Not Just Test Tubes & Lab Coats

Helen Sherwood has joined JHC as Assistant Director, Science and Technology, on secondment from DSTL.

My newly-created role is to ensure JHC’s Science & Technology (S&T) needs are met, and facilitate reach-back into the S&T community to help support the challenges you’re facing.

The release of the ‘National Security Through Technology’ White Paper brings into sharp focus the challenges that Defence and Security are currently facing, and how S&T can help. This is however S&T in its broadest sense – research into technologies, their development into systems and a raft of what’s referred to as ‘decision support’. Decision support, through operational analysis, isn’t about developing new widgets: it’s a critical element of Chief Scientific Advisor’s research programme and underpins Defence’s intelligent customer status.

What does this mean in reality? It enables Defence to set policy-led capability requirements informed by objective evidence, to assess gaps compared with planned capabilities, and evaluate courses of action, including identifying those where research is required. A key part of this is understanding others’ capability requirements and research priorities, and comparing these to our own – this should enable us to get the best ‘bang for our buck’ and maintain productive working relationships across a wide range of stakeholders in MOD, Other Government Depts and Industry.

What about the ‘here and now’? In line with Defence priorities, supporting current operations remains an important area for S&T. Recent activities have focused on the kinetic threat in Afghanistan and Libya, and the challenges posed by the harsh operating environment in Afghanistan. These include vulnerability mitigation options, ‘hot and high’ performance and, last but not least, brown-out. Specific examples of where S&T has helped in the field of survivability and vulnerability are armour improvements and the BAKER DAS upgrade – these are fitted to platforms in theatre now.

One of the challenges in addressing capability gaps is that it can take a while to adequately de-risk solutions before they can be embodied. Given the uncertainties that the future holds, requirements can change during this period. Therefore, a close working relationship between the S&T community and all parts of Defence is critical, including exploiting lessons from current operations – where have things gone well or not so well, and could S&T help in the future? JHC are a key part of this activity and one of the aims of my role is to help with this.

And just to ease your concerns, or confirm my ‘geekiness’, I’ve not used test tubes since leaving school but I do have a lab coat!

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