LONDON – Adopting a new hybrid procurement system could save Britain’s Ministry of Defence billions of pounds and get cutting edge technology in the hands of troops faster, a top American satellite communications company argued to the parliamentary Defence Committee.
Written evidence from Viasat’s U.K. arm advocating a shake-up in British procurement processes was published by the committee May 13 as part of its inquiry into the procurement and prosperity aspects of the country’s defense industrial policy.
Top of the list of proposals submitted by the company is a hybrid approach to procurement that saves money and leads to experimentation to deliver missions faster, said Viasat UK Managing Director Steve Beeching in an interview with Defense News following publication of the evidence.
“We need a hyrid process with a platform-centric approach for very long lead, complex structural equipment elements," said Beeching, adding that more agile,, adaptive procurement for technology is required to meet the mission threat.
"At the end of the day buying outdated technology doesn’t deliver the mission,” Beeching said.
The hybrid idea is among a raft of potential procurement changes proposed by Viasat. The company also advocated for ‘test before you buy’ solutions from industry to reduce MoD costs and risk; building trusted partnerships between government and the private sector to drive information advantage; sharing risk and design obligations, thereby alleviating the burden on existing program processes; and executing an outcomes-based assessment program.
The proposals come as the company is considering a potentially significant investment in the U.K.
From a U.K. base near Farnborough, southern England, Viasat has a growing presence in the defense and security sector providing UHF satellite communications, tactical data system, sovereign information assurance and other services.
It is currently considering investing about £300 million, or $366 million, in the U.K. and doubling its workforce of some 80 people with additional network and cyber personnel.
Viasat, which is headquartered in Carlsbad, California, said a change of direction on procurement in the upcoming integrated review of defense and security could bring big rewards for government, the military and the domestic defense industry.
“The 2020 strategic defense and security review will, if carried out correctly, give the MoD an opportunity to save billions of pounds, end complex procurement procedures and ensure that U.K. armed forces have available the most up-to-date equipment,” Viasat said in its evidence.
“This will help to meet the rapidly changing adversarial environment the U.K. is facing. The review must provide a process to deliver a stronger industrial base, with more UK jobs at higher skill levels, achieving greater foreign investment and opportunity for exports,” the company told the committee.
“To improve, the MoD needs to simplify the complexity of its huge defense organization into elements that can deliver change for the benefit of the nation, troops and way of life. Behavioral challenges occur where the MoD manages risk and outcomes as the primary objective [to keep the nation safe], but to move forward requires risk-taking,” said the evidence.
The MoD’s performance has been heavily criticized over many years for late delivery and cost overruns; although often the fault lays with government or the military rather than procurement officials.
Despite several efforts to reform procurement, most recently through the Levene and Gray reviews, the right remedy to the problem has been elusive, despite some performance gains.
Now, the new integrated defense review, virtually paused for the next few months as a result of the COVID-19 crisis, is likely to have another go at getting it right.
Beeching, said that the present procurement policy was failing to produce the required results.
“Current procurement procedures have yielded program delays, overspending and higher risks to the MoD. We feel very strongly that a more agile, fused-hybrid approach is needed to procure the appropriate systems and services required to keep pace with technology advancement. By modernizing the procurement process, MoD can work toward better processes to keep the nation safer,” said Beeching.
“Its about approach and behaviors. We are not advocating stripping everything apart,” he said.
With the COVID-19 crisis grabbing most of the government’s attention, a major overhaul of defense procurement may not be on the list of priorities.
Beeching, though, said if you wait for the perfect time it will never exist.
“The lessons we are learning through things like COVID-19, through other things that are happening in the world, make more imperative that an achievable plan like the one we are proposing moves forward. It will give us more options to get the required capabilities to our service men and women, the government and the cabinet office much quicker than we do today,” he said.