Andy Start, DE&S CEO - Keynote speech at DSEI 2023

Andy Start, Chief Executive of Defence Equipment and Support (DE&S) delivers his keynote speech at Defence and Security Equipment International (DSEI) 2023

Good afternoon everybody. I’m delighted to see you all here because I wasn’t sure whether anyone was going to turn up. Particularly delighted to see Chief of the Defence Staff in the front seat in case I get some difficult questions, so thank you for the help later, Tony.

Let me start by talking about the threat. I think it’s clear to me that we live in incredibly challenging times. Probably the most challenging times in my working career. We obviously have a hot war in Europe. We have a return to state-on-state competition. We still have the ongoing aftershocks of COVID and global pandemic and terrorism and grey-zone conflict have not gone away.

And yet, as we work together, to try to protect our nations and help them prosper, I think there is real reason for optimism if you look at the pace of change of what together, we’re all delivering.

I’m going to start by talking about what we have delivered over the last year together. And I think that really emphasises just how much pace there is going on right now. And then we’re going to talk about what we also did over the last year to set us up for the future.

And as John just talked about, I’m going to try and do that from a number of different perspectives from my role as Chief Executive of DE&S, of course, but also from my role as National Armaments Director and a member of the Defence Senior Leadership Team.

So what did we deliver in the last year? Well, we have to start by talking about Ukraine. The Ukraine conflict is clearly a human tragedy. It’s a tragedy for the nation. It’s also a tragedy that we have a hot war in Europe.

And clearly, it’s really important that we continue to work together to support the people of Ukraine to make sure that we end up with a result that we all think is the right one. But there is real reason for optimism around Ukraine, particularly because what we’ve seen is over 50 nations through the Ukraine Contact Group come together to support an ally to sustain the international rule of law. That is incredibly encouraging.

The UK has played a really significant part in that support. In fact, we’re the second largest nation in terms of the support that we’ve been giving. And we’ve been delivering at incredible pace. My organisation were able to get the first orders out in support of Ukraine within 48 hours. Collectively as UK Defence, we gave £2.3 billion worth of support and training and capability last year, as well as helping to coordinate just short of three quarters of a billion pounds worth of funding through the International Fund for Ukraine that we helped facilitate and bring together the support of many smaller nations. That’s phenomenal.

The pace of what we’ve delivered is really significant. We’ve gifted in kind over a billion pounds worth of equipment. But even more exciting we’ve acquired over £1.5 billion of new capability from industry representatives, many of whom will be here at the show. That’s large companies, but also really innovative, SME-generated solutions that have been developed and tailored through the year to respond to the conflict.

That pace of innovation and change is a real reason for excitement and optimism and a real reason for you all to be proud of what you’re doing. Overall, we have over 350 lines of activity supporting the Ukraine operation. And I’m absolutely delighted when Deputy Minister Havrylov was able to come to Abbey Wood, to thank our teams for support that they’ve given.

I’m delighted that that support was recognised by the House of Commons Defence Select Committee, and I’m delighted earlier on today when I was able to meet two Deputy Ministers from Ukraine who again reaffirmed just what a difference the support together we are making to Ukraine’s ability to sustain the fight.

We’ve not just made progress at pace in Ukraine, within NATO we coordinate our activities in the acquisition and support space through the conference of National Armaments Directors, where I and representatives of every other every other part of the NATO nation work together to try to accelerate the capability and ensure it has sustainment.

That relationship is stronger than it has been for decades. And the pace with which we’re operating is accelerating. We have more to do. And I was delighted that we were able to announce that the Defence Production Action Plan, which will take us forward to accelerating the pace with which we standardise our equipment, with which we make sure they’re interoperable and interchangeable.

But we also look at our opportunities for bilateral and multilateral programmes that will ensure we have to sustained always-on production to ensure that we always have the resilience we need if we ever come to the fight.

When so many nations come together, it is a potent and credible deterrent against nations who wish to assert their personal benefit over that of the international rule of law.

We’ve also progressed at incredible pace in the UK over the last 12 months. On top of Ukraine, the UK has been involved in operations around the world and you’ll have heard many of those such as Operation Polar Bear, in a number of the speeches during the week.

My team provides a vast amount of support to that ongoing operation. In the last year, we’ve provided over £394 million worth of fuel, £79 million worth of food, £66 million worth of clothing and equipment and £24 million worth of medicine and that just gives you an indication of the tempo at which we’re all operating to sustain ongoing operations.

And we’ve been working together to drive up the output and availability of our defence equipment and respond to the challenge that Tony laid to us. We’ve seen a progressive improvement of A400M availability. And I’m really pleased to see how well that platform has been operating on operations.

Together with the RAF, we’ve doubled the number of flying hours the Typhoon is delivering. And we’ve increased the maritime availability through the RENOWN programme. And you can see examples of the work done on RENOWN , both on our stand, but also on a number of supplier stands here at the show.

We haven’t just supplied and maintained current capability, we’re spinning in new technology and new capability at pace.

For example, this year we’ve added six more F-35 to the UK inventory. We’ve put 44 AJAXs into the hands of the Army. We’ve delivered the 22nd A400M, the final A400M in the UK fleet. We’ve enhanced the Navy, by delivering RFA Stirling Castle and RAF Proteus. Overall, the scale of delivery is huge. Over 2,600 contracts, 550 programmes, and collectively with our industry partners, our overall performance of delivery is good.

You’ll be probably surprised to know that we’ve deliver 98% of the key user requirements placed on us. We deliver 89% of our strategic milestones on time. Our budget performance is exceptional.

There are always programmes with challenges and there always will be. We need to work hard to reduce those challenges. And I put industry under a lot of pressure, as some of you know sitting in the room, when we fall behind. But overall, collectively, as a defence enterprise, we are really good at what we do. And our performance compared to any other sector, if you look at global international benchmarks, is outstanding. And you should be proud of what you achieve and the technical competence you have.

A real reason to be optimistic about our ability to deliver over the last 12 months. But that threat is not staying static. It is accelerating. The pace of innovation is remarkable. You can see it around you and therefore we need to accelerate the pace with which we deliver going forward.

We’ve done a real effort in the UK to make sure we’re ready for that future. That starts at an MOD level with the Integrated Review Refresh and a restatement of our core mission.

I think a bit of brilliant simplification by the defence quad, boiling it down to two words, protect and prosper. That’s what we all do. We all help protect our nations and we help them prosper because without safety and security, our nations cannot thrive. And therefore our mission as we get up every day could not be more important.

That mission has flowed down into the detail, by producing the Defence Command Paper Refresh. That DCPR that was released in June is a thoroughly good read. And I really commend it to you. In that document, you don’t find some of the really sort of flashy high-profile announcements of lots of new platforms. But what you do see is a fundamental shift in strategic thinking.

One that moves us to thinking about a long term sustained campaigning approach to the way that we operate in defence. One that is absolutely committed to delivering at pace and one that is permitted to shifting to recognise we will fight with our partners, and therefore we must be integrated with our allies from the outset. And those allies and partners include all of you here at the show.

I was delighted to see that the DCPR emphasised just how important industry is to our overall defence enterprise capability. A real recognition that our defence industrial complex is as important as our frontline soldiers, sailors, airmen and women. That is a phenomenal shift of strategic thinking.

Underpinning that is a commitment to speed and it includes things like a commitment to get from outline business case to in-service in five years, wherever possible across our core programmes, which means a real acceleration of the pace with which we’re operating. And we’re going further on top of that which I’ll speak to in a moment.

To underpin the work that we’ve done at an MOD level, we’ve also strengthened the strategy for DE&S. Within the DE&S Strategy, we align our mission to that protect and prosper, top level mission of defence, to make sure that our Armed Forces have the difference, have the edge to be able to deter against our industries.

We underpin that mission with a Strategy that’s very simple, and it’s summarised in three words. Today, tomorrow, together. Today, collectively, we need to drive up the availability of our systems, we need to increase the defence output from the platforms we already have.

Tomorrow, we need to spin in technology, on top of those platforms, to increase their usability and their lethality at real pace, in months, not years. Whilst at the same time we continue to accelerate the time taken to bring in advanced new capabilities by using digital techniques and technologies to make sure we can introduce new capabilities like GCAP, in far shorter timeframes that have never been achieved in history before for systems of that complexity.

And then together a very clear recognition that firstly, if we’re going to create real impact and have real deterrent effect, we have to do that across all of our Services, to have one integrated defence system that works as a system of systems to create real meaningful output and impact. Not a bag of bits that somehow our frontline commands need to work out how to stitch together to create an effect.

We need to work together with our allies from the get-go. That means getting them in early at the problem stage, sharing through National Armament Director colleagues, sharing the problems we face and considering how we align as far as we possibly can our programmes, to do joint development where we can and as a minimum to make sure we have interoperable standards so that we can share data and integrate the military output that we achieve.

And then finally, with industry, a real commitment within our Strategy to recognise industry as a full partner in this enterprise and to make a fundamental shift in transparency.

We haven’t just produced a document of shelfware, we’ve been getting on with it. At the defence level, we’ve made phenomenal progress already in restructuring the way that defence operates. We call that shift Defence Design. And as MinDP announced back in the summer, it is the most fundamental review of the way defence operates for over well over a decade.

The potential for profound change that will make us more integrated, more effective, to be able to operate far more at pace and to be leaner so that we can spend more of taxpayers’ money on delivering effect and less on administrative change.

I have to say the work that has been capitalised by our Chief Operating Officer, Nina Cope, in that Defence Design space is brave. It is hard to change any bureaucracy, but they are grabbing that at a pace that I have not expected and I am delighted with the fact that they have the courage to drive that change through.

I had a little anecdote, I was delighted to be invited to Tony’s Chief of Staff meeting the other day. The level of coherence between our Chiefs, as they’ve worked on this Strategy and they work together on a new design for defence that delivers more integrated effect when output is palpable. The feeling of team in that room Tony, was phenomenal and you should be proud of that, of what you’ve achieved in terms of that coherence.

Within DE&S, we’re also driving significant changes to the way that we operate. We are reworking our operating model to be aligned to the Strategy.

Now that sounds potentially a bit unexciting and a bit boring. But we’ve had over 1,000 people from across defence, including hundreds from industry involved in co-creating what a powerful and more effective DE&S will look like. I do want to say an enormous thank you to all of you in the audience and to your companies for being prepared to engage in that process for our mutual benefit.

We have designed a DE&S that will give a far better integrated output. We’re changing the way we operate from a series of vertical stovepipes in the four domains of land, sea, air and joint, to an organisation that has a coherent front door and gateway that considers the needs of our international allies. It considers the needs of exports, it considers the operational needs of our frontline commands, and it considers the innovative ideas and concepts of industry so that as we put solutions together, we come up with something that is not a faster horse and cart, that is not a Model T Ford, but has the potential to use your innovation and ideas to be a Starship Enterprise.

I am really excited about that transition of the way that we operate and how much opportunity that can be to shorten the time that it takes to get us on contract. Together with the defence suppliers forum, as I’ll speak to in a moment, we are targeting to half the time that it takes to go from outline business case to in contract. And is that a bit sweaty? Do I know how to do all of it? No, I don’t.

But is it exciting? And would it make a phenomenal difference not only to the speed with which we can give capability to our front lines? Absolutely. And will it make us a more attractive place for industry to invest in the UK market because we’re turning things at speed? Yes, it will. And therefore it is an endeavour that we all need to drive to execute and I’m confident together we’ll figure out a way to make that happen.

We’ve also been getting on with leveraging digital and digital tool sets because the opportunity of technology to do things faster and better, right now, is staggering.

As I spoke about in a panel a couple of days ago, we have created four what we call control centres, but are really collaboration centres that allow us to bring all of the ideas and data across defence around those themes of today, tomorrow and together.

In terms of today, our availability control centre is allowing us for the first time to see the availability of all of the assets across the whole of defence. The level of data integration is more than we’ve ever done before. But what’s more exciting for me is watching the frontline commands, looking across to the best practice of the other commands. And realising although they thought they were doing something that was very cool. If they take the ideas of the other three, it can be a lot more cool much more quickly. And that shift of mindset is really exciting.

We’ve done the same with digital engineering and we’ve started on the endeavour of creating an integrated system model of the whole of defence.

Again, that’s brave, we don’t know how to do it, and we’re cycling through using minimum viable products to make rapid progress. Where we’re getting to a place where we can start to see defence as a system of systems. And we’re getting to a place where I can change the mindset of my organisation away from being an acquisition and support organisation, to be an organisation that thinks about being the integrator of integrators in the equipment space. The prime contractor of prime contractors, who delivers an integrated capability that maximises the effect for our Armed Forces.

And we’ve done the same with our supply chain and our supply chain modelling. And you can see many of those tools over on the DE&S stand which is over there. Now speaking of the DE&S stand, it is a very palpable, visible example of the fact that we are trying to drive increased transparency. If we’re going to harness the ideas of industry, we need you in the room.

Over the last 12 months, we did something very brave, very countercultural, led by Rob McGowan in Mil Cap, we started to invite industry in to talk about our problems, our operational problems and challenges, and talk about the lessons we’ve learned from Ukraine at very high levels of classification.

We’ve exposed the problem to industry. We’ve got you in early and we’ve got you to help us think about our requirements rather than giving you requirements as I said earlier on for a faster, awesome car.

We’ve gotten more transparent with industry about publishing our pipelines of acquisition, every six months or more regularly if we can, we will update our published priorities. Right now. If you access the pipeline data, which is available to you all. You can see over 487 procurements that industry can get involved with. A long term plan that gives you the ability to plan and work out when to invest.

We’ve been building on that transparency not only by including you within the design work, not only by including you within the control centres and the control rooms, and inviting you in to see the data and work on the problems. We’re also working with you through the Defence Suppliers Forum to drive and accelerate the change.

Yesterday, in collaboration with the Defence Suppliers Forum executive and my co-chair of the Defence Suppliers Forum, John Howie from Babcock, we announced a revision for the DSF aims and objectives and we’ve set ourselves a set of hard targets.

Those hard targets, cover the key all of the key things that you would expect that we’d have to progress at pace, but the one I’m most excited about is the fact we have collectively committed to halving the time to contract award. That will make a profound difference.

I’ll stop now and just say, in a world where threat is really profound and challenging, we should feel optimistic about our opportunity to make a difference today, tomorrow and most importantly together.

Thanks very much.

Ministry of Defence
Andy Start