Securing Support Advantage: The Transformation of Defence Support

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This Occasional Paper explores the challenges to the Defence Support Strategy.

Defence Support is facing significant challenges. These include making good some considerable legacy support issues, implementing lessons identified from the government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, and tackling outcomes from the Integrated Review. If left unaddressed, these problems will continue to expose Defence to the risk of lacking resilience, being inefficient and ineffective, and unable to match the capabilities of peer adversaries in the future. This paper explores these challenges, highlights the Ministry of Defence’s (MoD) plans to overcome them, and discusses reasons why these plans may succeed and why they may fail.

The Chief of Defence Logistics and Support (CDLS) has published a new Strategy and associated Functional Plan that set the course for the necessary transformational change across the Defence Support environment. His ambition is to deliver a substantial improvement in equipment availability and assured logistics services that are cost effective and environmentally sustainable. The strengths of this approach are its:

  • Collective ownership by a range of two-star Support Champions from across military commands and enabling organisations.
  • Congruence with other high-level initiatives within Defence, such as Net Zero 50 and multi-domain integration.

Its only obvious weakness is that it is aimed at an internal audience, and, as a result, it underplays the significant role that industry partners must have in a transformation journey that cannot be completed without them. The Strategy and Functional Plan have many obstacles that need to be overcome.

  • The magnitude and complexity of the problem space are eye-watering. Maintaining control will be almost impossible and there will be considerable opportunity for unconstructive agency, both intentional and otherwise. This issue is compounded by the lack of authority afforded to the CDLS through the Defence Operating Model.
  • The resource needed to deliver the Strategy’s outcomes, only recently secured following the Integrated Review, will always be vulnerable. Against competing priorities, it is questionable whether the funding required to transform Defence Support will survive future spending rounds.
  • The MoD collectively loses interest very quickly with new initiatives and its track record for seeing projects through to completion is woeful. Defence’s readiness to cast aside initiatives, even those that have been comprehensively evidenced and approved at the highest level, does not bode well for an approach that needs both consistency and time to overcome its most intractable problems.

Defence Support is arguably facing a burning platform. In response, the CDLS’s Strategy and Functional Plan capture the problem space, convey a picture of what the future should look like, and set out a direction of travel to get there. With a fair wind and strong leadership, they will change much of Defence Support for the better. However, on their own, the best efforts of the CDLS cannot guarantee the absolute delivery of all the strategic outcomes. For that to happen, Defence must:

  • Fully embrace the criticality of support as a key enabler of operational advantage and wholeheartedly commit to the long-term nature of the strategy conceived to achieve it.
  • Back that up with meaningful, ring-fenced investment in support infrastructure, technology and people.
  • Empower the CDLS to deliver on his strategy.

Unless Defence goes ‘all in’, the transformation of support will always be beyond its reach.

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Paper Launch: Securing Support Advantage: The Transformation of Defence Support


Air Commodore (Ret’d) Andrew Curtis OBE

Associate Fellow

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