We were delighted to welcome Francis Tusa, editor of Defence Analysis, to address the APPG. Some of the main points arising during this session were:
The difference between pure operational sovereignty, versus mutual dependency, or reliance on one country, is a question of balance. Key factors are the cost of maintaining an on-shore capability, versus the risk that is run by co-operating with others.
A good example of maintaining operational sovereignty where risks and costs are shared, is Team Complex Weapons (Team CW) which produces missiles. MBDA is a joint venture where the UK co-operates with other European countries.
The risk of relying on one supplier e.g. the USA, is that unless there is a good negotiation at the outset, customers are subject to the costs involved in accommodating up-grades required to retain the capability to operate the system.
The MOD needs a single figure with the authority to challenge programme managers on cost and the ability to up-grade a capability or adjust the specifications of a system.
The value of a defence industrial strategy pays dividends by encouraging co-operation between the customer (MOD or the services) and the contractor. A good example is the Aircraft Carrier Alliance, where all involved were able to co-operate to get the projects delivered. Similarly, the Typhoon support contract has achieved savings plus operational availability.
The comparison was drawn between practice in the UK versus that of France. Both countries have similar sized defence budgets, but Tusa believed France derived more benefit from its equipment budget than does the UK.
Where the MOD or the services over specify their requirements, the result is often that projects become too expensive, and in some cases are cancelled altogether. Also, the MOD often fails to negotiate with the suppliers, to enable specific equipment to be fitted: the example was given of the acquisition by the UK and India of the P8. It is possible to negotiate with suppliers to be given Design Authority status, which enables UK contractors to carry out maintenance and up-grades for UK and other countries.