Minister for Defence Equipment, Support and Technology Philip Dunne signs a communiqué with the US Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics Frank Kendall Feb.6 at the Ministry of Defence in London. (Sgt. Pete Mobbs / MoD/Crown copyright)
LONDON — Great Britain and the US have signed a defense pact aimed at increasing the number of collaborative science and technology programs undertaken by the longtime allies.
The two sides have earmarked research in three new areas to kick-start the initiative and Vernon Gibson, Britain's defense chief scientific adviser, is due in the US next week for talks with his Pentagon counterpart, Al Shaffer, to push the programs forward, said Philip Dunne, the UK defense minister responsible for procurement and technology.
Cyber security, space research, and energy use and consumption are the immediate collaboration targets — and Dunne said it's possible work on satellite capabilities will be the first program to get underway.
"I can't be too specific at this stage, but our chief scientific adviser in going to be in the US next week to beef up where the first specific projects will be focused," said Dunne. “I think the whole area of satellite communications, navigation and surveillance is an important area of focus for us. It's possible we could end up with a first project from this communiqué coming out of that area.”
The British defense minister signed a communiqué with US Defense under secretary Frank Kendall earlier this month.
The UK and US are already each others’ largest international research partners, but this is the first formal defense science agreement between the two sides and comes at a time when defense research and science spending in both nations is under increasing pressure.
Aside from setting up the new programs Dunne said the two sides were also looking to take forward existing programs already being pursued under collaborative arrangements.
"We are looking at building on existing high profile projects, such as next generation aircraft beyond the F-35, force protection, counter terrorism and chemical and biological defense," he said in a telephone interview Feb 24.
"The arrangement has a wide ranging remit, but it's not circumscribed by an amount of money or deliverables over a set time frame. It's about providing an opportunity for our science and technology communities in the MoD, the Pentagon and industry to recognize we are looking to collaborate increasingly in some of these areas I have outlined," said Dunne.
Initially, the research work will start with the MoD's Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL) and the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.
However, Dunne said that with the DSTL policy of commissioning work from outside, he "wouldn't rule out use of private sector or academic institutions to support the work we are doing."
Declining budget conditions are changing behaviors in defense — and collaborating with international partners in research and science is part of the reaction to that trend — said the British defense minister.
Research partnering comes against a background of the previous Labour administration slashing the defense research and technology budget prior to 2010.
Although the Conservative-led coalition government installed a minimum spend in the sector of 1.2 percent — roughly £400 million — of the total defense budget, few think that's sufficient to maintain Britain's long-term position as a leading high technology equipment supplier.
Dunne said the Government is trying to do better and has made a "conscious decision to make a modest increase in the coming year to about 1.3 percent" of a total budget that the minister conceded was being trimmed.
"Collaboration generally is increasingly a response to some of the budget pressures,” he said. “You can't make a direct read across to what happened with the US defense budget announcement Monday, but we have been very clear since we went through the 2010 strategic defense and security review that one of the areas where we need to improve bang for buck is to collaborate with our allies.”
The US science arrangement is the latest in a string of similar collaboration deals the British have sealed with international partners in the last couple of years.
Last July, the British signed a deal with Japan to collaborate on research starting with chemical and biological protection and prior to that it agreed a pact with India. The British are also doing a lot of work with allies like France and Australia.
"We think in the early stages of science and technology work, it's a useful way of leveraging capabilities amongst friends around the world," Dunne said.
"We are increasingly focused on delivering value for money — and that will find its way into all sorts of consequences, one of which is working together with allies on science and technology, another is open procurement, buying off the shelf, more joint purchasing arrangements and more bilateral arrangements," he said.