Wednesday, December 28, 2011

UK Defence Futures

(FV 107 / Scimitar / CVR(T) Mk. 2 in Afghanistan: the first of six replacement studies started in the early '80s.
Several hundred million pounds later, the UK has actually delivered um, no vehicles)

Few commentators on UK Defence are as well informed - or sadly, less well known outside of the narrow confines of defence spotterdom - than Francis Tusa, editor of the Defence Analysis newsletter. So it was with great interest that I heard that Mr Tusa had a programme on Defence Procurement on BBC Radio 4 - well worth a listen.

Much on "The Conspiracy of Optimism"; the fact is that the UK has been trying to get a quart into a pint pot, mostly by underestimating the costs of the equipment at the beginning. Essentially, very few equipment programmes are ever cancelled, and as a result if you can get it into the MoD Equipment Programme (EP) then the cost rises will simply be absorbed at the end of the process. (NB to the defence industrialists whining about everything - BAE Systems, that's you amongst others - is just ridiculous: the MoD is not there as a industrial policy - it is there to deliver combat effect in support of foreign policy goals at a time and place of the Government's choosing.)

 (Lots of bits. From lots of Constituencies. And not yet assembled....)

Except that costs are generally not absorbed or mitigated, as the costs are allowed to rise and the stock MoD answer is to S L O W things down. Right down. Very S L O W L Y indeed (but remember, nothing gets cancelled, right?) This drives the costs through the roof, but makes it affordable in the next 12 months. How much more expensive? Well, effectively doubling the cost of the Carrier programme for instance, leaving the UK in the absurd position of having one and a bit aircraft carriers with no actual aircraft to fly off them. Well done.  

So, Bernard Gray (the new broom at Defence Equipment and Support (DE&S)) wants new skills and expertise into the procurement game. Good. But the biggest challenge is surely that irrespective of the MoD getting it's house in order (which is a good idea, but is unlikely in the short-term - and the cultural change required is enormous), it is just as much about the UK government deciding what it wants to achieve internationally - and then paying for it.

Very, very, difficult choices in 2012. Happy New Year, MoD.

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