UK to hire secret scientists to help counter overseas threats and cyber crime

The recruitment drive comes amid the Government’s bid to make the country a ‘science and tech superpower’ by 2030.

Defence Science and Technology Laboratory at Porton Down
Defence Science and Technology Laboratory at Porton Down

The UK is hiring more top secret scientists as part of its efforts to counter threats from China and Russia.

Over the next three months, jobs will be advertised for around 300 defence scientists to work for the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl), part of the Ministry of Defence (MoD) which is based at Porton Down, near Salisbury, and other sites around the country.

The recruitment drive – the biggest in Dstl’s 20-year history – comes amid the Government’s bid to make the UK a “science and tech superpower” by 2030, with the ability to “monitor, protect and defend” the country’s interests.

Scientists specialising in Artificial Intelligence (AI) and space are among those being sought, as well as analysts and engineers. More positions are expected to be advertised next year.

It is understood the roles will include a focus on the threats of the future such as increased hostility and aggression from Russia and China’s technological advancements as well as the dangers posed by organised crime and terrorist groups and cyber hackers.

An MoD source told the PA news agency: “These new recruits will be at the forefront of keeping the UK safe from a huge range of threats.”

In 2020 a £16.5 billion increase in defence spending over the next four years was announced.

As part of this the MoD is investing £6 billion in research and development, including an extra £1 billion specifically on science and technology.

The news comes as Prime Minister Boris Johnson travelled to meet Nato leaders and insisted the Western alliance did not want a new Cold War with China. but it did pose “challenges”.

Defence Science and Technology Laboratory at Porton Down
A virologist prepares solutions inside a lab at The Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl) at Porton Down, near Salisbury, Wiltshire (Ben Birchall/PA)

Ahead of the meeting, Nato secretary general Jens Stoltenberg said relations with Russia are at the “lowest point” since the end of the Cold War.

Meanwhile, in a speech to the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) defence and security think tank, Lindy Cameron – the head of the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) which is part of GCHQ – said it was crucial the UK continues to build its cyber resilience to stop attacks from reaching their targets.

Earlier this year Mr Johnson acknowledged China will pose a “great challenge” for the UK as he set out findings of a major review of foreign policy.

The strategy, which included a plan to increase the UK’s nuclear stockpile, also said Russia still remains the “most acute threat to our security”.

It set out risks posed by increased competition between states – including a more assertive China – along with terrorism, organised crime, climate change and the “realistic possibility” of another pandemic.

The review indicated the UK’s aim to be a “science and tech superpower” by 2030, with the ability to “monitor, protect and defend our interests” in space and ensuring cutting-edge defensive and offensive cyber capabilities.

Founded in 1916, Porton Down’s expansive, high-security site in the middle of the Wiltshire countryside is the oldest chemical warfare research centre in the world.

There, Dstl’s highly trained scientists are – with strict safety measures in place – used to handling some of the most dangerous known substances such as Ebola, anthrax, the nerve agent Novichok and plague – all of which can kill.

Inside the corridors housing high containment laboratories – split into four categories according to how hazardous the chemicals and pathogens inside are – staff have also turned their skills to tackling coronavirus.

Part of their work is to try to counter future threats from hostile states such as China and Russia. Minister for defence procurement Jeremy Quin said the investment in research and development is “central to the evolution of defence and security”, adding: “This will ensure MoD science and technology programmes upgrade and adapt our forces to meet a range of future threats.

“The Dstl recruitment campaign paves the way for the next generation of highly skilled scientists to work on sophisticated projects designing and engineering pioneering military equipment.”

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