RUSI BOOK: The Battle to Reform UK Defence Acquisition

A new book published by the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) claims major culture change at all levels of defence acquisition is required to ensure timely delivery of vital equipment, rather than a focus on wasteful bureaucratic processes which add to equipment arriving in operational theatres many months, if not years, after front-line forces need it – a good example is the continued delay of replacement armoured vehicles over the last 30 years.

The UK spends around £35Bn per year on defence, approaching 40 per cent goes on equipment acquisition and support, but the book’s author Brigadier (retd) Bill Kincaid claims ‘accountants’ logic’ too often takes precedent over military logic and without a major culture change defence acquisition projects will continue to take over two decades from concept to fielding; leading to unnecessarily high cost, increasing waste and greater loss of lives in operations.

While acknowledging the complexity of defence equipment acquisition and expertise of individuals who have made huge efforts in both MoD and industry, Kincaid’s book 'Changing the Dinosaur’s Spots: The Battle to Reform UK Defence Acquisition' concludes that as an organisation the MoD’s culture is risk-averse, delay-inclined, anti-innovation and lacking in firm leadership; work concentrates on organisation and process, rather than delivery.

Kincaid - former Director of Operational Requirements with over 19 years experience in a variety of MoD acquisition posts - is critical of the MoD’s institutional inertia when it comes to defence acquisition and argues since the departure of Lord Drayson last year, the Defence Industrial Strategy (DIS) - which called for greater speed in the acquisition process – has increasingly lost its way.

However, Kincaid concedes not all acquisition is a disaster and there is much good news, citing ‘Urgent Operational Requirement’ (UOR) projects as one truly bright spot in acquisition performance. UORs, whereby the MoD uses a streamlined version of its procedures to support current operations by buying equipment quickly, demonstrate that the MoD and the defence industry can provide the leadership, urgency and determination lacking in ‘normal’ acquisition.

‘We need to take tough action – not least on defence acquisition. Unless we do, our Armed Forces will be fighting in a wartime environment, and we will be supporting them with a peacetime mentality’, writes Kincaid.

‘Some would call it a farce, and indeed if it were found in the pages of a novel or on the stage, it might be considered most amusing – the television programme, Yes, Minister, which portrayed the farcical side of government most brilliantly, leaps to mind. But defence is not a black comedy nor a stage farce – defence is far more important than that. The failure to improve acquisition is not for want of identifying the problems that exist, nor for efforts and activity in trying to do things better, but is the result of a failure to understand implementation…

‘Most business people would agree that ‘time is money’. Whitehall, however, acts as if time is of less importance than getting the process right – the reason cited being the need to safeguard the spending of public funds. While the latter is undoubtedly important, those charged with responsibility for this aspect do not seem to take into consideration the cost of delay…

‘…the continued failure to meet them [serious defence equipment needs] is harming our forces and the public perception of them. There is substantial waste and, until it is eliminated, it is difficult to make a strong case to the Treasury and politicians that the Defence Budget needs a serious increase.

‘‘Accountants’ logic’ too often takes precedent over military logic and the financial bottom line is the overriding factor. Even if this may ‘save’ a relatively small sum of money, or decrease the very short-term risk, the potential increase in casualties is considered as a minor factor or not considered at all – I don’t ever remember seeing the cost of lives ever included in ‘impact’ statements when delays or cuts to programmes are proposed…

‘The Government likes to trumpet about recent increases in the defence budget, but the most recent – 1.5 per cent each year for the next three years – actually represents a reduction because defence inflation continues to run at more than double the rate of national inflation. We need a ‘real’ real-term increase of 1.5 per cent – not a decrease…

‘Seemingly it needs a major defence shock to change things – a major defeat in the field, perhaps, or the collapse of DIS with the demise of the onshore defence industry. Even then, these may not be important enough to impact sufficiently on politicians’ and civil servants’ attitudes to defence funding. No wonder that servicemen feel that the country is not supporting them properly.’

Last month Major Sebastian Morley, the commander of D Squadron, 23 SAS resigned citing “chronic underinvestment” in equipment by the Ministry of Defence.

To read the Ministry of Defence response, click here

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