A "ground-breaking" method for producing titanium, which could cut costs in half, has been developed by a British military research base.

Scientists at the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl) in Porton Down have reduced the 40-stage process of creating the metal down to just two, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) said.

The Wiltshire base has also played a central role in the recent investigation into the Novichok nerve agent poisoning of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia.

Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson said titanium is used by the military in everything from cutting-edge nuclear submarines, to fighter jets and life-changing replacement limbs.

"But production time and costs mean we haven't always used it," he said.

"This ground-breaking method is not only faster and cheaper but could see a huge expansion of titanium parts and equipment throughout the military.

"It is a clear example of how our world-class scientists are working behind the scenes to help our Armed Forces as well as bringing prosperity and security to Britain."

More than £30,000 has been invested by Dstl in the new research project at the University of Sheffield, which led to the development of the new manufacturing process.

The MoD said titanium is as strong as steel and half the weight, but more than 10 times the cost and difficult to make - which limits its wider use.

Amid at least a £20 billion black hole in the budget over the next decade, principal scientist for materials science at Dstl, Matthew Lunt, said the innovation could "cut the production cost of titanium parts by up to 50%".

"With this reduction in cost, we could use titanium in submarines, where corrosion resistance would extend the life, or for light-weight requirements like armoured vehicles," he added.

Pioneer of the new technique, Dr Nick Weston, said the process, called FAST-forge, is a "disruptive technology" which enables "near net shape components to be produced from powder or particulate in two simple processing steps".

"Such components have mechanical properties equivalent to forged product," he added.

"For titanium alloys, FAST-forge will provide a step change in the cost of components, allowing use in automotive applications such as powertrain and suspension systems."

Small-scale trials have so far been carried out, the MoD said, but a new large-scale fast furnace facility - jointly funded by Dstl and Kennametal Manufacturing Ltd - has been built and will enable the production of larger components for testing.