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Innovation and the defence industry: do we need war? (CIMR debates in Public Policy)

Venue: Online

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Join the Centre for Innovation Management Research on Wednesday 1 February for our online lunchtime seminar: Innovation and the defence industry: do we need war? The online debate is part of the CIMR Debates and Workshops in Public Policy series.


  • Prof. Ron Smith, Department of Economics, Birkbeck
  • Anita Friend, Head Defence and Security Accelerator, DASA
  • Discussant: Shane Slater
  • Chair: Professor Philip Hutchinson, Cranfield University


This debate would consider the wider impact of innovation in the defence industry, the “spin-off” of technology from the military to the rest of society.  The topic is controversial with strong positions on both sides. Vernon W. Ruttan, asks Is War Necessary for Economic Growth?  This book concludes that the answer is yes. Examples in favour of the spin-off hypothesis are the role of GPS (global positioning system), which was developed for the military; and the US DARPA (Defense Advanced Projects Research Agency) sponsorship of work on autonomous vehicles and, the early development of the internet. However, the World Wide Web came from CERN which is not used as an argument for financing particle physics.

With the end of the Cold War, the 1990s was a decade of cutting military spending and a period of rapid technological innovation where the new tech firms kept their distance from the military, which they largely still do.

While many technologies have military or wartime origins, many have not. If a large part of national resources and R&D is devoted to the military, as it was during the World Wars and Cold War, it is not surprising that many technologies have military origins. Currently, defence R&D is the largest component of publicly funded R&D in the US, UK and France.  However, had those resources been spent on civil R&D without the secrecy restrictions and diversion of scarce scientific and technical skills to the military, there may have been even more innovations. The counter-argument is that in the absence of the military pressure, those resources would not have been spent on R&D. In both military and civil research, how the government invests is crucial. Military procurement projects have long life-cycles and are highly bureaucratic, not features that promote spin-off.  The life-cycle of commercial electronics is about two years but the average military procurement time is about 7 years, almost four generations of electronics. The dominant force in some areas is now “spin-in” as the armed services adapt civilian technologies to military uses.


Professor Ron Smith

After teaching at Cambridge, Ron Smith came to Birkbeck, University of London in 1976, where he has been Professor of Applied Economics since 1985, teaching econometrics, statistics and forecasting. He has also been a visiting Professor at London Business School and the University of Colorado and is the author or editor of 10 books, and published over 200 papers mainly in applied econometrics, defence economics and political economy, which have over 25,00 Google Scholar citations.

Ron has acted as an econometric advisor to Frontier Economics since it was established and has consulted for the UK National Audit Office and RAND Europe, and is an Associate Fellow of the Royal United Services Institute. His book Military Economics: The Interaction of Power and Money, Palgrave 2009, was shortlisted for the 2010 Duke of Westminster’s Medal for Military Literature. He was awarded the 2011 Lewis Fry Richardson award for contributions to the scientific study of militarised conflict by the European Consortium of Political Research.  His latest book is Defence Acquisition and Procurement: how (not) to buy weapons, Cambridge University Press, Elements in Defence Economics,  2022.

Anita Friend

Anita Friend is the Head of the Defence and Security Accelerator (DASA), which finds and funds exploitable innovation for UK defence and security quickly and effectively, whilst boosting UK prosperity. In this role, she has placed strong emphasis on taking a collaborative approach across defence, security and industry – enhancing DASA’s service offering to deliver the best solutions for our customers and to help our suppliers grow their business. She has sought to ensure DASA finds ideas from a diverse range of sources and provides services, which accelerate and facilitate the turning of great ideas into benefits for defence and our national security.  

Anita joined DASA with over 10 years’ experience of working in National Security leadership roles in both Home Office and Cabinet Office. Before moving into the National Security field, Anita started her career in social research working in the private sector. 

Shane Slater

Shane has spent the majority of his corporate career working in the Technology, Defence and Security sectors. In the 1990's he was employed by IBM to manage small to medium enterprise customers, his last job being in their newly formed Network Generation team to extend IBM's presence in the dot com boom. Shane moved to a security-focused start up for a short time before joining QinetiQ (ex-MOD Defence Evaluation and Research Agency, DERA) in 2001. He occupied a number of roles (both non-MOD and MOD focused) throughout his 15 year tenure including managing the interface between QinetiQ and MOD for the Long Term Partnering Agreement (LTPA), originally contracted at £5.6bn over 25 years. Shane worked extensively with the support of 2* Head of MOD capability, proposing new operating models for the delivery of Test and Evaluation and other technology-led innovations. In 2010 he led one of 5 proposals submitted to MOD at their request for delivering significant savings, the only one selected by MOD for further exploration. Shane left his executive post of Group Head of Business Development in 2015.

Shane has also held senior/executive posts in Roke (the technology division of Chemring Group) and NCC Group, the UK's largest independent Cyber Security business. He has also had experience in the ship management sector and the offshore oil industry.

Philip Hutchinson

Prof Philip Hutchinson Ph.D, FInstP., FREng is Emeritus Professor at Cranfield University where he was Deputy Vice Chancellor, Principal at the Royal Military College of Science, Head of the School of Engineering and Professor of Statistical Fluid Mechanics. Prior to that he was Head of the Engineering Science Division at the Atomic Energy Research Establishment Harwell. Philip is also a Deputy Lieutenant of Oxfordshire.


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