Analysis: Defence Command Paper 2023

by CMS Team on 18 July, 2023

Today (18 July) Secretary of State for Defence Ben Wallace, published the Defence Command Paper 2023. Read the highlights and the CMS team’s analysis below.

Key points

  • £2.5 billion additional investment in our stockpiles to improve fighting readiness.
  • A UK Global Response Force will enable forces to ‘get there first’.
  • Greater focus on science and technology to gain the edge on the battlefield.
  • Plans for UK Defence to become a science and technology superpower, enhancing the UK’s capabilities in fields such as robotics, human augmentation, directed energy weapons and advanced materials, to gain the edge on the battlefield.
  • An improved surge capacity through our Strategic Reserve, built around the ex-regular reserve forces to add further depth and expertise in time of crisis.
  • A new alliance with industry, engaging much earlier in strategic conversations and building in greater financial headroom to respond to changing needs.
  • A new employment model and skills framework, increasing fluidity between the military, the Civil Service and industry, while offering a more compelling and competitive incentivisation package.
  • A plan to invest significantly more than £6.6 billion in advanced Research and Development (R&D) to seize the opportunities presented by new and emerging technologies. Also increased investment in in-house capabilities in those areas which are key to evolving security challenges and future technological advances.
  • £400 million to modernise accommodation that service families deserve, which is essential for the operational effectiveness of Armed Forces personnel.

CMS analysis

The Defence Command Paper has shown a reasonable level of ambition for the future of the UK Armed Forces and there is clearly strong intent to encourage R&D, investment and sovereign capability in the UK. As the Defence Secretary stated in his address to Parliament, this is a paper that has been four years in the making, and it is clear to see the in-depth understanding of the situation we find ourselves in today coming through in much of what is written.

However, the ambition is not always supported by the detail. With the Command Paper being released so close to the start of summer recess in Parliament, anything that will require legislating for cannot be started until September at the earliest and more likely in October after Conference recess.

As an example, the Defence Command Paper 2023 has said that MOD will ‘work with industry and the City to ensure that funding markets understand more clearly the critical need for our world-class UK suppliers to gain access to third-party revenue and financial services so that defence suppliers are not disadvantaged’. While this reflects the asks of much of the Defence Industry, the Defence Command Paper 2023 acknowledges that CSG and ESG policy is dictated by the Treasury, not MOD so without X-Departmental efforts it is not attainable. For many new and smaller UK defence businesses, the correct application of this could be a vital step in securing the investment and conditions required for growth in the UK.

Away from the Parliamentary logistics, the introduction of a Global Response Force is an interesting move, that some senior military officials see as a way to move much of the traditional Army first responder and special forces roles to a cross-service capacity. While supporting the streamlining of essential operations, this is seen by some as a shot across the bows for the Army, feeding into wider feelings of discontent that stem from concerns about housing, pay, equipment and leadership.

This said, the focus on people in the paper reflects an awareness of the issues facing serving personnel and goes some way in addressing concerns about the ability to attract and retain people. £400m on modernising housing for service families shows a commitment to improving living conditions and morale which will be welcomed by all forces.

Moving onto the commitments to capability and industry, the commitments to investing in R&D, integrating industry and government expertise and developing a Joint Endeavour approach to procurement is welcome. The reiteration of the Defence Secretary’s belief that 80% of desired capability on time, is better than 100% of requirement later and at greater expense is also welcome. He is right to say that open-architecture that can be “rapidly upgraded, spiral developed, for the relentless cycles of battlefield adoption” is the way to stay ahead of the constant curve of adversary technology to “win the innovation battle”.

Ultimately, this comes back to the core point that the Ministry of Defence has been briefing out to their core audience. The Defence Command Paper 2023 is people focussed. The service personnel on our front line are our best asset, and we need to reflect that, but they are not alone. The civil servants who design procurement programmes need to be just as well equipped and just as competent. The individuals in industry who design the latest generation of capabilities, must be listened to, rewarded, valued and encouraged.

Fundamentally much of the Defence Command Paper 2023 is to be celebrated, but the timing of this paper brings a series of logistical challenges as we move into the summer break. With an increasingly fractious government and a change of Defence Secretary due any moment the implementation of the set of policies is not guaranteed. The Labour Party has confirmed that if they take power next year, they will immediately commission a Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) which will see yet another change of direction for defence.

While this paper lacks some of the detail industry hoped for on capability it lays a good foundation for a bold approach to managing our Armed Forces and industrial base. The challenge will be to see what of it can become entrenched in the next 12 months.

The full Defence Command Paper 2023 can be found here.

Photo: © Crown copyright 2013, used under the MOD News Licence

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