Every year, the Ministry of Defence spends £19 billion with UK industry. The MOD is one of the biggest public procurement organisations in Europe and is the single largest customer for UK industry, putting a huge range of contracts, from utility services to aircraft carrier projects, out to competitive tender. Here, David Reeves, Director of International Business Development at global battery manufacturer Ultralife, explains the MOD tendering process.
Each country has its own variation of the defence supply chain. However, government defence departments typically look to prime contractors to fulfil orders. These prime contractors are often given the contract for an entire programme, such as equipping the soldier in the field for a new mission. The prime contractor will then search for original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) who can supply equipment for the package. Alternatively, they might buy products from manufacturers who produce off-the-shelf goods.
The exception to this rule comes when there is an urgent operational requirement (UOR). When troops are unexpectedly deployed or existing equipment is destroyed in operation, UK Government defence departments will often go to suppliers directly.
At Ultralife, we provide a range of commercial and military off-the-shelf goods and have previously supplied products into the UK Bowman programme; a range of tactical radios which are used on the front line. By using off-the-shelf goods, organisations can be assured that the equipment is ready for use and has already been tested to ensure it meets military regulations. Therefore, prime contractors can quickly integrate them into their equipment and governments can quickly deploy them to where they are required.
The briefing process
Once prime contractors have given their brief to the sub-contractors, it is the sub-contractors’ responsibility to ensure the timely delivery, quality, safety and reliability of the product. Using their own expertise, they also consider factors that may limit the original brief.
For example, a battery used to power a military radio must be able to withstand extreme conditions, from the hottest desert to the coldest Arctic frost. They also balance the practicalities of the design with the ergonomic impact on the soldier. The more features that are added on, the more batteries a soldier will typically need to carry, adding unwanted load for the soldier.
In the defence sector, we often compete against a number of other companies who offer similar products. In the battery industry in particular, all of our customers push against the laws of physics, wanting a smaller size and lighter weight coupled with an increase in power. By choosing experienced suppliers, customers should expect a top of the range innovative product from a company who work towards their goals.
Suppliers should also suggest value propositions throughout the service life of the product. As technologies advance, the battery manufacturer, for example, should be at the forefront of innovation, suggesting useful modifications for the next generation of products and backing this up with credible test data.
Such upgrades and technology refreshes ensure that the products used in the military are the most up to date in the market. Ultralife recently acquired UK battery manufacturer Accutronics, whose extensive in-house UK research and development (R&D) facilities mean we are able to stay at the cutting edge of battery technology in Europe.
Another important feature to consider when choosing a supplier is the after-sales programme. As contracts can often last for many years, it is essential that prime contractors take this into account in the form of warranties or service plans.
At Ultralife, we provide a through-life management plan to ensure that our products are effectively maintained. We support the prime contractor to ensure that the product is repaired or replaced if it is needed. By using a reliable supplier with a comprehensive after-sales service, customers can avoid the problem of having products that need repair but can no longer be maintained by the original supplier.
All OEMs should prioritise quality and due diligence at all stages of the supply chain. By doing this, prime contractors and government departments can rest assured that they will receive a quality product at the cutting edge of technology from their suppliers. Given the large amount of money that the MOD invests into military equipment, it is in the interests of both the supplier and the contractor to produce a quality product, the success of which could lead to further lucrative contracts.
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