MoD Reform – The Groundhog Day Edition

GoCo is off the table and so we come back to the hoary old issue of MoD reform, the same set of easy sound bites about pen pushers, Wellington’s staff, the IDF having three people and a cat doing the same as DE&S and bla bla bla has been trotted out by all the usual suspects but the perception of Defence Equipment & Support (DE&S) as a shabby collection of useless and incompetent fools remains hard to change. So hard in fact that we seem blasé about cost over runs, it is almost as if it is expected, the norm.

But buying complex military hardware is not like nipping down to Tesco’s and buying a pint of milk is the oft heard defence and whilst only an idiot would think otherwise some of the billion pound cockups seem incompetent in the extreme.

It doesn’t need saying but am going to say it anyway, every Pound we waste is a Pound unspent on equipment and support and as was obvious in Iraq and Afghanistan, this waste resulted in service personnel losing their lives and limbs. I don’t for one second buy into the excuse that Iraq and Afghanistan presented unique challenges and threats and there is no way the MoD could have prepared itself.

To be perfectly honest, that is insulting.

It is insulting to those personnel injured and the bereaved, and it is certainly insulting to anyone with an ounce of historical knowledge. The leadership of the Army should especially ask itself why an organisation with probably more experience of mines and IED’s (even including South Africa) than any other tested, purchased, deployed and disposed of solutions in past conflicts that would have been better than it went to war with in 2003.

Let us also be very clear, the UK does not have a small defence budget.

So effective use of defence funding is not an abstract concept, it is a serious business with serious consequences.

In its defence, DE&S has to deal with a number of issues that make the job difficult.

Politics; Probably the hardest thing DE&S has to deal with is the MoD, specifically the political guidance, steering or interference (depending on your perspective). Whether it is ‘the Scottish issue’, the ‘our brave boys’ factor, EU influence or raiding the MoD’s budget for political expediency, they all make the job difficult.

Industry; Most people would agree that it is in the UK’s strategic interest to retain the ability to make the tools of its own defence and maintaining skills and capacity for complex weapon design and manufacturer adds significantly to the nations wealth. But what next, well of course that means supporting that industry through a defence industrial strategy and putting ones cash where ones fine words is. It also means resisting the temptation and clarion calls to buy ‘off the shelf’ because whilst that would have some short term benefit the long term picture is not a pretty one. DE&S has to manage the demands of industry (who have to make a profit), the need to maintain and develop strategic capabilities and the simple fact that in many cases, someone else already has the kit we are developing available on their groaning shelves.

Service Nonsense; Corrosive inter service politics and a lack of joined up thinking means we often end up buying the same thing twice and despite the volumes of defence standards still cannot seem to find commonality in many areas. In 1982, the RAF Harrier’s went to war without their SNEB rockets because they weren’t compatible with shipboard operations, as I understand it, the Brimstone missile isn’t either. You think we might have learned. We are now spending half a billion quid on  a maritime conversion for the Merlin HC3/3a’s instead of a very small increase at the build point, why are we so piss poor and buying for the armed services as opposed to buying for a service?

Public Sector; I certainly don’t want to come over all Daily Mail but in common with all public sector organisations there is a gender, sexuality and ethnic equality aspect that pervades everything it does. No one is arguing with the need for equality, far from it actually, but anyone with any experience of public sector organisations knows full well that this can have subtle and insidious effects on efficiency. Another huge factor is the remuneration and ability to recruit the right people for the right job. In some areas, public sector pay is good and certainly comparable with the private sector but in others, the rigid grade structure means key roles simply do not pay enough to attract quality candidates. This was one of the attractions of GoCo, the thinking being that one the TUPE hump had been crossed, personnel could be shifted and new people bought in with the correct skills and experience, paid the market rate, a flexibility not available to the 1930’s era employment practice in the civil service.

Military Fashion; I might be being a bit harsh here but there is an element of the Emperors New Clothes with many projects and there is no doubt in my mind that military fashion was the main reason the original (and relatively sane) MRAV, TRACER and FFLAV projects were binned in favour of FRES. A billion quid spunked up the wall and we seem to have come full circle.

Is it any wonder that having to put up service nonsense, political interference, the demands of industry, military fickleness and the drag of public sector employment practice that DE&S has problems.

So what has happened is a classic deflection.

Politicians are quiet happy to hammer the civil service because after all, they are so productive and faultless and they are bedazzled by gold braid.

The service chiefs are happy to hammer the politicians because, you know, its all about the cash for our brave boys and if the civil service get a spot of friendly fire, who cares?

The media don’t know their arse from their elbow so blame whoever the service chiefs and politicians tell them to and lets be honest, fat arsed penpushers are an easy target when compared to someone with a chest full of bling.

What then happens is we mess about with the structure, do smart procurement, roll out lean six sigma, outsource, de-skill, cut costs, be an intelligent customer, succumb to  whatever fashion the big consultancy firms are pushing this week and indulge in constant transformation because the grown ups in Government and the services can kid themselves its going to make a difference and it is all someone else’s fault.

More consultants, more transformation, more ‘doing stuff’ and yet despite all this activity we still end up spending huge on wasteful projects.

After decades of process transformation the money spent on farting around with cats and flaps could have funded the running costs of Largs Bay for 7 years for example. Who was responsible for that one, some project manager at Abbey Wood, not having a Six Sigma Black Belt in post or not enough attention on a balanced score card, think not.

There is of course always room for improvement, better processes and better people, we would be idiots if we thought an organisation like DE&S cannot be improved. Having spent just under £20m on the GoCo process, or 2 years running costs for Largs Bay or 20 Foxhound vehicles, lets hope we get some value from it, or as Phil Hammond said, invaluable insight.

However, the real heavy hitters when it comes to procurement cockups are not the people at the end of the M4.

They are mere amateurs compared to those in the Palace of Westminster or churned out by Sandhurst, Cranwell and Dartmouth.

Perhaps MoD reform should start there.

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Bog trotter
Bog trotter
December 12, 2013 8:20 pm

At last! Someone who speaks truth to the world.
The DE&S has many many problems, but whilst it shields so many ‘grown ups’ from being accountable to their responsibilities there is no incentive to truly allow it to develop and provide the service it could and should. Will this ever change? I am afraid that I travel more in hope than expectation

Stewart Hitchen
Stewart Hitchen
December 12, 2013 9:01 pm

About time truth .shame they will not understand

December 12, 2013 9:04 pm

bz TD

I am by no means a PE/ABW defender.

But I do query whether all the sh!te Civil Servants are at one end of the M4 only….

I think the uni(n)formed military have rarely borne their full share of the blame for cockups and over runs… and I was one ! (uni(n)formed not a cockup.. arguably)

December 12, 2013 9:54 pm

If you are using Afghanistan as an example as to why equipment falls short in terms of mine and IED protection, basically, the answer runs back to what the British Army is used for.

Since the Cold War, Western armies have been designed around either defensive battles or fast offensives in conventional warfare. It may not be very obvious, but in cases like that, mine strikes are the extreme minority of the damage types facing armed forces in battle, only used in choke points to delay the enemy or around objectives as a defence. In short, most western forces are designed for Gulf War 1 and 2 type scenarios. This also runs into the armouring scheme of B-vehicles which are designed to operate behind our rear lines and protected by the Forward Edge Battle Area. Unless we are in the habit of randomly mining our own rear areas, in theory, mine contact should be minimal too.

Then came Afghanistan. So armies that are designed for conventional war end up being used for COIN. This turned the whole paradigm up side down, where mines/IEDs were the minority damage type, they now become the majority and B-vehicles that were not supposed to ever come into contact with the enemy suddenly had the enemy come to them, and “rear areas” no longer exist.

If you want to blame anyone, I submit it isn’t the equipment and the people procuring it. The problem is using the wrong kind of army to do the wrong kind of job. If Afghanistan was Afghan War I and II with conventional forces instead of ISAF, the British Army would have been very well suited for it.

Not to mention occupations are a bleeding pain too. The mismatch just made the problems worse.

dave haine
dave haine
December 12, 2013 10:06 pm

Time for that ‘Disruptive’ thinking, methinks…..

I’m going to ask some basic questions:

Operational Performance:
What mechanisms do we have in place to gather, collate and categorise data and statistics from operations?
What mechanisms are in place to review and study operational decisions and events, relate them to the statistics, and resources, develop conclusions, and disseminate those conclusions?
What mechanisms are in place to identify successful and innovative decisions, best practice and operational lessons- feed them into the training environment and disseminate them to practitioners?
How is best practice and indeed success defined?

Equipment Performance:
What mechanisms are in place to gather, collate and categorise data and statistics from operations?
What mechanisms are in place to review equipment performance and use, maintenance needs and operational effectiveness?
What mechanisms are in place to identify successes, failures, equipment performance against expectation and feed the conclusions back to the equipment management team and to other users?

How is strategic and tactical doctrine developed? How are operational conclusions fed into doctrinal development? How can practitioners feedback into doctrinal development?
How are doctrinal requirements fed into equipment requirements? How are operational conclusions fed into equipment programmes? How do endusers feedback into equipment requirements?
How is innovation and development studied, peer-reviewed and fed into equipment requirements?
How are equipment specifications developed? How do endusers feedback into equipment specifications? how are operational conclusions fed into equipment specifications?
How is success defined?

This is going to turn into a St Mikes special…

Sir Humphrey
December 12, 2013 10:55 pm

Well said TD – I am in agreement with you.

It is easy to snipe at the CS without considering what sets the conditions for procurement to go wrong. Much of the blame lies with a military determined to do 2 year ‘tick in the box’ tours where evidence of change is needed without thinking through whether this is right for the project.

Its easy to blame the CS for being unwilling to change and not going near danger. I like to remind people that official stats show that 10% of all UK battle casualties (e.g seriously injured personnel) in Iraq were civil service.

Will ponder this some more and try and write something too.

December 12, 2013 11:41 pm

How many reorganisations and relocations have there been in procurement and support (separately, and lately together) in the last 20 years? No organisation has been left alone long enough to bed in, deliver improvements and have an objective post-implementation review before another lot of CONsultants come along and recommend something different again (they’d hardly get praise for recommending the status quo). Whenever another restructuring is in the air the 1st XI are tied up with it, leaving the 2nd XI to run the business. Then implementation takes everyone’s eye off the ball. And relocation loses huge amounts of knowledge and experience of people who won’t or can’t relocate (although it can shift dead wood too). Improve procedures and culture of course, but don’t shake the organisational kaleidoscope every 3 years or so.

December 12, 2013 11:43 pm

Well said TD, the armed forces definitely need to take their share of the blame with procurement.

@ Observer
‘Since the Cold War, Western armies have been designed around either defensive battles or fast offensives in conventional warfare. It may not be very obvious, but in cases like that, mine strikes are the extreme minority of the damage types facing armed forces in battle, only used in choke points to delay the enemy or around objectives as a defence. In short, most western forces are designed for Gulf War 1 and 2 type scenarios. This also runs into the armouring scheme of B-vehicles which are designed to operate behind our rear lines and protected by the Forward Edge Battle Area. Unless we are in the habit of randomly mining our own rear areas, in theory, mine contact should be minimal too.

Then came Afghanistan. So armies that are designed for conventional war end up being used for COIN. This turned the whole paradigm up side down, where mines/IEDs were the minority damage type, they now become the majority and B-vehicles that were not supposed to ever come into contact with the enemy suddenly had the enemy come to them, and “rear areas” no longer exist.’

No your wrong, the British army had years of experience operating in similar environments to Afghanistan i.e. no front line and heavily mined, and we were using Mambas in Bosnia in the mid 90’s along with snatch.

The requirement for Panther came from the very same experiences, an armoured utility/liasion vehicle in the vain of the french Panhard ( the Sarajevo taxi ) the snatch was deemed unsuitable, and the need for armoured cab support vehicles were also seen from the same conflict, when British DROPS wagons had steel plates added to them for sniper protection.

December 12, 2013 11:56 pm

Quick drop by, can’t stop.

There is footage captured by an embedded British journalist from Afghanistan in either 2006 or 07 I think. All the British forces are driving around in Land Rovers. There is an attached medical team from Estonia or Latvia or something… driving a mine protected vehicle.

December 13, 2013 12:05 am

‘There is footage captured by an embedded British journalist from Afghanistan in either 2006 or 07 I think. All the British forces are driving around in Land Rovers. There is an attached medical team from Estonia or Latvia or something… driving a mine protected vehicle.’

Yes the vehicles we sold to them after withdrawing them from British Army service, the same vehicles we used in Bosnia.

December 13, 2013 1:19 am

David, that the equipment is there is almost peripheral to the issue. The real question is “What is the focus of the British Army?” COIN or conventional war?

In this, ironically, you also pointed out a very interesting datum, that countries with the possibility civil unrest are sometimes more skilled and better equipped for COIN operations than countries without, as their entire system was designed for that particular job.

December 13, 2013 2:33 am

Australia’s program for the Bushmaster PMV began in the mid 90s with some prototypes serving in East Timor in 1999. Production vehicles were three years late but arrived in 2005.

Just for info. Carry on…

Jeremy M H
December 13, 2013 2:57 am


“The real question is “What is the focus of the British Army?”

I think this is on point for the subject but not broad enough. Before you can decide on a procurement policy that takes into account industrial concerns you have to decide what the core missions of the UK military overall is going to be. Then the rest gets somewhat easier in my view. You can then start kind of dividing up procurement needs into those things critical to your core missions that you need to be able to produce and everything else that should pretty much be bought like a commodity.

Honestly I think the lack of clear mission has been the big problem for UK procurement for sometime now.

December 13, 2013 4:47 am

Humans are not usually good at the little things because our minds speak in broad strokes or at least seek to.

Having the discipline to see detail as refinement as much as reform is something that only comes with in-depth experience and for a variety of reasons, we don’t like to ‘get that close to our work’.

I think it’s probably instinctive as a function of generalism in our genetic algorithm, that to become too specialist adapted is to be entirely too vulnerable to the unexpected.

That said, there are also the herders who follow along and get comfortable with what is and are content to see things remain just about as they always were ‘when they were learning’ as this both protects them from block obsolescence and also provides a psychological sense of continuity as stability which is what a lot of people seek both within the forces and from them, as an image of what ‘security’ really means: timelessness.

If you want to inspire solid change, you often need to strip that security by either suffering an attack for which there is no reforming of ranks around the casualty as lost capability. Or by preemptively creating such a condition as a means of driving innovation via alternate bypass solutions to the openings in the operational scenario.

One easy way is to play the reduction game. Mission X Infantry Assault on a town. What if you don’t have Armor, Artillery, AIr, Recce. And as you pull each system off line, you credit the force with a certain amount of purchasing and logistics power to replace it. But as you do each scenario (maneuver warfare, armor on armor. Embassy evacuation. Occupation. etc.) you also have to be willing to mix things up to see which systems you can least afford to lose across the spectrum of several missions.

This will develop skew values which apply baseline capabilities as point: 1 in mission X, 5 in mission Y etc..

You can then further modify these with condictional variables of minimum force size vs. the logistics chain needed to deploy and support them. Say that the operational cost of armor is set against that of airpower and comes out ahead on general numbers vs. territorial occupation. But you can only deploy 4 tanks vs. 10 helicopters to cover a 200X200nm region and much of that is mountainous with limited access routes.

Army aviation costs a lot but is quicker into the fight with much broader frontages as engagement zones. Armor has the best total exchange ratio as survivability issues and is the least expensive of big mech across several missions but has lousy deployability and sustainability, in theater when operating from several FOBs necessary to cover the same frontage.

What you then end up with is a mission set that includes those -capabilities- that are most common to that vehicle/system or whatever that you appreciate.

And you go to your R&D as supply base and say: “This is what I like the most about Armor, it does direct infantry support, it does maneuver, it is cheaper than aviation and it is flexible when faced with lack of other supporting arms like recce and arty.

I want to replace it.

_What can you do_ that gives me the same range of capabilities in a different, cheaper, lighter, easier to deploy, system or systems that I can bring to the theater quickly, scatter across cheap infantry units as support and still bring together to deal with 1-in-20 years major armored encounter?

And oh by the way, I have this much to spend on that 20 year purchase and sustainment package so it had better be good or cheap enough I can upgrade or replace it.”

If they are smart, the supplier is going to come back at you with detail questions like “How many times do you expect to have to win a given engagement with a threat force of X size? Are we talking 73 Easting and 50 threat tanks in a brigade plus screen elements? Or are we talking 15-20 tanks defending Damascus main drags?”

If you are killing a few targets, you want to use missiles because missiles have limited recoil/tube pressure functions (can in fact be launched using a blip motor to clear the round from the vehicle at 50mph or so before main one lights, flying it off at just subsonic speeds, extended boost period gives you twice the range from a similar round size and wooden round storage in dense clusters that ‘fire’ outside the armor via VLS means all your weight is ammunition oriented rather than launcher (tube, trunnion and stabs in the case of a gun).

IMO, there is massive room for fires based improvement now that we are no long facing a WARPAC threat and can afford to trade both distance (see’em first does not equate to meet’em early) and time (kill before the WVR threshold, not after, maneuver to target, not to engage) against price point.

In SWA, we are expending 40,000 dollar Javelins on cave openings and 60-100,000 dollar Hellfire on men walking and talking with AK-47s strung across their shoulders, we can afford a little change up in how we deal with other threats.

Do this reduction study long enough across a broad enough frontage of missions as systems and theoretically, if you do enough repackaging as a shift away from platform justification and towards mission accomplishment, the nature of the mission itself begins to change. Such that you can move away from occupation as a denial of terrain or support -as spatial occupancy- by threats and start to think about observation as a means to control or deny hostile social functions as /roles within the space/.

I.e. “If the village needs X level of social cohesion and non-attrition to keep from going guerilla (or ceasing to exist, causing a migratory refugee problem) which precludes assault what can I do to isolate identities to known residents and target behavior not space?”

The answer could easily be a biometric high def camera (overtly, on a pole, and backed by several others in rooflines etc.) which recognizes strangers from residents and/or a chipped ID card which allows only the holder to access free phones, the internet or a food dispenser.

Which saves you the need to enter into -their- controlled space where things like mines and ambushes become an issue to troops in indigenous personnel conditions where they add to the attraction of threat fires on them as well as hostility from those around them (who may not like being ‘protected’).

Where hard kill can still be a potent motivator, to -leave- their controlled space “Or we level the house to save the village” the vetting of terrorist infected settlements can derive from the same weapons system (Top Attack antiarmor on a light track) which you use to avoid direct LOS engagement with threat armor. Or it could be a SASR on a cherry picker if sniping beats capture and justice in the operational plan.

The threatening individuals can thus be separated on the basis of their inability to mix with others in places outside an occurrence expectation zone _denoted by automated systems_ and where they can’t afford to come out and be differentiated, so too can they not hide behind innocence of a village which evacuates around them.

Leaving it empty as your people move in with gas or directfire.

All this on the basis of selective ability of forces which are both high intensity and COIN capable to engage beyond the paradigm understanding of LOS warfare we have ingrained in us now.

December 13, 2013 5:42 am

” for a variety of reasons, we don’t like to ‘get that close to our work’.”

Lazy bugger. :)

“I think it’s probably instinctive as a function of generalism in our genetic algorithm, that to become too specialist adapted is to be entirely too vulnerable to the unexpected.”

This part is nonsense, society wise, we’re already specialised to an incredible degree with hard divisions between mechanical, biological and economical jobs, along with huge number of sub-specialities. Ask a telecommunications engineer to fix a plane and he’ll tell you that you got the wrong number. Same with asking an aeronautics major to fix a relay switchboard.

” And as you pull each system off line, you credit the force with a certain amount of purchasing and logistics power to replace it.”

Too maths based, hard to mesh into real life. For example, how many “points” for an infantry section? Or a combat team? Do you base it on maintenance? Manpower? Logistical supply? Ease of logistical transport? (5.56 for an infantry section is a lot easier to transport than 105/120mm shells). What is the tradeoff value between POL that a vehicle needs and food and water for infantry? 1:1? 5:1 to reflect price differential between water and fuel?

It’s much better if the process was worked Jeremy’s way, where you set out defining what you want your unit to do, then designing the force structure around the task/s, THEN structure the logistics to supply it, point system be damned. (I’d love be around to hear the first general to tell the MoD “I don’t have enough army points sir!”, it’s probably going to be a historical moment. Are they going to tell him to use a discount card?)

December 13, 2013 10:57 am

“Australia’s program for the Bushmaster PMV began in the mid 90s with some prototypes serving in East Timor in 1999. Production vehicles were three years late but arrived in 2005.”

They had a drinking water cooler in the design, dropped it because of cost, and then after the vehicle had been fielded and soldiers complained about water quality in dry hot places (um like a lot of Austrailia) they installed a water cooler at greater cost than if it had been included in the first place, which it was, but some decided to drop it to same money. Just for info. Jog on…….. :)

Red Trousers
Red Trousers
December 13, 2013 11:25 am

The entire procurement system is a load of cock, but it is difficult to see how it could be otherwise.

Politicians interfere for base political purposes. Military people don’t have any procurement, industrial or commercial training. Some military people end up in IPTs which is normally a shortcut to disaster as the IPT civil servants bow to their “knowledge” of what the end user wants. Some military people, as I once did, end up setting requirements without budgetary responsibility. Of course my requirements were gold plated, as I didn’t have to pay for them.

And then there are the civil service. I don’t know where to start, other than the 10% who are any good normally end up jumping to industry. Which leaves the 90% who are not much good in place. Also rather lazy and keen on their “flexitime”. I once tried to schedule a meeting at 0830 at HQ LAND outside Salisbury. I was told that the meeting could not occur before 1130 as the civil servants from DE&S had to travel from Bristol and could only travel in working hours***. I still held the meeting at 0830, and when they turned up I told them what the result of the meeting was and to go back to Bristol and get on with it. Not a good way from all sides to procure things.

*** what part of the 24 hour clock is not available for work? Sure, work a reasonable 10 hours a day, but don’t be prescriptive.

December 13, 2013 11:46 am

”. I once tried to schedule a meeting at 0830 at HQ LAND outside Salisbury. I was told that the meeting could not occur before 1130 as the civil servants from DE&S had to travel from Bristol and could only travel in working hours***.

Why didn’t you hold the meeting in Bristol then?

I am not sure about the idea that the British Army in 2001 was unprepared for mines and IED threats. Or rather, they were, but they shouldn’t have been. The last few decades had been Northern Ireland (culvert bombs), Falklands (plenty of mines and UXO still there), Bosnia (mines everywhere), Kosovo (mines and UXO)… and everyone knew that the Soviet-Afghan war had left Afghanistan as one of the most heavily mined countries in the world.

December 13, 2013 12:40 pm

Saxon was awful but it was better than a standard Landy. Yet from what I gather it was hardly used even as a stopgap measure.

EDIT: Another mineproof British Army vehicle; better than Saxon. So saying mines weren’t considered is not entirely right……..

December 13, 2013 12:47 pm

RT – I think you have hit the nail on the head if somewhat obliquely – the organization has structured itself into such a vast empire that no-one has enough responsibility to get genuinely serious about the job. Its not as if MOD has a unique buying situation – I expect the top dozen stores/supermarkets buy as much in value terms and they are very slick about it.

Personally I can’t avoid thinking that its the very high opinion the senior CS have of their own importance that trickles down through the psyche of the organisation which makes them quite so unable to engage in straightforward business with industry as equals. No matter what company I have worked for, dealing with the procurement exec (whatever name) always felt like being sent to the headmaster’s office – the disdain, almost disgust, of the civil servants at having to sully themselves dealing with (eugh!) Industry was palpable. Their high and mighty self-image being considerably bolstered by the ability to bring in the military personnel as their subordinates to argue for greater functionality than even the over complex spec demanded.

Not all desk officers exhibited such behaviour (to us outsiders it was rank arrogance) – some did seem to be trying to negotiate fair levels of functionality for fair cost to the taxpayer. But it was evident the PE always knew they were The Authority and they revelled in it.

My simple mind view is that PE need to lose the superior attitude; to understand they are buyers not supreme beings; to engage with their suppliers as normal business folk do; to accept they are not so special that they can only possibly lower their standards to deal with ‘serious’ organizations such as BAE, GD, Thales, Lockheed, MBDA.

An example of what happens when PE flex their authority – in the 80s I worked at a defence electronics company. Some of the equipment was powered by HP7/AA batteries. The company bought batteries for lab use at 50p each. MOD PE put a supply contract on the company to supply batteries, but under their special requirements the batteries needed to have full traceability, the manufacturer needed to supply documentation demonstrating test results, QA sampling, procedures, warranties etc, and the batteries needed the commercial shrink-wrap skin to be replaced by an MOD unique dk green & red cover marked up with NSN. The battery cost (verifiable due to these ‘special’ measures) was now £5 each. They were exactly the same device as the ones on sale at the corner shop, they lasted no longer in use, they didn’t have better performance in extreme conditions, but MOD had added value by applying all these absolutely necessary conditions.

Red Trousers
Red Trousers
December 13, 2013 12:53 pm


Because the meeting involved about 30 people who were mostly military, many of whom came from quite a distance, and was focused on user requirements for WATCHKEEPER. The IPT were largely peripheral but wanted to attend. I arranged accommodation at the Wilton Mess the night before, and arranged my favourite breakfast with the chefs in the Mess for those attending. Porridge followed by kedgeree. I don’t think that would have put them off as they started whining about the time immediately. No real loss anyway.

December 13, 2013 1:01 pm

x – I like FV600s – always have. They had their downsides, like 2mpg on a good day, and the most uncomfortable driving position (Saracen – I never drove the beastie but sat in the driving seat of a reference vehicle the company owned while working at Alvis). Saladin is one of those vehicles you’d just love to take shopping at Tesco – “You just let your shopping trolley scratch my paint! Load – Aim – Fire!”

Sadly because according to MOD people are much bigger now, compact armour like these would not be acceptable any more. I think the idea is flawed – there must be enough personnel in the forces to have a few that can’t be assigned to specific units because they don’t fit comfortably in combat vehicles. That said, I recall a Scimitar driver I met once at ATDU who was a tall gangly sort, well over 6ft I estimate – his nickname was Stretch which was entirely appropriate – and to watch him fold himself into the driver seat was like watching Origami. But he fitted and evidently was perfectly good at his job. On the whole I think the advantages of restricting personnel volume in non-dismount accommodation within vehicles outweighs the downsides by a long way…

December 13, 2013 1:19 pm

@ Chris

Vehicles from the past will obviously have shortcomings like fuel consumption. I am on about the broader aspects of the design such as the independent suspension etc. Somebody back in the day decided that the Army needed the Saracen family in terms of features, even today the vehicle as you say is perhaps too small even though smaller armour would be an advantage in FIBUA. But what happened between then and the arrival of Warrior? Saxon is a Bedford lorry with an armoured box on top. Either the powers that be thought war would never happen so not worth the investment or it would be so short it wasn’t worth the investment. Perhaps even the powers that be had gone from the mindset of victor (post WW2) to one of defeatism? Powers there was a loss of faith in British industry for a variety of reasons? Who knows? It would be interesting to see what a Saracen Redux built from the Foxhound technology would look like.

December 13, 2013 1:25 pm

x – no Foxhound technology here, but my version of Saracen is absolutely lovely. In a big armoured vehicle sort of way. Someday a customer might think so too, and then everyone would be able to judge for themselves…

Darned Consultent
Darned Consultent
December 13, 2013 3:30 pm

@ RT

Clearly before my time on that project, where the IPT desk officer had a penchant for “Lock In” meetings, normally at the end of the year… Leaving a 10am meeting from Boscombe at 10pm, late in December after 2 foot of snowfall was a joy. Because the IPT HAD, no arguments, HAD to have stuff ready by the end of the year (then they all took off Chrimbo n New Year hols anyway).

I nearly always found that the Services types involved in Procurement invariably had their own agenda – which was entirely different to the one expounded by the person in that post before, and just as different to the one who will replace them in 2 years time… Long projects suffered from “It wasn’t me who agreed to this” types of comments.

Outside view looking in – Industry is just as bad.

December 13, 2013 6:21 pm
Reply to  Observer

“Lazy bugger. :)”

Not really. When you are a victim or a killer in a predatory world you don’t understand the physics of, you don’t think to much about the details of killing, as the methods and distances and timing to get there. I believe it is a protective psychology that goes back to our HG days.

The human brain consumes a natural 250-300 calories per day. Put it into Deep Thought or Hyper Thought mode and that number can double to 500 or more. Where your adult basal load is 1250-1650 (girl or boy), that’s 1/3rd of your daily caloric consumption thrown towards learning and fight or flight directed activity.

Hence, task based exclusionary psychology followed by ‘don’t take it home with you’ cognitive distancing. We are a product of Savannah Principle conditioned evolutionary pragmatism and enlightened/parallel reasoning takes a lot more imaginative multipath focus than is healthy.

“This part is nonsense, society wise, we’re already specialised to an incredible degree with hard divisions between mechanical, biological and economical jobs, along with huge number of sub-specialities. Ask a telecommunications engineer to fix a plane and he’ll tell you that you got the wrong number. Same with asking an aeronautics major to fix a relay switchboard.”

Ask an armor officer to understand the full permutations of CAS or Arty or Infantry. Yet each and all of those things have specific, effects driven, outcomes on how he does his job and indeed _whether_ his job is the most efficient way of MAing the objective tasking.

Leaders who make choices are generalists, used to cutting through detail awareness to create linear objective (what needs doing, what can do it, gitter dun!) pathing constraints as mission orders or procurement decisions. But they come at it with a generalist attitude that doesn’t want to create hyper ontological constructs of -what is the best way-, based on detailed knowledge of each specialty.

Now add to this real, ego as career driven status by success as dominant methodology (TTP on a grand scale is reflective of personal bias).

And you get a lot of friction as nobody wants to do things except the way they know works. And when they are stuck with a system or program that doesn’t reflect their knowledge base, they sabotage it, passively or actively by non-participation or finding the flaws which excuses condemning it for what it can’t do rather than what they know of what it can.

Hence you have a huge recursive/remedial fallback as old methods are ‘rediscovered’ by biased operational communities that never wanted to go to the new school to begin with.

In civilian life, a telecomms engineer is unlikely to be bombed by an aircraft because a biologist didn’t clear the tech change order which removed the antenna that let him talk to the pilot. But in the military, there are so many effects in concentration that you can have failures of synergy because the -generalist- (knowing what he knows) wants to deal with a simplified situation and doesn’t realize how vulnerable that leaves him until suddenly he doesn’t have a UAV overhead to give him down look on the ambush coming up around the bend. Or that UAV didn’t fly the route, 24hrs ahead of time, to catch the IED team burning a tire to make the asphalt diggable.

But it’s still his fault.

Because, being an armor expert, he demanded funding for a new vehicle rather than a cheaper upgrade and so didn’t realize or care that his choice axed the division or brigade level UAVs that were going to be bought instead.

“Too maths based, hard to mesh into real life. For example, how many “points” for an infantry section? Or a combat team? Do you base it on maintenance? Manpower? Logistical supply? Ease of logistical transport? (5.56 for an infantry section is a lot easier to transport than 105/120mm shells).”

As I said, apply it to the mission. Give the missions a skew weighting for occurency based on engagement records of the past 2-5-10 wars and then do 5 infantry patrols for every 2 anti-armor missions but use the Loss Exchange Ratios as Mission Accomplished conditions to suggest whether one does better than another and then figure out why and give that ‘why’ it’s own weight relative to that engagement type only. If you like, also add negative weighting for things like numeric density (recruiting or spares) vs. in-field tempo rates as logistics and repair.

“What is the tradeoff value between POL that a vehicle needs and food and water for infantry? 1:1? 5:1 to reflect price differential between water and fuel?”

A better question is how long do you want your infantry to persist in the field, away from logistics and whether that infantry, in a more urbanized environment with easy access to road resupply can forego armored delivery of weekly rats for softskins.

If the answer is “Not in this IED World!” then the infantry mission gets a -1 weighting added for protected transport, i.e. armor.

But if a tank cannot haul them and an APC/IFV cannot protect them from tanks, then you say: “Aha! We’re stuck with IFVs plus logistics for a squad and haven’t got the direct fire, heavy, vehicles to fight an anti-armor mission. How do we make -this- work?” And the answer is a RORO pallet of Spike or Jumper or Polyphem weapons that can fire out of a reconfigurable roof hatch and replace the infantry section. Now, you don’t have to beat the armor through the frontal arc, you need only SEE the armor, in time to target it with OTH missiles that automate their trajectories and depress their seekers to look into the occupation zone given by the UAV.

Except now you have to provide logistics for the UAV and in a maneuver fight where the drone only has a radius of action of maybe 100nm and 3-4hrs, thats not practical due to the rapid pace and tempo. So you take out 2-4 of your VLS missiles and replace them with MAVs which are rocket boosted to the area you want them to surveil and each provides an hour of ready coverage.

At which point the infantryman says: “But what good does this do me?”

And you reply:

1. It keeps you out of the fight laddy. Because as far as I can tell, looking through the assaults on Bagdad and the actions in support of 73E and Norfolk and the Oil Fields, the Bradleys in the armor fight were not doing anything that the 3km maintubes and 10,000rds of MG on the Abrams didn’t do better.

2. In those cases where you are forced to fight a MOUT drill, the ability to see people scuttling out of a house and _stop them_, with top attack, before they can move across the street, pick up new cache` weapons and start the whole mess over, is priceless. That’s possible with a UAV that is attached to the mech platoon and not stolen by higher on a sight seeing tour because the same squad leader that just flushed the house is watching the threat run away when he puts a Spike in their midst.

3. In those cases where ‘stabilization by presence’ means walkabout infantry patrols daring the threat to make a mess of things and you only have 1 missileer configured track, it can stay back at the FOB and still provide support to 2-3 separate forces scattered about the city. Which dilutes the potential for ambush by denying the option to mass.

“It’s much better if the process was worked Jeremy’s way, where you set out defining what you want your unit to do, then designing the force structure around the task/s, THEN structure the logistics to supply it, point system be damned. (I’d love be around to hear the first general to tell the MoD “I don’t have enough army points sir!”, it’s probably going to be a historical moment. Are they going to tell him to use a discount card?) (0)”

And where folks don’t realize that buying better and better equipment means you can afford less and less of same, you create several major issues:

A. You are becoming linearly predictable to a threat which simply says: “If they do it the same ol’ way, I’ll know exactly how I will kill them in a fashion they haven’t got the gear to respond to.”

B. You create conditions of mandatory synergy whereby, if one particular unit element is not available or not available in sufficient numbers to carry the day vs. the weight of the threat, your system of systems breaks down as a whole.

C. As technology proliferates and the edge between system levels, based on the ability to copy rather than create technology base, dissipates; the threat comes back at you with equal tech-level capabilities in an increasing number of specific areas (hardness of armor, fidelity of modeling in ballistics for fire control) that takes away your advantage in ‘fell swoop’ levels of sudden loss.

We are now at the point where, only by creating very complex systems which force a potential enemy to -pay- to match each and every subsystem element, that we can sustain the total warfighter dominance.

We can fit tanks with with CLGP or missile systems that provide the surface fire equivalent of BVR engagment as early attrition to the extent that no massed force of conventional armor can survive long enough to force a LOS fight. The Baghdad mission with the B-52 and the SFW proves this.

But to achieve this requries the added targeting support of dedicated, sacrificially robust (cheap) organic UAVs to find and fix the target, OTH. If we fit our armor with sophisticated, multi-layer, stealth, softkill and APS, we can deny the threat the ability to copy us in firing single round guided ordnance back.

But in buying all these sophisticated capabilities, we drive the price point of the vehicles towards 15-25 million rather than 7-10, which means we have fewer of each type and must consider the option to combine vehicle classes to retain the numeric density to challenge the enemy at sufficiently dispersed points on the battlefield force him to divide -his- forces.

At which point, it becomes a fight of tactics. Massing fires not forces, finding the threat covertly and creating cell based interpenetration of no-front-line forces as a sprint to cover based emphasis of denying each other the key logistics routes by which in-field sustainment is possible. Implying that our forces need to have much better endurance than they now do as well.

Tactics implies the ability of people to both create and exploit new situations where their gear has applications and the enemy’s does not. And if you are force-saturated with a people who were trained up doing things the Same Ol’ Way, that doesn’t happen. And those who lead them, operationally, apply the same solution sets to the problem by generalizing mix-and-match force components to achieve the same kinds of objectives as worked in the last war.

Except a savvy enemy sees this happening and makes a trap of the COG and all the approaches to it. So that if you don’t think of victory in terms of reduction of capability rather than siezure of spatial gains, you end up walking into their bryar patch and getting very dead.

We Westerners who play at war like games of chess where the COG is King and the game is over, often make this mistake. The Chinese, who have excellent spatial-math IQ play Go as an exercise in incremental attrition and this falls in well with their modern operational concept of ‘without boundaries’ warfighting.

As a further example: both Napoleon and Hitler made the mistake of seeing Russia as a series of linear focal points centered around urban centers without regard to either their own or their enemy’s logistics. Hence, they bypassed partisan/leave behind threats which ate their CS/CSS forces alive. And they put their foot in the bucket investing places like Moscow, Stalingrad, Leningrad and Kharkov rather than leaving them to rot on the vine by destroying the undefendable THOUSANDS OF MILES of rail lines that connected each.

Only in the latter and only by openly disobeying the OKW and Hitler, did Manstein reverse the situation by NOT making spatial occupancy the objective but rather the lure. And the Russians fell in, put their foot in the bucket and were cut off and annihilated as a result.

The reason why this happened was twofold:

1. The Vorezhneh campaign ate men and equipment in an insatiable numbers and hellish rate, denying the Red Army the options to divert forces and mass. Proving that the ability to divide your enemy by using ‘outpost logic’ is always a viable option.

2. Manstein, played the reduction game: “I can’t hold the city, I don’t have enough men to win the deep fight,; I lack the ammunition to win the point fight so I cannot attack to break the threat preemptively. I must _soak_ the enemy into the city and regain all 350 of my tanks and 70,000 of my men to turn their flanks and defeat the 210,000 they have deployed against me.”

He did, creating a temporary 7:1 numeric tank advantage at a weak point and won the city back by default. All because he denied himself option after option, until he created the one good choice.

The modern Western military could do as well, at technical level, by redefining the key categories as manner by which they fight.

And this means using scenario based reduction logic to see which LER model does the best with which system/platform metric removed and then grouping the -effects- of that system into a new paradigm that said: “We want this, this and this capability, but we don’t want it in a tank (or an infantry squad or or or).”

And seeing what the MIB can come up with.

December 13, 2013 7:02 pm

Actually, while long and loaded with technical jargon, M&S’s posts don’t really come with much meat and quite a fair bit of nonsense.

While nice on technical jargon, have you ever heard of anyone’s brain doing “Hyperthought”? It’s not a recognised or accepted medical scenario or phenomena.

” When you are a victim or a killer in a predatory world you don’t understand the physics of, you don’t think to much about the details of killing, as the methods and distances and timing to get there. I believe it is a protective psychology that goes back to our HG days.”

Which is another way of saying that the subject didn’t bother to study, which is why I went “lazy bugger”. And it’s not called “protective psychology”, it’s called “head in sand” or “sheer laziness” if you never bothered to look up what is relevant to your job.

I get the very strong feeling that while erudite, M&S’s thinking is very very ideological based which is a rather bad way of doing things as ideologies tend to have selective blinders to things that do not fit their worldview, and are rather intolerant to anything not “their way”, resulting in a whole mess of complaints.

December 13, 2013 7:04 pm

Apologies TD, I clicked on the wrong symbol. I and my mouse scroll wheel thank you.

dave haine
dave haine
December 13, 2013 7:49 pm

@ Observer

Ah yes, or he’s a theory muncher, and isn’t much interested in the practical application of said theories, or indeed testing them either against example or by critical thinking.

And he’s got the word-shits as well….He’s just spent three paragraphs saying, Quality OR quantity, not both, and quality costs.

December 13, 2013 8:02 pm


Been a long time since I took GCEs but wasn’t there an exam segment that went “summarise in 150 words or less, the following paragraph”? Think the US could do with a bit of that.

Has all the hot button topics down pat though, F-35 rage, Spike missiles instead of Javelins, maths based CLGs/LECs, asymmetric warfare etc.

BTW, Go is Japanese, the Chinese call it Wei-Qi (surrounding chess/enveloping chess), the boardgame version of blitzkrieg where you surround your enemy to eliminate him. And it also teaches supply lines as any break in the envelopment means that it is not a “kill” so you often get a feeler sticking out from the main mass of pieces. Keep getting my arse handed to me though. That was when I was much younger of course.

dave haine
dave haine
December 13, 2013 9:00 pm

@ Observer

Indeed there was…and I have to say….we need a bit of similar rigour in the UK, as ‘Talking Bollocks’ is gaining ground with our media, too.

He certainly does have all the hot topics down pat- but I get the feeling he’s quoting from a text book, and actually doesn’t properly understand them or couldn’t apply them.

However, I think his posts have a certain utility, insomuch as it provides a baseline against which to measure other posts.

Gloomy Northern Boy
Gloomy Northern Boy
December 13, 2013 9:11 pm

Perhaps the Boss could modify the site so that any post exceeding a given length, or with a greater than acceptable density of jargon came out in GREEN INK CAPITALS…

Still not clever enough to do smileys…


December 13, 2013 9:14 pm

GNB said “Still not clever enough to do smileys…”


December 13, 2013 11:00 pm

Ah, the sweet smell of vodka mixed with whatever that thing was in the unlabelled bottle.

Part of the problem with any defence procurement is simply the government. How much cost and delay has been added to CVF purely by politicians? How much cost and delay was added to the Eurofighter program by the same? Even the most clinically efficient and profficient purchasing organisation in the world would not have been able to save those programs, short of telling the government to do one.

Hmm, Malibu was the unlabelled drink. Not a bad combination actually. Not great either though.

December 13, 2013 11:31 pm

Chris B – not sure its now legal, but a few years back it was possible to go to your local car accessory shop and walk out with a gallon can of cellulose thinners. I bought a can one week, and two or so weeks later went back for another can; the shop owner noted the repeat purchase with curiosity. His face was a picture when I said “It goes down lovely with lemonade…”

(I should point out here that it was in fact used to clean seriously dirty oily automotive parts ready for painting, and was not, repeat not, drunk. Kids – its poisonous and lethal – never try to drink the stuff.)

Red Trousers
Red Trousers
December 13, 2013 11:31 pm

Part of the problem in defence procurement is the role of the military. I’m quite sure the professional civil service (the white collar end, from C grade upwards) are collectively well below par, but that is not what I’m talking about.

Military officers are career focused, and a posting to a procurement role is not given any career weighting until the rank of full Colonel and equivalent. At that rank, it’s about IPT Leader level, and that is too late to start gaining commercial, industrial or related skills. It is also frankly the second eleven who get such postings.

Related, but typically one or 2 ranks down so Lt Cols or Majors who get the Requirements Management roles. I had such a role although not in DE&S, but in HQ LAND. I was responsible for all green “end user” requirements across the entire CBM and ISTAR piece. I had to assist me the input of the Force Development branches of each part of the Army and as they were often in conflict I made my own judgements as to priorities.

The next problem was unchallenged competence, and short tour lengths. Civil Servants in DE&S never challenged my judgements. They might ask for detailed explanation as they needed to be able to robustly defend them or amplify them, but never once was I told “No, that’s batshit” or “we can’t afford it”. Short tour lengths exacerbated this. My ideas were different from my predecessor, and no doubt mine were different from the fellow who took over from me.

You can’t fix tour lengths without completely changing the military career structure, and someone needs to make a posting to the procurement world more attractive than a bucket of cold vomit. In my case, I thought that even being posted to do the job meant that I wasn’t likely to become the youngest General of my cohort, and Mrs RT was completely bored of me previously spending 18 months in Bosnia in 28 months while she brought up toddlers in Wiltshire. Industry got me with a simple “we’ll double your military salary and throw in a car”. Faustian bargain.

It really is a completely rubbish system, with every part of it from the quality of civil servant to the capriciousness of prioritising requirements to interference by politicians really sub-optimal for the desired purpose.

December 14, 2013 1:04 am

@ Chris,
“its poisonous and lethal – never try to drink the stuff”
— Half the stuff in my drinks cabinet should carry that warning.

@ RT,
I have always found the inclusion of the military in procurement a little odd, aside from explaining what it is they need out of certain bits of kit.

Deja Vu
Deja Vu
December 14, 2013 2:39 am

Just a question, how do other countries with significant budgets organise procurement, the US French, Russians or Chinese? Whilst it is easy to say that the grass is always greener, there may be lessons to be learned.

Procurement decisions cast a long shadow compared to most investment decisions, except in infrastructure and energy and we are really good at those aren’t we?

And to return to a really vital procurement issue, what’s with the trousers of the Army’s new No 2 dress. From photographs they seem to crease very easily. This would be an apt subject upon which M&S could enlighten us.

December 14, 2013 9:39 am

DV – ref other countries – I believe the Cousins leave defence procurement entirely within the military. Pentagon makes the strategy, military define the requirement and procure against a budget they argue for with DoD. The bad bit about the US system is the regular review cycle where non-military ‘experts’ decide level of funding changes on project by project basis.

One of the engineers I worked with had worked in the past on a NASA programme. He described it as a system guaranteed never to deliver – each year the government would tell the project what budget it had over the remaining years of the programme. The first six months of the year would be spent working up a plan of deliverables and milestones that fitted within the new funding profile, out to the far end of the project. If funding was more constrained than the previous budget (normally was) then NASA would negotiate with the Government over what goals would be dropped from the plan in order to keep costs within the budget. The second six month stint was when the scientists & engineers started to work to the new plan (rather than working on the planning task itself) while government ‘experts’ started reviewing the new NASA plan against the funds allocated. At the end of the year, the government experts, no doubt in response to the reduced number of deliverables in the revised plan, issued a new budget reduced from the previous – whether as a punishment or in a misguided belief they were increasing value by paying less I can’t second guess. So the replan/renegotiate cycle started all over again. Result was, much of the precious budget was wasted on replanning every year to fit the multi-decade programme within new smaller budgets, and much of the real work fitted in between replan efforts was wasted as various target deliverables were removed in the later planning rounds. Clear to all that this was (is??) one stupid system, but it had mass and inertia so no-one could stop it…

Deja Vu
Deja Vu
December 14, 2013 10:48 am

Thanks Chris.

If I remember rightly the crash program to get a man on the moon by the end of the decade was likened to getting 9 ladies pregnant hoping for a baby in a month. :-)

dave haine
dave haine
December 14, 2013 11:41 am

I’ve been re-reading Alfred Price’s book ‘Spitfire Story’ (V. good book)… Particularly with reference to the procurement process…which led to more research…

Briefly, because I’m sure you all understand the pre-war Air Ministry/RAF Organisation, the air ministry was the political authority for aviation, and the RAF the body for delivering military aviation.

The RAF had two directorates involved in procurement; Operational Research and Research & Technical Development. Both of which were staffed by serving officers of various trades, who always had operational experience, and often went back to operational commands. Air Chief Marshal Hugh Caswall Tremenheere Dowding, 1st Baron Dowding GCB, GCVO, CMG, being an example, having been a RFC sqn commander in WW1, carried out various postings within the RAF, ending up as Air Member for Personnel (an Air Council post), before commanding Fighter Command.

Even junior officers, after achieving a certain proficiency on an operational sqn would often get a posting to one of the many research establishments or to a ministry post before going back to operational duties.
Marshal of the Royal Air Force Sir John Cotesworth Slessor GCB, DSO, MC is an example, in fact going back and forth a number of times.

Of course this meant that a successful ministry posting was an essential tick in the box to an officers career, and not an opportunity for buggering about. It also meant that operational experience was fed into planning technical development and research. (A suitable officer could also be seconded to industry- operational experience being in demand).

From the view of technical specifications, they were developed by people with operational experience, who also knew that their future career depended on doing a good job now.

Even the civil servants career was generally entirely spent within the air ministry, and they were responsible for efficiently administering it. Because they had a lot of contact with serving officers, they understood the needs of the service, and knew that their career required them to be recognised as being a ‘good hand’.

So basically, the end users had a say in technical development and planning and defining what they needed. However, once the specification was written, it was civil servants that were responsible for procurement, and achieving the specification, and industry for delivering the product to the specification and standard required.

A nice system of checks and balances, that was flexible enough to deliver at a reasonable cost.

Gloomy Northern Boy
Gloomy Northern Boy
December 14, 2013 12:06 pm

@Deja Vu – important political differences as well – the Chinese are expanding military expenditure, a big chunk of the economy is owned by the army, and the whole set-up is so opaque that it is all but impossible to tell what Western analysts would say about their real costs if they had the same level as information as they do in our part of the world – the Russian are also expanding and although less opaque then they were under the Red Flag, it is not by much; and with the whole lot built on energy sales with high levels of cronyism and corruption, I doubt if a sensible comparison could be made – the Pentagon was at one time notorious for $600.00 screwdrivers and probably still is, but they spend so much more than us both absolutely and as a proportion of GDP that it is more peas and melons than even apples and oranges.

The nearest comparison would be France, but many of their industries are wholly or partly state-owned, and they make no apologies for spending just exactly as they wish to prop them up…even if it breaks every rule in the EU book…so again, not very helpful…

Essentially nobody else seems to have gone in for reduced expenditure directed through smooth but greedy monopolists who have not a patriotic bone in their body…I wonder why?

(would have posted this in green ink if the facility was available!)


December 14, 2013 6:28 pm

Joined PE as a PM from industry some 20 years ago, after 10 years in industry but not necessarily with anything to bring to PE/CS. Left PE then after some 10 years. Some observations:

Although no longer a supplier but a customer, but still a supplier to the sponsor/user, we struggled with the sponsor/user, disparaged them and they us and in turn struggled with industry and they disparaged us and we them.

It is the 3 parties with each having a multitude of cost, time and performance issues and failings in a complex/chaotic military world, that creates the disasters.

No one or multiple or grass-root changes in any one of the parties or the requirement, procurement and delivery processes will make a significant difference. It will just be masked by the continuing and new failings in the other two.

Large non-military projects in industry also proportionally fail. Military projects have certain and obvious uniqueness so will inevitably fail more obviously and dramatically.

As one poster remarked, there was an air of PE superiority but no different to a large company dealing with a not-so-large company, and we (and sponsor) would push for the best at the lowest price and shortest time. Only finding out later this was pushing too far and/or, equally, industry discovering later it had over-committed. All 3 parties therefore contributing, not incidentally, with complete innocence of the likely outcome.

Similarly the military sponsor acted superior to us. As to questioning the requirement, we did on technical, cost and time grounds but only superficially, subjective in any case, as there was never enough time to do otherwise, and the upper hand was always the important military imperative.

The military scope and depth is too large for us mere mortals to really manage significantly better. No individual/IPTL or team/IPT, department, structure or processes (e.g. SMART) man can devise, can really rise to this challenge. IPTL/IPTs are no more effective than the old team structures. Not a surprise as the empowerment, accountablity and responsiblity is, in essence, no different. It really is in the lap of the gods to stay within the expected cost, time and performance tolerances. An entity with more commercial practices and incentives will not make a difference.

It also has less to do with the actual management skills in PE (a much cited malaise) believe it or not, which incidently is also poor in industry. Technically also, another PE shortfall cited, the broadness and depth involved means even with an improved capability which then needs to keep pace or through the use of consultants, the coverage will be superficial. Technical responsibility along with technical management lies squarely with industry and PE can do nothing but rely on this. For industry, if they came clean, this is a huge unknown and all 3 parties will dramatically fail if this is found wanting (guaranteed to happen against unrealistic expectations but then again who is to say what is unrealistic).

Success is measured against the approved cost time and performance baselines/budgets but even after some refinement (or re-guessing) through the process/gates/quotes and studies, are largely a figment of the 3 party’s collective imagination. The 5 or 10 year budget profiling is pure fiction with the support costs even more so, and it cannot be otherwise, particularly in relation to the limited understanding there is of the technical feasiblity, scope and risks of this yet to be conceived/designed solution. An entity with more commercial practices and incentives will not make a difference.

So change PE to yet another incarnation but the net effect will be no different in substance. At best one can hope it addresses what has to be put right but newer shortcomings will arise or old shortcomings may evolve or suddenly take on a new guise.

December 14, 2013 9:27 pm

Quixotic – Q for short? – ref moving the furniture. I tend to agree changing a few responsibilities here, a few job titles there, will do little to change the daily routine of the procurement exec. My preferred restructure is somewhat more significant (and I’m sure far to much change to be acceptable in civil service corridors), in that I want to break IPTs out of Abbey Wood and embed them in the organization supplying the defence materiel. Not field personnel as auditors, but productive personnel seconded to industry (and for the entire project duration, not just 2 years and move on). By doing real work (see – I said it was too radical for Civil Servants) in the daily grind of manufacturing, the DE&S owned staff would be fully aware of all the issues, much more up to speed with impacts of requirement change, in no doubt of cost & schedule status. In addition rather than waiting for Quarterly Reviews to discuss programme issues and determine mitigation, the MOD personnel would be aware immediately and so mitigation could be engaged at once. The MOD embedded IPT would be the ones to go to Abbey Wood and brief the organization; this time the status would be peer to peer, not subordinate worm to arrogant customer.

I have never liked the Us & Them environment, whether MOD/Industry or Management/Union or North/South – I do not believe mistrust and ‘trying to get one over’ makes for more efficient or more affordable or technically better end products. Indeed I suspect one of the main reasons technical development races ahead in times of war is because all the petty confrontation is obliterated by a universal goal of beating the enemy – cooperative working with all parties labouring without obstruction toward the common goal works wonders.

Anyway. By tearing Abbey Wood apart and changing the operating environment of the project IPTs, now proper project team members seeing the job through from award of contract to delivery, the old ‘corridors of power’ practices would have to be abandoned, finally offering a break away from MOD business as usual.

December 15, 2013 12:05 am

@ Chris,

“Indeed I suspect one of the main reasons technical development races ahead in times of war is because all the petty confrontation is obliterated by a universal goal of beating the enemy”

I’m not sure anyone has done a full and proper study, but from the bits I’ve seen there seem to be three main causes of the more rapid pace of development and acquisition in wartime.

1 – Money – lots of it. Anything that showed the remote promise of being successful could potentially get funded. I doubt Barnes Wallis would have been able to get the funds for the bouncing bomb outside of wartime conditions (presuming of course he had a desire to build one). In wartime money is less of a problem and it flows more freely, with less controls on its expenditure.

2 – Hands off approach – De Havilland was essentially given free reign to design and build his Mosquito. There was no project team for it. He applied for resources like engines and decisions were made based on his progress and other priorities. He and his company was basically left to it though. They either produced an end product or they didn’t, and when they did….

3 – Standards of Acceptance –
“Does it fly?”
“yes sir”,
“Can you land it in one piece?”
“Most of the time sir”,
“Can it drop bombs?”
“That’s one way of putting it sir”,
“Good, we’ll have 10 examples to start…”

Or in other words, kit that didn’t live up to standards got through the process anyway. The number of accidents involving military equipment was quite eye opening. Stuff was crashing, blowing up and falling apart on a surprisingly routine basis, because getting 70% of it through to the front line within 12 months was more important than waiting 5 years for something that worked perfectly and was exceptionally safe.

World War 2 was essentially a giant UOR operation. Speed of delivery was more important than controlling budgets and matching specifications perfectly.

December 15, 2013 1:14 am

Chris.B – I like the sound of hands-off development… But you have to note that between 1914 & 1918 submarines and aircraft became serious tactical equipment, and tanks were invented, and radio showed its potential (if extremely crude). For the next 20 years little of note changed, but between 39 & 45 the UK came up with radar, the RAF went from Gladiator biplanes to Meteor jets, Bletchley invented digital computing, Germany created long range ballistic missiles & cruise missiles (stretching a point a little but I think V1 meets the basic criteria), the US with help created nuclear weapons. Whether corners were cut a bit or not, the pace of development was extraordinary. As you note much was done without MOD project teams – without an auditing authority constantly demanding status, changing requirements, criticizing progress and cost, generally being awkward? But with people in authority desperate to see the new equipment work and in mass production asap? All sounds jolly co-operative to me….

December 15, 2013 2:13 am

@ Chris,

Yes and no.

Most of the technology pre-dated the war. The spitfire first flew in 1936. The underlying principles of radar go back to the late 1800’s if I remember correctly (lots of people independently noticing interuptions in their communications when objets passed between the transmitter and receiver). Jet engines were being designed as early as the late 1920’s. The difference was that during the war lots more money was suddenly forthcoming to fund the various projects and prioritise them for resources.

And a lot of money (and indeed lives) was spent on garbage kit. A lot of the testing was concurrent with production, a la the F-35. Except imagine if the F-35 was being sent into battle en masse…

December 15, 2013 9:32 am

On the topic of UORs or anything fast-tracked (Chris, Chris B et al)

Firstly, they completely disrupted the normal projects. They diverted the same limited pool of resources in the Sponsor/PE/Industry areas, so the other projects suffered. Also, UORs tended to stay for longer than designed creating other problems and bleeding even more resources.

Success of UORs is cited as an example of how things can work. All overlooking the fact that the requirements, the solutions and the control processes for the short-term were a world apart from those applicable and necessary for the normal projects. Cannot really compare and cannot wholly transfer the practices. May achieve short-term wins and for those measured on such, a temptation, but would be planting a ticking bomb for the future. The real challenge in military programmes and the 3 party’s raison-d’etre is to do the right things up-front (firstly to understand what the right things are of course), in order to secure this elusive future.

The UORs, therefore, falsely created an impression that some processes and safe-guards added no value and could also be short-circuited for normal projects. There was always a problem with discipline in all 3 areas (including the users) and the UORs sent the wrong message undermining the drive towards professionalism as fundamental to meeting the challenge.

Hands-off development, not surprisingly, does not work. I tried it. Too simplistic and is not consistent with what is demanded when faced with a complex scenario the military world is. It may have worked in days gone bye but, as always, one has to question the definition and the value system ‘worked’ is judged against.

As to a teaming and a collocation approach between the users, sponsors, DE&S and industry this has merit, but not as the much-vaunted SMART which was guaranteed to be unworkable (this was transparent to many of us more seasoned observers and practitioners but we all went along for the ride).

As to how other nations have managed military programmes I think the norm is ‘abysmal’ and this is amongst the more enlightened nations such as France, Canada and Australia, to name but a few. The US is clearly in a league of its own.

Sir Humphrey
December 16, 2013 6:42 pm

I would agree with Quixotic – UORs are great for specific areas but we should be very wary of seeing them as the sole solution. They work to meet a specific need only – great for one theatre and one mission – now employ them elsewhere and watch it go horribly wrong.

As for the comments on flexibility of the CS – frankly my heart sinks when I see some of the entrenched military attitudes in question. My general experience is that when treated as normal human beings, and not as some kind of subhuman scum for daring to work in the vicinity of our awe inspiring super heroes in uniform whilst not themselves wearing uniform, CS/Mil relationships are generally fine.

where they fall down is when overbearing (e.g. bullying) military types decide that things like terms and conditions of employment (you know the contract that the CS sign) are irrelevant and that working late without notice, or traveling across the country for free can be done. My experience is that these Mil forget they are paid a very generous salary for a 7 day week. The CS are paid a much smaller salary for a 5 day week. They rightly tend to get a bit pissed off when our all knowing military colleagues ask us to essentially work for free (e.g. travelling late night before or working at no notice regardless of our personal circumstances). These same military types are the ones who usually get very fussy when questions about allowances or CEA is mentioned…

So its give and take on both sides – I don’t deny some CS are fairlydire, but I’d say that the ‘good/bad/indifferent’ ratio is no different in the Military to the CS, its just that the Military don’t like to accept that they could possibly produce bad eggs.

December 17, 2013 3:34 pm

SirH – ref attitudes – how strange; the description “(being treated) as some kind of subhuman scum for daring to work in the vicinity of our awe inspiring super heroes” is how industry is meant to feel when in the almighty presence of The Civil Service; as I noted before, disdain to the point of disgust for having to lower themselves to work with Industry.

Ref journeys etc – Most companies I worked for expected travel to off-site meetings to be undertaken without disruption of the normal working week – the companies accepted it was ‘work time’ and allowed us out of the goodness of their (stony) heart to book the time as unpaid overtime. Not that that was a shock; particularly the american company I worked for expected 10 to 20% unpaid overtime as an average; any less than that and you’d be marked down as a slacker, with consequent negative effect on promotion prospects. Anything to do with bids and the expectation rose to something like 50% unpaid overtime – “Don’t you realize how important this is to the company??” Maybe Sir H you have of late not seen the workings of corporate industry from the inside. Its not sweetness and light, its certainly not nine-to-five, it certainly is cut-throat. In my experience, anyway.

December 18, 2013 7:46 am

Behavioural issues, alongside incompetency, was/is prevalent within all the parties in the requirement, procurement and delivery chain. No prisoners can be taken – all as guilty as each other. I look back at my 10 or so years in CS and could write volumes on the topic. CS just happens to be an easier target. Someone should make the equivalent of ‘Our Brave Boys’ about the CS world at Abbey Wood.

The nature of defence work actually demands nothing less than beyond the call of duty and complete flexibility from all, given, for far reaching projects, the dynamics and the number and varied contributors, not to mention the unforseens.

In my case, wanting to really succeed, more a personal goal, in the actually not-so-large endeavours and in the mistaken belief that I could, I averaged some 10 hours a day. There were clearly others who had this devotion to duty but not as many as demanded. Many CS positions are what you make it, doing the minimum, and one can just coast in this manner, will never do justice to the many tasks at hand.

The poor perception of competency, some justified, by each party (military, CS and industry) of their partners-in-crime partly led to the us and them, and at its root, lack of trust (which of course has to be earned). In CS, we were sent on many excellent military requirement/strategy courses, had the occasional exposure to the users and their inscrutable ways, and were were herded like cattle through endless training on the procurement processes, forever changing as each new consultant or ministerial change showed us the error of our ways. The competencies required in procurement were also well set out.

What then went wrong and sadly has continued to go wrong. Leaving aside the ‘nature of the beast’ there is, without question, still significant room for improvement in CS. Experience and dedication counts for much in project and technical management, linked to this is the willingness, an interest, to acquire a good working knowledge and rationale of user requirements and at the other end the technical solutions offered by industry, lest one wishes to be always hood-winked by both sides. This implies a minimum relevant skill/experience as a starting point, ruling out graduates and those from non-technical career paths. Of course for the technical content one could just emply consultants, but they also have to be managed. Then we are left with reforming CS Finance, Contract and QA.

December 18, 2013 9:17 am

Q – I think you have the whole point and problem in a nutshell where you state ‘trust must be earned’ – I’d go further and state it is respect that must be earned. I can’t speak for the impression of industry personnel from the outside – never been on the opposite lines (although a few inter-company meetings have shown a few very arrogant individuals) – but I have witnessed on many occasions Civil Service desk officers, new in post, half the age of the average member on the industry team, breeze into meetings and haughtily pronounce that they expect this, will not permit that, by God will have the other etc. Those they speak to might have spent all their professional life creating first class kit at the front line of international development, but they are being lectured on their behaviour and technical competency by a college kid who thinks 4 years at Uni and a Civil Service e-mail address makes them the highest authority known to man. Its no way to earn respect. I hope I have never been guilty of anything like that.

Indeed, after having spent more painful years than I care to remember on a project involving ASW tactics where all sides (Military, MOD, subcontractor and our own management chain) exerted disruptive decision making because they were all vying for the “I’m better than you lot” title, I was quite surprised to have one of the Fleet Air Arm’s most experienced ASW CPOs phone me up and ask me if I thought a particular tactic he’d just thought up would work. I expect I was only a sounding board so he could shape up his thinking (or, less friendly, I was being asked to approve something every ASW operator knew to be impossible as a test…). If the former though, it does suggest at least this one engineer in Industry managed to gain a small degree of respect.

I have to say on the projects I worked I rarely saw the Military act in arrogant or dismissive ways. I was once physically thrown out of my Company’s front door by a Colonel who I would not allow to walk unescorted through the production line (the girl on the reception desk apparently fixed him with a steely eye, told him I was right not to let him, and I think told him to apologize. I did get an apology but through gritted teeth. In fairness, this was one week before GW2 kick-off and he was the Army’s lead for getting our kit to theatre – he knew how urgent things were although he couldn’t tell us.

I have just reminded myself of another incident – I used the term ‘making something Squaddie-boot proof’ in a presentation to (another) Colonel. This one by reputation was riding the industry gravy-train (meetings in France were his favourite, so long as the hospitality supplied food and wine were first class) – not someone who earned much respect. Anyway; after mentioning the Squaddie’s ability to break stuff, I was given a full dressing down by said Colonel “The British Soldier is extraordinarily careful with equipment entrusted to him; he treats it with great care; I will not have it said that my Soldiers are anything other than entirely blameless in this regard. Do you understand?” (Muttered ‘Yessir’) I then took the assembled party to look at an instrument panel “You will note” said I “that this is the instrument panel from the test vehicle; we have left the streaks of mud on it so you are aware it is not a different unit for demonstration. You may note one instrument is clean – I had to replace the glass this morning because on test a Squaddie put his boot through the original one…” Colonel had a curious expression somewhere between extreme rage and extreme embarrassment; my manager had a grin from ear to ear.

But in all the years of work in the defence arena these are the only two cases I can recall where the Military have exerted authority with arrogance.

December 21, 2013 3:09 pm

”. I once tried to schedule a meeting at 0830 at HQ LAND outside Salisbury. I was told that the meeting could not occur before 1130 as the civil servants from DE&S had to travel from Bristol and could only travel in working hours***

Probably because (as in the case of the team I was in) their military 2* had issued an edict making it so. The number of times I was prevented from supporting my service colleagues because one of the “grown ups” (military and yes, I admit, civilian as well) was screwing over the B, C and D grades just to curry favour with the 3* – whilst also approving theor own very expensive T&S to go to some pointless management b****ks or staying in very expensive hotels in London for various unsatisfactory reasons.

Mind you, try booking a meeting with anyone military in the Wood on a Monday morning, Friday afternoon or a Wednesday. “Sorry chaps, not in before lunch / heading off at lunch friday / “sports afternoon” (lol indeed!).

December 21, 2013 3:19 pm

“and someone needs to make a posting to the procurement world more attractive than a bucket of cold vomit”

Amusing that one of our service colleagues describes procurement in these terms – perhaps he might like to think about how those who are there full time, not breezing in for a couple of years or so, feel about. I would just love it if CDS announced that he was making it one of his personal missions to avoid “cold vomit” syndrome for ALL the members of the MOD. Of course, it would be EVEN BETTER if the Minister was to do that……