The bold new initiative will see the MOD invest £3.1 million into the Defence Innovation Centre, along with a further £2.6 million from Dorset Council & Dorset Local Enterprise Partnership. The Defence Innovation Centre will be built at the Dorset Innovation Park, the county’s Enterprise Zone.
The Army, as the lead for this project, has called its part of the centre the Army BattleLab, which is aiming to be operational by Spring 2021, providing 1100m2 new office space and 450m2 new workshop space for MOD innovation, and associated conference and collaboration space.
The Army BattleLab will feature an engineering workshop, as well as joint working and conference areas for use by the Army and wider MOD, for at least 15 years. In its first ten years the programme aims to create 90 new local jobs and add £4 million to the local economy.
As a highly equipped space, the BattleLab will enable the MOD to work directly with academic institutions, defence primes, small and medium enterprises and wider industry to develop new products and technologies which could be commercialised.
Defence Minister Jeremy Quin said: “The Army’s BattleLab in Dorset will build close industry relationships, whilst exploiting cutting-edge technologies to keep our Armed Forces sharp in the face of new and changing threats. This initiative will foster talent and innovation and will drive future success.”
The Army will use the Army BattleLab as the physical manifestation of ARIEL – the Army Research Innovation & Experimentation Laboratory. It will allow the end users, our soldiers, the opportunity to work with innovative industries in a shared space, allowing ideas to be developed, and technology and equipment to be refined.
BattleLab will mean exciting events, such as the Army Warfighting Experiment (AWE), will become more routine and increases the potential to scale-up new and innovative technologies.
Maj Gen Bennett, Director Capability said: “The Army BattleLab offers an unparalleled opportunity for the Army to engage directly and persistently with industry, small and medium enterprises and institutions who can help us think about our challenges differently.
Early engagement between end users – our soldiers – and those who have the expertise to develop technology, combining our requirements and experience, will change how we develop and procure unique and technical capabilities going forward.
It is an exciting and innovative approach, directly supporting our transformation agenda, and we very much look forward to seeing how it progresses.”
Dorset boasts a particularly strong defence sector and is home to the Army’s Armoured Trial and Development Unit in Bovington, the Royal Corps of Signals training centre in Blandford, and a unique training area at Lulworth Cove, which includes cleared airspace up to 5000ft, making it ideal for experimentation and trials to occur.
Lt Gen Tickell CBE, Deputy Chief of the General Staff said: ‘We are looking forward to progressing The Army BattleLab initiative; which is not just an example of our commitment to engage, but also an opportunity to extend the effort outside big set pieces like AWE. The chance to accelerate prototype warfare – testing and experimentation - and lead this area of Defence innovation, and to work with industry on a more regular footing.’
Jim Stewart, Chair of Dorset LEP said: “This large-scale investment is a major boost to Dorset’s defence sector. Dorset is renowned for its strengths in innovation and this new MOD workspace will enable these sectors to flourish even further. We are delighted that the MOD has chosen Dorset Innovation Park for the location of its Army Battle Lab and we look forward to working with them on its success.”
Dorset Innovation Park is Dorset's only economic development site with Enterprise Zone status. It is developing as an advanced engineering cluster of excellence for the South West, building on its strengths in marine, defence, energy and cyber-security.