In the first half of 2021, the UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) is expected to announce its future priorities and objectives as part of the government’s Integrated Review. Fresh from submitting evidence to the UK House of Commons Defence Select Committee, Viasat UK’s Managing Director, Steve Beeching, calls upon the MoD to transform its procurement procedures in order to maintain strategic advantage across an increasingly contested operating environment. In this Q&A, Beeching lays out some of his thoughts on this, along with the role Viasat can play.
Why must the UK MoD adjust its procurement strategy?
The UK must stay ahead of a multitude of adversarial threats facing us as a nation, in line with the curve of some huge technology refreshers. The pace at which technology and missions are moving in this world is so fast, we’re suggesting the MoD adopts a more agile approach to procurement to deliver capability through continual evolution at pace rather than everything in one go.
Technology refresh happens every six to 12 months, while the gestation period for a major platform programme can take four to five years. The only time you really need to start selecting the technology is a year before the platform is built, to ensure you have the facilities to integrate it onto the platform.
We need to establish the network architecture foundations now to keep programmes evergreen and rapidly adaptive to deliver a communications and information advantage on a continual basis. ‘Big Bang’ program delivery— rather than bite-sized innovation incrementally delivered — is outdated, and that’s what we’re trying to change to get ahead of the curve and get the right technology to the right people, quicker and at a better price.
What obstacles must the MoD overcome to transform its current procurement strategy?
The big challenge facing the MoD is that it’s trying to do so much with so few resources in very complex environments. This is where acquisition agility has to be adopted in order to change MoD’s behaviour.
If you look at platform-centric models, they’re not delivering the changing mission requirements at the speed they need to as they’ve not been focused on mission outcomes. Today, it’s much more about drafting very detailed technical specifications rather than assessing technology that’s available today to deliver mission success and injecting it at pace into the battlespace.
So, when we talk about the cultural shift, we must move to mission focus with simplifying documentation. It will place more integration requirements on industry as we have to deliver a solution rather than a product which works seamlessly within the network to fulfill mission requirements. Such solutions are shaped in a way that allow them to be integrated into the programmes in bite-sized pieces, at pace.
This method allows continual spiral innovation, looking at each mission and technology development as it occurs. Such a cultural and acquisition reform drives incremental innovation and mission centric solutions and capability in the hands of the warfighter ahead of adversarial threats.
What immediate steps can the MoD take to initiate a fused and hybrid outcome-driven engagement framework?
The first thing is to start today! We need to take a number of key deliverables that exist today for our forces and run four or five different experiments against those mission threads as early adopters. The demonstration of the value-add supports the process for wider adoption.
The process offers a number of further advantages in that: (1) The MoD gets an understanding of what technology is available today instead of estimating what they believe will be available in the future; and (2) the forces get “hands-on” experience of the potential solutions and, in doing so, will find new uses and advantages that otherwise would not have been known to them until well after deployment.
Such advantages then spin back into the next series of innovation demands that shape private-sector investment to develop next-generation solutions into the battlespace at great pace and more economically.
Furthermore, industry and MoD will learn from mistakes during the early experiments and then decide how to readdress doctrine to deliver across the impacted areas of the forces. I think it’s one of those re-iterative processes that’s going to continue over time.
The MoD is beginning to realise it’s not as fully integrated as it may have believed.
These are areas across assured integrated resilient networks that deliver tactical and operation advantage where I’d say there is potential for rapid engagement that could save billions of pounds against current procurement processes. This includes space, SATCOM, tactical data links, cyber, and crypto.
Finally, what are the implications if UK MoD procurement fails to change?
What I’d hate to see is the UK falling behind adversaries who seem to be a lot less unfettered than we are about taking the best available technology and using it in all the right and wrong ways possible.