Acknowledging the irreversible rise of new emerging and disruptive technologies (EDT) that can be applied in defence, but also knowing that their full operational integration into existing high end military platforms (weapon systems, frigates, planes, etc.) will take years if not decades, the Dutch have opted for a mixture of both approaches, old and new. The idea is to maintain and improve some of the proven traditional ways and means to promote military innovation inside the restricted defence environment; while at the same time embrace a much more open, flexible and short-cyclical innovation agenda relying on defence-relevant tech products and services available on the commercial market.
This is also the chosen course of action that emerges from the MoD’s Defence Strategic Knowledge & Innovation Agenda (Strategische Kennis- en Innovatieagenda, or SKIA) for the years 2021-2025, published in November 2020: the Netherlands will continue to both invest in classical (long-term) defence R&T and, simultaneously, increase their efforts to apply available civil technology for military purposes, in what is called “short cyclical innovation”.
Innovation centers, linked in a vast network
This trend had started even before the latest version of SKIA was published, several years ago when the Dutch MoD started to look for ways to better use and integrate commercial tech assets from the outside world into existing defence capabilities.
A first important step was made with the creation of numerous innovation centers, dealing with different specific topics and placed high up in the MoD hierarchy. They started to experiment and look for ways to embrace civil innovations (in parallel to the traditional defence R&D unit which continued its work in the classical defence environment), using both a demand and opportunity-driven approach.
The demand driven innovation approach, where solutions are searched from in the outside world for well-known military problems or demands, saw the Dutch MoD actively reaching out to civil partners (especially start-ups and SMEs) at technology fairs, business platforms etc. with the help of the existing Regional Development Societies, which are provincial facilitators for start-ups. A special Field Lab Smart Base was also set up, offering possibilities to test and improve assets for future military bases, which attracted many start-ups and SMEs. Under the opportunity-driven innovation approach, the Dutch MoD started to scan the commercial market for assets that could potentially be interesting for defence. Here the MoD teamed up with so-called innovation hubs or incubators, usually build around universities or tech-companies.
Today, all those actors - innovation centres, innovation hubs and incubators to name only them - are interconnected and part of a wider, decentralised and flexible Defence Innovation Network (Innovatienetwerk Defensie), a true innovation ecosystem, on which rely the Dutch defence innovation efforts and ambitions.