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Defence Cluster Forms To Promote North East As Sector Hotspot

Efforts are under way to make the North East a national hub for cutting edge defence technologies thanks to a new cluster organisation.

The North East Regional Defence and Security Cluster (NERDSC) includes the backing of recent industry investors into the region such as Italian aerospace firm Leonardo; Irish virtual reality company VRAI, and Rafael, the Israeli acquirer of Pearson Engineering and Responsive Engineering. Backers also include contractor QinetiQ and its subsidiary Naimuri; Airbus, and Lockheed Martin, which is mulling investment in the region.

The group aims to drive further investment in the region and support those already here to secure defence and security contracts. Ahead of a formal launch in January next year, NERDSC says it will create a “knowledge hub” that will share best practice and insights on areas such as effective business development and bid writing for national and international defence work.

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It will target small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) that it says may find it more difficult to win work in the sector. And there are plans to host innovation challenges designed to harness research and development capabilities in the region.

The cluster’s formation comes amid a promising time for the region’s defence industry, following the launch of the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl) in Newcastle to carry out AI and data science related research; Leonardo’s decision to open a base in Newcastle; Rafael’s acquisitions on the banks of the Tyne and contractor giant Raytheon’s acquisition of Alnwick-based start-up NORSS.

Dr Simon Harwood, UK capability and innovation director at Leonardo, said: “The North East of England is poised to emerge as a hub for the nation’s digital defence research and technology. By creating this new cluster, we can help drive investment, boost regional productivity and contribute to the security of the UK while generating fantastic new career opportunities for local people.”

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) and the Defence and Security Accelerator (DASA) are also supporting the cluster, alongside local stakeholders such as Invest Newcastle (part of NewcastleGateshead Initiative), RTC North, North East LEP, Business Durham, and Tees Valley Combined Authority.

Jim Pennycook, defence industry partner at the MoD Defence and Security Accelerator, said: “The North East has a well-established history of manufacturing, research, development, and innovation expertise in support of UK military capability. We expect the NERDSC will have a pivotal role in advancing the North East’s position in the global defence and security ecosystem. We look forward to working with the cluster to accelerate innovation in core areas such as advanced manufacturing, data science, electrification and sustainable defence.”

Kelly Maddison, area director at MAKE UK Defence, said: “The formation of NERDSC is an important milestone that will contribute to enhancing the standing of the North East and wider UK in the global defence and security industry.”

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