I was lucky enough to be able to join Strategic Command’s Multi-Domain Integration (MDI) Industry Day at Shrivenham Defence Academy last week. The event came close on the heels of the RUSI-hosted UK Strategic Command Conference 2021, at which I concluded that there is, across both government and industry, the ambition, the clarity of purpose, and the necessary resources to enable the transformation prescribed by the Integrated Review.
The MDI Industry Event focused on how industry can help defence fulfill this ambition and extract the maximum value from these precious resources. Lieutenant General Robert Magowan reminded us that the Multi-Domain Integration programme is the primary operational change programme, and is therefore central to the realisation of the IR. He noted that, with the release of the Defence & Security Industrial Strategy, there will be no shortage of mutually beneficial opportunities for industry to deliver the capabilities that their defence customers require. Several speakers – including the Programme Director for MDI, Major General Robin Anderton-Brown – also emphasised that if both parties are to make the most of these opportunities, it’s necessary to rethink the relationships between defence organisations and their industrial base.
These relationships, it seems to me, will be defined not just by strategic necessity and the need for operational independence but also by value for money. (It was refreshing to see widespread recognition in many of the sessions that the current procurement structure all too often tends to deliver minimised costs rather than maximised value.)
I suspect that these new kinds of relationships will need to involve smaller, non-traditional industry suppliers to augment capabilities of the more established ones if they are to maximise value for money. They’ll also require a significant shift in the procurement process. However, there are also other, less radical options that could assist with the delivery of MDI change programmes. It was great to hear Caroline Boughton on this topic in particular, who drew our attention to the efforts that Defence Equipment and Support are making to address weaknesses in the existing process: among a range of initiatives, DE&S is aiming to ensure that it becomes and remains a learning organisation that can, for example, recognise and reward risk balancing within the acquisition process. Hopefully a more adaptable and nimble procurement process is just one output from this important work.
This need for a more nimble procurement process was also addressed in the afternoon session by Dylan Thomas from ServiceNow, who noted that the US Department of Defense is able to contract new software in eight weeks and that shorter-term contracts of just one year are increasingly common. This means suppliers can be more competitive and also more responsive to demand signals for new software.
But improving how defence procures the transformative technologies it needs is only half the story. Equally important is improving what kind of technologies it procures. A greater focus on evergreen capabilities that can be updated, extended and enhanced will help mitigate the financial and technical risks, minimising costs while also maximising value for money and – perhaps most importantly of all – improving mission outcomes for defence personnel and honing the UK’s competitive edge.
Knowing what needs to be done to help defence achieve MDI is one thing. Knowing how to do it (and who’s going to make it happen) is quite another. Major General Robin Anderton-Brown noted that Team Defence Information (TDI) will be setting up a working group to focus on MDI. As a member of TDI, Improbable is looking forward to engaging with this working group. It’s an enormously complex area that will demand not only close collaboration with defence, but also with partners across industry and academia.
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