When it finally arrived in the form of twenty four pages (excluding blanks) just what did Modernising Defence Programmes (MDP) Review announced earlier today in the House of Commons tell us that we didn’t already know or imagine might be said? Sadly, not very much. Whilst undoubtedly full of very positive forward strategy and intent, I fear that some of the more positive and interesting elements that might have been put in this report have been either hidden from view or left on the shelf. Not that that means they won’t still happen!
Reading rather like a beautifully written chapter in a Dirk Bogarde novel, MDP has turned out to be a much more refined and further watered down labour of love. I take my hat off to all those in the Ministry of Defence who have spent months and months putting this 24 page document together and frankly, I dread to think just how many civil servants have been allowed to crawl over the carcass, steal and hide away pieces of this particular kill!
Next u will be the Comprehensive Spending Review next year and maybe – almost certainly – another defence review shortly after that!
Oh dear me, with hardly a specific detail of anything that really matters other that some minimal strategic intentions to be found amongst the prose, perhaps the best that can be said is that is that while it contains many strategic positives, loads of ambition and intent, at the very least it doesn’t contain any new specifics in relation to planned cuts. Neither does it give provide motivation to its people in relation to the offer or direction of travel in respect of investing in people.
And yet, all credit to Secretary of State for Defence, Gavin Williamson for putting UK defence back on the map, for getting a £1.8 billion increase in the annual defence budget and so on. Thank you Sir, you are the first to change the way that defence was heading in respect of prioritisation in almost living memory.
Mind you, given that 40% of the Defence Budget goes into equipment one might at the very least have expected some mention about intentions in regard of future specific equipment purchase. Sadly, this was not to be and apart from spearheading programmes that would seek to apply modern technologies such as Artificial Intelligence, cyber and space and so on, very little if any detail of anything else.
Further attempting to improve efficiency within the military was not to be lost though and while there was at least no mention of the so-called defence budget black hole or that to pay for all the planned procurement envisaged in SDSR 2015 would require a redoubling of effort, points such as these were not emphasised in the MDP document.
However, while the latter point is important on the basis that if you are talking about stepping up efficiency improvements we all know that you cannot do that without taking the knife to something. So what we may be able to deduce or fear is that hidden out there somewhere is a chapter of probable announcements of what might yet be to come. Indeed, mention of planned new equipment procurement or change to SDSR 15 was notable for its absence too.
Some Key Points:
We must modernise, targeting priority areas. A major new step will involve improved Joint Forces Command that will be in a better position so that defence can play a major role in preventing conflict in the future and improve our cyber operations and capabilities across the armed forces but also across government as well.
This year Defence Innovation Fund put £20 million towards projects in areas including unmanned air systems, virtual reality training, and enhanced digital communications for the Future Commando Force. The fund will grow to £50 million next financial year, increasing the scope, ambition and value of the projects it can support.
We will launch new ‘Spearhead’ innovation programmes that will apply cutting-edge technologies to areas including sub-surface threats to our submarines, our intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capability, and command and control in the Land Environment as well.
And to drive innovation and change through the Department I am launching a Transformation Fund. Next year, I will ring-fence £160 million of MOD’s budget to create this fund available for innovative new military capabilities. I will look to make a further £340 million available as part of the Spending Review. This fund will be available for new innovative military capabilities which allows us to stay one step ahead of our adversaries.
We will improve the readiness and availability of a range of key Defence platforms: major warships, attack submarines, helicopters and a range of ISTAR platforms. We are adjusting our overseas training and deployments to increase our global points of presence, better to support allies and influence adversaries.
And to drive innovation and change through the Department I am launching a Transformation Fund. Next year, I will ring-fence £160 million of MOD’s budget to create this fund available for innovative new military capabilities. I will look to make a further £340 million available as part of the Spending Review. This fund will be available for new innovative military capabilities which allows us to stay one step ahead of our adversaries “
Enough is enough!
CHW (London – 18th December 2018)
Howard Wheeldon FRAeS
Wheeldon Strategic Advisory Ltd,