With thanks to Howard Wheeldon who in a recent Battlespace column referred to a Times piece from 19 July 2023 by Juliet Samuel titled ‘Wallace’s farewell revelations are indefensible’, which appears to be one of the more accurate articles on the state of UK defence and in particular the defence industrial base that supports it.
On 11 July 2023 the House of Commons Defence Select Committee (HCDC) published a report – ‘It is broke – and it’s time to fix it. The UK Defence Procurement System’. It is another in a long line of reports that bemoans the state of UK defence procurement and demands the machine is fixed by the application of greater commercial and project management rigour; thie could be summarised as building a better mouse trap. In preparation of the report HCDC took evidence from the Defence Attache and the Defence Equipment Attache from the French Embassy in London. The diplomats informed HCDC that the Directorate General of Armament (DGA) saw the sustainment of the defence industrial supply chain as a key objective. However the HCDC report ignores this point in its lessons summary of the discussion with the French diplomats.
In April 2021 there was some hope that the Defence and Security Industrial Strategy would be the basis for a change in the relationship with the defence industrial base that support UK defence. In the two years since the publication of DSIS and as confirmed by the HCDC report the focus has remained on equipping the procurement agencies of the Ministry of Defence (MoD), which include Defence Equipment and Support (DE&S), to prevail in their confrontation with industry. It is as if winning the contract war is more important than equipping the the military. I should point out here that the defence supply chain is necessarily international. There are few nations, if any, that can afford to be self sufficient in defence industrial capability. The discussion on defence industrial capability often becomes side tracked and cinfused by the fantasy of the rarely defined illusion of ‘sovereign capability’. The fragility of the European ammunition supply chain provides ample evidence that, in common with other systems, the supply chain for defence systems, products and services is truly international. The withering of ammunition stockpiles and the industrial capability necessary to rebuild them is a good example of the need for nations to take a lead role in the establishment and sustainment of resilient supply chains. This cannot be left to the market.
It appears that European nations, and maybe the European Union, may have realised that the system that has been in place for thirty years needs radical change. There are tentative signs that governments will take a role in building resilience through collaboration and alignment of requirements and contracts. If the UK fails to recognise that the defence supply chain is a key part of defence capability and continues to focus on value for money via competition and project management via contract confrontation, there is a risk that deficiencies in defence industrial capability will undermine defence.
Europe is at war. The defence procurement system is broken. It is time to change the paradigm and bring the defence supply chain into defence.