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CSW Defence & security focus: DSTL in the Future

Written by Gary Aitkenhead on 29 April 2019 in Interview in CSW

As the UK faces increasingly complex global threats, our defence and security organisations must work more collaboratively than ever. Gary Aitkenhead, chief executive of the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory gives an interview with CSW

What has been the biggest challenge facing your organisation in the past 12 months?

The response to the incidents in Salisbury and Amesbury – the lab moved into a 24/7 operational footing for weeks with a large number of our people involved. Throughout this we had our challenges with significant, often adverse misleading information circulating online, which impacted on our reputation, public perception and on some of our staff. Of course, our support to the incide nts also impacted on our normal operations as we still needed to meet the ongoing requirements of our customers, but the commitment from our people was fantastic and everyone worked extremely hard to ensure Dstl responded effectively to this unprecedented event. The eyes of the world were on us, and I am incredibly proud of Dstl and the response at pace from across government, both local and national police and the military and the many others involved.

How is your organisation adapting to reflect Britain’s changing place in the world?

Our research is world-class in many areas and so we continue to work closely with many partner nations. We have a focus on the US, European bilateral collaborations (such as recent increasing work with Germany), and are broadening to new emerging areas with Japan and India. NATO and 5EYES (UK, US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand) remain key intelligence and collaboration partners with multiple joint cyber projects, and this is not expected to change as the UK exits the EU. We continually adapt to seek new opportunities, as demonstrated through the sharing of cyber defence experiences with Estonia, one of our NATO partners.

DSTL also continues to support Britain’s industry and academia through both research funding (approx £270m this year and expected to increase next year) to exploit their ideas, as part of the MoD’s “promote our prosperity” priority. We also licence our intellectual property to SME and large companies that attracts private funding resulting in UK exports and jobs.

What opportunities or innovations are you excited about in the coming years that will help you improve public outcomes?

Information technology is developing very quickly and defence is adapting to fully exploit these new opportunities for Information advantage, with initiatives being led by Dstl and our military customers. We are focused on protecting and exploiting both data and information to maximise their value for decision making and to sustain our advantage in future conflicts. Effort includes exploiting the best signal processing to extract more information from raw sensor data, and techniques like machine learning to exploit large information data sets.

What do you think your role will look like in 20 years’ time?

It’s always going to be a challenge for any organisation to predict the future, but this is where Dstl works best: working out where and when S&T – science and technology – is needed and at what time in the future. I would expect that in 20 years we will still be working, as we are now, to be ahead of the pace of change with S&T, with artificial intelligence and autonomous vehicles being the norm and most likely quantum computing seeing real world applications.

About the author : Gary Aitkenhead is chief executive of the Ministry of Defence’s Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL) this is from an article in CSW

House of Lords launch Future Nuclear Power inquiry

25 January 2017

The House of Lords Science and Technology Committee launches an inquiry into the priorities for nuclear research and technologies.

In 2011 the Committee investigated whether the UK’s research and development (R&D) capabilities were sufficient to meet our nuclear energy needs in the future, ensuring a safe and secure supply of nuclear energy up to 2050.

This inquiry will now revisit some of the conclusions and recommendations of that report and investigate whether the Government’s actions in response have improved the UK’s nuclear R&D capabilities. It will also explore what more needs to be done to ensure the UK can meet its future nuclear energy requirements.

The Committee will look specifically at the upcoming decision by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy on a small modular reactor (SMR) design for the UK; whether the roles and remit of the National Nuclear Laboratory (NNL) are appropriate; and if the Nuclear Innovation and Research Advisory Board (NIRAB) was successful.

The Committee invites submissions, with practical examples where possible, on topics including those mentioned below.


  • Where the responsibility should lie for ensuring the UK has a coherent and consistent long term policy for civil nuclear activities
  • Potential benefits, disadvantages and risks from the deployment of SMRs in the UK and more widely
  • Whether the Government is doing enough to fund research and development on SMRs, and in motivating others to do so
  • If the NNL is fulfilling its remit appropriately and whether it can deliver the required research to support the UK’s future nuclear energy policies
  • How the NNL compares to equivalent organisations in other countries
  • How successful NIRAB was in carrying out its role and whether a permanent successor body to NIRAB is required

Chairman’s comments

Chair of the Committee, Lord Selborne, said:

“It has been over 5 years since the Committee’s report into the future of nuclear energy which found that the Government was too complacent about the UK’s nuclear R&D capabilities.
Since its publication, the Government has accepted and acted on a number of the recommendations of the Committee, which saw the creation of the Nuclear Innovation and Research Advisory Board.
This inquiry gives the Committee the opportunity to assess who should have responsibility for ensuring the UK has a coherent and consistent long term policy for civil nuclear activities.
We are keen to hear from people or organisations who can inform the Committee on the role and remit of the National Nuclear Laboratory or offer insight into how SMR’s will benefit the UK and what is needed to support the civil nuclear sector”.


The Committee is inviting written evidence on the issue, to be received by Friday 24 February 2017, and will start taking oral evidence on the inquiry in February.

Osbourne announces Government Spending Cuts

George Osborne has started to look for savings in Government spending by asking Whitehall departments to implement spending, ordering them to make an immediate start on finding the £13bn of cuts needed in an attempt to further find money in his deficit reduction plan.

The chancellor announced at an event told the CBI that he intended to make savings from all government spending, other than finance already earmarked in areas of health, schools and overseas aid in his summer budget on 8 July.

“When it comes to saving money, we all know that the more you can do early, the smoother the ride”” – George Osborne

Mr. Osborne is hoping to put into place his tough measures as quickly as possible and has given Greg Hands the job of asking Government Departments new chief secretary to the Treasury ways of reducing plans the 2015-16 plans to fast-track the three-year budget of existing cuts.

Former MI6 chief calls for defence against Russia

Sawers One of Britain’s most senior officers in the Secret Intelligence Service (SIS) told the BBC that Britain should be prepared to spend more on its defence budget to protect itself from the increasing threat of Russia’s aggressive position in support for the Pro-Russian rebel separatists in the Ukraine and it’s annexing of Crimea in the light of condemnation from authorities in Kiev; the  West, and even Russian citizens who are accusing Moscow of sending troops to support the Pro-Russian rebels in the Ukraine, although the Russian Government has always denied these reports.

NATO has also been concerned and criticised any possibility of Russia engaging it’s forces or funding the situation in Ukraine.

John Sawers, who left the Secret Intelligence Service (SIS) in November, added that greater dialogue should take place with Russia over it’s current stance, he said that Britain should have to have the capability to deal with the hybrid warfare that Russia is currently demonstrating in Crimea and in Donbas region of Ukraine after Pro-Russian rebels have seized territory in eastern Ukraine;  he also stressed the need for dealing with a possible cyber-warfare arising out of the conflict.

Mr Sawers said “We’re going to have to spend more on our defence and our security because the threats are greater” ; he added that “Russia keeps reminding the West about it’s nuclear weapons, we shouldn’t kid ourselves that Russia is on a path to democracy because it isn’t.”

Last week as British forces had to scramble Typhoon fighter jets after reports of two Russian long-range Bear bombers were seen flying off the south coast of England, after a previous incident of Russian Jets seen flying in British airspace in recent  months.

The Defence Secretary,  Michael Fallon said that  President Putin could also pose a “real and present danger” to other eastern such as Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania and NATO was ready to repel any aggression may pose against these countries.

MPs for Hire – Dispatches Investigation

Two of Parliament’s most respected Members of Parliamen are tonight secretly filmed discussing how they would be prepared to use their contacts to benefit a private fictitious Chinese influential business a Channel 4 Dispatches and The Telegraph investigation reveals.

The two former government and cabinet statesmen of Westminster, Conservative MP Sir Malcolm Rifkind and the Labour MP Jack Straw, both feature in Politicians For Hire – Dispatches at 8pm.
During meetings with undercover reporters Sir Malcolm Rifkind described himself as ‘self-employed’ and claimed ‘nobody pays me a salary’.

In return for his services he discussed his usual fee of ‘somewhere in the region of £5,000 to £8,000’ for a half a day’s work.

Sir Malcolm also claimed he could write to a minister on behalf of our company without saying exactly who he was representing
Sir Malcolm added that he could see any foreign ambassador in London if he wanted, so could provide ‘access’ that is ‘useful’

Former Labour Home Secretary
Mr Straw invited the two reporters posing as lobbyists for a fictitious influential Chinese business concern looking for UK support and MPs to join their advisory committee and met at his Parliamentary office where he discussed fees of £5000 per day for having his name associated to a business.

He also explained that he normally charges a fee of this for consultancy work and how his lobbying as a senior politician is useful to a private company, he already works for.

Mr Straw says he wouldn’t take on the role while he remained an MP, but claimed he would be more helpful to our company if he were to become a Lord because of the different rules that apply.

The Dispatches programme follows the previous investigation, some years ago when Geoff Hoon was banned from Parliament for five years and former transport minister Stephen Byers banned for two years following political impropriety. The recent investigation reveals that even though there were inquiries and laws introduced five years on politicians are still prepared to sell their service and lobby government for a price and are short of public expectations?

Channel 4 Dispatches and The Telegraph program shown Monday 23rd February

Disguised MI5 Officer Gives Evidence in US Court

10216695 A  UK intelligence officer gave evidence in the trial of an alleged leader of an al-Qaeda cell, who is currently being tried in the United States for planning to bomb the New York subway system.

The alleged leader of the cell, Abid Naseer, who is 28 and from Pakistan, was a studying in Britain in April 2009 and was arrested by British police along with 12 others for planning a series of suicide bombings in the city of Manchester. He was extradited to the US in 2012 to face changes of organising a suicide attack against the New York public transportation system.

The US prosecutors claim Naseer had received paramilitary training in Pakistan before moving to the UK, where he was planning to carrying out terrorist attacks in the UK .

Last year, the US prosecution asked the judge to allow six British intelligence officers (from MI5), who had been monitoring Naseer’s activities before he was eventually arrested to provide vital evidence in the US court in secrecy without disclosing their identities due to the security officers still remaining active in counterterrorism investigations. The judge agreed, and the first of the six MI5 officers gave evidence this week through a video link from an undisclosed location in the Britain.

One of the MI5 officers who appeared concealed his identity by wearing a false goatee beard, thick spectacles and what reporters described as “a long black wig”. He was also wearing heavy make-up and was identified in court only as “serial number 1603”, according to British newspaper The Daily Telegraph.

The operative informed the court that he was part of a team of MI5 surveillance officers who closely followed Mr. Naseer for over a month while he was allegedly planning suicide operations in Britain and the US. The surveillance included following the suspect as he was scouting targets in Manchester and monitoring his travel on public transport one one occasion when the suspect was traveling by bus from Manchester to Liverpool. Mr Naseer is defending himself in the trial and had the chance to cross-examine the MI5 officer, said The Telegraph.

Churchill and the Saudis

Churchill After the sycophantic tributes paid by various world leaders to the passing of King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia , many people are angered (including this blog writer) that people such as David Cameron, the Queen and even President Obama have felt the need to offer “touchy feeling diplomacy” following the Monarch’s death.

The lowering of flags in the UK on Government Buildings; Westminster Abbey, and Buckingham Palace have not only angered people who are genuinely appalled at Saudi Arabia’s record on human rights abuse for a monarch who’s countries laws meet out sadistic and barbaric sentencing but point to double standards when on one hand our governments over the years have deplored it’s laws and on the other our praising a man in passing because we wish to maintain our relationship with an oil rich country.

When actually asked as to confirm who is responsible in the government for the decision to lower the flags as to honour the late Saudi King (a gesture normally only befitting the passing of British royalty or heads of government for the Commonwealth countries and only world leaders at the discretion of the UK Government) Whitehall appears to be confused with both the FCO and the Department for Media and Culture both denying their respective authority and concurring each other for permitting the honour.

Labour leader Ann Clywd was the latest MPs to voice her anger at the tributes paid to the late King Abdullah, stating that the country had one of the worst human rights records in the world and said “People in countries such as ours should use every opportunity to protest because the public are appalled by such barbarity” adding “Lots of people die but I dont think flying the flags at half mast for a country which has such a human rights record is acceptable.” Her comments following similar outrage from others,  such as Louise Mensch the former Corby Conservative MP,  who on Friday erupted on Twitter condemning the  ‘supine’ adoration of male leaders on Saudi Arabia’s treatment of women. Many wondered, as I did, what Tony Blair actually was referring to when he called the later King a ‘moderniser’ in light of the little he did in terms of the rights of women in Saudi Arabia.

Even the Council for Advancement for Arab and British Understanding are also baffled by the ‘dishonesty’ of the tributes paid; Chris Doyle it’s director saying that although Britain and Saudi Arabia need to maintain relations on a global stage that the tribute “..wont be taken seriously if we go over the top in paying respects” and highlighting the fact that British Muslims are being asked to accept British Values by our Government on the one hand and then watching our establishment blindly ignore and accept human rights abusewhere the Saudi’s flogs their own citizens – thus our diplomacy runs incompatible UK values Mr Doyle pointing to the sentence met of 1000 lashes said “what does that mean when there’s a completely non-critical reaction to the events in Saudi Arabia like the flogging of a blogger? This creates a sense of double standards”

Maybe the politicians in our country could learn from the Briton that was Winston Churchill, the audacious and insubmissive  politician whose death the UK will soon be celebrating in terms of his passing 50 years ago. When in 1945 he met the then founder of Saudi Arabia, King Ibn Said (the father of King  Abdullah) and was warned by both his own Government officials and interpreters and from Saudi Officials that the smoking and drinking alcohol in the presence of the Saudi King would not be tolerated he replied to his interpreter, in answer to the Saudi officials “If it was the religion of his Majesty to deprive himself of smoking and drinking alcohol, I must point out that my rule of life, prescribed as an absolute sacred rite, smoking cigars and also the drinking of alcohol before; after and even during meals, and in the intervals between them.”

It is thus a tribute to a man who never fell short of actually saying what was on his mind and rarely conceded to the force of others.  In 2002 Sir Winston Churchill was named as the greatest Briton that ever lived in a  vote of 100 Great Britons including other prominent luminaries such as Darwin, Shakespeare and Elizabeth I. The case for him is a powerful one, of course. He was first a government minister in 1908, and occupied most of the top jobs in politics during half a century. He finally retired in 1955, having served as prime minister for a total of nine years.

His greatest triumph of course was his leadership and rallying of the British people in World War Two that marked him out and his brave and tireless in his resolve to take on Nazi Germany, even when at times it seemed that Britain may have fallen to the Nazis in a war torn Europe. He remained constantly resilient and this probably inspired the US to enter the war after Britain France and it’s other allies were teetering on defeat.

Even as a Sandhurst  cadet, Churchill was defiant, his first speech and act of defiance was probably in 1894 when he was among a group of upper-class ‘hooligans’ who tore down a screen that was erected by the League for Social Purity, at the Empire in Leicester Square which was placed there to keep the West End’s prostitutes from their clients, many of whom were the gentry of the City by the London County Council. The vandals spokesperson  shouted “Ladies of the Empire, I stand for liberty” this was none other than a young Winston Churchill and in a letter to The Times and the Bishop of London bemoaned the conduct of the young Churchill that he should ever see any of the Dukes of Marlborough ‘hailed by a flourish of Strumpets’

The sad fact is that politicians that speak out and are of Churchill’s nature would never get elected, even Boris Jonson, almost a devotee of Churchill’s manner and British values seems implausible in our corporate world of diplomatic,  insincere and disingenuous politics

Research Papers on attack ISIS in Iraq and Syria

• The United States has led airstrikes against ISIS in Iraq and Syria.

• RAF Tornado GR4 and the Reaper remotely piloted air system (RPAS) have conducted airstrikes against ISIS in Iraq. Reaper and Rivet Joint aircraft have also been authorised to fly surveillance missions over Syria.

• France, the Netherlands, Belgium, Australia, Canada and Denmark have all conducted air strikes in Iraq.

• Bahrain, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates have all supported US strikes against ISIS in Syria.

• Combat troops have been explicitly ruled out by the UK and the other the countries involved, amid debate about the reliance on air power alone. However a number of British soldiers are training Peshmerga forces in northern Iraq, while further advisory personnel are expected to be deployed to Iraqi headquarters as part of a broader package of support announced on 5 November. The US also announced on 7 November the intention to deploy up to 1,500 additional military personnel in order to initiate a more comprehensive training package for Iraqi forces. Several Coalition partners have offered additional trainers as part of that initiative.

Download the full report
ISIS: the military response in Iraq and Syria (PDF PDF, 19 pages, 368.5 KB) 

Oxford Research Group report – 9/11 10 yrs on

org-logo 9/11 and the Paths not Taken – New Report Offers Fresh Appraisal on the Eve of the Ten-year Anniversary of the Attacks

London, 6 September 2011. The ten-year anniversary of the 9/11 attacks presents a crucial opportunity to reflect on the catastrophic mistakes of the last decade of the ‘war on terror’, argues a new report from the respected British think tank, Oxford Research Group.

The report, A War Gone Badly Wrong – The War on Terror Ten Years On, assesses the consequences of the response from the United States and its coalition partners. It questions whether the response was either appropriate or wise and whether the results so far have been counterproductive – and may even indicate the need for an entirely new security paradigm.

Credit Source & Further reading: ORG

Whitehall blamed for online blunders

The MoD,  Department of Health and Department for Communities have been named by the Daily Telegrapgh for publishing details online that should have been kept secret.

The full story can be found at :

MOD Invests in Nano Unmanned Air Systems

Falcon 8 from Ascending Technologies

Falcon 8 from Ascending Technologies

The MoD has put out a public tender notice for a contract worth up to   £20m  for the supply of up to 100 Nano unmanned air systems, to be ready by the autumn.

The expenditure has been authorised as the government announces deep cuts to the RAF and other services – a coincidence that will underline the military‘s growing reliance on robot technology. Several years ago the US defence department set itself the target of having a third of its fighting strength made up of unmanned vehicles by 2015.

The RAF is already using Predator drones, or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), armed with Hellfire missiles and Paveway bombs, in Afghanistan. The Royal Artillery is also launching the smaller Desert Hawk spotter drones, weighting 3.5kg each, in close support of ground troops in Helmand province.

The use of tiny UAVs – compared by one defence source to “toys in Hamleys” – represents a significant expansion of military resources into new areas of combat technology.

Last month a US defence contractor, AeroVironment Unmanned Aircraft Systems, exhibited its Nano hummingbird spy drone. Remotely controlled by a ground operator, it weighs only 19gm and resembles a hovering bird. The Nano unmanned air system (NUAS) sought by the MoD is required to be slightly larger.

The tender notice for the contract says: “The MoD may have an urgent operational requirement for deployable NUAS.” The drones should be available “off the shelf”, powered by a rotary wing, weigh less than 1.7kg,and able to operate in “typical conditions found in Afghanistan and the UK”

Source :

Jack Straw tells Chilcott Inquiry of rejection of UK Forces Invasion of Iraq

BRITISH troops did not need to go into traq, Jack Straw told the Chilcot inquiry yesterday.

On the last day of the public inquiry into the war, the former foreign secre¬tary said he told Tony Blair that British troops could stay out of the conflict.
Mr Straw said a ‘perfectly straightfor¬ward alternative’ to war was to help with any post-war effort along with the Spanish and Italian forces.

He repeatedly warned Mr Blair that a policy of regime change would be `palpably illegal’.
`I made that point in quite categorical terms to the prime minister on more than one occasion,’ Mr Straw said.
`I came at this issue from a different perspective to the prime minister. How¬ever, I ended up at the same point as the prime minister — let me make that clear — and backed the position that he and the cabinet and the House of Commons made to take military action,’

He ended by saying: ‘I want to express my deep sorrow for the loss of life in this conflict — notwithstanding the fact that I also happen to believe the military action we took was justified.’ The inquiry, launched in July 30, 2009, has twice heard evidence from Mr Blair and a host of military leaders. Sir John Chilcot said he would be taking months to complete his report.

Source : Fred Attewell (Metro Newspaper 03/02/2011)

Parliamentary meeting Is it time to scrap Trident?

Cathy Jamieson, Labour MPTessa Munt, Lib Dem MP
Caroline Lucas, Green MP
Professor John Foster, author of Trident, jobs and the UK economy

6pm, Monday 18th October
Boothroyd Room, Portcullis House, Westminster [map]


With news that the Strategic Defence and Security Review will culminate in a new national security strategy to be announced on Monday 18th October, and the resulting defence spending cuts to be announced the following day, CND’s parliamentary public meeting on Trident replacement – which was excluded from the review – could not take place at a more important time.

The F-35 Lightning II – The Future of Flight

Today’s video (seen on Cicero Lounge’s top right homepage) is the F-35 Stealth jet plane. To see more of this remarkable machine’s capabilities please do go to the BBC website, where they have been given unique access to it’s operation and efficacy in it’s current developmental stage.


Soldiers in the Royal Logistic Corps are to get a boost to their driving skills thanks to a hi-tech virtual training computer package, which will test their ability to cope under fire.

Under a contract potentially worth some £2M the Joint Combat Operation Virtual Environment (JCOVE) uses the commercial ‘serious game’ application called Virtual Battlespace and will enable the British Armed Forces to practice Tactics Techniques and Procedures for road convoy operations in a realistic virtual environment. The package includes a Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP) communication system to allow trainees to speak to each other through headsets as per operations, steering wheel and pedal sets for vehicle control and classroom control software to allow the instructors to maximise training effectiveness.

Soldiers learn how to operate under fire and how to react under a variety of events and scenarios including being under fire, road side bombs and ambush.

(c) MOD/COI – COI ref 164956P


A multi-million pound deal between the Ministry of Defence and UK research establishment QinetiQ has secured the support and expertise needed to ensure the continued operation of the current submarine fleet and the development of technology for future generations it was confirmed today, Wednesday 3 September 2008.

In the 15-year contract, worth £200million, the Maritime Strategic Capabilities Agreement (MSCA) will secure the MOD’s access to maritime research facilities, including the Ocean Basin at Haslar, a Ship Towing Tank and Shock Laboratory Machines, and to a range of experts in submarine hydrodynamics, structure and survivability, and maritime life


The Ocean Basin, a 120 x 60 by 5.5 metre deep fresh water testing tank, including a rotating arm and wavemakers, is used to test autonomous models of ships and underwater vehicles [Picture: MOD]


A new £2 billion 15-year partnering agreement between the MOD and BAE Systems Land Systems Munitions guaranteeing the future supply of the Armed Forces’ small arms and medium calibre ammunition was signed today.

The new agreement with BAE Systems LSM covers around 80 per cent of the munitions used by the Armed Forces on operations and training and includes small arms and medium-calibre ammunition, mortar bombs, tank, artillery and naval gun shells but not complex weapons such as guided missiles.


Mini-vehicles poised for battle:Flying saucers, buggies and miniature helicopters descend on Salisbury plain for MoD competition

A range of mini-vehicles that could help give UK forces the battle-winning edge on operations are set to take part in the final of a major MoD science and technology competition.

The "Grand Challenge", launched by the MoD in 2006, asked teams from across the UK to devise highly autonomous vehicles capable of identifying threats that are being encountered by UK troops on overseas operations. These include marksmen, vehicles mounted with heavy weapons, roadside bombs and armed militia.


Plans for a major new defence centre in North Wiltshire have been given the green light today by Defence Minister Derek Twigg. The project, known as ‘Corsham09’, will accommodate 2,200 Defence Equipment and Support (DE&S) personnel and their industry partners on the Basil Hill site in Corsham.



A total of 136 members of the Armed Forces and one MOD civilian have received honours and awards in the Operational Honours List dated today, 25 July 2008.

The full list, which recognises service on operations in Afghanistan, Iraq, former Yugoslavia and national operations for the period 31 October 2007 to 31 March 2008, is below:

World Animal Protection – The Life of an Animal

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