in Defence / Events

Belfast welcomes RAF Regional Innovation Node

Posted 2 December 2021

Representatives from across Northern Ireland’s industry, academia, innovation and cyber sectors, attended an RAF event at Hillsborough Castle - hosted by Air Officer Northern Ireland, Air Marshal Sean Reynolds and the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, the Right Honourable Brandon Lewis MP - welcoming the establishment of an RAF Regional Innovation Node based in Belfast’s Titanic Quarter.

Above: Belfast, Northern Ireland.
Courtesy The Institute of Electronics, Communications and Information Technology (ECIT), Queen's University of Belfast

The Air Force Main Board attended the event which marked the first time the Board has sat in Northern Ireland. The key message from the Board was the promotion of its theme ‘partnering and prosperity’ and the announcement of the establishment of a state-of-the-art regional innovation Node. The Chief of Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Sir Mike Wigston, delivered the keynote address.

There is already increased engagement regionally through RAF Industry Days, which work alongside the Northern Ireland Office, Aerospace, Defence, Security & Space (ADS) Northern Ireland, Queen’s University and Invest NI.

The next stage of this collaboration will see the establishment of a RAF Regional Innovation Node based in Belfast’s Titanic Quarter with a specific role to act as a conduit for academia and business to engage in higher value research and development into the broader service with a view to growing the supply chain here.  

RAF Reserve No. 502 (Ulster) Sqn, the original RAF Reserves Sqn based at Aldergrove Flying Station, will assist with the growth of Cyber and Digital Reservists in the region.

At the event, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Brandon Lewis said: "Investing in Northern Ireland’s exceptionally strong cyber talent pool is a smart move by the Royal Air Force. They will benefit from the innovative cyber capabilities that exist here, as well as the vibrant and highly sophisticated advanced engineering sector. Northern Ireland is already being positioned as the number one international investment location for US cyber security development projects, and I am delighted that the Royal Air Force are becoming more involved with the NI cyber ecosystem.”

Air Officer Northern Ireland - Air Marshal Sean Reynolds added: ”I was delighted that the Royal Air Force Board was able to bring together leaders from across Government, industry and academia to promote prosperity and partnership in Northern Ireland. I was also delighted that the Chief of the Air Staff was able to announce the formation of the Royal Air Force’s first Regional Innovation Node based in the Titanic Quarter of Belfast, our plans to form an additional Cyber Reserves Squadron alongside No 502 (Ulster) Squadron, and the placement of the ‘Hemingway’ Academic Fellowship for two Royal Air Force Masters students annually with Queen’s University Belfast at the Centre for Secure Information Technologies (CSIT). All of this will further strengthen our engagement across Northern Ireland.”

David Crozier, Head of Strategic Partnerships CSIT, Queen’s University Belfast, said: “It is heartening that the RAF Board has recognised the excellent cyber security research, innovation and education programmes available in Northern Ireland as a key factor in planning these new investments in the region. This represents a significant opportunity to open up a broader range of national and international research and collaboration activities to CSIT and the growing NI cyber security ecosystem.”

Grainne McVeigh, Invest NI’s Director of Advanced Manufacturing & Engineering said: “The establishment of a regional innovation node by the RAF will tap into Northern Ireland’s world-class cyber security research and talent pipeline. Northern Ireland’s strong infrastructure, combined with ambitious plans for the development of an innovation ecosystem, will support advanced manufacturing and digital technologies and provide a firm basis to build upon Northern Ireland’s reputation for Smart Design.”

Commenting on the announcement, Dr Leslie Orr, Director ADS Northern Ireland said: ”The aerospace industry in Northern Ireland is globally renowned and there are great capabilities in cyber and digital technologies. On behalf of the industry in the region we very much welcome this RAF announcement to establish a Regional Innovation Node. We look forward to working together to grow the industry opportunities.”




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