LONDON — A former defense industry executive is taking over the British government’s multibillion-pound defense procurement effort.
Andy Start will lead the program following the April 21 announcement that he will replace the current boss at the Defence Equipment and Support organization. Simon Bollom, who has been in the post since 2018, is vacating the CEO’s chair at the agency.
Start joins DE&S from Capita Public Service, a major support services provider to the military and other government sectors in Britain.
Defence Procurement Minister Jeremy Quin said Start’s appointment comes at an important time for U.K. defense. “I am pleased that DE&S will be led by a CEO with extensive commercial experience,” Quin said.
Howard Wheeldon, a defense consultant at Wheeldon Strategic Advisory, said Start’s experience running the military space business at Airbus and Inmarsat, plus his former role as managing director of BAE Systems’ Avionics division, bodes well.
“Of particular importance is the knowledge he brings in digital transformation, which was prioritized in the government’s integrated review last year. This is a sound appointment and is to be welcomed, particularly as he brings to DE&S a level of commercial business experience, which the organization has arguably lacked under Simon Bollom,” Wheeldon said.
The consultant said Bollom joined DE&S at a particularly difficult time following “a period of what I can only describe as poor leadership by his predecessor and the need to substantially change both culture and operation of DE&S. While he lacked commercial experience, he brought with him significant military user experience, which I believe has played well and benefited the organization.”
“Bollom has not been responsible for the reorganization of DE&S alone, but he has left an important legacy of defined strategy from which Andy Start will undoubtedly benefit,” Wheeldon added. “If I have any concern, it would be that Start will need to quickly learn about maritime, and that in the wake of the disastrous Ajax [armored fighting vehicle] procurement, he will already be well aware that serious procurement issues remain to be resolved.”
DE&S is responsible for procurement and support for about 80% of British defense equipment purchases. The country’s nuclear program is the main effort outside of DE&S’ responsibility.
The organization employs about 11,500 people and spends more than £10 billion (U.S. $13 billion) annually by acquiring and supporting existing military equipment.
DE&S is regularly the target of criticism from parliamentary committees, the media, the National Audit Office and others due to the agency’s poor track record in managing major programs.
Start joins the organization partway through a strategic update, due to be complete by 2025, aimed at increasing the pace and agility of procurement, increasing local prosperity through procurement and accelerating the introduction of digital solutions, among other goals.
A statement by the Ministry of Defence said Start’s specialism is in “helping improve performance and driving strategic change.”
Wheeldon said he would like to see Start initiate a better understanding of the need to maintain strong, sovereign-based manufacturing capability in the U.K..
“We have to move away from an almost automatic buy-off-the-shelf approach because it is deemed the cheapest option. Start could lead that process of change. But given entrenched MoD attitudes, I readily accept that achieving success will be challenging,” he said.
Andrew Chuter is the United Kingdom correspondent for Defense News.