WASHINGTON — The British Army is crafting its new Land Industrial Base Strategy, meant to move the service toward a more collaborative relationship with industry as it develops a force capable of fighting on the future battlefield, according to Col. Tobias Lambert, the British Army’s assistant head of industrial strategy.
“The challenge for me is working out how we grease the wheels of the machinery that allows us to work in concert from strategic planning ... through the delivery and through life [cycle] management of our capabilities, through how we partner internationally, work collaboratively and do exports,” Lambert said at the DSEI defense exhibition in London on Sept. 15.
Key to the effort, Lambert said, is being “really, really clear” with industry “about what it is that we value.”
In a recent meeting, he recalled, someone challenged him with the question, “How on earth can you align on values when industry only ever cares about the bottom line?”
“I wanted to counter that because that, to me, sounds like a transactional world,” Lambert said. “It sounds like a world based on short-term returns and short-term gains, and it’s the same thinking that I see in a lot of our past procurement activity where investments have largely been shaped and driven by compliance against a set of 4,000 requirements and a really simple three- to five-year lowest price deal.”
Future relationships with industry need to focus on capability management across the life cycle and the benefits of long-term investment.
The Army needs to make sure it is buying the right things, and that means making sound investment choices that balance short- and long-term gains, Lambert added. “In the Army, we often talk about the ‘fight tonight’ versus the ‘fight tomorrow,’ but in an industrial strategy sense, I don’t think those two things have to be antagonistic.”
The Army also needs to better invest in human capital, science and technology and the skills it needs for the future.
“We’ve got to connect up the pipeline of investments so that we don’t end up in the feast and famine cycles that we’ve seen in the past,” Lambert said, “and that could look like a different set of commercial arrangements that are more through life and based on spiral development pathways or it may look like a steadier drumbeat of orders that have been well-sequenced within the Army’s portfolio.”
To get after this, it requires “an absolute shift” in the way the Army creates its spending plans and shares them with industry, Lambert said, which would ideally come in the form of a 20-year comprehensive plan of well-planned projects and programs.
But the Army also needs to track where industry is investing, he said, calling on industry to help the Army see those investment plans.
Additionally, the strategy needs to include working internationally “and be[ing] an international partner of choice,” Lambert said.
“Very few, if any, supply chains these days are genuinely sovereign,” Lambert said, “and given the relatively low volumes that we deal with in the British Army, there is an expense and certain fragility to being in a user club of one.
“But if we are to do our bit on the international stage, play our part within our respective alliances, we need to be able to come together, governments and industry, to put a solid UK offer on the table,” Lambert stated.
While the strategy is due out this year, Lambert said “it’s more important to get it right than publish it early, I think, and the feedback that we’ve had within from industry has been incredibly valuable, but it has sent us back to the drawing board a little bit too.”
There are areas relating to programs and technology the Army needs to prioritize and invest in, “which we’ve got to run to ground,” Lambert said. “If we can get that right up front, I think it’d be worth the wait.”
Jen Judson is the land warfare reporter for Defense News. She has covered defense in the Washington area for 10 years. She was previously a reporter at Politico and Inside Defense. She won the National Press Club's best analytical reporting award in 2014 and was named the Defense Media Awards' best young defense journalist in 2018.