Back in 2013, it was estimated that almost half of the United Kingdom’s armed forces’ military equipment would be left behind in Afghanistan simply due to the costs and logistics involved in returning it.
Fast forward three years, and the recently retired Chief of Joint Forces Command, General Sir Richard Barrons, described the capability of the Ministry of Defense (MoD) as ‘”withered.” Barrons highlighted equipment as a particular concern, including deficient artillery stocks and a lack of electronic warfare capability. Even more worryingly, the equipment available was unable to be utilized effectively.
Not only was the military failing to keep track of its equipment, Barrons described a “small number of expensive pieces of equipment such as aircraft carriers which ‘we cannot afford to use fully, damage, or lose.’”
More recently, the situation doesn’t appear to have improved. When the National Audit Office (NAO) assessed the affordability of the MoD 10-year equipment plan – running from 2017 to 2027 – it uncovered a potential spending gap of £20.8 billion. The NAO report concluded that the MoD’s plan is “not affordable” in what’s been called a procurement “black hole.”
The spending gap is thought to be the result of unrealistic forecasting around what it will cost to buy and support the equipment needed by the UK armed forces in the next decade. Implementing a long-term strategy in these circumstances is naturally difficult – despite it being imperative, particularly in the face of growing threats to the UK from Russia and elsewhere.
It paints a bleak picture of the UK’s defense strategy. The road to adequate national defense capabilities is challenging – to say the least – for the MoD. But where does the solution lie?
The future of defense
Defense organizations operate in consistently volatile, uncertain, and ambiguous circumstances. Yet rising threats, coupled with advancing technologies, mean the MoD has no choice but to adapt, invest, and keep up. A good place to start is keeping track of equipment.
As it stands, systems are woefully outdated – the MoD is relies on spreadsheets to track its equipment, which seems like a worryingly low-tech solution. Not only does this run the risk of losing valuable equipment, it’s a serious budget risk in an already strained service. Change is desperately needed.
As I see it, speed of innovation is a key part of an effective solution, along with ensuring cognitive and physical superiority in all domains – sea, air, land, space, and cyber.
Or, as former defense minister Philip Dunne says, the MoD needs to “meet the challenges of the high-tech defense future.” Fortunately, solutions are available that combine the power of the Internet of Things, machine learning, analytics, data intelligence, blockchain, and Big Data to support the delivery of a successful defense strategy.
This is a lifecycle solution where the benefits can be felt in military planning and operations, throughout the military supply chain, all the way through to maintenance and engineering. On top of this, it helps support the HR function, as well as budgeting, finance, and procurement – helping to avoid the kind of pitfalls experienced by the MoD upon exiting its troops from Afghanistan in 2013.
It’s a chance to modernize not only operations but also the equipment itself, taking advantage of technological advancements in military equipment. This helps ensure safety and puts the UK armed forces in a stronger position to mount the threats it faces in the coming years.
Innovation in action: Supporting Colombian defense operations
The Ministerio de Defensa Nacional (Mindefensa) in Colombia is an example that springs to mind of armed forces embracing modernization. Its mission is to improve its approach to IT acquisition, modernize its existing platforms, and reach “peak integration,” all with a view to better supporting defense operations, logistics, and finances.
Using several support services, Mindefensa benefitted from significant performance optimization, enhanced security, reduced response times, and a clear blueprint going forward. Its IT department was empowered with:
- 98% improvement in decision process
- 80% better understanding of features, tools, and services
- 220% increase in completed training
The Mindefensa was left with the fit-for-purpose IT services needed to keep Colombia and its people safe. The MoD, which itself has been described as being no longer fit for purpose, needs to follow suit if it hopes to bridge the gap to sufficient national security capabilities. The solutions are out there – it’s up to the MoD to find and implement them, before the UK’s military provision reaches a point of no return.
For more on emerging technology in the defense industry, see A Soldier’s Load: Machine Learning In Defense And Other Industries.