The slow erosion of British military power, like the proverbial canary in the coal mine, is an important lesson for national leaders in this country. Once a mighty empire with fleets deployed in many oceans and an Army on which the sun never set, Britain is now reduced to a middling power that is unable to operate even close to the boundaries of Europe without substantial support from its allies. Whether it is maintaining a naval aviation arm, deploying a fifth generation tactical fighter force or sustaining a nuclear deterrent, Britain is dependent on that special relationship with the United States. The situation is likely to get worse as the military faces not only near term budget cuts of eight percent but the need to close a $60 billion gap between projected costs and planned funding over the next decade.
Whatever the eventual fate of the British military, the U.S. Department of Defense could learn a lot from the efforts by that country’s Ministry of Defense (MoD) to streamline procedures and save money. Defense Secretary Liam Fox has announced his intentions to implement a reform program proposed in a recent report by Lord Levene that is intended to apply business methods to the MoD. Many of the problems the Levene report identified that have hampered the British MoD and resulted, most notably, in the misallocation of resources, would sound familiar to an observer of the U.S. defense scene.
— An inability to make tough, timely decisions in the Defense interest, particularly those necessary to ensure financial control and an affordable Defense program;
— Delivery arms which are disempowered and have their inputs micro-managed by the Head Office, but are not held to account for their outputs;
— The tendency of the single Services to favor capabilities they consider to be core to their outputs, particularly in resource allocation decisions;
— Fragmentation in the way in which joint capabilities are currently organized and managed; a predisposition to over-complicate, partly to satisfy a range of stakeholders;
— A culture of re-inventing the wheel and developing unique solutions, rather than standardizing;
— A tendency to use Military Service personnel to fill roles that could more cost effectively be filled by civil servants or contractors, and;
— A culture where people move too quickly from one post to another.
Among the most significant of the recommendations in the Levene report are shrinking the size of the MoD’s Head Office (the equivalent of the Office of the Secretary of Defense), merging the various independent and Service specific support and sustainment activities into single Defense Infrastructure and Defense Business Services organizations, requiring that senior military and civilian officials stay in their positions a minimum of four years and, ironically given that the U.S. has just disbanded its own version, creating a Joint Forces Command to focus on joint enablers and joint warfare development.
The Levene report did not address procurement issues which are the purview of the newly appointed Chief of Defense Material, Bernard Grey. But the Levene report does note there is the potential “to build on the trend over the last decade and move towards the greater involvement of industry in supporting military capabilities both at home and on operations and new models for contracting.” This new model would involve a more fluid and flexible mix of military, contractor and civilian staff in support roles and expand the role of “integrated bases on which a range of functions are brought together to realize efficiencies.”
The MoD, like DoD, faces the challenge of controlling the costs associated with logistics and sustainment of an aging force structure. Unlike its American counterpart, however, the MoD has wholeheartedly embraced the use of Performance-Based Logistics (PBL). Under a PBL-based agreement, the MoD contracts with the private sector for an outcome, such as a specified level of availability, rather than for individual parts and services. For example, the maintenance and support of the MoD’s entire fleet of Chinook helicopters has been turned over to Boeing under a twenty-five year contract. The agreement between Boeing and the MoD incentivizes the company to take steps and make investments to improve the quality of parts, the operation of its supply chain and the conduct of maintenance activities. Team JSF, which includes Lockheed Martin, BAE Systems, Northrop Grumman and Pratt & Whitney, has proposed a PBL-like arrangement to manage the operations and support for the worldwide fleet of Joint Strike Fighters.
DoD would be well served by treating the MoD’s current efforts at reform as a test bed for the development of similar initiatives for the U.S. defense establishment. In particular, DoD would be well served by embracing the use of PBLs, particularly for long-term sustainment of major weapons systems.
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