, according to Brett Lovegrove, “is thoroughly understand each other’s business, identify the needs
of the private and public sector, analyse what wider society is able to adopt – culturally, legally and with human rights in mind – and be realistic regarding any provision in the medium to long term”.

Doubtless the years of experience and expertise puts the defence, aerospace and security sectors in a strong position to respond to emerging global challenges. Together, defence and security exports bring significant benefit to the UK, enabling cooperation with its allies on mutual concerns and support interoperability within its own forces. The value of this overseas business must not be underestimated – figures show that defence and security exports brought £8.8 billion and 2.7 billion to the UK respectively in 2012, while the Government Predicts that global security spending will rise to £150 billion by 2015. For the UK to remain ahead amidst a fierce global race, parallel expertise must continue to be shared between defence companies and the civil sector, developing robust and innovative capabilities while securing the nation against a growing range of new challenges.


Georgia Langdon is a member of the LCCI defence and security committee and communications director at CMS strategic

Comments are closed.