Select Committee on Science and Technology Written Evidence

Memorandum 66

Submission from QinetiQ


  QinetiQ is the UK's second largest defence and security company, one of Europe's largest employers of scientists and a leading organisation in technology transfer. Over the past 50 years QinetiQ and its predecessors have built up significant intellectual capital and expertise in innovation. We exploit our strengths in technology research, evaluation and management by delivering solutions into a broad spectrum of defence, security, transport and related markets. We have delivered such technological advances as liquid crystal displays, carbon fibre and thermal imaging into both the civilian and military sectors.

  Our 11,400 staff are continuing our commitment to pushing forward the boundaries of innovation in scientific and technological knowledge and in the provision of first class managed services to customers including the Ministry of Defence, US Department of Defense, National Audit Office and Highways Agency, as well as private companies.


  QinetiQ (and its predecessors) have been involved in space activities since the 1950s and is a renowned centre of excellence in spacecraft technology, space systems, remote sensing and GIS. Coupled with QinetiQ's capabilities in electronics, sensors and processing, materials and structures, we are well placed to take advantage of UK National, European and Global space programmes and the opportunities they present.

  For the UK there are many benefits which flow downstream from the active involvement of our country in the space arena . Less well appreciated is the importance of being involved in the upstream activity and the need to maintain an independent UK capability in key areas of space technology:

    —  Firstly, without a sustaining level of technological capability and insight the UK would no longer be able to meet its need to establish independent capability in (for example) military satellite communications.

    —  Secondly, without its own technological capability it will be unable to effectively contribute to, influence and extract value from international space programmes.

    —  Thirdly downstream activity (such as commercial satellite operation) and associated skills will over time relocate to where the upstream activity is.


  Without the expertise to understand both the market and associated technology drivers the UK would cease to be an intelligent customer, would be unlikely to secure leading edge technology or value for money and that the UK was limited to using "off the shelf" technology packages purely on the suppliers' terms. If the UK was to surrender its ability to develop space related technology there would be limited incentives for other nations to sell cutting edge technology to us.

  Falling behind in our capability to develop the upstream side of space technology will not only limit our ability to access the best of what the market can offer but will also affect the value and innovation in the downstream sector.


  Without our own upstream industries being involved in the development of current and future programmes the downstream sector would be behind the development and innovation of its international competitors and less able to compete.

  Failing to participate actively in space programmes would in the long term create a danger that UK economy would lose access to certain skills if the work was not available to keep them actively engaged in the up or downstream sectors.

  With many wider European issues such as security, border control and transport, looking towards satellite and remote based systems the need to be able to influence the shape and form of the initial systems has never been more important. Equally as these programmes and policies develop the UK may become reliant on packages and infrastructure purchased from the international market to implement policy in the UK.

  Space is now an intrinsic element in global civil and military communications, navigation, security and environmental monitoring, forming a key element in the business portfolios of the key defence and aerospace industry. There is also a need for research and development funds to be made available for solutions to novel problems if the UK is to remain at the technological cutting edge.

  The current approach to investment in the space programme has some merits as does the current organisation of the British National Space Centre. The approach of some of its partners, however, is risk averse and there is a tendency to wait until there is there is a low risk commercial, product to purchase rather than to invest at an early stage and take advantage of the opportunity to exploit and pull through the technology. The UK needs to recognise that new, innovative technology needs to be incubated so that the full range of possibilities may be realised and the return on investment realised.

  The influence of BNSC appears, on occasion, to be relatively limited in the European Space Agency (ESA). While the UK remains a key funder, the policy of not participating in areas such as the manned programme and launchers, while clearly economically correct, means that the UK are not active in those high profile activities which have commanded so much attention in ESA and so the UK often fails to exert a level of "political" influence commensurate with the UK contribution. The importance of the Galileo programme and growing ESA interest in mould breaking innovations such as small satellite mission solutions offer an opportunity for higher profile and repositioning. A visible commitment to maintain UK funding levels to ESA into the medium term would be underpin this.

  UK geographic under-return in certain applications areas remains an issue. The previous successes of the UK domestic ATS and the MOSAIC programmes, the latter of which funded TopSat and demonstrated the utility of small satellites to undertaken significant tasks cost effectively, are recognised by ESA and UK industry. A new, focused, UK national programme aimed at pre-positioning UK technology for Space, as our European partners do, would be a key element of addressing this geographic under-returns issue.

  The Defence Industrial Strategy recognises the role that innovative satellite systems, the creation of which has benefited from past national space technology investments, could play in future UK defence capabilities.

  The role of space in engaging the population in science and engineering should not be overlooked. The future health of the UK economy will rest heavily on the quality of intellectual property developed and services available. The quality and number of students pursuing science and engineering subjects to A-Level, degree and post-graduate levels is a source of concern not just to the high end businesses but to employers as a whole. The work of research and development teams in defence, aerospace and pharmaceuticals has enabled the UK to be a world leader in those fields.

  These remain competitive markets and the UK's position should not be taken for granted. The growth of economies in South East Asia have been much reported but increasingly many of our European partners are raising the importance attached to developing and maintaining space capability within their national industrial and technology strategies. The UK has led the way in terms of industrial rationalisation and the focus on a knowledge driven economy, we must though now continue to look to use spending to drive further technological innovation if we are to maintain our current position.


  As the European space programme develops increasing amounts of resources will be used as operational funds by the European Commission. These will be largely focused on the centres of expertise within the Union at the time the operational locations need to be established. In turn these locations are likely to relate to clusters centred around the current projects of the European Space Agency. Commitment to the current round of projects is important if UK is to maintain influence on the direction of future operations and expertise within the UK.

  In the long term this pattern of growth and investment would reinforce the chosen locations as the centres to draw in new expertise and new investment making it harder for a new entrant to come into the market place. Being an active participant in the initial stages of the move in funding towards operational services could only be beneficial for the national economy and our ability to maintain capabilities in the UK.


  The UK's future prosperity will depend on innovative upper end technological research and engineering development to deliver capabilities across the economy. Our nation needs champions and leadership to stimulate and drive such innovation. The private sector needs to be stimulated both through competition for long term research programmes. Long term certainty will in turn encourage the private sector to commit resources to develop the intellectual property to drive the economy over the long-term.

  If young people are to be drawn into science and engineering subjects, if talented graduates are to choose careers in innovation over law or accountancy we must continue to ensure that there are high end goals and aspirations for them to strive to attain. The quest for space is a key area in providing challenges for some of our nation's finest minds and those the future generations. Space remains one of the key areas for drawing highly talented people into the sectors which drive our knowledge based economy. The ability to draw in and maintain the brightest and the best the basis of intellectual property development and innovation in science and engineering is a key part of enhancing the competitive standing of the UK.

  Procurement across Government needs to take every opportunity to develop innovative technology solutions rather than take off the shelf solutions. For some this will mean needing to be less risk averse with their investment in and incubation of leading edge technologies. By doing this they will not only develop better expertise in procurement but also stimulate the knowledge economy of the UK. If the UK wishes to remain a leading innovator rather than simply a consumer of technology then the use of Government's £150 billion annual spending on procurement of goods and services it will be vital to lead investment across the economy[2].

  Government leadership in innovation in the space programme is one mechanism to help stimulate not only investment in the downstream sectors but also to draw in high calibre people to the knowledge base of the UK economy.

October 2006

2   Procuring the Future, recommendations from the National Sustainable Procurement Task Force. Defra 2006. Back

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