Transformative technologies

UK defence, security and foreign policy review pinpoints winning criteria for tech suppliers

Published on 23rd Mar 2021

Pitches to the UK military and security agencies will have an advantage if they can be developed at speed, are future-proof and have interface flexibility


The well-trailed 100-page-plus review of the UK’s approach to national security and foreign policy, which has been released more than a year after the prime minister announced its remit in February 2020, has set out the government's strategic intentions and spending commitments to match them.

The UK government intends to increase defence and security spending with a focus on "modernising defence for a competitive age", including building on the process of digitalisation set out in the Defence Technology Framework and the Defence Innovation Priorities published in September 2019.

The Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy also confirms several projects and investments that were already underway or planned. This includes proceeding with with the Fleet Solid Support Ship programme to supply and escort the UK's surface vessels, acquiring new F35 fighter jets and developing the next-generation combat aircraft Tempest and a new class of Type 32 frigate. The review has flagged up the export of the new Type 31 frigate as a great example of "Global Britain".

The review brings together these themes and capabilities, adds – arguably – some clarity on the direction of travel of UK defence and security, and trails a to-be-published defence and security industrial strategy.

Defence tech tipping point

The government's ambition to leverage technologies, such as artificial intelligence (AI), to give the UK's defence and security a competitive edge could be at a tipping point. The defence and security community will be actively looking to use new technologies not just to improve processes or drive efficiencies but as the core element of new systems and equipment and to create new warfighting and defensive capabilities. For example, data analytics tools, including those that exploit AI, can support understanding and decision making in complex situations such as the battlefield.

This should create significant opportunities for existing businesses in the defence and security sector and for tech businesses that may not previously have sold into the defence and security market. The defence and security sector is very used to developing new technology, but the review is a clear invitation for an increased crossover into defence and security from what were seen as, only a short while ago, unrelated sectors. Historically, defence technology has often been adapted for civilian use, but investment in technologies from non-military sources is helping to drive digital change for the defence and security sector (see our recent Insight).

Osborne Clarke comment

We look forward to seeing the detail of the defence and security industrial strategy when it is published. In the meantime, the review gives some clues on how tech suppliers can build a competitive edge when pitching for contracts with the UK military and security community. The features of new ideas and propositions that will stand them in good stead are: speed of development, their future-proof capacity and their ability to interface with other systems. These stem from the review's challenge to the UK government and to the defence and security sector to focus on:

  • Identifying, developing and using new technologies faster than adversaries.
  • Increased interoperability of technology used by allies.
  • Accelerating adoption of AI.
  • A renewed defence and security industrial strategy and prioritising UK industrial capability for national security reasons.

Over the coming weeks we will provide a legal commentary on some of these, and other principles outlined in the review.


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* This article is current as of the date of its publication and does not necessarily reflect the present state of the law or relevant regulation.

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