How industry can support Army modernisation to 2025

helicopter in flight making manoeuvreThe British Army has a modernisation plan with a timeframe of 2020-25 which recognises the importance of utility and productivity – and importantly, the support of business. Here, MOD DCB features writer Paul Elliott takes a look at the role that business can potentially play in supporting this modernisation.

The current vision for modernisation in the British Army is an interesting one. The Army has refined its ideas, its operating concept and its strategy for change. Chief of the General Staff General Sir Nick Carter said at DSEI 2015 in London that it’s not about ripping up Army 2020; rather it is about the next stage in that vision’s evolution. He’s particularly looking ahead to supporting Army modernisation in the timeframe 2020 to 2025.

It’s important to understand the context in which Army modernisation is being conducted and discussed. General Carter believes the ‘pervasive nature of information’ has led to the ‘character of conflict’ evolving at pace and thereby impacted on the way the Army needs to approach modernisation. He says we are now in a permanent state of competition – there’s much less distinction than there once was between war and peace.

The concepts of ‘home’ and ‘away’ now overlap, with a bearing upon the demographic base that the Army recruits from. General Carter says the UK’s enemies are adept at concealing themselves among the population at large, exploiting weaknesses which they can identify much more easily from the vast quantities of public information available to them. Interestingly, he says no conflict now can have a purely military solution; success is much more likely to be determined by the triumph of the narrative. It is consequently much harder today to set clear policy objectives.

What is clear is that resources are finite and words like utility, productivity and efficiency are firmly part of the modern military lexicon. It all bears heavily upon the way the Army is modernising, with General Carter for one focused on how the Army can fight smarter and run its business differently.

It is this idea of productivity – running the business better and delivering greater capability – that is of interest to the defence supply chain. The UK defence industry is very much at the forefront of General Carter’s mind throughout the process of modernisation in the Army. This is clearly good news for suppliers.

It’s not lost on anyone that modernising the Army comes with the challenge of running the business better and being a smarter customer. General Carter says the Army is involved in an ongoing conversation with industry as it seeks to forge a relationship in which the two parties can best work together. The ambition that was unveiled at DSEI last September is to improve strategic decision-making; maximise the potential of the Army’s portfolio of change – to prioritise it and sequence it effectively; gain and leverage expertise in terms of commercial skills; and help deliver innovative ways of working with industry to deliver military capability more effectively. It’s an ambitious project and it’s one that General Carter believes will give the British Army the potential to do things very differently.

In order to generate greater productivity the plan is for the Army to develop doctrine that provides a framework of mutual understanding with industry, so there can be an understanding of the opportunities on both sides of the relationship. It’s important for industry and the military to share a common language and therefore a common understanding. Collaboration between the Ministry of Defence and industry is both widespread and deep so the prospects for cementing this relationship are good.

For General Carter, fundamentally it should be about improving capability, not simply replacing it. He says industry should be seen as a force multiplier and as part of the ‘team’. This implies a longer-term relationship, which suppliers widely prefer. Work stream security and sustainability are core objectives of all organisations down the defence value chain. Collaboration here is key.

More good news for businesses is that there are opportunities in all capability areas, and the call coming from General Carter is that business change must be the driver. He says the Army will be very clear about cost-informed requirement-setting, with simplicity as a principle. It will be clear about sequencing its modernisation and applying a pipeline approach wherever possible. It will look for business innovation, and innovation is where the UK supply chain has always excelled. It all sounds like a case of ‘watch this space’.

Barely six months have passed since the current concept of Army modernisation was unveiled at DSEI and already there has visibly been movement to push things forward. Heads within industry have turned at the prospect of fresh opportunities for providing equipment and support following the emergence of a new concept called Land Joint Strike. Initial Operational Capability of Land Joint Strike is targeted for 2020-21 and partnership with industry will be a key driver, as the initiative will indeed require new equipment.

AJAX, the armoured cavalry variant of the Scout programme, has been announced as the core equipment capability of Land Joint Strike. The British Army will receive 589 AJAX vehicles, which will come in six variants, including ATHENA for Command and Control and ARES for Reconnaissance Support. The Army sees the platform as being task-organised with a comparable infantry variant, and a competition will shortly be launched under the designation Mechanised Infantry Vehicle. Anticipation is mounting.

To date, the MOD has committed £4.5 billion in contracts with General Dynamics to deliver the AJAX family of vehicles. General Dynamics is turning the former Linde forklift truck factory in Merthyr Tydfil into an assembly, integration and testing centre for AJAX. Further to that, GKN Aerospace has been selected by General Dynamics European Land Systems to manufacture the rotationally moulded fuel tanks for the platform, with deliveries commencing early this year and continuing through to 2023. This is a significant equipment programme for the Army and a strong and varied supply chain is required for its successful delivery.

There is also much importance placed on getting the Army’s approach to Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (C4ISR) correct. The Army Board very much sees this as delivering an open systems architecture that allows information to be exploited as and when it needs to be. Opportunities on the back of this commitment are much more likely to be in software rather than hardware solutions.

In order to run its business differently the Army must maximise the available talent pool, and it is easy to conjecture the role industry could play in reference to skills and expertise. There is a long history of the public sector learning from the private sector, and developing skill sets and driving innovation has long been central to delivering success in industry. A collaborative effort in this respect would have mutual benefits for both Army and industry.

General Carter strongly believes that the British Army is still a ‘reference customer’ and that customers abroad beat a path to the UK’s door to copy what we’re buying, what we’re teaching, and the way that we’re training. This plays to the Army and industry’s mutual strengths. General Carter is excited, and so is industry, for the British Army is committed to modernising its concepts, equipment and capabilities and industry has a central role to play.

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