Article - Issue 41, December 2009

Responses to ‘Turning ideas into reality’ and ‘Defence technology’

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The editorial in the June 2009 issue of Ingenia made it clear that engineering is about turning ideas into reality. Ingenia itself is full of examples every issue that show engineers delivering new solutions to problems as diverse as providing clean water, nuclear decommissioning and placing medical diagnostic devices on a single computer-chip.

With the added pressures of recession, climate change and population growth, the list of problems to solve gets longer every year but the supply of bright young engineers and scientists coming into the profession is not growing at the same rate.

We know that young people who go into science and engineering are heavily influenced by positive experiences of science and technology at school. Equally, we know that they can be just as easily put off science and engineering careers if the opposite has been the case. The Academy is doing good work in schools, colleges and universities getting young people to sample and enjoy authentic, hands-on engineering through programmes like Headstart, but we need much more of this type of activity. Reaching out to the next generation is absolutely vital if we are to attract the numbers and quality we need.

At Imperial College we recently launched a major programme of opening our science laboratories to parties of young scientists from schools in London where they get a chance to experience science in exactly the way professional scientists do. Even though it’s still early days, we are already seeing young people coming on board who would otherwise have drifted past. The Imperial College model could readily be extended across science and engineering departments in all the major universities and indeed, into industry itself where we should be looking to broaden the base of the profession through easier access to more fulfilling work experience opportunities.

Professor Lord Winston
HonFREng FMedSci
Professor of Science and Society,
Imperial College London


The editorial in Ingenia 40 titled ‘Defence Technology’ makes important points about the need for the forthcoming Strategic Defence Review to recognise the role of science, technology and manufacturing in the delivery of future defence capability.

The past few years have shown very clearly the importance of a robust indigenous national industrial capability in giving the UK the sovereignty it needs in frontline operations. This does not happen by accident.

The UK has been able to adapt combat aircraft to meet new threats and requirements in Afghanistan because of investment in the skills needed in engineering, design and development in the military air sector.

The national defence industry will crack the new requirement of countering the danger of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) because it has the brightest scientists, whose talents have been nurtured through investment in research and technology.

The Strategic Defence Review must recognise the role the industry has in delivering world-class capability to the front line, and make sure there is a Defence Industrial Strategy which sustains that position for the long term.

But there is the broader economic impact of the industry to take account of, too. The UK Defence Industry employs 300,000 people. It represents 10% of the UK’s manufacturing base. It offers the best hope of maintaining the sort of balanced economy that is generally now considered to be essential to future national wealth.

At BAE Systems we employ 18,000 engineers and are the largest manufacturer in the UK. We also employ more than 1,000 apprentices and bring in 300 graduate trainees annually – young people from a wide range of backgrounds who are being given opportunities to flourish that many could not otherwise have imagined. That means the industry is a key driver in skills development in this country, far beyond the position in most other industries.
This must count for something.

Finally, the ingenuity and innovation of the industry means the UK exports £4billion worth of defence goods and services every year, making a massive contribution to tax revenues and to the national wealth.

This is an untold success story which we must start telling loud and clear. The UK defence industry is a key driver of the national front line capability of our armed forces. And, at the same time, it is an economic motor, the base of UK manufacturing and an exemplar in the development of skills. Let’s make sure that the Strategic Defence Review takes all of this into account.

Dick Olver FREng
Chairman, BAE Systems Plc

It was good to see Scott Steedman’s editorial highlighting the importance of science and technology to the defence and security of the UK. As he says, it is indeed surely the case that “for the UK to maintain a broad range of capability in an uncertain world with limited budgets will require the very best that science and engineering can provide.”

The College of Management and Technology at the UK Defence Academy, through its partnership with Cranfield Defence and Security, delivers a range of Masters programmes and short courses to personnel from the Ministry of Defence and the wider defence sector at its campus in Shrivenham. These courses, some very recently developed, do address many of the technological and acquisition issues raised in the editorial. Masters courses in particular include a research project, often sponsored by industry, which provides our students with an opportunity to develop innovative science and technology or management solutions to defence problems.

We see professional learning of this type as one of the key solutions to equip defence staff with the knowledge and skills necessary to cope with an inherently and increasingly complex technological environment.

Jonathan Lyle MSc CEng FIET RCNC
Defence Academy – College of Management and Technology
UK Defence Academy

Professor Ian Wallace PhD CChem FRSC
Cranfield Defence and Security
UK Defence Academy

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