British Defence Procurement & Industrial Strategy: The New Minister Speaks
Recently, DID has covered Britain’s defence transformation efforts and its concerns in Britain that recent defence procurement approaches were locking them into an anti-US, EU-centric model that would have major defence and foreign policy implications, and noted a key implication of network-centric warfare for the defence industry. This is a debate we’ll see in many European countries over the next decade, due in part to the EU/EDA’s continent-wide industrial integration efforts.
Nevertheless, the debate can be expected to burn hottest in Britain, a strong defence power in its own right with a special transatlantic relationship and ambivalence about its role in the EU political project. A subsequent DID article covering Britain’s futuristic FRES land vehicle family examined this idea further, in the course of explaining the FRES program its defence implications.
Now Britain’s new Minister for Defence Procurement Lord Drayson weighs in. His speech outlines some of the government’s current thinking regarding British defence procurement policy, the country’s industrial base, and its approach to a globalizing defence industry. His stated intent is to produce the outlines of a Defence Industrial Strategy by Christmas 2005. As he puts it in his speech to the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), one of the world’s oldest defence think-tanks:
“Appropriate Sovereignty is a key principle we are using in our analysis. What does that mean? It is not having a completely national industrial base in all areas. Nor is it just security of supply in the traditional sense. There will remain some areas, like aspects of the nuclear-powered submarine industry, which we cannot depend on another nation to develop or sell to the UK. But given that we rely on overseas supply for equipment as significant as the C-17, this is probably a very short list. The other areas we need to investigate include:
- Where we need to retain, in the UK, effective through-life support, including upgrade and urgent operational requirements;
- Where specific UK capabilities give us important strategic influence, in military, political or industrial terms;
- And in some cases, to maintain realistic global competition – in other words, so we are not dependent on an overseas monopoly.
This will generally be a question of the level of risk we can tolerate. Not being on the list does not mean that there is not an additional value to the greater assurance of availability that UK sourcing or participation can offer. But the degree to which we would value that risk needs in general to be indicated at the start of each procurement – and not in such a way that it simply becomes a ‘UK premium’ priced into bids – rather than being an absolute requirement.”
He’s moving quickly, for someone appointed to his post in May 2005. On the specific matter of EU and US relationships, Drayson describes Britain the most open defence market among the world’s major players. He adds later:
“We also need to be clear on the relationship with other technologies and equipment, developed by our allies. I note, for instance, that the US Government, commenting on its defence industrial base and its future requirements, is in some areas calling for the US to be ‘way ahead’ of its potential adversaries. Frankly, given that no country in the world can keep up with American investment in defence at the moment, ‘way ahead’ of adversaries may well mean way ahead of at least most, and maybe all, its allies too.”
Maybe. DID has discussed the possibility that Britain and Australia could enter the Future Combat Systems program on some level, and Britain is a participant in the 5th generation F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. Meanwhile, sweeping overhauls of its communications architecture at the MoD and field levels are bringing Britain closer to parity with the USA than many European countries.
Still, interoperability with NATO allies, including Britain, has been an issue for the USA in Afghanistan and Iraq for exactly this reason. These innovations are important to the USA – as for Britain:
“We – the MOD and industry – need to think carefully about where, and how, we match, complement, or disinvest in areas compared to key allies. I explicitly include continental Europe in that. Not least in these months while we are leading combined peacekeeping operations in Bosnia under the European Union flag, in the third and largest military operation conducted by the EU to date – as well as operating with European allies in Iraq and Afghanistan.”
This will certainly feed Euroskeptic concerns – but the operations Lord Drayson describes are indeed taking place. The rest of the speech is highly recommended to policy analysts and defence industry personnel who want a greater understanding of Britain’s potential procurement policy shifts, and the forces driving them as Lord Drayson seeks to clarify the situation in Britain and beyond.
“So let me close by emphasising some joint challenges for MOD and industry in equipping the military of today. Better agility to respond to changes in the strategic environment. Better at identifying and rapidly translating into military capability useful technologies, including from the civil sphere. Relationships which allow more information to be shared, to mutual advantage. Where sovereignty is an issue, working together to ensure it is delivered cost-effectively. Really making a shift to through-life capability, and making ‘legacy platform’ a redundant term. Finding ways of maintaining vital long-term knowledge when traditional programmes will not support those, whether in small areas of deep technical expertise or critical cross-cutting systems integration skills. Ensuring the value to Defence of a healthy, sustainable industry is maximised. Looking at cooperation and collaboration on their merits in particular contexts. Not easy, but important to tackle – hand in hand.”
Read the entire speech:
- The Minister for Defence Procurement, Lord Drayson, addresses the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI): Military Capabilities in the 21st Century [Google cache, original lost in “improvement” of MoD web site]