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North East England Launches New Regional Defence Cluster to Become National Hub for Digital Defence Technology

September 22, 2023

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Newcastle upon Tyne, UK – The North East Regional Defence and Security Cluster (NERDSC) has been launched in a strategic move to boost regional prosperity and position North East England as a national driving force of the UK’s digital defence technology revolution.

The initiative comes at a pivotal time when the Ministry of Defence is increasingly turning to digital and data networks and devices, fortified by robust cyber security, to safeguard the security of the UK.

NERDSC is uniquely poised to capitalise on this emerging trend by leveraging the region’s research capabilities emanating from five world-class universities and recent investments by industry leaders such as Leonardo and Rafael.

Durham, Newcastle and Northumbria Universities share between them the largest concentration of researchers in the UK outside of London and the region’s credentials were further bolstered by the launch of the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl) in Newcastle to carry out AI and data science related research.

The ultimate goal of NERDSC is to establish the North East as a national hub for cutting-edge digital defence technologies by harnessing recognised strengths in the design and manufacture of hardware, electronics and advanced materials to create more and better jobs in the North East.

Backed by major defence and security companies including Leonardo, Rafael, Lockheed Martin, QinetiQ and its subsidiary Naimuri, as well as Airbus and simulation data company VRAI, this mission holds the potential to generate valuable intellectual property and boost regional productivity.

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

NERDSC is strategically focused on attracting further investment to the region while helping local firms in securing defence and security contracts.

Ahead of a formal launch event in January 2024, the cluster will begin working on a knowledge hub aimed at sharing best practice and insights on secure work methodologies, effective business development, and bid writing for national and international defence contracts. This resource will be especially valuable for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), which have traditionally found it more difficult to secure contracts from defence customers.

Furthermore, NERDSC will spotlight the region’s subject matter expertise through innovation challenges and collaboration, harnessing new research capabilities to craft tailored solutions for the evolving needs of the defence and security sector.

Dr Simon Harwood, UK Capability & Innovation Director, 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 launch of NERDSC marks a pivotal moment in the evolution of the North East’s defence and security landscape. The region has already attracted substantial investments from global giants like Leonardo and Rafael, who recognise the region’s diverse research assets, including the National Innovation Centre for Data (NICD) and Dstl.

Notably, Leonardo’s recent research partnership with NICD exemplifies NERDSC’s mission to harness the North East’s extensive expertise in data-driven insights and intelligence. The cluster also plans to collaborate with other organisations, including Space North East England, to expand into vertical markets.

Jim Pennycook, Defence Industry Partner, 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, 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.”

For more information about NERDSC and to register your interest for the formal launch event in January 2024, please contact

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