The 2020 Strategic Defence and Security Review will, if carried out correctly, give the UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) an opportunity to save billions of pounds, end complex procurement procedures, maximise private sector innovation and ensure that UK armed forces have available the most up-to-date equipment. This will help to meet the rapidly changing adversarial environment the UK is facing. The review hopes to provide the process to deliver a stronger industrial base, with more UK jobs at higher skill levels, achieving greater foreign investment and opportunity for exports.
It is widely published and accepted that the UK Defence and Security community faces relentless and demanding challenges with dramatically reduced resources under growing pressures for the UK MoD to act and move faster than its adversaries. It is further acknowledged in the Government that traditional defence elements of platforms, food and logistics need to be expanded to include information and innovation underpinned by technology.
So why are we struggling to reach a solution when the desired outcome is clear?
Without taking a simplified approach to the issues, organisations hide in the complexity of their hierarchy, processes and operational environments and use these as an excuse(s) not to improve. When simplified and examined, this reveals excessive waste and overspend that no action or reluctance for change introduces.
Pure platform-centric focus on capability delivery involves long gestation periods, whilst technology and capability mission requirements continue to develop at pace. To meet the operational mission shift paradigm, there needs to be a hybrid platform and technology capability process that fuses modern, bite-sized technology investments with rapid incremental applications into platforms.
Reframing the Challenge
There are a number of issues that hamper MoD programmes. These include:
- Overspend and delays;
- Unplanned obsolescence of equipment and programmes;
- Protracted contract procedures failing to deliver rapid capabilities; and
- Adversaries using all available technologies and changing the rules of warfare.
The MoD, and defence in general, are no longer leading technology roadmaps. A tsunami of technology advancement is upon us, and this relentless innovation shows no sign of slowing down. This places a huge burden on existing programme processes, which are not shaped to continuously evolve or learn from the environments in which they are used. More must be made of the private sector industrial and procurement strategy to provide both solutions and funding.
Further, the oxymoron of trying to define technology specifications rather than outcomes results in the MoD owning all programme risk rather than forming industrial partnerships. These partnerships would, therefore, own integration and configuration challenges when delivering capability and mission requirements.
The current MoD approach of trying to design perfect end-state solutions always pushes programmes and delivery to the right, as technology continues to change at pace. Irrespective of whenever the decision is taken on the final specification, the solution ends up outdated when delivered.
The final impact of the current failing process is that it places substantial demands on existing solutions to be extended beyond economic life. This diverts resources to existing solutions to manage obsolescence and to provide dual running, which ultimately increases the marching army costs.
Ultimately the problem is realised too late for effective management, as the process gap between mission capability needs and technical requirements does not reveal itself until well into the delivery phase.
The solution – A fused hybrid approach to capability delivery
To improve, the MoD needs to simplify the complexity of its huge defence organisation into elements that can deliver change for the benefit of the nation, troops and way of life. We suggest that the programme process must be turned on its head so that the required mission outcome(s) derive a capability that evolves into the platform, rather than trying to deliver an obsolete capability from the outdated platforms described above.
Whilst the MoD’s vision of the future battlespace enabled by weaponised information is correct, we need to implement, as part of the 2020 review, a ‘how-to-fix-issues-driven-by-the-platform-centric-design-freeze’ mentality into the new fused-hybrid outcome-driven engagement framework.
The five domain capability interdependencies to deliver outcome are, therefore fulfilled within a single assured resilient integrated network, an ARIN architecture, to deliver information across the entire battlespace. The modern age of information-centric warfare driving the new paradigms of increased data management and applications to deliver the effects form the networks and the data. Such outcome architecture allows the design-freeze gap to be circumvented by continual spiral development (or minimal viable products) that keep the capability delivery ahead or in tandem with the changing curve of technology and adversarial operational threats.
The nemesis of delays and overspend begin on Day 1 but are realised at Day 100. Delays, huge cost and scope increases are a result of the platform centric and design freeze process with the MoD inadvertently holding all risk. This route creates huge process support requirements and escalates further costs and delays. Without change, we are in an era of visions without capability.
A more agile fused hybrid approach is therefore needed to acquire the appropriate systems and services to meet technology acceleration and rapidly changing adversarial threats. This, in turn, demands a new approach by Government in its relationships with industry in order to build trusted partnerships now with those companies supplying networks, data and applications to drive information advantage. The simplified spiral development assessment centres, with outcome capabilities as the drivers, meets competition rules, better sources capability (to deliver mission and technology), moves integration ownership to industry consortia, shares risk and design obligations, allows ‘Test before you buy’ and drives incremental innovation at speed into capability.
Instituting these changes would save billions of pounds, would focus on mission capability delivery and would provide increased force effectiveness.
Viasat is a global communications company. For more than 30 years we’ve helped shape how consumers, businesses, governments and militaries around the world communicate. Viasat is a growing company headquartered in the U.S. with a workforce of 5,300 across 29 offices in 11 countries. Viasat UK is involved with UK Government on a number of critical projects and provides a focus for efforts in the UK and in Europe for Space, Tactical Networks and Crypt/Cyber. The headquarters are in Farnborough, with an additional office in Cheltenham having a combined workforce of ~80.
This article is based on written evidence submitted by Viasat to the UK House of Commons Defence Select Committee’s inquiry on UK Defence Industrial Policy: Procurement and Prosperity. Read the full document here.