It is probably an understatement to say that there is a lot of political turmoil in the UK. Defence spending commitments have been made that Prime Ministers have not been able to enact before leaving office. New aspirations for Defence spending are yet to be firmed up against the backdrop of war in Europe, growing global threats, mounting inflation with impacts across government and an ever-present need to make best use of whatever financial settlement the Ministry of Defence receives. Below are some considerations on this topic from my time in Defence.
1. Invest in Military Supply Chains
The shocking invasion of Ukraine by Russian forces in February 2022 has quickly turned into a slow and drawn-out conflict. It has been a surprise to many that Russian successes have been so limited, but many commentators point to the poor performance of the Russian supply chain as a key contributor to these failures. Dr Mike Martin (@threshedthought) and Trent Telenko (@trenttelenko) have tweeted a series of assessments of the Russian logistic failures, which they suggest are a combination of equipment, training, doctrine and a simple lack of funding.
To the great credit of all involved, UK forces have rarely suffered logistic issues that have impacted on the Commanders plans, but Russia has learnt again that logistics really is a battle winning capability. Western nations, including the UK, should be brave enough to take a good hard look at these lessons and reflect on the potential inefficiencies of their own supply chains.
2. Back Enablers Overlooked by the Lord Levene Reforms
Lord Levene’s Defence Reform report was published in June 2011 and resulted in the ‘most radical shake up the MoD has seen in a generation’, according to the Defence Secretary at the time Dr Liam Fox. It changed many elements of how Defence was organised, emphasising that Top Line Budget owners have primacy over how to run their services and are empowered to do so. That in turn moved much of Defence funding from Head Office to the Service Chiefs.
This has meant that there can be a lack of advocacy for the less glamorous aspects, such as Joint Support Enablers or stockpiles. Although the Defence Support Operating Model has gone some way to addressing this, including the creation of the new 3* CDLS post, those tedious but essential items need a constant profile within Defence to ensure they are viewed as worthy investments over a shiny new piece of equipment.
3. Invest in Wargaming and Analysis
Militaries are often seen as a governments trump card to roll out and face all manner of issues from warfighting to fuel strikes, humanitarian assistance to state funerals. This can be at any place in the world and at almost any amount of notice. Therefore, the potential demand on logistics is enormous and creates a need to be effective in all scenarios. In order to fund this correctly, the huge spread of tasks must be codified in policy alongside increased analysis and wargaming to establish all the potential uses of the armed forces, and whether they can truly be supported logistically.
4. Use (Some) Technology
Technology is always evolving, and militaries can lean on wider industry to take their best practise into military supply chains. Additive manufacture and drone delivery have the potential to transform how logistics is delivered. Machine Learning can predict demand with a much lower latency and allow for true just-in-time logistics. Remote maintenance is already being done in Ukraine by teams with reach back into US experts. This all requires data being treated as an asset across Defence, which is some distance away.
However, Defence should also be careful not to be seduced by an expensive solution to what may be a small problem. A 3D printed wing mirror will not change the fundamental lack of complex munitions stockpiles.
5. Create Consistency to Allow Better Strategic Planning
Defence does love a review – there have been 5 since 2010. This is in part due to a changing world and strongly influenced by a Defence staff posting regime of revolving jobs every two to three years. This issue is widely known and written about, but for logistics there is a risk of the less glamorous losing its small pool of hard-won advocates as they rotate to new roles.
Civil service and having long term partnerships with key providers can provide that continuity and should be valued. Potential cuts to Civil Service levels are dangerous aspirations – to quote the Thin Pinstriped Line:
“Despite the popular image of the Civil Service as a group of idle process bound workers with little interest in ‘working’ nothing could be further from the truth. The workforce exists to deliver the practical business of governing, administering, and running the functions required to make a world leading global economy function in the 21st Century. A lot of this work is unglamorous, tedious and utterly essential.”
When some lead times are measured in years, consistency of planning helps industry be most effective and not be forced into responding to a new idea.
Logistics grows ever more complex as technology advances and supply chains continue to interweave. The geopolitical stage is also becoming increasingly volatile and therefore Defence could be called upon in more places, in greater numbers and for longer periods of time.
The UK Government has responded by promising more funding; the task for the logistic community is to keep pressure on to spend that money on the “boring things that are so key to keeping the armed forces going.”
 Rt Hon Ben Wallace, Conservative Party Conference, 5 October 2022
Richard Pasco is Head of Consulting for Techmodal. He has spent all of his 18-year career working with Defence providing analytical support to logistic and support challenges. His major projects over this time have included developing Defence Policy for the last three Defence Reviews, working with PJHQ on operations including deploying to Ops TELIC & Op HERRICK, designed and facilitated numerous wargames on logistic planning and cyber resilience, and most recently was awarded a BAE Chairman’s Award for his work on logistic planning for UKR response.