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South West Regional Defence and Security Cluster (SWRDSC)

In 2018, the University of Exeter supported the Heart of the South West Local Enterprise Partnership (HotSW LEP) in pulling together a Task and Finish Group to inform the bedrock priority area of ‘Defence and Security’ within its Productivity Delivery Plan (PDP). This group was made up of a cross-section of stakeholders from industry, universities, local authorities, government departments (focused on innovation, business support and exports), executive agencies, police, MOD and Defence trade bodies. The PDP outlined key opportunities and core approach as well as current and future strategic projects / initiatives, one of which was the development of a Regional Defence and Security Cluster (RDSC). The finalised plan went on to inform the HotSW Local Industrial Strategy submitted to government in September 2019.

The development of a SWRDSC was widely supported with stakeholders recognising it could provide strategic value for the region by bringing together a definitive grouping and coherent voice for the Defence and Security sector.

Defence and Security (D&S) makes a major contribution to the UK’s economy by creating and sustaining high-skilled jobs; investing in training, innovation and global exports (£5.9b in 2016); as well as through the protection it provides to the nation. D&S operates across five operational domains: Land, Sea, Air, Space and Cyber which means the sector inter-links and underpins large elements of our aviation, marine, nuclear, photonics and digital industries. In 2016, the UK’s Defence industry turnover was £23 billion and employed 59,100 across its Joint Services and Civilian workforces in the South West. D&S investment has a multiplier effect for UK prosperity and provides a seed bed for new ideas, technology and dual-use innovation.

The region is home to some significant indigenous assets such as the UKHO and MET Office, world leading capabilities providing geospatial data and intelligence as well as meteorological services that support UK Defence Mission and Military Tasks. There are two leading universities including Exeter and Plymouth that are highly collaborative with the sector, driving the knowledge economy through applied research and education, benefiting industry, the economy, future workforce development and wider society.

Other assets include: Devonport with Babcock's nuclear submarine refitting facilities (the only such facility in the UK); Oceansgate Enterprise Zone and Thales Marine Autonomy Centre at Turnchapel Wharf; Plymouth Sound’s deep water facilities; Leonardo’s rotocraft operation in Yeovil with its sovereign capability; and the Appledore ship building site. Additionally, the region has an ecosystem of SME and micro businesses with niche expertise in maritime systems; high mobility defence vehicles; complex engineering services; system design and original equipment manufacturing (OEM); simulation training; COTS and MOTS products; risk management consultancy; and optical film coatings to name a few. Additionally, MOD has a tri-service infrastructure footprint in the region ranging from naval bases, air stations, barracks, offices, training camps and schools to units for its reserves taskforce.

At a regional level, although the South West supports a plethora of innovative SME and micro businesses, further support is needed to enable a cohesive regional D&S sector to collaborate, overcome barriers to entry and help supply chains to compete and realise new technologies. The region lacks the benefit of a Catapult centre and has one of the lowest success rates for innovation investment.  Its geographic location struggles to attract and compete for a sufficient pipeline of talent causing a growing skills gap, particularly in STEM.  Support is also required with growing exports and inward investment; building post BREXIT resilience and maintaining sovereign capability.  Strengthening regions through investment and partnerships will help address the productivity gap and build global capabilities. 

At a national level, Philip Dunne’s report on ‘Growing the Contribution of Defence to UK Prosperity’ and the refreshed Defence Industrial Policy (Dec’2017) have informed the Defence Prosperity Programme.  2020 will also see the renewal of the: National Security Strategy and Strategic Defence and Security Review 2015; MOD Science and Technology Strategy 2017; and Defence Industrial Strategy.  The latter will link into the Defence Technology Framework (DTF) and UK wide Industrial Strategy to optimise capabilities and ensure technology is accessible. 

A common thread between these strategies and frameworks is the recognition that MOD and wider government want to: 

  1. Improve the way Defence delivers wider economic and international value, and national security objectives
  2. Foster an internationally competitive, innovative and secure UK Defence industry
  3. Make it easier to do business with Defence
  4. Shape its engagements with industry and academia to be more effective
  5. Work with the D&S sector to get clearer and more joined up signals; understand how it is responding to the DTF
  6. Learn what the sector sees as the key opportunities and barriers to driving change
  7. Have effective outreach mechanisms

The SWRDSC will be the first pan-Defence and Security cluster in the UK. It forms a collaboration led by industry and academia with the support of government and its ministerial departments such as the MOD and its innovation directorate, the Defence and Security Accelerator (DASA).

The cluster seeks to aggregate and raise the profile of regional D&S capability to stimulate greater sector knowledge, business, economic growth and productivity across the South West region. It will attract businesses of all scales with an interest in D&S to deliver new sector and cross-sector capability. It aims to apply a ‘Team UK’ approach to enable more joined up working between industry, academia and government, providing an efficient and accessible route to industry curation and the region’s D&S value chain.

  1. Strengthen the region’s partnership between industry, academia and government to leverage D&S investment opportunities and grow sector economic prosperity
  2. Create conducive conditions for knowledge exchange, collaboration and the innovation process
  3. Inform and influence government strategies, policies and investment programmes 

At a glance, the cluster plans to act as a mechanism for:

  • Amplifying existing regional assets, networks and investments, taking them to a wider audience
  • Attracting and retaining skilled talent, helping to create high value jobs
  • Broadening MOD and wider government outreach in the South West
  • Business support
  • Collaboration
  • Commercialisation, exploitation and exports
  • Creating conditions to link novel component innovation to systems and platforms
  • Developing specialism technology areas to operate at the forefront of technical capabilities
  • Developing support services for Front Line Command (FLC) and other end users
  • Early market engagement and access to end users (e.g. FLC)
  • Economic growth
  • Innovation
  • Investment and trade
  • Linkage to Strategic Suppliers and other cross-sector clusters
  • Lobbying and representing the sector
  • Scaling up regional D&S activity to win new business
  • Sharing best practice and excellence
  • Skills and workforce development
  • Supply chain growth
  • Teaming and consortia formation

The SWRDSC will start to achieve these objectives through a scaled approach of activity with priority areas in Year 1 including:


Attracting and engaging both traditional and non-traditional D&S businesses will be key to the cluster’s success.  Its primary geography is expected to span Cornwall, Devon, Dorset and Somerset.  The cluster will offer two categories of membership: 

  • Full Membership: encompassing any organisation within the SWRDSC’s geography offering products, services, R&D and technology solutions that can be applied in a D&S domain. As a sub-set of this, membership will also be offered to ‘Strategic Partners’ such as Government agencies and LEPs, D&S Trade Bodies and Funding Bodies that can support and add value to the cluster.
  • Affiliate Membership: given on an opportunity basis to those located out of region who can help the cluster address specific gaps in capability.

MOD's Innovation Operating Model

A key activity in its inaugural year will be working with DASA to pilot MOD's new innovation operating model to improve commercialisation and exploitation of funded innovation.  It is designed to provide a coherent end to end process operating model for innovation and drive return on investment.  An important phase for the cluster will be the ‘Demand’ phase involving early market engagement with MOD/FLC, validation of user need, capability alignment and industry curation via the RDSC.


A wider plan of activity and investment has been formulated to not only leverage this immediate opportunity with DASA but also to create a fertile environment for collaboration, encouraging a cross-pollination of ideas, knowledge exchange and access to D&S support and opportunities.

Thematic Programmes

The development of Special Interest Groups (SIGs) that will champion themed programmes and build on the cluster’s strengths.  The SIGs will identify areas of high capability that enable teaming and formation of consortia to collaboratively bid for investment.

A snapshot of the intended programme portfolio (some of which are cross-cutting):

  • 4th Industrial Revolution Technologies
  • Advanced Materials and Manufacturing
  • Autonomous Systems and Robotics
  • Clean Growth
  • Communications
  • Cyber Security
  • Data Science, AI, ML, Simulation & Synthetic Environments
  • Ethical and Legal Considerations
  • Health, Safety and Environment
  • Human Performance and Development
  • Space and Satellite Applications
  • Test and Evaluation

The SWRDSC will have a Steering Group to provide leadership to the cluster and guide its strategy and work plan. Acting on behalf of the wider cluster, they will be ambassadors promoting its activity and value proposition. The group will be supported by a Programme Manager and Coordinator, responsible for executing and delivering the cluster’s schedule of activity.

The SWRDSC’s [virtual] launch event will be held on November 4th 2020.  To attend, please register here  

If you would like to enquire more generally about the cluster and how to become a member, please get in touch by emailing Edward Raggett: