The UK’s Outdated Procurement Processes Hindering AI Integration in Military Capabilities
The UK’s procurement procedures are ill-equipped to handle the rapid development of artificial intelligence (AI) in the nation’s military capabilities, according to Andrew Kinniburgh, director-general for defense at manufacturers’ association Make UK. Speaking to the AI in Weapon Systems Committee, Kinniburgh highlighted that the existing procurement methods are outdated and unable to keep pace with the advancements in AI technology.
Make UK, which represents 23,000 companies, including around 400 in the defense sector, revealed that small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are finding it challenging to gain access to armed forces equipment and technology spending. Over the next decade, the budget for equipment procurement and support is expected to reach £242 billion ($296 billion).
Speaking about defense procurement in the UK, Kinniburgh stated, “It moves in – if you’re very lucky – months, but regularly it takes years of procurement, by which point AI has moved on immeasurably. It just simply isn’t fit for purpose.” Larger defense suppliers, such as BAE Systems, Babcock, and Raytheon Systems, were also criticized for being slow and cumbersome in their response to procurement.
Kinniburgh highlighted the importance of the Defence and Security Accelerator (DASA), a unit within the Ministry of Defence responsible for finding and funding new technologies. He emphasized that DASA offers a more nimble and dynamic approach in bringing companies into the defense supply chain. DASA recently announced the first two SMEs to receive funding through its Defense Technology Exploitation Programme.
However, Kinniburgh expressed his concerns about the limited accessibility of SMEs to the innovation units of Navy, Army, Royal Air Force, and UK Strategic Command. He stated that these units are largely impenetrable for SMEs, preventing them from accessing the funding allocated for AI and other leading-edge technologies.
The limitations of current procurement processes and the lack of accessibility for SMEs in the defense sector raises the need for the UK to revise its approach to AI integration in military capabilities and provide better opportunities for smaller innovators.
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