Published 22 February 2024

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DE&S will play a key role in delivering the outcomes from a new strategy aimed at accelerating delivery of innovative uncrewed systems to all UK Front Line Commands.

Backed by a projected £4.5 billion of investment across the next decade, teams across the organisation including the Future Capabilities Group (FCG), Mine Counter Measures and the Remotely Piloted Air Systems (RPAS) delivery teams, will be responsible for incentivising industry and rapidly equipping the front-line commands.

The Uncrewed System (UxS) Strategy, born from lessons learned in Ukraine, will provide a more unified and effective approach to enable rapid experimentation, testing and evaluation and fielding of uncrewed platforms. Integrated by Strategic Command, it will unify the approaches of British Army, Royal Navy and Royal Air Force, and will be developed and implemented in close collaboration with industry.

The new approach will see uncrewed systems delivered at a faster pace into the hands of the British Armed Forces, leaving behind long development timelines and lengthy requirement discussions. Once operational, the systems will be able to be developed and upgraded – using ‘spiral development’ – to keep pace with the rapid evolution of technology and changing threat picture.

DE&S CEO Andy Start said:

“DE&S has supported the rapid procurement of large numbers of uncrewed aerial systems for Ukraine, and it is clearer than ever that unhindered access to battle-winning uncrewed systems is absolutely crucial in modern day combat.

“We are delighted to be working with front line commands and industry partners to identify, test and deliver platforms that will give the UK Armed Forces the competitive edge they require to protect the nation and support our allies.”

The UK MOD’s priority is the successful delivery of the Ukraine-UK uncrewed systems initiative, which represents a critical milestone in a strategic bilateral relationship.

Of the £2.5 billion pounds to be spent on supporting Ukraine, over £200 million will go towards supplying Ukraine with uncrewed systems. The majority of this £200 million will be spent on UK domestic drone and component manufacturing and software development.

This will help to scale the UK’s domestic drone industry and support jobs whilst giving Ukraine cutting edge, battle-tested capabilities to defend their citizens and target the invading Russian forces on land and sea.

James Gavin, Head of FCG at DE&S, said his delivery teams are already taking action to cohere and deliver outcomes in line with early direction from the strategy.

“As well as driving UK prosperity, this strategy will enhance our mission to rapidly support the UK Armed Forces with new capabilities and technology which provide the competitive advantage. Crucially, through identifying, testing and delivering in collaboration with all front-line commands and industry, the strategy will also ensure systems can be upgraded so they remain relevant within an ever-evolving battlespace.”

The strategy builds on the UK’s rich history of developing and operating uncrewed systems, including the use of Reaper MQ-9s by the Royal Air Force, and small to medium Uncrewed Aerial Systems by the Army and particularly the Royal Navy who have developed a growing array of surface and sub-surface capabilities, including autonomous minehunters.

Minister for Defence Procurement, James Cartlidge said:

“The conflict in Ukraine has been an incubator for new ways of war and we need to learn and implement those hard-fought lessons.

“Rapidly being able to develop and upgrade uncrewed systems will be key to gaining battlefield advantage and we must seize this opportunity to grow and sustain such skills and capabilities in the UK.

“The strategy brings together a clear, unified focus – backed by billions in funding – while providing the flexibility to meet different requirements in the air, over land and at sea.

“Ultimately, this is about learning the lessons from the Ukrainian frontline to procure drones at scale for the United Kingdom’s Armed Forces.”