Science Foundation Ireland and the Department of Defence invites academic research teams to work with the Irish Defence Forces to develop innovative solutions to challenges across a range of areas that will have beneficial application and strong positive impact potential for Irish society.  

Under the SFI-Defence Organisation Innovation Challenge, research teams based at eligible Irish research bodies can apply to address one of five challenges, or to propose disruptive ideas for technologies across several areas of interest to the Irish Defence Forces. 

Challenges: Teams are invited to submit applications to address specific challenges identified by the Department of Defence and the Irish Defence Forces. These challenges have specific requirements that should be achieved for solutions to be deemed successful. 

Challenge 1

Enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of the fire extinguishing capability of rotary-wing aircraft

In Ireland, the Irish Air Corps provides an aerial fire-fighting capability using rotary-wing aircraft (i.e., helicopters) equipped with underslung ‘Bambi-Bucket’ water carrying/drop devices. The ability of the Air Corps to fight fires is dependent on a number of factors including weather conditions, visibility and proximity to a water source. Under this challenge, the Air Corps would like to explore development of a solution that can enhance its fire-fighting capability. 

Under this challenge, applicants are invited to address the following: 

Develop and demonstrate the feasibility of a solution that significantly enhances the efficiency and effectiveness of the fire extinguishing capability of a rotary-wing aircraft. As part of this solution, applicants may wish to consider several aspects individually or in combination, including (but not limited to): 

  • Environmentally safe flame-extinguishing solutions; 
  • Suspension fire extinguishing system design; 
  • Mission planning (including weather conditions); 
  • Water targeting systems. 

Solutions proposed must not compromise safety or involve modifications to aircraft. 

Challenge 2

Cyber-physical system to assist in, or potentially automate, manoeuvring of aircraft between a hangar and apron

The Irish Air Corps operates a fleet of 26 aircraft (10 rotary wing, 16 fixed wing). Manoeuvring aircraft between the hangars and apron requires a person to operate a tow tractor/heli-lift, in addition to personnel to ‘wing-walk’, i.e., observe and ensure adequate clearance between the aircraft and hangar doors, obstacles and other aircraft. Impact damage is a significant issue that can cause an aircraft to be grounded until repairs can be undertaken. Therefore, the process of manoeuvring aircraft in this manner is manpower intensive and can result in technicians being distracted from performing technical inspections of aircraft in advance of their day’s flying.  

Under this challenge, applicants are invited to address the following: 

  • Develop a cyber-physical system that will assist, or potentially automate, the manoeuvre of aircraft between a hangar and apron. 
  • The system must be adaptable to different types of aircraft with minimal or no human intervention. 
  • The system must be capable of significantly reducing the time needed to manoeuvre an aircraft from hangar to apron without damage to the aircraft, hangar or apron infrastructure, while maintaining or increasing safety for personnel. 

Solutions should not involve modification to aircraft or significant modification to hangar or apron infrastructure. 

Challenge 3

Recovery of Rigid Hull Inflatable Boats (RHIBs) at sea

The Navy has a fleet of nine vessels. Currently, six of these ships use a Caley Davit launch and Recovery System with MST RHIB used for small boat operations in the Irish Area of Operations. The current system uses a boat rope tensioned manually by one member of the RHIB recovery team. At present the existing system for launching and recovering MST RHIBs, on board P50 and P60 class warships involve the manual heaving and paying out of the boat rope. Although this method has served adequately and enabled the Irish Naval Service to deploy RHIBs, it poses an unnecessary risk to the safety of deck crew.  

Under this challenge, applicants are invited to address the following: 

  • Develop a system that enables safe retrieval of rigid hull inflatable boats (RHIBs) to the deck of a moving vessel while both vessels are at sea. Retrieval should be undertaken safely and with minimal human intervention. 

Solutions proposed must not damage either vessel or surrounding equipment during operation, or reduce the safety of personnel involved. Adaptation or modification to vessels may be considered as part of a solution provided these adaptations subject to consultation with subject matter experts. 

Challenge 4

Prevention and detection of water ingress to vessels

Despite the integral design and water-tight integrity of vessels (e.g., P50 and P60 class), water ingress can occur during some operations. Current measures mitigate against some of the effects of ingress such as humidity and temperature changes. Despite these measures, degradation of electronic and mechanical equipment can occur which gives rise to reduced performance and increased maintenance costs. Degradation of equipment in these types of scenarios is difficult to detect and manage. While several current approaches employ sensors with HVAC and vent systems, or in monitoring water-tight integrity, there is a need to develop more sophisticated methods of monitoring and predicting when issues will occur. 

Under this challenge, applicants are invited to address one of the following: 

  • Develop methods capable of preventing or significantly reducing water ingress to vessels. 
  • Develop new approaches to detect and locate in real-time water ingress to vessels. 
  • Develop new technologies to reduce or eliminate the effects of corrosion on vessels. 
  • Develop methods to capture data, analyse trends and predict issues relating to equipment. 

Solutions proposed must not compromise safety or involve significant modifications to vessels. 

Challenge 5

Reduce the environmental impact of Defence Force aircraft, land vehicles and vessels

The Defence Forces comprises the Irish Army, Naval Service and Air Corps. Across these branches there are 9 naval vessels, 26 aircraft and 1650 vehicles. Considerable efforts have been made over the previous decade to reduce consumption through measures which include technical intervention, changes to patrolling patterns and improved fleet management. Due to the operational outputs required of the Defence Forces, further reductions in consumption are limited and patterns will remain varied. It is therefore imperative that new technologies and fuels are considered which will further reduce the organisations carbon footprint.  

 As part of this challenge, researchers are invited to consider a range of potential approaches that will assist in reducing the carbon footprint of Defence Forces aircraft, land vehicles and vessels. 

Under this challenge, applicants are invited to address one of the following: 

  • Investigate the applicability of novel technologies (including designs) to enhance efficiency and reduce carbon footprint including inter alia hydrogen technology, electricity, fuel cells. 
  • Identify and integrate sustainable bioenergy solutions that can reduce the carbon footprint of naval vessels, aircraft and heavy land vehicles. 

Optimise mission design, across all domains, with a view to minimise fuel consumption and carbon footprint. 

Disruptive Ideas: The the Department of Defence and the Irish Defence Forces are interested in ideas for disruptive/radical technologies across the areas of:  

  • Medical Technologies,  
  • Disaster Relief,  
  • Peacekeeping,  
  • Climate and Sustainability,  
  • Information and Communications Technologies (ICT). 

Under this call, selected teams will be awarded up to €220k and work through a series of phases to develop their ideas to compete for an overall €1M prize award. The winning team must successfully demonstrate sufficient progress toward development of a STEM-based solution to be considered for the prize award. The prize will enable the winning team to continue development and explore deployment of their solution.  

Challenge-based funding (or challenge funding) is a solution-focused approach to research funding that uses a combination of grants, competition, incentive prizes and strict timelines to direct research activities at specific, often complex, problems. It focuses on finding the most innovative and impactful solutions using competitive processes to incentivize innovators. SFI’s approach to challenge funding places strong emphasis on: 

  • Interdisciplinarity and Teamwork – The complex nature of challenges requires experts from different disciplines to work effectively together. SFI’s challenge funding programmes strongly encourage interdisciplinary teams to apply.  As part of applications to this programme, teams should highlight interdisciplinarity and the advantage it gives them. 
  • Engagement and Validation – Engaging with stakeholders, beneficiaries and end-users of research in an area relevant to a challenge is critical to understanding and exploring the nature and boundaries of specific problems, in testing assumptions and developing new perspectives. It is also crucial as part of the validation process that solutions are co-created with these groups to ensure they address real needs.     
  • Acceleration – Working at pace facilitates both extensive engagement and efficient exploration and modification of ideas based on learnings. This approach is encouraged in challenge-based funding through the use of strict, often stage-gated or phased, timelines and competitive processes involving incentives such as prizes.  

The overarching ambition of the SFI-Defence Organisation Innovation Challenge is to develop new technologies aligned with national defence policy that also have potential to deliver significant societal impact in Ireland. The specific objectives of the SFI-Defence Organisation Innovation Challenge are: 

  • To promote the development of new technologies that support missions and capabilities aligned with national defence policy; 
  • To accelerate the development and demonstration of technologies that have broad potential for utilisation and impact across the Defence Organisation with positive impact for Irish society; 
  • To raise awareness of the role that STEM research plays in addressing Defence Organisation capability requirements; 
  • To foster collaboration between the Defence Organisation, researchers and Research Performing Organisations (RPOs). 

These objectives are underpinned by those of the SFI Future Innovator Prize which are: 

  • To support the development of novel, potentially disruptive, technologies to address significant national and global challenges; 
  • To support the formation of high-performance, interdisciplinary teams based on integration of diverse STEM disciplines and complementary skillsets; 
  • To promote the convergence of knowledge, practice and methods from different disciplines and diverse sectors; 
  • To promote engagement between researchers and stakeholders/beneficiaries of research; 
  • To accelerate societal impact from publicly funded research. 

The SFI-Defence Organisation Innovation Challenge is intended to support interdisciplinary and collaborative research teams. It is expected that teams will encompass a range of technical (both scientific and engineering) and non-technical skills to address activities associated with problem understanding and solution development. 

Applications to the programme will be accepted from applicant teams comprising two researchers who are either at established or postdoctoral (incl. Research Fellow) career stage based at an eligible research body.  

As indicated in SFI’s Gender Strategy, SFI is committed to removing and mitigating any existing or perceived factors that may limit the participation of women in STEM careers. As such, women are strongly encouraged to apply to this programme. 

Applications to the SFI-Defence Organisation Innovation Challenge must identify a core applicant team comprising: 

  • Team Lead (Lead Applicant) - It is expected that the Team Lead will have responsibility for managing the activities of the team, will provide technical leadership and have overall responsibility for delivery of research programme objectives. 
  • Team Co-Lead (Co-Applicant) - It is expected that the Team Co-Lead will provide technical leadership as part of the research programme but should not have the same technical/disciplinary background as that of the Team Lead. 

Under the SFI-Defence Organisation Innovation Challenge, following successful application, a Defence Organisation (DefOrg) Liaison will be assigned to work with the Team Lead and Co-Lead. The DefOrg Liaison is expected to be integral to the team and will work as part of the team to provide insights as well as organisational, operational or mission context to support the team in understanding and validating problems, and the development of a solution. It is anticipated that the DefOrg Liaison will, through their participation as a core team member, assist in establishing an innovation culture with the Defence Organisation and garner support and buy-in that will assist the team in planning for potential future deployment/demonstration.    

Teams successful at application stage will have the opportunity to expand during the course of their award and be able to recruit additional team members (e.g., at postgraduate or postdoctoral career stage) or collaborators (e.g., researchers, beneficiaries, end-users).  Applications may reference individuals outside the core team who are anticipated to play a future role as members of the challenge team. In such cases, it is important to highlight the discipline and skill set that these individuals will bring to the team. Consideration should also be given to the broader challenge/solution context which may require input from experts in disciplines outside of STEM such as the arts, humanities and social sciences (AHSS). 

For the SFI-Defence Organisation Innovation Challenge, applications will be accepted where the Lead Applicant and Co-Applicant satisfy the following eligibility criteria: 

  • Be a member of academic staff of an eligible research body (permanent or with a contract that covers the period of the award),  


  • Be a contract researcher with a contract that covers the period of the award (contract may be subject to receipt of the award). 


  • Hold a PhD or equivalent. Please consult the SFI Policy on PhD Equivalence for further information.  

In certain cases, SFI will accept applications from teams where the Co-Applicant does not hold a PhD or equivalent (please consult the call document for further details). Applications to this challenge will not be accepted where the Lead Applicant or Co-Applicant is a postgraduate researcher.

NOTE: Members of the Core Team (Lead Applicant and Co- Applicant) are permitted to be named on only one application to the programme. Core Team members may not be named in the Core Team of applications to concurrent, open calls of the SFI Future Innovator Prize programme. They may, however, participate in an application through inclusion in the broader challenge team. 

There are three phases to the programme - Concept, Seed and Prize Award:  



The deadline for submission of applications to this call will be 8th October 2021 (13:00, Dublin, local time). Applications must be submitted through SFI’s Grants Management System SESAME. 

Applicants should carefully review the following call documentation including eligibility information before preparing an application. Applicants must use the templates provided below and adhere to all guidelines.  


The Irish Defence Forces will host a series of webinars on the 8th and 9th September, at which researchers can speak with subject matter experts about each of the key challenges under the call. To register your interest in attending, please email with your details.




Wednesday 8th September

09:30 - 10:30


Wednesday 8th September

10:45 – 11:45


Wednesday 8th September

14:30 – 15:30


Thursday 9th September

09:30 - 10:30


Thursday 9th September

10:45 – 11:45


Thursday 9th September

12:00 – 13:00

Disruptive Ideas


SFI hosted a webinar on 20th July. You can view the presentation from this here: