“Now is the time to be bold!”. The backdrop to the UK government’s ‘Integrated Review’1 of intense resource pressures resulting from COVID19 will likely create greater impetus for UK MOD to achieve the Whole Force goal that ‘Defence is supported by the most cost-effective balance of regular military personnel, reservists, MOD civilians and contractors’2 . While there has been progress over the last ten years in some specific areas, such as logistics and engineering3 , a broader roll out has not materialised. This note by World Fuel Services4 (WFS) adds voice to the wider debate to help move forward the Whole Force in the aftermath of COVID19.
MEETING THE CHALLENGE TOGETHER AND A VIEW FROM INDUSTRY
Seizing mutual benefits . The MOD’s ambition for the Whole Force is to arrive at blended workforce solutions that tap into relevant industry expertise for military capability. Additionally, the MOD seeks to collaborate with industry to mitigate the erosion of in-house skills due to outsourcing (the Enterprise Approach). MOD’s outcome would be greater efficiencies through access to expert skills, technology and innovation in a more vibrant partnership with industry. The benefits for industry are less clearly stated but seem to be around greater transparency, especially to mitigate a seemingly bureaucratic procurement regime. For WFS, our experience of colleagues who are reservists5 demonstrates the tremendous benefit of their transferable skills; some mobilised during the COVID19 pandemic. Additionally, our veterans from several nations bring much valued diversity of thought. Yet ten years after policy launch, we do not see the scaled-up integration of industry in the Whole Force. So, How does the MOD make clear to industry partners the benefits of committing to the Whole Force?
WFS endorses the finding in a recent Serco Institute report 6 that MOD needs to make a compelling case to industry on the benefits of collaboration. Setting out those conditions clearly would manage industry’s expectations, especially around risk and cost. That narrative should build upon the experience of the value of public - private collaboration, in areas like logistics and hospital construction, during the COVID19 pandemic when industry colleagues as reservists bolstered national resilience.
Striving for greater collaboration.
Examples of Whole Force collaboration remain limited in the UK. Success exists, more globally, of blended workforces bolstering national resilience; particularly with cyber capability in the US, Israel and Estonia. As illustration, the US cyberforce recruits civilian experts as military reservists on direct entry contracts. There seems to be a particular challenge in the UK. Reports by the Centre for Historical Analysis & Conflict Research7 and the Serco Institute8 highlight a number of barriers to collaboration in the UK military psyche; whether cultural inertia, a low trust of industry and concerns over industry’s assured delivery of capability. As experienced by WFS, that perception of industry leads to a defensive or, at best, a reserved attitude by the military towards greater collaboration. Accordingly, How does the MOD overcome these obstacles to greater collaboration?
The crux of the issue in encouraging collaboration is to engender greater trust. Misperceptions still colour the relationship with industry. WFS advocates fully the opportunities set out in the Serco Institute report9 to tackle negative myths around industry’s motives, improve awareness of industry in military education, greater participation by industry in joint training, engaging industry earlier in the commercial process to enable innovative solutions and better balancing risks to industry’s assured delivery. Only by more open dialogue between parties will we move towards an integrated partnership. Living a truly integrated model. Reports by the Serco Institute and RUSI make clear that full integration will only follow when ‘industry is considered a vital component of a broader Defence Enterprise’10 (the Defence Extended Enterprise’11 ). In looking ahead, What does true integration look like?
WFS subscribes to the notion that the MOD must take a more ‘Defence Extended Enterprise’12 outlook if it is to realise fully the opportunities from greater integration. Inclusion of the Whole Force narrative in the Defence & Security Industry strategy, operationalised in the Defence Support strategy, would be positive indications of that thinking. In imagining an ecosystem of Whole Force integration, WFS has a multi-layered vision: A significant number of colleagues are reservists on direct entry contracts; securing their expertise for assured military capability. WFS has a formalised affiliation with military reserve units to share skills and support their training 13. During initial trade apprenticeships, military students conduct short visits with WFS for insights on industry best practice; helping also to promote a STEM-based 14 career. There is a regular programme of military personnel on industry placements with WFS. Military units are performing short-term tasks in the business under the Enterprise Approach. More broadly, industry has a greater presence in the development of military doctrine and concepts along with participation in joint training to promote mutual understanding. That Enterprise-wide vision of the Whole Force merits further thought exchange.
FURTHERING THOUGHT EXCHANGE WITH INDUSTRY
By facilitating more persistent dialogue with industry, MOD will gain their emotional investment in the Whole Force, thereby building greater trust and openness. A network of standing working groups with industry - connected to the Defence Support strategy - could provide much needed continuity for thought exchange. Like many industry partners, WFS would like to see clearer, formalised channels for engagement with the UK MOD on the Whole Force as part of an ideas and innovation network. WFS has found in the UK that the Royal Logistic Corps Foundation 15 provides an invaluable platform for promoting the exchange of ideas and softening attitudes towards industry. For now, WFS will continue to advocate advancing the Whole Force in the aftermath of COVID19.