Dstl research and funding priorities

The unprecedented increase in the defence budget will mean around £6.6 billion funding for research and development, including around £1 billion extra on science and technology over the next 4 years.

The Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl) is calling upon the best minds from science, technology, engineering, innovation, and academia to work with its world-class teams to deliver on the most ambitious programme in its 20 year history.

This page explains Dstl’s priorities for the next 4 years, predominantly covering the technology areas where there will be extra funding and new collaboration opportunities for industry and academia.

These priorities were set out at our Supercharging Science virtual event on 22 July 2021. You’ll find presentations and videos from the event as part of this guide.

Supercharging Science: opening session

Supercharging Science – working with Dstl as part of the UK science superpower.

This session explained the Ministry of Defence (MOD) and Dstl’s strategies for delivering science and technology and to kickstart engagement with industry and academia following announcement of increased investment by the UK government.

It included top level briefings from:

  • Dstl Interim Chief Executive Doug Umbers
  • MOD Director Defence Science and Technology Dr Nick Joad
  • Dstl Chief Technical Officer Andy Bell


Artificial intelligence, autonomy and robotics


Artificial intelligence (AI)

Dstl de-mystifies AI. We help MOD understand how it can responsibly and ethically adopt AI in order to deter and de-escalate conflict, save lives and reduce harm.

There will be approximately £80m funding for our AI programme in the coming 4 years.

AI technology areas of interests

  • Architectures and standard
    • Open architectures
    • Data centric security
  • Broad AI
    • Advanced AI algorithms
    • Going beyond ‘narrow AI
    • AI at the edge
    • Low size-weight power
    • Novel AI hardware solutions
    • Trustworthy and safe AI systems
    • Test and evaluation
    • Verification and validation
    • Robustness
  • Human machine teaming
    • Human-in-systems
    • Human machine interfaces
    • AI ethics
  • Data sparse learning
    • Few/one/zero shot learning
    • Data efficient learning

Contact us

To make contact with or to sign up to updates from the AI team, email ai_lab@dstl.gov.uk

Future events:

Robotics and autonomous systems

In this area MOD is seeking to advance autonomy to enable tasks that are ‘dull, dirty, dangerous, distant, demanding, and distributed’.

We anticipate the funding in this area to be in the region of £30 to £40 million a year over the next 5 years.

Key challenges include:

  • Reduced human burden
  • Enhanced combat mass
  • Improve tempo and agility
  • Decrease risk and casualties
  • Improve operational efficiency

Science and technology futures


This programme aims to ensure defence is better prepared for the future through revitalised investment in S&T Futures activity. It identifies potential, incubates and rapidly tests hypotheses, and promotes emerging insights into generation-after-next science and technology.

There is funding of £19m for financial year 2021 to 2022 with between 40% and 60% contracted to industry and academia.

Futures technology areas of interest

  • A broad range of emerging and generation after next science and technology, including:
  • Autonomous systems and robots
  • Power and energy storage
  • Artificial intelligence
  • Sensors

We also need to understand the implications of future science and technology:

  • Large global trends
  • The interests of our allies and adversaries
  • Research and development activity by other sectors
  • Ethical, moral and legal implications



Space has its most substantive defence investment since the 1970s. Industry and academia will be critical if the UK is to deliver on its ambitious agenda.

MOD is investing around £5 billion over the next decade to enhance satellite communications capabilities through the Skynet programme but also a further £1.4 billion in the acquisition and development of new initiatives.

Defence will carry out more space related science activity, research and development, and operational concept demonstrators.

Space technology areas of interest

  • Space situational awareness
  • The space environment
  • Space intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance
  • Space control and resilience
  • Military satellite communications
  • Satellite launch, infrastructure and operations
  • Space architectures and advice
  • Space-based positioning, navigation and timing

Cyber resilience


Cyber defence science and technology provides innovative, agile and timely outcomes to support MOD and UK Government delivering cyber resilience.

The programme has funding of around £75m over the next 4 years with a focus on:

  • Non-conventional IT systems
  • Working with severe constraints in bandwidth, power or space

Cyber resilience technology areas of interest

  • Safe-by-default programming language
  • Secure-by-design hardware
  • Context aware decision making
  • Human-machine teaming
  • Autonomous decision making
  • Reinforcement learning in cyber
  • Hosted environments
  • Simulation
  • Automated recovery
  • Quantum communications and networking
  • Data centric security
  • Low power compute



Underwater is a vitally important domain for defence. The world is increasingly visible and interconnected. But underwater is large, harsh and varied. Traditional systems are not effective underwater and it is a great place to hide – for us and our adversaries.

Challenge areas

  • Underwater defensive aids
  • Environmental understanding
  • Uncrewed systems and autonomy
  • Machine learning and artificial intelligence
  • Signature mitigation and control
  • Underwater command, control, communications, computers, and intelligence (known as C4I)
  • Propulsors
  • Concepts and integration
  • Decision making
  • Underwater survivability
  • Sensing
  • Underwater weapons



Energetics covers propellants, explosives and pyrotechnics.

It is a critical and underpinning technology across defence and security. They are fundamental to virtually all weapons systems. They are usually sub components of a bigger system and are often regarded as a mature technology, therefore research into them over previous decades had been in decline.

As the mission and system requirements change, energetic material components need to evolve with them such as miniaturisation, tougher environments, longer service life, reduced through life costs.

Around £9 million funding for industry and academia is expected to be invested over 4 years to accelerate the discovery and delivery of new energetic materials through the Advanced Energetic Materials project.

Key requirement areas

  • New weapons
  • Disposal
  • Novel materials
  • Novel manufacturing
  • Novel diagnostics – trials and evaluation
  • Explosive ordnance disposals
  • Security of supply
  • National security and support to operations

Key challenges

  • Maintaining the military advantage
  • Smaller, faster, cheaper
  • New energetics

Technical themes

  • Accelerating discovery of new explosive molecules
  • Accelerating synthesis using machines
  • Novel and alternative chemical synthesis approaches
  • Novel and alternative biological synthesis approaches



Weapons are a core means for defence to achieve its purpose to protect the people of the United Kingdom, to prevent conflict, and to be ready to fight our enemies.

Weapons and weapons systems are a significant enduring capability where emerging technologies can give the UK an edge over adversaries in the future.

Areas of interest

  • Driving missile technologies
  • Survivable weapons
  • Performance effectiveness
  • Weapons technology maturation and assurance
  • Energy weapons
  • Tactical weapons

Priority areas

  • High speed and hypersonic systems
    • Aerodynamic and aerothermal environment
    • Guidance technologies for high speed systems
    • Sensing
    • Effects
    • Performance modelling and simulation
  • Directed energy
    • Smaller, lighter, robust and reliable systems
    • Propagation and effects of energy weapons
    • Protection against energy weapons
    • Investigate new and alternative technologies
  • Cooperative weapons
    • Hardware
    • Software
    • Datalinks
    • Tactics development

How to work with or sell to Dstl


In this session, Dstl’s commercial team explain how potential suppliers from academia and industry can work with or sell to Dstl. The session also includes a briefing on acquisition reform, routes to market, and a briefing by the Defence and Security Accelerator (DASA) which includes funding opportunities.

Relevant guidance

How to work with or sell to Dstl

Read More

Thomas Pekar