Welcome to the new Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), Admiral Sir Tony Radakin – much is expected of you and the hope will be that you play a major role in bringing about much needed change in how Defence Headquarters make important procurement decisions, how these are monitored through the design, development and build phase and whether defence is providing value for money and fighting the fight to ensure that government properly funds defence.
The recent debacles in respect of Ajax and, in light of this, the rather ridiculous decision to cancel Warriors upgrade are but two procurement-based issues that have dominated recent headlines. Described by some as a shambles, we must await the conclusions of an independent team inquiry being conducted by the MOD’s director of health and safety that have as far as I am aware completed their task of looking at the various and complicated issues that have dogged Ajax before, on a good day to hide bad news, we hear the Secretary of State inform us of Ajax fate.
It should not be for me to provide advice to the new Chief of Defence Staff but in relation to procurement and overall operation of Defence Headquarters might I suggest that he follows the example of the Government’s already announced decision appointing General Sir Gordon Messenger and Dame Linda Pollard to review health and social care leadership by recommending a similar review looks at Defence leadership?
The basics of the current MOD Defence Operating Model are based on delivery of policy, strategy, planning, governance, the ability to generate and enable requirements, operation and functionality. By its very nature it is complicated, confusing and regarded by some as now being unfit for purpose.
While the aims of working to a clearer overarching Defence Purpose; improving Defence-wide planning and accountability processes; to clarify and strengthen governance within Head Office; introduce Functional Leadership as a mechanisms that ensure the coherence of crosscutting of activities, including with wider government policies on the delivery of supporting services; building on the success of the former Joint Forces Command and the subsequent creation of Strategic Command, ensuring effective integration between the five military ‘domains’ of Air, Land, Maritime, Space and Cyber and the implementation of what are termed as ‘sponsorship’ arrangements that allow MOD’s Enabling Organisations to operate effectively within Defence but at ‘arm’s length’ from Defence Headquarters are fine in principle one of the biggest problems and one that goes through the heart of defence organisation is lack of consistency in regard of personnel involved.
Those with a specific interest in the subject are advised to read the revised September 2020 publication from the MOD entitled How Defence Works and I will leave the matter at that save that we need also to rethink how we go about choosing the heads of our three principle military domains – the Royal Navy, Royal Air Force and Army and indeed, Chief of Defence Staff and Vice Chief. Why, because it is clear that some of the decisions made in recent years lacked good judgement.
As has long been almost a tradition, the new CDS launches his term with a speech to RUSI -the Royal United Services Organisation and which is there amongst many other reasons, to challenge defence. This year, as in many of those past, the new CDS warned about the poor outlook for or security in a fast changing and uncertain world and of how the situation, as far as he sees it, is more dangerous than at any time in the past 30 years. He talked of autocracies confronting democracies. Russian behaviour threatening our values and interests, China’s challenging international norms and behaviour, of Iran and North Korea, reputational damage to the West in the wake of the “US-led pull-out from Afghanistan in the wake of the Taliban takeover of that country (note the emphasis on US-led) and so on.
Admiral Radakin’ s predecessor General Sir Nick Carter had said the same on many occasions and going as far as to warn of ‘Third World War’ risk but it was a former Vice Chief in the form of General Sir Gordon Messenger who back in 2018 had the courage to stand up and warn about lack of funding for the armed forces and another of the would-be candidates for the top job in defence, General Sir Richard Barrons who said, back in 2017, that British forces were no longer fit for purpose and that the Army was 20 years out of date.
Defence being the political choice that it is – well at least and until in the case of the UK, the enemy is on the doorstep, service chiefs including CDS must have the speeches that they have written or that have been written for them vetted. They rarely speak out of turn and they rarely challenge their political masters in Defence Headquarters, Cabinet Office or Treasury – more’s the pity.
Some former CDS’s such as the now Lord Richards of Herstmonceux place their views in autobiographies and one is rather quickly drawn to conclude why on earth did they not say such things at the time they held such a senior position in defence? Others such as Lord Stirrup are active in the House of Lords whilst others such as Admiral of the Fleet Lord Boyce and General Lord Houghton of Richmond criticise government policies from time to time as they did by condemning our failure to protect Afghan interpreters. Other former CDS’s such as Air Chief Marshall Sir Stuart Peach go on to greater things such as Head of NATO military, a position to which he was rightly elected and held until earlier this year and who has subsequently been appointed Special envoy to the Western Balkans by the Prime Minister.
I wish Admiral Sir Tony Radakin well in his new role as CDS but having been chosen, I suspect, on the basis that, unlike General Barrons might well have done had he not been overlooked in 2016 as the correct choice to succeed the then General Sir Nick Houghton as CDS, he will not challenge those in political authority, I sense that we are in for a three years period of more of the same albeit this time, someone who is far better able to communicate with those challenged to ask questions.
CHW (London – 10th December 2021)
Howard Wheeldon FRAeS
Wheeldon Strategic Advisory Ltd,
M: +44 7710 779785