With Secretary of State for Defence, Ministers of State, Under-Secretaries and Shadow Ministers along with it seems, many members of the military and armed forces probably taking the opportunity for a short vacation and with parliament enjoying the short Easter recess, there has not surprisingly been very little visible activity in and around UK defence this week.
That said and before moving on to my main subject for today, I do wonder whether it might have been better that the MOD had said nothing in relation to ‘leaks’ which claim that UK special forces have been operating in Ukraine and which the MOD says have a serious level of inaccuracy. Sometimes, saying nothing is better. The same in my view should apply to the use of social media by the Royal Navy showing ships and submarines arriving and leaving Royal Naval Dockyards.
I suspect that I should start my words this morning by saying – in case you missed it – because what follows initially – comments on a report published by the House of Lords International Relations and Defence Committee, entitled ‘UK Defence Policy and Aspiration to Reality’ first appeared in January this year – before publication by the Government of its so-call Integrated Review Refresh.
The House of Lords may have few powers but for all that, it remains a very important part of our system of government and the work that various members do in trawling through ‘Bills’ and amendments moving between both Houses of Parliament should not be ignored. That apart, with the collective knowledge, experience and genuine concern that many have in relation to defence, foreign affairs and other important matters of state, amongst them are many who really understand the subject very well. To name but a few members of this interesting committee who I have personally known over the years and who stand out – the Rt Hon Lord Robertson of Port Ellen, Lord Stirrup, the Rt Hon, the Lord Campbell of Pittenweem, The Rt. Hon. The Lord Anderson of Swansea and the Rt. Hon, the Lord Soames of Fletching.
The House of Lords International Relations and Defence Committee Report may be over three months old but it remains very relevant. It may be read in full on;
Key conclusions of the report include:
The Government’s response to this report must set out its plans to replenish the equipment it has donated to Ukraine and how it will build greater resilience into its own stocks and supply chains as a matter of urgency.
The Government must remain vigilant in the face of threats from Russia and should set out its assessment of current Russian strengths and weaknesses when responding to this report. As the Government updates the Integrated Review, it should carefully consider the relative emphasis it places on conventional threats versus threats falling below the threshold of war (sub-threshold threats), particularly from Russia.
The Government must set out its assessment of the impact of the changing economic environment on what the Defence Secretary called the “planned marker” of raising defence expenditure to 3% of GDP by 2030; and update the Committee on the impact of inflation on defence spending when it responds to this report.
As the Government updates the Integrated Review, it must consider carefully whether the “competitor” framing is still appropriate or whether China should be reclassified as a “threat”, particularly in the light of China’s increasingly aggressive posture towards Taiwan and its partnership with Russia. The Committee urges the Government to clarify its policy regarding Taiwan.
Investment in Research and Development (R&D) requires long-term planning and consistency in terms of priorities and funding. The level of R&D defence funding, as outlined by the Integrated Review and the Defence Command Paper, may be insufficient to meet the ambition of ‘sustaining strategic advantage through science and technology’.
The Government must address the risk of the so-called ‘Valley of Death’ in which promising theoretical innovations are not translated into practical capabilities; and calls on the Government to ensure that the implementation of the objectives as outlined in its strategic documents will address the bureaucratic obstacles faced by the defence industry and improve the procurement process.
The report calls for the Government response to provide clarity on significant aspects of defence policy including:
whether the Army has sufficient numbers and capabilities to deliver on the Government’s ambition;
More detail (as much as security will allow) on the rationale for the increased nuclear warhead stockpile ceiling; and greater scrutiny of public spending with consideration given to allowing Parliamentary Committees responsible for scrutiny of the UK’s defence policy to have access (on a confidential basis) to information about how funds are allocated and spent.
Culture change within the Ministry of Defence (MoD) is essential, including the need to evolve the MoD’s approach to taking risk; the need to establish new types of partnership and cooperation with the industry and academia; and the need for clear communication, by the MoD, of its expectations, goals and requirements.
Some of the above issues raised, although not that many in reality, have been partially addressed in th so-called IR refresh but one that I will latch onto this morning and that I believe is extremely important and relevant is the last one – culture change, MOD approach to risk, new types of partnership and cooperation with industry and the need for clear communications. What follows is purely for the interest of this who may wonder what important behind the scenes defence organisations are designed to do:
The Defence Suppliers Forum (DSF)
The Defence Suppliers Forum is termed by the MOD as being the major conduit for strategic MOD-industry communications. Last year the Defence Suppliers Forum which is chaired by the Secretary of State for Defence produced its 2025 – Defence Industry Vision – one that aimed at maximising the strategic relationship between industry and the MOD in order to deliver world-class capability and support to the Armed Forces and UK prosperity.
The DSF Strategy was outlined as follows:
The Defence Suppliers Forum (DSF) is the primary MOD-industry engagement mechanism for discussion on strategic topics. It is a key enabler for industry and Government, working together, to achieve the Government’s defence industrial strategic aims and for developing collaborative responses to new and emergent issues and challenges. The DSF is vital to further develop the Government’s relationship with the defence industry, identifying improvements in Governmental and industrial policies and processes, and developing a sustainable future for Defence and the defence industry’s contributions to broader national economic success. The DSF helps to deliver a competitive, innovative, sustainable, world-class defence sector in the UK as envisaged in the Defence and Security Industrial Strategy (DSIS).
The strategy highlights the need to treat the defence and security sectors as a strategic capability in their own right and for Government and industry to build closer strategic partnerships to meet the evolving threats we face. The DSF, through a strengthening of its existing processes, is central to those strategic partnerships. The DSF enables mutual understanding of the critical capabilities that the UK needs, reflecting new developments such as the increasing importance of data and digital technology in delivering defence effects. It also focuses on jointly developing and adopting more agile and responsive approaches to acquisition and on how we sustain and upgrade capability, encouraging flexibility and agility throughout the defence enterprise to deliver better military capability that is both timely and Value For Money. The priorities below are aligned with the key DSIS themes, with a focus on finding cooperative ways for MOD and industry to respond to the changing threat environment and deliver more within the resources available to both MOD and the private sector, including through international sales and collaboration.
Acquisition and Procurement The DSF will work to develop the acquisition system, providing greater flexibility in designing Through Life Capability Management strategies to deliver and grow sustainable skills, technology, and capabilities. Government and industry will work together to deliver continuous improvement in acquisition and delivery performance, adopting best practice to deliver sustained improvements in productivity and efficiency and greater value for their customers, best value for the taxpayer, and a globally competitive industry. The joint approach will reflect Government’s key priorities, ensuring that future capabilities will be sustainable and will take into account the full economic and social impact of defence in the UK.
Productivity and Resilience The DSF will contribute to a more agile, secure, sustainable, and resilient supply chain by improving visibility of deeper supply chain fragility and maximising opportunities for SMEs and non-traditional defence suppliers. We need to ensure that the defence enterprise, including industry and MOD, has the right skills and talent for the future. Through establishing a body of evidence of the skills shortages within the enterprise and creating the opportunity to reduce them through academic relationships and partnerships as well as apprenticeships and other means, we will seek ways of attracting the best people and tackle barriers to diversity and inclusion in the workforce.
Technology and ‘pull through’ The DSF will drive innovation and exploitation of technology. MOD will offer greater transparency of long-term requirements and capability challenges. Industry will invest in R&D, infrastructure, and the key skills (including in high value design and manufacture) in both their organisations and throughout the supply-chain. DSF will support tackling climate change by identifying and actioning areas of collaboration between MOD and industry for mutual benefit that will enable MOD to deliver both military capability and support the Government’s targets for Net Carbon Zero.
International cooperation, exports, and foreign investments The DSF will seek to bring coherence across existing forums where international considerations are discussed and create a better platform for the UK to collaborate internationally. Government and industry will work together effectively to promote interoperability with allies; establish secure supply chains; co-develop new technologies and capabilities; share the costs and resources associated with capability development; and, achieve export success.
To deliver our shared goals the DSF will ensure a diverse, productive, and strategic relationship between Government and the defence and security industries through:
Openness and transparency, with Government and industry members providing a clear and coherent view of future strategies, requirements, and plans.
A willingness to challenge each other and ourselves, and to be challenged, and share thoughts on how to deliver value.
Embracing the role that MOD and industry have together in ensuring a successful and competitive defence industry.
Driving early market engagement, allowing MOD and potential suppliers to share views on capability challenges, inform MOD requirements, and give the market time to respond to MOD needs.
Enhancing competitive leverage and use it to ensure Value For Money through more flexible, nuanced approaches to competitive procurement where appropriate.
Identifying when different approaches will unlock long-term value and taking decisive action together to implement them.
Communicating with a coherent voice. The relationship between industry and MOD is multi-layered and will remain so. In all engagements we need clear, shared goals that can be understood and acted on to deliver the outcomes required.
Working together we will support defence exports, recognising the value to defence and the wider economy.
Adopting an open and constructive dialogue on process improvement and commit to apply agreed approaches consistently. This Vision will be supported by a workplan of initiatives developed and delivered by DSF and its working groups whose progress will be measured and reviewed on a regular basis. In addition, we will move beyond monitoring this activity to establish broader metrics, qualitative and quantitative, to assess progress towards the Vision itself, celebrating successes and positive momentum, while focusing attention on areas which are showing similar results.
There is a lot in the above document and the potential benefits for both the MOD and industry are there for all to see. At this relatively early stage I am certainly not going to criticise this agreed MOD/Industry formula in any way although I will question how it is to be policed to ensure that words and deeds are turned into positive actions.
The Defence Growth Partnership
Established in 2011, co-chaired by industry and government, important bodies such as the Defence Growth Partnership – a partnership between the Government and Defence Industry designed to deliver a competitive, sustainable and successful UK defence sector have proved to be of enormous worth.
The visions here are about working together, delivering new collaborative ways of doing business and to that end the DGP comprises of eleven defence primes, the trade organisation ADS and no fewer than three Government Departments: BEIS, MOD and Dept of International Trade DSE (Defence and Security Exports).
The DGP works to involve and engage with key stakeholders across government, academia, research and development, trade associations, and all levels of the industrial value chain including SME’s, to all work together to deliver enhanced growth, opportunity and prosperity for the UK. Engagement from a broad base of participants is crucial to achieving the DGP’s strategic vision. The DGP which is not funded by government engages with other government/industry defence organisations such as the Defence Suppliers Forum, catapults plus other Growth Partnerships such as Aerospace, Space, Cyber and Security and Resilience, some of which are partially funded by government.
The basis of what we need within defence and to support industry and encourage innovation is undoubtedly there, with the exception perhaps of an organisation that we used to have in the form of the brilliant Defence Export Services Organisation, but why are we not seeing a sufficient level of benefit?
Are there better ways of government/industry partnership that we need to investigate? Is government spending enough on research and development? Are we looking sufficiently long term or indeed, are we taking our eye off short term requirements?
These are some of the questions that are in part being asked by the House of Lords Committee and are why I thought may be worth an airing. Whatever, they are worthy of further discussion and from this hopefully, the creation of new ideas. That said, part of our problem, as exampled by what happened to DESO, is arguably also one of lack of consistency!
CHW (London – 12th April 2023)
Howard Wheeldon FRAeS
Wheeldon Strategic Advisory Ltd,
M: +44 7710 779785