Strong on the analysis, but can the MOD deliver?

December 16, 2022

On Wednesday, the 14th December, Admiral Sir Tony Radakin gave his second annual defence lecture to RUSI. It concentrated mainly on the ongoing war in Ukraine and why it was vital to our collective security to see Ukraine prevail and Putin’s violent autocratic rule be defeated. Rightly, he championed the power of democratic alliances when challenged. This was a straightforward resume of what the UK and the MOD have done to date, and a welcome statement of intent to keep on doing whatever it takes.

Of interest to Policy Exchange, given our influence on the Integrated Review of 2021, was his commentary on the Government’s refresh of the Integrated Review. He said:

 “…we will draw on the tenets of our traditional way in warfare:

The belief that Britain is an expeditionary rather than a continental power.

That our interests are best served through the indirect application of power by, with, and through our partners.

That our operational advantage comes not from the mass but through disproportionate effect.

And that we do not shy away from our status as a permanent member of the UN Security Council, a nuclear power with global responsibilities and the 6th largest economy in the world.

There is something very British about our approach to having the bomb: almost mild embarrassment.”

All this is in line with two recent Policy Exchange publications, and so is welcomed by us and we trust will feature in the refreshed Integrated Review. But there are many unanswered questions. Chief of the Defence Staff (CDS) raised the question of how we might use long-range hypersonic missiles in a modernised military, but not the question of how we defend these isles against them. Similarly, national resilience in the round, given Putin is targeting Ukraine’s critical national infrastructure in an attempt to force concessions over that which his army cannot win on the battlefield. CDS’ recent announcements – not reflected in this particular speech – on protecting critical  undersea infrastructure are welcome and reflect several recent Policy Exchange recommendations over recent years. European security is mentioned, but there was no detail on how that very broad issue might be addressed, nor with whom and via which mechanisms specifically. Policy Exchange has recommended concentrating on the Joint Expeditionary Force partner nations as a mechanism for engaging with the emerging powers of new Europe. To tie many ideas together, a shared mission to protect the sea lanes and undersea energy and data pipelines and cables that links all their economies would be a good start.

Finally, and perhaps most pointedly, Policy Exchange recommended that the internal command and control structures of the MOD, and the autonomy of the individual services post-Levene, were less than optimal when it came to commanding the integrated armed forces or getting value for money from our procurement effort. Indeed, Radakin extols various procurement programmes underway, but shied away from a comparison with other nations who are buying more, quicker, and for less money. So, while complementing CDS on his speech, and welcoming the general thrust of the analysis, we ask how he is going to ensure that the MOD delivers his promised transformation – which the MOD has been promising since at least 2018 –  any better now than it has previously?

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