UK defence and foreign policy review sets sights on procurement

Harry Lye 26 February 2020 (Last Updated February 26th, 2020 15:39)

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has detailed the scope of the UK’s upcoming Integrated Review of foreign policy, defence, security and international development, which makes Ministry of Defence (MOD) procurement overhaul a priority.

UK defence and foreign policy review sets sights on procurement
Pictured is a member of C Company, 3rd Battalion The Parachute Regiment patroling across the Caylus training area during Exercise Falcon Amarante. Image: MOD/ Crown Copyright.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has detailed the scope of the UK’s upcoming Integrated Review of foreign policy, defence, security and international development, which makes Ministry of Defence (MOD) procurement overhaul a priority.

The Integrated Review commits to maintaining a spend of 2% of GDP on defence and is set to consult experts in foreign policy and national security from inside and outside the government to ‘ensure the UK is equipped to meet the global challenges of the future’.

The review delivers on a manifesto promise from the Conservative party to undertake a sweeping review of UK policy as the UK leaves the European Union (EU). The Prime Minister’s office said that the review would go ‘beyond’ the parameters of past defence reviews by looking at the challenges the UK faces and how the ‘whole of government’ can be geared to tackle them.

In a win for the Prime Minister’s chief adviser Dominic Cummings, a priority of the review will be looking into the procurement processes used by the Armed Forces and Security services. Army Technology reported in December that the government had set its sights on MOD spending.

Cummings has written blog posts on the need to update MOD procurement processes and advocated for the UK to do more to bring fund and develop advanced technologies, advocating for the creation of an agency similar to the US Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).

Details of the review announced by the Prime Minister include a push to look at how the UK can better leverage technology and data ‘to adjust to the changing nature of threats’. The Prime Minister’s Office adds: “All this will be undertaken with the aim of creating a more coherent and strategic approach to our overseas activity.”

Johnson said: “I am determined to lead a Government that delivers for our people – both at home and abroad. The UK’s institutions, expertise, leadership and values are renowned around the world.

“But we cannot rest on our laurels. We must do more to adapt. We will be judged by how we respond to the opportunities ahead.

“As the world changes, we must move with it – harnessing new technologies and ways of thinking to ensure British foreign policy is rooted firmly in our national interests, now and in the decades ahead.”

One expert told Army Technology that while admirable in its scope the timeline of the review may mean it is ‘overreaching’. In comparison, the 1998 Strategic Defence Review (SDR) took a year to complete.

International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) senior fellow for military aerospace told Army Technology: “The Integrated Review is ambitious, which is to be lauded, but in this, it may be overreaching, given the timeframe for its delivery, and the wider context in which it is taking place.

“Aligning the government’s vision of the UK’s role in the world with the capabilities of the armed forces and the funding that the government is willing to make available will be a challenge. The ten-year equipment plan is already overheated to the order of several billion pounds.”

The Integrated Review is set to run in parallel with the government’s overarching Comprehensive Spending Review to ensure that the ultimate outcomes are fully funded to ‘enact the review’s conclusions.’ Army Technology understands that the MOD could receive a funding increase at the conclusion of the review.

However, even a modest rise in funding would not fill the MOD’s equipment plan budget black hole, meaning different areas of the Armed Forces could be due for cuts to free up funds. In the past leaders of the armed forces were warned they must be prepared to “slay sacred cows”.

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said in Parliament earlier this month that the review must be “based in financial reality” to be worth anything. Wallace added that “If we match our appetite to our stomachs, then I think it [the review] will have a long-lasting legacy.”

Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) Deputy Director-General Professor Malcolm Chalmers said: “The government has decided – rightly – that the Integrated Review should conclude at the same time as the Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR).

“It has not yet clarified how many years the CSR will cover. The commitment to protect the 2% of GDP spent on defence provides some reassurance against deep cuts. But the Ministry of Defence will want to have clarity on its budgets beyond the next two years if it is to plan for the radical modernisation that is required.”

Although the review will be concluded in around six months, the implementation of the review will be a multi-year project in a similar way to how previous Strategic Defence and Security Reviews (SDSR) have outlined the priorities for the MOD for the following years.

The government sees the UK’s departure from the EU as an opportunity to ‘define and strengthen’ the position of the UK as it looks to develop new trading agreements. The government also notes that ‘rapid technological changes’ are changing the way countries’ interact and tackle a variety of issues, including climate change.