Published: May 23, 2022 | Updated: May 24, 2022

New Defence BattleLab hub puts Dorset at the very cutting edge of innovation and technology

By Andrew Diprose, editor

A new Defence BattleLab to trial and experiment cutting edge technology has been officially opened in Dorset.

The multi-million pound facility brings together military personnel, academic institutions and private sector companies.

It aims to foster collaboration and creativity to push new technological boundaries, an approach that’s proved successful with many global innovation hubs.

Facilities at the Defence BattleLab include:

  • Access to the UK’s only multi-domain ranges at Lulworth, comprising 15,000ft of cleared airspace, available sea area and a live fire capable range.
  • A live trial and showcase workshop for digital and physical technology.
  • Three 5G testbeds which will allow for testing in a secure, closed network.
  • Over 100 rentable desks for companies and half a floor for defence staff across a large open plan office.

It will bring innovation front and centre for the Armed Forces, bridging the gap between the Ministry of Defence (MOD) and the UK’s most innovative companies, especially in the small to medium sector.

The Defence BattleLab is the result of a £5.7m partnership project between the MOD, Dorset Council and Dorset Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP).

Others involved include the Defence Innovation Unit, Defence Science & Technology Laboratory (dstl) and Defence and Security Accelerator (DASA).

As well as a 450 square metre workshop space, the new buildings include a 1100 square metre new office space complete with meeting and conferencing facilities.

The three-storey open plan office space with rentable desk space will see innovative companies able to work and live alongside users from every area of defence.

The workshop space provides a live-trials and showcase environment for digital and physical technology, including the three separate 5G testbeds.

Since soft launching last summer, the Defence BattleLab has hosted numerous hackathons, defence technology showcases and workshops across emerging technologies for all areas of defence.

While there is no one single focus for the organisations involved, the BattleLab seeks to encourage free thinking and novel approaches for challenges across the land, sea and air military domains.

Jeremy Quin, Defence Procurement Minister, officially opened the new Defence BattleLab at Dorset Innovation Park, the county’s economic development site at Winfrith.

He said: “As the pace of technological change continues to spiral, defence must be forward leaning to remain ahead of the curve.

“Collaboration and innovation will be the catalysts to maintaining advantage over our adversaries.

“The BattleLab will bring together the best talent and expertise in industry and push technology boundaries to equip our soldiers, sailors and aviators with the latest innovations.

“This will be supported by our new Land Industrial Strategy, which will allow us to make crucial decisions on equipment programmes earlier and get these cutting edge capabilities from the factory to the frontline faster.”

Dorset LEP invested £1.68 million towards the Defence BattleLab.

The investment was matched by £3.1 million from the MOD and £1.1 million from Dorset Council.

In its first ten years, the programme aims to create 90 new local jobs and add £4 million to the local economy.

Cecilia Bufton, Dorset LEP Chair, pictured left, said: “We share the Army’s ambition to grow an ecosystem of highly innovative companies.

“In providing a collaborative space where SMEs can benefit from the smart technology we’ve brought in, where they can explore how to apply their technology to the defence industry, and where there is opportunity to test and develop innovative solutions for the sector.

“We believe the Defence BattleLab has real potential to attract investors, inspire collaborations and encourage more SMEs into the county.

“The ribbon-cutting is an exciting moment for our partnership, for this Enterprise Zone site and for the county of Dorset.

“I’m delighted that this Local Growth-funded project has met this pivotal milestone.”

The facility seeks to take advantage of Dorset’s location, with Portsmouth, Plymouth, Bovington, Blandford, Warminster and Salisbury Plain all in easy reach.

Colonel Tom Ryall, pictured right, Head of NavyX – established to rapidly develop, test and trial cutting edge equipment – said: “Our commitment to meaningful innovation is measured in actions not words and the Defence BattleLab is a shining example of this.

“As a centre of excellence for collaboration between SMEs and defence users, it’s a vital cog in the developing defence innovation ecosystem and vector into wider networks.

“It brings together the most innovative companies with users, under one roof, and alongside a world class test range.

“The opening of the BattleLab marks a watershed moment in defence’s relationship with industry.”

The opening of the Defence BattleLab came on the same day of the launch of the new Land Industrial Strategy, underpinned by more than £85 billion investment in equipment and support for the UK’s Armed Forces over the next four years.

Lieutenant General Sir Chris Tickell KBE, Deputy Chief of the General Staff, pictured left, said: “The Army is undergoing its most radical transformation in more than 20 years to deliver Future Soldier, including spending more than £40bn in the next ten years.

“This demands more from us, our delivery agents, and our industry partners.

“Our commitment to innovate and to work more closely with industry are underpinned by the Land Industrial Strategy and made manifest in facilities such as the Defence BattleLab.

“I could not be more excited to be a part of the launch for these fundamental aspects of our modernisation.”

  • Pictures courtesy of the Ministry of Defence.