Monday, 29 May 2017

New Long Form Content – Joint Port Opening Capability – A Proposal

A proposal to create a Joint UK Port Opening Capability in support of defence, disaster response and Overseas Development Assistance, exploiting and expanding existing areas of expertise and a capabilities. There has been a great deal of speculation about the political and practical desirability of maintaining Overseas Development Aid (ODA) at 0.7% of GNI and ...

The post New Long Form Content – Joint Port Opening Capability – A Proposal appeared first on Think Defence.

from Think Defence

Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Defence Procurement: the role played by Contractors in delays and cost overruns

The share of blame attributed to the Ministry of Defence for delays and cost overruns has been extensively documented over the decades. But what is the role of MoD’s other half of the partnership, the defence contractors, in this epic tale of failure? In his first article, Jag Patel identified deep-seated problems that have plagued the existing, flawed defence procurement process. In this article, he examines the role played by contractors in delays and cost overruns, why it is important to apply the principles of natural justice and the need for professionalism in defence procurement.

The risk that new equipment procurement programmes will fall behind schedule is driven by three significant factors – all of them, entirely within the control of the Contractor:

  • Work allowed to commence without the full complement of Task Performers being assigned to the project performance team, right from the start.
  • Task Performers arbitrarily (and clandestinely) re-assigned to other priority work during the term of the Contract.
  • Task Performers, who are typically on one month’s notice corresponding to pay in arrears, abandon their posts for a better paid job elsewhere.

The practice of switching the most capable and smartest people (the ‘A’ Team members) from existing project commitments, to working on other contracts running concurrently which have gone ‘critical’, or to producing bid phase deliverables for ITT responses, is very common within Defence Contractors’ organisations – because the need to continually bring-in money or win new business takes priority over everything else, a foremost characteristic of for-profit organisations.

Indeed, such is their obsession with future income (and share price) that, once they have got a new contract in the bag, their attention immediately shifts onto chasing the next one – at the expense of compromising performance on the contract they have just won!

Paying the Price for treating task performers with contempt

This all too familiar scenario is further compounded by the fact that:

Contractors at every tier of the defence industry have mandated enforcement of a minimalist staffing policy of being just ‘one man’ deep in many of their specialist core functions, with no slack or succession plan – which unfortunately, also denies defence workers the opportunity to associate with like-minded people in the work environment, severely impeding their professional development.

  • In their desperation to quickly build-up their project performance teams to full strength following down-selection for the first contract performance phase, contractors have been less than honest with new employees (particularly those originating from the Public Sector) about their individual role in the project performance team, the job content and near-term prospects – because they are not bound by a ‘Code on Ethical Behaviour in Business’. Consequently, these newcomers have no choice but to align their personal and career goals with those of their new employer on the basis of what they are told. It is the disappointment of discovering a substantial gap between the reality on the ground and what they were led to believe at interview that causes these new starters to leave – creating yet more vacancies and disruption!
  • Instead of looking upon people on their payroll as human beings with hopes, fears and insecurities, individuals are treated like ‘economic units’ by Contractors – to be bought and sold like commodities, at will, in the free market to serve their own narrow commercial interests.
  • Recent years has seen the working relationship between Indirect and Direct labour types to be strained beyond breaking point on account of:
  1. The latter (who are all Task Performers, adding value by producing deliverables which attract payment from MoD) being compelled by the former to partake in activities which are contrary to their professional, ethical and moral convictions.  In turn, this has led to Direct labour types to accuse Indirect labour types of ‘living off their backs’ by charging MoD a ‘tax surcharge’ on their labour – creating, even more, bitterness and division.
  2. The duplicitous policy enforced by Indirect labour types of making bold pledges in Management Plans, and then promptly rescinding on these work commitments during the follow-on Contract performance phase has had the effect of disenfranchising Direct labour types because they think this is thoroughly deceitful behaviour.
  3. The burden of responsibility for executing the resultant grossly under-scoped Programme of Work falling on Task Performers, instead of those people on overheads who made the false, exaggerated claims about the maturity of the proposed Technical Solution in the first place.

Commitment and loyalty time-limited

Even more disturbingly, in the interests of furthering their careers in today’s mobile labour market, many defence industry workers especially those possessing highly marketable skills (the crème de la crème) are now willing to extend their commitment and loyalty only, as far as the next pay packet – having adopted this tactic from observing, at first hand, the behaviour of their own employers who have, for many years demonstrated their willingness to provide a service to MoD which extends only as far as the next milestone payment!  Worse still, whereas every Contractor has got a Staff Recruitment Policy, none has a Staff Retention Policy.

So when a programme in the Contract performance phase suffers a loss in personnel on the project performance team (usually those most difficult to replace), work on producing deliverables to schedule comes to an abrupt stop – leading to delays and ultimately, cost overruns.

A risk and associated cost burden that has traditionally been borne by the Ministry of Defence!

What’s more, Defence Contractors are also engaged in some pretty nefarious activities, like masking any delays attributable to themselves (for instance, because they haven’t got adequate numbers of skilled Task Performers), by building-in intervention from MoD Abbey Wood team members as a dependency into the Programme of Work schedule, citing partnership and/or collaborative working as a pretext, then deliberately stopping progress of planned work and disingenuously blaming MoD for the delay.

MoD Abbey Wood. Home of the Defence Equipment and Support (DE&S) organisation where around 8,000 civil servants manage procurement for the UK armed forces.

Task performers more important than apprentices

Defence Contractors have treated employees shabbily for decades and yet they have the gall to criticise the Government for the poor quality of skills possessed by young people emanating from the education system, when in fact, it is their responsibility to invest in specialised, on-the-job training for new employees so that they can, as Task Performers, perform the full range of job functions prevalent on defence contracts.

It is not the number of apprentices taken on by the Contractor that matters, but whether he has the full complement of suitably qualified and experienced Task Performers, who are able to undertake and complete the planned Programme of Work, during the follow-on Contract performance phase that is even more important.

Applying the Principles of Natural Justice

Public Servants have a greater duty to apply the Principles of Natural Justice than the rest of us. In no area of public policy are these fundamental principles being violated as in defence procurement.

The current practice of digging out old ITTs from the archives, searching & replacing the project name and promptly dispatching them off to Defence Contractors has resulted in the Principles of Natural Justice being routinely violated, because selection criteria essential to inform the decision on down-selection, phase-by-phase is omitted – leaving Bidders in the dark as to how their performance will be judged.

Under the Principles of Natural Justice, defence procurement officials are duty bound to inform Bidders what evaluation criteria they will be measured against, as they progress from one phase to another and what level of achievement constitutes satisfactory or not – given that taxpayers’ money is to be spent on procuring assets for public benefit, through the instrument of open competition. Not decide upon selection criteria on the spur of the moment, at the time of assessing the ITT response, as is currently the case!

Later, bidders removed from the contest will be denied the opportunity to complain that they had not been informed about the rules of the competition, to begin with – including a chance to challenge the final decision at Judicial Review.

Accordingly, it falls upon procurement officials to clearly state the rules by which they intend to prosecute the competition for each phase of the equipment acquisition programme, what penalties bidders are likely to face for not abiding by these rules, and for failing to comply with the requirements expressed in the ITT.

This means that procurement officials will need to have the talent to be able to express the whole of the requirement, in plain and clearly written English – in such a way, that it cannot be interpreted any other way than intended.

In addition, they should be single-mindedly impartial in their dealings with industry, that is, not take sides with one defence contractor or another. Procurement officials whose impartiality has been compromised cannot usefully contribute towards the achievement of team, departmental or organisational goals, nor is it in taxpayers’ best interests to have them remain on the public payroll.

The governing elite make great play of this country’s sense of fairness, respect for the rule of law and doing the right thing – yet, it seems that people in the pay of the State are exempt from having to abide by these same values!

MoD and its contractors tolerate the wet-finger-in-the-air technique

How is the engineering profession supposed to attract young, technically-literate people like graduates, technicians and apprentices into its fold when the real world they go into, later on in their career, will require them to act in an unprofessional manner?

In a report released last year, the Defence Select Committee of the House of Commons accused the Ministry of Defence of using ‘creative accounting’ practices to meet its NATO commitment to spend 2% of GDP. What is less well known about MoD’s use of such under-hand tactics is that, it was the first to pioneer application of the wet-finger-in-the-air technique in the designing of military kit – more specifically, the most important aspect of defence equipment – its inherent reliability – which is an indicator of how frequently it will break-down when in service with the user, and therefore its cost of upkeep subsequently, through-life.

The main reason why MoD Abbey Wood has failed to build-in desired levels of reliability into diligently engineered products is because defence contractors have been using the thoroughly unprofessional, wet-finger-in-the-air technique of ‘divvying up’ the given MTBF (mean time between failures) figure among lower-level maintenance significant items – instead of employing the best practice method of determining overall system reliability ‘bottom up’ using measured failure rate figures (not predicted or estimated) derived from an up-to-date, Microsoft Access-based 4th Line data repository.

And from whom did contractors’ people learn this method of quantifying equipment reliability? Why, none other than from the Ministry of Defence!

To be precise, the famous here-today-gone-tomorrow procurement officials who have been freely applying this wet-finger-in-the-air technique during their short stay at MoD Abbey Wood before migrating to the defence industry, in overwhelming numbers, and infecting it by continuing to spread this lazy practice – which has, over the years, become regularised and embedded in commercial & engineering processes to the extent that objective, evidence-based scientific analysis and thinking which has exercised technically-literate people since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution, has been suppressed. This disastrous situation has come about because 99% of people who end-up working in the defence industry were previously in the pay of the state – with no appreciation of what it takes to uphold the values of a true professional.

It should come as no surprise to MoD that all competing bids appear to be fully compliant with the reliability requirement claiming the same level of achievement, a figure slightly higher than that stated in the technical specification – thereby denying Abbey Wood Team Leader the opportunity to discriminate between technical solutions on the basis of inherent reliability.

So, instead of acting as a responsible great department of state and instilling professional values in its loyal employees, the Ministry of Defence has ended up doing the exact opposite!  It has made a mockery and laughing stock of the engineering profession – as practiced in the UK – especially in the eyes of European competitor nations, the United States and potential export governments in the Arabian Gulf region, the wider Middle East, North Africa, Latin America and emerging nations in the Asia-Pacific region – where the engineering profession is still regarded in high esteem, and remains an automatic career choice for many young people.


It is not only defence procurement officials who are to blame for the malaise afflicting defence procurement – defence contractors are equally culpable in creating a procurement culture which has failed to deliver equipment to the Armed Forces that is fit for purpose, adequately sustained in-service and constitutes value for money through-life.


Jag Patel is an independent Defence Procurement Adviser with over 30 years experience of researching, analysing and solving a wide range of entrenched procurement problems. He tweets as @JagPatel3
Views expressed in guest posts do not necessarily represent those of


from Save the Royal Navy

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Can defence issues impact the election debate?

Ironically perhaps, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s pacifist stance has caused defence issues to take slightly greater prominence in the election campaign that might be expected. Tories have been quick to seize on Labour’s “weakness” on defence. Although they are right about Corbyn, the Tories are on very shaky ground saddled by their own poor record on defence. The electorate is again largely faced with a choosing between the lesser of two evils. While global threats continue to intensify, the sorry state of UK defence urgently needs to be treated as more than just a sideshow in the pre-election political Punch and Judy.

Another black hole opens

Back in 2010, the coalition government claimed that the outgoing Labour administration had left a £36 billion “black hole” in unfunded defence plans. This was used the excuse for the slash and burn 2010 defence review which did particular lasting damage to the Royal Navy. Within the space of just 2 years, the then Defence Secretary, Philip Hammond was claiming the MoD finances were now balanced and the department’s “hand to mouth existence would come to an end”. By April 2017 the cross-party House of Commons Public Accounts Committee was reporting another £10 billion “black hole” in the equipment plan has appeared. Whatever we believe about these financial holes and their causes, it is clear that chronic underfunding of defence continues, contrary to Tory claims. Despite moving the security services and MoD pensions into the “defence budget”, in 2015-16 we did not even manage to spend the 2% of GDP that the Tories pledged. The latest ONS/Treasury figures say it was actually 1.9%, a total of £34.8Bn.

Defence inflation is running at between 4-6% annually so the buying power of MoD declines each year. Economies of scale and well-managed procurement projects usually see the unit cost decline, but overall defence equipment becomes ever more complicated, expensive to purchase, man and support in service. A Type 26 frigate in 2017 is projected to cost at least £800m. The last Type 23 frigate, HMS St Albans built in 2002 cost around £100m. A Type 26 will be more capable than a Type 23, but not even London house prices can match an approximate price rise of 800% over less than 20 years.

Brexit has seen the Pound significantly devalued by around 20% and it may fall further. The UK intends to purchase around £28Bn worth of defence equipment from overseas, mainly from the United States, in the next 10 years. This leaves a large part of the defence budget exposed to unpredictable for foreign exchange fluctuations. How far the pound may fall as the effects of Brexit are felt are difficult to predict. Some economists predict devaluation could go down to 30%. Others are more optimistic that the Pound will bounce back, especially if the Euro should weaken. Brexit may have other impacts on the economy and the chancellor is known to be holding on to contingency funds, should there be more serious economic problems. A weakening pound is, therefore, a significant threat to future defence planning. The Treasury holds some foreign currency reserves but not enough to offset a long-term devaluation.

The Tories

On 10th May The Prime Minister promised defence spending “will rise by 0.5% above inflation every year to 2022”. Assuming inflation is around 2% then the defence budget would increase by nearly £5bn to £39.7bn by 2020-21. This rise in funding is likely to be mostly offset by the negative factors listed above but this is welcome news, although it is not clear if she had agreed on this with the Chancellor before making the announcement. Surprisingly in a survey of Tory party members, defence spending ranked as their highest concern.

Defence Secretary Michael Fallon is under great pressure as his very robust claims about the healthy state of the armed forces and the MoD are at totally odds with the assessments of the Public Accounts Committee and virtually all independent commentators. At the start of 2017 Fallon stated that this would be the “year of the Royal Navy”. The foundations for this optimistic claim have been thoroughly debunked here, but for the Navy, it did represent something very positive. There is a feeling that Fallon understands the naval case is certainly enthusiastic about the aircraft carriers, Trident and believes maritime should play the leading role in UK defence strategy.

It is certainly welcome to have a Secretary of State who is upbeat about the RN and putting his credibility on the line over its future.  It is unfortunate that the resources his government provides the MoD are increasingly unable to match his rhetoric.

Michael Fallon keeps a straight face while saying “we are increasing the size of the Royal Navy”. Andrew Marr Show, BBC1, 14th May 2017

If Fallon’s year of the Royal Navy speech was optimistic, repeating his claim that we will have a bigger Royal Navy is stretching the truth to breaking point. The RN is increasing in size but only if we measure by total tonnage, a meaningless figure distorted by the large size of the aircraft carriers. There has been a vast reduction in hull numbers and since 2010, although we are bottoming out now. (More detail on recent Tory cuts to the RN here). Only if we get more than 5 Type 31 frigates could the fleet be described as having ‘grown’, and this remains a vague aspiration for something that is a decade away.

Publication of the National Shipbuilding Strategy has been delayed by the Purda restrictions of the election but the Type 31 Frigate programme offers a good opportunity for the Tories to strengthen the navy in a way which dovetails with their prosperity agenda and northern powerhouse policies. If the Treasury were to provide an additional £200M per year earmarked for the Type 31, it could create a stimulus for shipbuilding and industry across the UK and particularly in northern England.


The Labour leader is co-chairman of CND, has supported several terrorist organisations including the IRA, instinctively anti-American, anti-armed forces, opposed to NATO and argues all but two of Britain’s foreign military interventions since WWII were mistakes. His supporters claim “Jeremy is on a journey” and is softening these extreme views despite consistently held these ‘ideals’ for many decades as a maverick backbencher. This is shameless window dressing to make him appear more palatable as a potential Prime Minister.

Despite Tory failures on defence, most would agree the idea of Jeremy Corbyn & his shambolic cabinet running defence would be infinitely worse.

Corbyn has recently announced he wants to create an Orwellian sounding “Ministry of Peace” to sit between the MoD and the Foreign Office. Such apparently high-minded idealism is hopelessly at odds with the realpolitik that drives much of global politics and is music to the ears of Putin and his kind. Corbyn rightly suggests the UK should be “actively engaged in seeking peaceful solutions to the world’s problems”. But we stand much greater chance of getting those solutions if we are equipped with forces that can uphold international law and face down bullies and tyrants.

Corbyn anti Trident

The Labour manifesto says they would replace the Trident submarines. Jeremy Corbyn speaking at the Stop Trident rally, February 2016. Photo: Garry Knight via Flickr.

The Labour party election manifesto says they remain committed to Trident, while the leadership says they could never actually use nuclear weapons, thus undermining the point of a deterrent. There is chaos and division within the party over this and many other issues. Although it has some good MPs, Labour is clearly unfit to form a coherent government or be trusted with the security of the nation.

Fortunately, it looks very unlikely Corbyn will ever be Prime Minster. What is most concerning is the lack of effective opposition to hold the Tories accountable. On defence matters, in particular, Labour’s lack of credibility and confused thinking leaves the Defence Select Committee (with its limited powers), and a few well-meaning backbenchers as the only real challenge in Westminster to Tory mismanagement at the MoD.

SDSR 2018?

The election of Donald Trump and the Brexit vote are seen by some as reasons for another Defence review in 2018, ahead of the planned 2020 review. This is the view of the Prime Minister’s national security adviser, Mark Sedwill. There is some merit in the argument from a strategy perspective but without the promise of more funds, it would be a largely academic exercise and could cause more unhelpful disruption in the MoD.

An open letter to the Government on written on 11th May, signed former senior officers says the Prime Minister must confront “the need for a brutally honest appreciation of the budget for and capabilities of the UK’s armed forces”. But they argue we do not need another defence review because the 2015 SDSR equipment plan was essentially sound. However, they recognise that the promises of 2015 were never fully funded… “and if this means a commitment to increase expenditure over the lifetime of the Parliament, then do it”. 

A few reasons for optimism

Despite the large funding gap, it is better to have the promises made in the 2015 SDSR than just a bleak round of cuts that we had in 2010. The weakening pound may be a boost for UK warship exports and could make the Type 26 and 31 attractive to foreign buyers. The conditions created by Brexit further enhance the RN’s case at a time when Britain needs to show it remains engaged with the world. The RN is still the strongest navy in Europe, we should invest further in this useful asset which can contribute further to European security through NATO. New equipment is arriving, slow and in small numbers, though it maybe. The aircraft carriers and their aircraft are coming. The first Tide class tanker has arrived in the UK with 3 more soon to follow. The seven Astute class submarines are potentially the best SSNs in the world and construction of the first Type 26 frigate will begin in July.

The Tories are firmly behind Trident renewal programme which is central to both UK defence and the future of the RN. Although there are concerns about the cost there are encouraging signs that the programme will be managed very carefully. A respected financial troubleshooter from the Treasury, Julian Kelly was recently appointed Director General, Nuclear and the Dreadnought submarine programme will be managed with much more care and stricter financial control than typical defence projects.

It is interesting to note that while the Tories look likely to win the election convincingly, the leaders of all the other parties in Westminster (except the DUP) are anti-Trident; Jeremy Corbyn (Labour), Angus Robertson (SNP), Tim Farron (Lib Dem) and Caroline Lucas (Green). It would seem the electorate better understands the value of Trident than many Westminster liberals, a policy of unilateral disarmament is historically electoral suicide.

from Save the Royal Navy

Saturday, 13 May 2017

From Umm Qasr to Unmanned Warrior – Royal Navy Mine Countermeasures

Mines are not only able to destroy shipping, but they can also deny large areas of sea to all traffic. A look at current and future Royal Navy MCM capabilities, trends, and a few thoughts, in 7,265 words. Click to view From Umm Qasr to Unmanned Warrior – Royal Navy Mine Countermeasures  

The post From Umm Qasr to Unmanned Warrior – Royal Navy Mine Countermeasures appeared first on Think Defence.

from Think Defence

Friday, 12 May 2017

HMS Daring’s deployment at the sharp end. Eventful. Successful. Important.

Today HMS Daring returned to Portsmouth after 9 months away, visiting 12 countries and steaming 50,000 miles. Another warship completing a Gulf tour could be considered somewhat routine for the RN but it demonstrates the Type 45 destroyers are reliable mature platforms, the enduring global reach of the RN and the conclusion to a job well done.


Daring sailed from Portsmouth on 2nd September 2016. She arrived to a warm welcome in Gibraltar where RN vessels help provide reassurance to the population while Spain continues to make illegal incursions in Gibraltar waters. Daring then sailed for a short stop-over in Malta. Sadly a member of the ship’s company, LET Simon Allen was killed in a car accident while ashore.

After passing through the Suez Canal, Daring joined ships of the RN’s Joint Expeditionary Force (Maritime) (JEF(M)), escorting HMS Bulwark, HMS Ocean, and MV Eddystone Point. American aircraft carrier USS Dwight D Eisenhower handed over her role as flagship of Task Force 50 to HMS Ocean. Daring was part of this group of 7 warships, primarily conducting anti-ISIS and maritime security operations in the Persian Gulf. As well as providing air defence to the task group, Daring helped protect from the threat of waterborne attack, carrying boarding parties to counter piracy, terrorism and smuggling.

There has been a continuous presence of RN warship in the Gulf since the 1980s but the civil war in Yemen has created new threats in the Red Sea around the Bab-al-Mandeb strait. HMS Daring conducted 20 separate escort journeys through the strait, protecting a total of 800,000 tonnes of merchant shipping. This critical sea lane has become one of the most dangerous in the world. In October 2016 USS Mason shot down missiles fired at her from Yemen by Houti rebels. The US Navy quickly responded with a Tomahawk missile strike on the suspected launch sites (a capability HMS Daring could and should be fitted with). In January 2017 a Saudi Arabian Frigate Al Madinah was damaged when she was rammed by an unmanned craft packed with explosives, In April 2017 crude sea mines were discovered off the coast of Yemen.

In January 2017 HMS Daring had her mid-deployment break in Bahrain which allows personnel to fly home for two weeks leave or fly friends and family out to the ship. She also changed commanding officer, Cdr Philip Dennis handed over to Cdr Marcus Hember.

Daring left the Gulf region in April and passed through the Bosphorus, entering the Black Sea for brief visits to Constanta in Romania and Varna in Bulgaria. She spent time conducting training at sea with the Romanian Navy and Air Force. Although brief, such diplomatic visits by RN vessels help reassure our partners in the region of NATO’s commitment to their defence and remind Russia that the Black Sea is not ‘their lake’. The final call on the way home was a low-key visit to Barcelona, although the residents of Gibraltar would have preferred to have stopped there, rather than in Spain.


Serving in the heat of the Red Sea and Arabain Gulf, HMS Daring once again has proved the Type 45’s notoriously over-reported propulsion issues do not seriously hamper her capabilities, even in high threat environments. The range and power of the Sampson radar is able to provide early warning of threats, backed up by her mach 4.5 Sea Viper missiles that give confidence to vessels under its protective umbrella. The Type 45 is the world’s best air defence destroyer is not just public relations hyperbole, but consistently proven on operations and well recognised by the other navies.


As an island nation, it is particularly important that we are able to maintain the flow of vessels that carry energy, goods and food to our shores. The Bab-al-Mandeb and other narrow maritime ‘choke points’ around the world are vulnerable to closure or obstruction and only naval forces can protect them. Much of the navy’s most important work is conducted out of sight. Mainly for reasons of operational security, media and official coverage of Daring’s work in the Red Sea has been patchy but this kind of work deserves greater recognition. The need for more efficient transport of goods by sea is driving the construction of ever-larger merchant vessels. The sinking of just a few of these ships, each carrying millions of pounds worth of cargo could have a significant global economic impact. Closing any one the world’s maritime choke points would cause delays which could lead to shortages and price rises.

The UK’s vulnerability to the disruption of maritime trade is generally given insufficient consideration when considering the resources provided to the Royal Navy.

The ship’s company of HMS Daring must be congratulated on their work while overcoming the loss of a shipmate and maintaining the RN’s high standards. Operating in confined waters East of Suez demands long, sometimes boring periods at action stations or in defence watches. Welcome home and enjoy your leave.

For a lively alternative view from the home front, you can follow the Olive Oyl Navy Wife blog, written by a partner of a sailor serving aboard HMS Daring about the joys and sorrows of naval family life.


from Save the Royal Navy