Are UK Defence Elements Pulling Together in the Right Direction?

“There Are Things We Know We Know…”

If Donald Rumsfeld was right, and the RAF are already ‘thinking to win,’ then as a member of the Inzpire team whose strapline is ‘Revolution In Defence’, I am wondering if all the other MoD players involved in the delivery of UK military capability are thinking about the future in the same way. To deliver the right capability in a known known, or known unknown environment is at best difficult. To do so in an unknown unknown environment requires considerable clarity of direction, flexibility of thought, coherency of process, freedom of action, and alignment of aims. I would say that ideally, those involved in the team would be on the same word, of the same line, on the same page, and reading at the same speed to deliver most efficiently and effectively.

Given some of the well-publicised delays and increasing costs of the major defence programmes, and the recent announcement of the formation of the Rapid Capability Office to challenge and drive change into the procurement paradigm, I suspect that some elements of MoD procurement might not be even reading the same book.

I feel that one issue is that some people in the MoD procurement chain only have to borrow the book from the library, whereas others have bought it because they really care about the content. That is to say that some have invested in that book, whereas some really are only just carrying it and are not emotionally or financially invested; they can take it back without really worrying about how good, or important it is, it is not really their concern. As long as it is a book the contents will never actually affect them. However, I think that this is not necessarily the fault of individuals because their situation and history will naturally influence their views.

When I was being given a handover on my first MoD tour, the person I took over from (who has been instrumental in setting up the Rapid Capability Office mentioned above) told me that he could sum up all the complexities of the MoD process, its players, its agendas, its issues, and how they can be overcome by using one diagram. I think he was right, and after sorting out the 3872 emails that he had left in what was now ‘my’ inbox (Select All, SHIFT+Delete), I set about delivering RAF capability, and securing funding for future capability using the diagram that he had described. It worked and it is simply this one below.

The basic premise is that there are three distinct groups involved in military capability procurement. First is the capability owner that defines the requirement, secures the money (from the Treasury based on business cases linked to government strategy), and who has bought the ‘book’ (despite of the Rumsfeldian issues associated with buying something that needs to still be relevant in the future). This first group is mainly concerned about performance (quality of book), although as they have to justify a certain amount of money (get a loan to buy the book), then they realise the importance of money, and because they need the book at a certain time, they also are concerned about time. Next we have the Defence Equipment and Support team, who manage the delivery of the capability, and are the librarians who have lots of books and will never actually need to read them, and as they don’t have to bid for the money to buy the books, they are not too concerned by how many they have or about the heartache that the previous group went through to get the money from the Treasury. They know the previous group wants a certain performance, but because this group has lots of books, they are not that concerned by the performance of any particular individual book. However, they are concerned about their supervisor, because they do get told off by the supervisor (National Audit Office) if their books do not get returned on time (in capability terms delivered), or if they end up costing more than they were told, so decisions are often made to save time or reduce cost, which has a direct effect on the performance. Finally we have Industry, who need to actually write and construct the book to meet the need of the first group, and want to do that in the time they said and for the money they said the book would cost, because if they are late, then it will cost them money. If they deliver too many pages, it will cost them money, and if they do not deliver enough, then the first group may not buy the book, which will cost the third group money. The third group need to make money to keep us all employed, sell and export books, and help put money back into the Treasury.

The problems with the way that we deliver military capability have been critically and deeply researched, and commented on by Lord Levene and Sir Bernard Gray. In having read the weighty tomes that they have provided cover to cover, like my predecessor with his Performance, Time and Cost triangle, I think that they are right in what they described, assessed, and proposed in order to create a better process and solution. However, to me, one problem with reading reports as complex as the ones they generated is that they are hard to read, and for those who did actually read them, the individuals will have their own thoughts, interpretations, and beliefs about what has been said, so the same words will have different meanings….

It is perhaps some of those different views (dare I call them ‘agendas’) that may have recently led a Senior Partner at PWC to state in the Press that he believes that the MoD should decrease the number of military personnel involved in procurement and increase the numbers of Civil Servants because they are 30% cheaper. Not a solution that I would advocate at all, because whilst cost is definitely important to UK Defence and the country as a whole, if the military equipment does not provide the right performance, then it will be a waste of money at best, and at worst cost lives. However, it is of course it is right and proper that everyone gets to express an opinion on military procurement, and if we apply the ‘wisdom of crowds’ to those views we may well discern the right, best, or a better solution than that which we have now.

The complexities of future events were famously highlighted by Donald Rumsfeld in his quote above, and throughout my previous career I was taught to consider what might happen, and think of contingencies to cater for that plan; I would not always get it right, but I got better at recognising when it needed to change, and changing it.

Change in any complex programme happens constantly (and needs to), and those within it need to accept that, and adapt.

In my humble opinion the military element of the MoD are good at doing this. The RAF’s ability to adapt is enshrined within the flexibility tenet of Air Power, and they are used to doing it; it is an innate part of the training and institution. However whilst the Civil Service is another institution, those within it have a different background and purview; they will think differently about what would make a difference in the future and what would need to change?

Differences are good, but if I combine the combinations of different interpretations and the different perspectives of those involved in the delivery of military capability, I find myself asking what is really important? What do we need to concentrate on and get right? If we were at the brink of a World War and could sense our own mortality how would we do things differently? Should we do things differently now? I find myself increasingly saying “yes, we should do things differently”.

It all leads me back to Donald Rumsfeld and my own known knowns. My family is important to me, and the security and freedom that I enjoy in this country is important to me. Based on 27 years of Serving our Queen and Country, when it comes to the delivery of military capability: I know it is important to the UK to protect our sovereign capability; I feel that only those that have actually served in HM Forces and operated the equipment with which they have been provided, in the environments in which they have, can truly know what is or might be required to operate in a future environment that the MoD may ask them to operate in; I appreciate that the delivery of military capability is a pan-industry and MoD venture, and I welcome that reality; I know that many of my ex-colleagues and friends are still in the HM Forces, and so I care about helping to influence the world-leading and world-beating capability that they will use; I have experienced the cost-based decisions that have reduced the military effect from the capability delivered; I know that the military numbers in procurement have been reduced through a series of options, and Civil Service percentages increased; I know you cannot undermine your own cognitive-bias, and that they will be based on the history of your life to date; I know that in percentage terms there are very few people in the Civil Service, or Industry who have the depth of combined military and industry experience that those who work for Inzpire possess; I know that experience enables my colleagues to carefully balance the Performance, Time and Cost implications of decisions, and truly understand the effect it will have on those who serve in our Armed Forces today to keep us safe.

Of course the manner of this blog has given you an insight into elements of my own cognitive bias that was sharpened during my military time. If someone from either the DE&S, Civil Service, or purely from the industry sector was to write on this topic, they might quite rightly have a different view as they look through a different lens. I believe that the strengths of all those involved in the delivery of military capability are important, and their counter-views and challenges are required to take advantage of the ‘Wisdom of Crowds,’ to derive the right solution.

However, for the delivery of the right capability for the military element of UK sovereignty, we must get that balance right or it could collectively cost us dearly. The ‘Thinking to Win’ challenge to procurement put down by the formation of the Rapid Capability Office strongly suggests to me that the RAF think that ‘the system’ has not got that balance right.

With over 2,000 collective years of military, engineering, and industry experience, and over 200,000 flying hours and counting, Inzpire has a lot of value to add to the balance, definition, and delivery of the capabilities needed in the UK Defence sector. I think that UK Defence needs more people with military or ex-military backgrounds in it to help assure the delivery of the right capability to the required performance, to cost, and on time. I mean, how often does an RAF Combat Air platform deliver an effect to its target late? Very, very, rarely indeed.

Inzpire is a company that has a vision to be the “most trusted and respected defence company on the planet;” we care about what we do, and our military colleagues who put themselves in harm’s way. I have written this blog because I care deeply, and getting the balance right is important to me. I have written it to hopefully provoke your thoughts, elicit opinion, raise questions, and engender debate. If you have read this far, then thank you for bearing with me. Perhaps you can help be the change to move this situation forward. Inzpire, bring on the Revolution in Defence!

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