Royal Navy continues to embrace innovation with first graduates from new scheme

A training programme giving the Royal Navy’s people the chance to immerse themselves in technology and innovation has been hailed a success.

Sailors, Royal Marines and civilian staff from all levels across the five fighting arms have taken part in the inaugural Percy Hobart Fellowship scheme.

The 12-week course, launched in partnership with GovTech venture firm PUBLIC, saw personnel take part in online courses and then work with start-up businesses to learn how they operate.

The programme aims to drive a culture of innovation in defence – teaching Royal Navy staff to identify the needs of today’s service and secure the most effective technologies and tools to meet these needs. It ended with a day of pitches by the graduations who were given the chance to present their ideas that could benefit the navy.

It comes as the service commits to embracing and developing the latest technology for frontline operations.

First Sea Lord, Admiral Tony Radakin said: “I am hugely impressed by what this first cohort of Percy Hobart Fellows have achieved during this programme. 

“Their skills and experiences will be invaluable as we continue to drive forward Royal Navy Transformation, embracing modern and dynamic working practices and embedding technology at the heart of all that we do.

“My thanks to all those companies who have been involved, and especially to PUBLIC for helping to make this happen.”

As part of the programme, the personnel attended virtual lectures on technologies such as AI and facial recognition, learnt about the importance of understanding the needs of those using the technology and heard from entrepreneurs on their successes and the challenges of running a start-up business.

One of those to take part was Royal Marines heavy weapons specialist Marine Colt Callaghan. He was keen to see changes happen at a faster rate and saw the fellowship as an opportunity to help him push his ideas forward.

“Initially I was unsure of what I could do for a start-up, but after the first few weeks I was more confident that I could make a meaningful difference for a small company,” he said.

“The work, while sometimes being outside of my comfort zone, was always achievable with a bit of determination.

“I worked alongside TheFutureFox, helping to grow their side project TacticalSpace, which is a community gallery of COVID-safe public spaces. I also completed projects on pricing, competitor analysis and market research. On top of that I put some of my coding skills to the test by writing some of the code for the TacticalSpace website.”

Providing opportunities like the fellowship enthuse personnel and ensure new thinking is brought into the service.

Surgeon Lieutenant Commander Louise McMenemy

Meanwhile, fellowship graduate Surgeon Lieutenant Commander Louise McMenemy said the course gave large organisations like defence the chance to innovate. She added: “The Royal Navy needs to participate in initiatives like the fellowship to remain relevant and foster talent. Developing personnel is at the core of the navy, the fellowship is a manifestation of this value.

“The benefits to the service should not be overlooked. Providing opportunities like the fellowship enthuse personnel and ensure new thinking is brought into the service.”

Chief Petty Officer (Engineering Technician (Weapon Engineer (Submariner)) Steven Reilly spent time on the course working with cyber security company AWEN Collective and heard from speakers from Microsoft and experts in design, digital ethics and leadership.

He said: “It is important that the Royal Navy takes part in programmes such as the Percy Hobart Fellowship as we need to build a keener grasp on what small innovative organisations are doing on the cutting-edge of technology.

“We need to be able to bring them into the defence sector to stay current and competitive in the modern world, in addition new agile and flexible ways of working are also crucial to the navy staying relevant in the future and attracting the talented personnel we need.”

Daniel Korski, PUBLIC’s chief executive, said: “Tomorrow’s armed forces will require personnel as able to work with technology as they are with traditional armaments, who can champion new ways of working, and drive innovation no matter their rank.

“It has been fantastic to see the Percy Hobart Fellows’ commitment and dedication during the programme and look forward to following their progress as they return to the navy.  The Royal Navy has a long tradition of innovation in this space and I’m grateful to the First Sea Lord for continuing this through the Percy Hobart Fellowship.”