It takes the expertise from security, aerospace, defence and space industries to maintain our country’s defence structures. As threats to our nation’s security change and our potential enemies adapt to new developments in many fields, so we must invest in R&D to stay one step ahead. If you are involved with innovations in any of the sectors which pertain to the UK defence industry, don’t miss out on the R&D tax credits that become your future investment.

The government has recognised the huge importance of innovation to UK defence by launching its Advantage through Innovation: the Defence Innovation Initiative in 2016, which states:

“Innovation is key to maintaining our military advantage into the future. We must continue to adapt to stay ahead, finding ways to be more innovative in the ways we think, the ways we develop capabilities and the ways we operate ourselves, whilst developing the ability to harness private sector entrepreneurship and ingenuity quickly and affordably. Defence is therefore launching its innovation initiative in order to fundamentally change how it goes about its business. Our goal is to maintain military advantage into the future.”

Not only is it a protection of the nation issue, the defence industry reportedly generates £65bn turnover and £35bhn worth of exports. That’s a huge contribution to the national economy.

Defence Innovation Fund

This initiative is backed up by an £800m Defence Innovation Fund. This is dedicated money to fund innovative projects from April 2017 through to 2027. It is interesting to note that there is specific reference within the initiative to involving more SMEs in innovative development. The initiative prospectus also acknowledges the necessity to work internationally with our allies to share mutually beneficial innovations.

Examples of R&D into Defence innovations

R&D in the defence sector require elements of many other fields, such as electronics, sensor technology, efficient production techniques, mechanical design, batteries, motors and material design. This is by no means an exhaustive list and the benefits of defence innovations are often applicable to civilian life.


All service personnel take the calculated risk that they may be severely injured during the course of their career. Losing a limb requires a great deal of adjustment as people transition into post-injury life. Their aftercare is taken very seriously, as it should be, and this has led to some truly mind blowing developments in the field of prosthetics. An American based project has led to the invention of a mind-controlled prosthetic arm. This has taken years of research and development by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and John Hopkins Applied Physics Lab.

What they have achieved is staggering and it seems to have started with discovering how the brain’s intentions are translated into signals travelling through the nervous system to an action. They have been able to attach a prosthetic to the recipient’s bone directly. By redirecting the original nerve endings to muscles in the upper arm, they can be picked up by an armband and sent to a computer contained within the prosthetic, activating the requested movement. All of this armband-prosthetic system operates using Bluetooth. The result has the same movement capacity as their original arm and only runs out of battery, it doesn’t get tired.

Consider how many smaller R&D projects were run to achieve this goal, many of which would be eligible for R&D tax credits if they were taking place in the UK.


Many of you may have received a domestic drone for Christmas. As Tech Advisor said, in their pre-Christmas gift round-up, “Drones are the new remote control car, and they don’t have to cost the world.” They seem to be particularly popular with photography enthusiasts.

But military grade drones are way more sophisticated than anything available to civilians. Again, their component parts are all separate R&D projects undertaken by a variety of specialists in areas such as lightweight materials, motors, advanced sensor technology, batteries and software.

There is an intriguing miniaturisation trend in drones (Unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAV) which aims to evade radar detection by being disguised as an insect. For example, the Flybot is small enough to launch from the tip of your finger and groups of them can move like a real insect swarm.

The Black Hornet is a Norwegian micro-drone that is the first drone surveillance system to be used during active operations. UK Armed Forces have been successfully using it since 2012 to collect crucial surveillance information in hostile territories.

Black Hornet Drone Statistics:


Length: 16cm

Time to set up: 2 minutes

Cameras: 3 and night vision

Flying time: 25 minutes

Range: 1.6km

Stealth capability: completely silent

The Skeeter was developed by the Animal Dynamics group, whose origins are in the Department of Zoology at Oxford University. This is modelled on the biomechanics of the dragonfly, it has two pairs of wings that flap, but is designed to be like the entire insect – not just the flying capacity.

Ship Fire Safety

Not all defence innovations are the result of years of scientific laboratory research. Many are simply a practical answer to a practical question. As reported in The Forces News last month, the 2017 Military Award for ‘Innovation’ was awarded to Warrant Officer Paul Moonan for his fire safety invention.

He recognised that getting the current SF90 fire extinguisher to a fire within the required 30 seconds on the flight decks of the enormous new carriers was unrealistic. As he put it, it would take, “three hulking great rugby players to be able to run up and down that flight deck and drag that SF90.” His solution was to adapt an existing flight deck vehicle to create a mobile foam fire extinguisher, now called the NMATT Firefighting Module. This improves the safety of all crew members on all future aircraft carriers of that size.

A completely innovative solution to an important, practical problem that he also managed to bring in under budget. We can see several R&D activities that would be eligible for R&D tax credits within his design and production process.

If you are involved with innovation in any of these industries, let us help you identify your eligible activities and costs so that you can take advantage of the R&D Tax Credit scheme.


Darren Moynan