Original URL: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2007/12/18/mod_innovation_strategy_snore/

MoD trumpets 'Innovation Strategy' for buying kit

5 pillars, 6 towers, 4 centres and 'ginger groups'

By Lewis Page

Posted in Policy, 18th December 2007 10:02 GMT

Analysis In the wake of the recent, highly-controversial departure of the UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) kit-purchasing chief - erstwhile drugs'n'sweets multimillionaire Lord Drayson, who claimed he was quitting to race bio-alcohol cars - there has been a good deal of silence from the MoD war-tech offices.

Publication of the updated British Defence Industrial Strategy (or "DIS2") has now been postponed until after Christmas - perhaps while the new Prime Minister's team change it to fit with their ideas rather than those of Drayson and his sponsor Blair.

However, it seems that at least one document drafted during Drayson's tenure has now been approved for release. Last week Drayson's successor, Baroness Taylor, unveiled to a largely uninterested world the UK's new Defence Innovation Strategy. The rough idea here is to get Blighty's deathware industrial base to be a bit less big iron and a bit more Silicon Valley.

"We want to create an environment with industry where innovation is encouraged and quickly developed to give our military personnel a battle-winning edge," said Taylor.

"Through the Innovation Strategy we can replicate the recent successes of getting innovative technology to the battlefield rapidly, such as Mastiff, a mine-protected armoured vehicle ..."

Actually the Mastiff is 1970s technology or older; and British troops didn't get it until six years after the Afghan invasion and three years after Iraq. Even if you accept that it gives British forces a battle-winning edge - and you'll find some among them who would disagree, seeing a difference between being safe and winning - Mastiff isn't innovative, the MoD did nothing to encourage its development and delivery was anything but quick.

As it happens, the Mastiff is made in America, too; so presumably - taking it as an example - Baroness Taylor's "environment with industry" might consist of importing more stuff from the States rather than waiting years for British gear which costs more and does less.

After all, as the Innovation Strategy tells us, "the UK’s battle winning military capability remains heavily dependent on both development and exploitation of world-class technology ..."

That's certainly true. Many of the things which make the UK a world-class military power are quite high-tech. Polaris ICBMs; Tomahawk cruise missiles; Brimstone tank-busters; Paveway smartbombs; C-17, C-130 and CH-47 airlifters; Apache attack helicopters; Harpoon ship-killers ... the list goes on. All of them come from America, not from Blighty. Where high-tech kit doesn't come entirely from America - like the Type 45 destroyers - it tends to have significant input from France or other allied countries.

So yes, we're dependent on world-class combat kit. But realistically, most of it isn't British. That's been true for a long time. Any realistic talk of "battle-winning edge" and "best possible support for the front line" really ought to acknowledge that.

Sadly, it seems we're not actually talking about getting the latest and best kit for the front line, and making sure that Blighty can act on the world stage with a decent chance of success. We're talking about building up the UK arms biz.

UK Government, industry and university research and development (R&D) effort remains critical ... [we will] provide a competitive advantage to specific technology providers, where sovereignty is required ... [and] develop a stronger defence industrial base.

"Sovereignty" in the sense of making all your own stuff is something of a busted flush these days. Even the Americans are starting to get rather worried about the amount of foreign-supplied components and so on that they have to use.

And you really have to worry about throwaway statements like "...improved quality and reliability will lead to better competitiveness in the UK defence industry and improved export performance ..."

How on Earth do we get a battle-winning edge by encouraging the arms biz to sell off all our expensively-developed new tech secrets around the world?

Anyway. Let's just suppose that the UK actually needs a bigger arms sector. Let's say that the spin-off benefits would be worth the certain costs in lost lives, missing kit, delays, duplication of effort etc. Let's postulate that it might lead to a generally higher level of engineering and tech skills, and wean us gradually off our economic dependence on a small class of panicky money-and-bits-of-paper operators in the City.

How, given the terrible financial pile-up ongoing at the MoD, does the government hope to create this splendid new world of dependence on weapons technology?

The strategy ... expresses actions to address these challenges in terms of five distinct pillars ... partnering with industry and universities in our 6 Towers of Excellence to share benefits and costs and increase the pull through of technology ... [the four new] Defence Technology Centres foster collaboration with industry ...

Ah, that's how: pillars, towers and centres. The MoD also has twelve Research Directors and seven Output Owners. And if all that doesn't work, the MoD says it will "investigate the role of ... ginger groups".

As a final kiss of death, Baroness Taylor tells us that "the Innovation Strategy should not be viewed in isolation from other major reforms the Government has set in train in defence acquisition."

This presumably means that the Strategy will be another runaway success like Smart Procurement (introduced in 1997, since renamed "Smart Acquisition") which over the past decade has had such an impact that defence purchasing in the UK is nowadays routinely described as a "disaster area" or "woeful".

Strange how the same old things keep happening.®