23. The same economic imperatives for collaboration
apply in research and technology acquisition as they do for equipment
procurementsGovernment defence R&D expenditure has
fallen by 30% in real terms since 1986.
Its importance as a strategic resource, however, is more profound.
Without a sound research base, our ability to develop and produce
advanced equipment in future would be in doubt. In our 1995 report
we recommended that MoD and DTI commission 'national strategic
technology acquisition plans' for defence-related technologies.
As part of our current inquiry MoD told us that the Technology
Foresight initiative, already underway in 1995, had to some extent
superseded the requirement for such acquisition plans
and that Technology Foresight's Defence and Aerospace Panel had
been continuing its work. The Panel had been considering long-term
opportunities for exploiting technologies in eight areas and would
produce the last of their reports on these areas later this year.
The DTI were also sponsoring technology demonstration programmes
under the Foresight Action initiative.
24. MoD has also produced a Technology Strategy and
distributed it to the trade associations.
The Defence and Aerospace Panel has now commissioned a similar
exercise to establish a National Defence Industry Technology
Strategy, which might later be combined with MoD's Strategy
to provide a complete overview.
The president of the SBAC told us that work on these strategies,
when brought together with work on technology demonstration under
the Foresight Action programme, would provide a clear strategic
view for the long term future.
And at a practical level, the Defence and Aerospace Panel is setting
up a range of National Advisory Committees to bring emerging technologies
and defence requirements together
and to foster dialogue and contacts amongst the industrial, government
and academic communities in formulating the requirements for research
25. As far as international collaborative R &
D is concerned, the DTI told us of the UK's involvement in the
Group for Aeronautical Research and Technology in Europe (GATEUR),
and of its dialogue with other European governments and research
establishments within GATEUR to create a more favourable climate
for interdependent collaboration.
Despite the high hopes, however, it is clear that such multi-national
collaborations remain elusive, with difficulty even in getting
governments to disclose their research programmes to one another.
At a recent conference,
on the other hand, many considered that for the UK, bilateral
collaborations linked to research for specific operational requirements
have proved more successful and offer the best prospects, not
just with European partners but also with the US where successive
defence procurement ministers have expressed a desire to cooperate
further. In the past, the US has on occasions been willing to
share research with us, where it would not if some other European
Countries were involved. The UK must continue to give careful
attention to bilateral collaborations with the US, which is the
engine-room of cutting edge research in so many areas.
26. Our 1995 inquiry also examined the role of the
Defence Evaluation and Research Agency (DERA) in protecting the
UK defence research base, and the need for greater technology
transfer to the benefit of the civil sector. These are important
issues, with significant developments in the offingthe
consultation period on the Government's Defence Diversification
Green Paper has just ended, and Ministers are currently examining
the future status and structure of DERA. The Defence Committee
separately examined these matters recently and published its report
on 1 July. The Committee accepted that there were some good arguments
for change in DERA's status, including the need to adjust for
the increasing importance of diversification, especially 'spin-in'
from the civil sector. It concluded, however, that the privatisation
of some of the most sensitive areas of DERA's work, such as Porton
Down, would be abhorrent. It welcomed the Government's rejection
of total privatisation but regarded the risks to DERA's impartiality
and critical mass of even partial privatisation, in the shape
of Public Private Partnerships, as unacceptable and against the