DSEI NEWS: U.K. Military to Focus on Outcomes Over Requirements

By Josh Luckenbaugh
Air Chief Marshall Sir Richard Knighton

Royal Air Force photo

LONDON — The U.K. Ministry of Defence must re-think its approach to acquisition if it wants to evolve into an integrated, all-domain force, the head of the Royal Air Force said Sept. 13.

The Ukraine war has demonstrated that modern warfare will be fought across all five domains: land, sea, air, space and cyberspace, Air Chief Marshall Sir Richard Knighton, chief of the air staff, said during keynote remarks at the DSEI trade show.

“If you want to protect the U.K., we are going to have to connect our sensors and our intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities in space, on the ground, undersea and in the air, in order to be able to understand where the threat is coming from and deliver effects against whatever is incoming towards us,” he said. “At its simplest level, the integrated force, why we need integration, is to enable us to orchestrate and synchronize effects that we have across all five domains.”

In its 2023 Defence Command Paper published in July, the U.K. Ministry of Defence announced a new Integration Design Authority, which “will work with allies and across the defense industrial sector to create open standards for our operating systems and protocols … ensuring industry contracts deliver against these standards and that integration into the defense ‘system of systems’ is demonstrated before completion of delivery into service,” according to the paper

The authority’s “purpose is to control and manage and design the architecture and those standards,” Knighton said. “It's not about designing the whole of defense or doing the balance of investment — and if we get it right, it won't be about adding new levels of assurance. What it’ll actually be about is designing in integration right from the start.”

This will have “really important implications” for industry, he said.

“We don't know quite what that requirement looks like, so our traditional model of setting requirements and putting it out to contracted competition won't work,” he said. “In the future, I think we're going to need to see ourselves in government working more closely with industry, focused on delivering outcomes, not necessarily delivering requirements.”

To ensure “competitive tension, to ensure that the government, the military get the best technology and the best capability,” going forward the United Kingdom must get away from buying proprietary systems, he said.

“I have no shortage of big primes or newcomers into the business coming to try and sell me their architecture, their system, their standards,” he continued. “If you’re from a big prime, you're making your money by controlling that, and us having to pay to adapt our systems, because we have to pay you to do it. If you're a newcomer, you're making your money out of getting us hooked on the crack cocaine of whatever your system is and then charging us … by usage as we get to use more and more of it. Neither of those systems can be right, I think, for the Ministry of Defence or for the military.”

An acquisition model that will get the military the capability it needs and be profitable for industry will require the government “to enter into some longer-term relationships with [industry] and make sure that we prioritize and incentivize speed and the ability to adapt rather than precision and meeting our requirements.”

Ultimately, the Ministry of Defence must “start with why” and clearly define “what is it that we're trying to achieve, and that will help shape what that integrated force is going to be,” Knighton said. “We can't necessarily design it today,” but making those decisions will “shape the technology and the technical solutions that we need to put in place to enable command and control of an integrated force.”

Much of the technology needed likely exists today, but the problem remains finding the proper military application for that technology, he said. “That is the thing that we're struggling with — and all of our nations are — and that for me is very much the focus, is how do we exploit technology that in many cases already exists to make us better at flying and fighting?”


Topics: Global Defense Market

Comments (0)

Retype the CAPTCHA code from the image
Change the CAPTCHA codeSpeak the CAPTCHA code
Please enter the text displayed in the image.