A Defence Equipment & Support (DE&S) review found systemic issues in defence-wide UK military procurement and DE&S internal challenges, it was revealed at the Defence Simulation Education and Training (DSET) conference in 2024, which took place between 10-13 June.

Simon Pearce, head of the training and simulation systems portfolio at DE&S, the UK’s arm’s-length defence procurement agency, discussed a comprehensive problem review concerning the state of DE&S and its role within the broader defence sector at DSET 2024 on 11 June.

The problem review process began approximately 18 months prior to the conference as part of an effort to enhance productivity, inject pace into operations, and ensure the delivery of high availability, lethality, resilience, and prosperity within the defence sector. The DE&S undertook a thorough examination of its operations and the larger defence ecosystem to identify critical areas that required attention and improvement. 

Pearce highlighted four issues that were considered to be defence-wide concerns, and three that were internal challenges for DE&S. 

UK Defence-wide problems

Unrealistic funding allocations and frequently changing defence programmes have fostered an environment of over-optimism, leading to inflated expectations regarding deliverables, according to the account of the DE&S review laid out by Pearce. This overestimation resulted in constant revisions and changes, causing a ripple effect of complications throughout the defence enterprise.

DE&S also found an absence of a clear and consistent understanding across the defence sector regarding DE&S’s specific role and its responsibilities. This ambiguity contributed to inefficiencies and misaligned expectations, further complicating DE&S’s ability to function effectively.

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Ineffective prioritisation mechanisms within the defence sector has led to a scenario where DE&S struggled to prioritise its activities efficiently. The issue was exacerbated by the conflicting prioritisation efforts from various frontline commands, each presenting multiple top priorities without a cohesive strategy.

A fragmented and disjointed end-to-end defence acquisition system was also identified as a UK defence-wide problem causing significant friction and wasted effort, hindering the seamless procurement and deployment of defence capabilities.

DE&S internal problems

Internally, DE&S identified a challenge in having multiple incoherent processes across different parts of the organisation, leading to inconsistency and inefficiency in translating these processes into client outcomes.

The organisational Structure was also determined to non-optimised, with structural inefficiency impacting DE&S’s ability to deliver the required outputs efficiently, resulting in reduced satisfaction among both internal and external stakeholders, and damaging the organisation’s reputation and trust.

The review also pointed out ineffective management and deployment of DE&S resources. This problem affected the organisation’s overall performance and its ability to meet strategic objectives.

Implications of the Review

Whilst Pearce’s presentation described the problems and impacts as a part of a current understanding for the functions of the DE&S, he went into some detail to convey how the organisation had changed after interpreting the review’s findings. 

The review advanced a strategic realignment within DE&S, focusing on creating more coherent processes and an optimised organisational structure. By addressing the identified problems, DE&S aims to enhance its operational efficiency and stakeholder satisfaction.

It has also led to broader engagement with defence design, leading to the formulation of a new model that integrates strategic direction, planning, and execution more effectively. This model aims to ensure that DE&S and the wider defence sector are better equipped to deliver on their strategic objectives, with a focus on collaboration, early engagement, and a streamlined acquisition process.

Ultimately, the identification and addressing of these problems are expected to lead to more realistic funding allocations, clearer roles and responsibilities, better prioritisation of activities, and a more integrated and efficient acquisition system. Pearce anticipates these to enhance DE&S’s ability to deliver high-quality defence equipment and support, thereby contributing to the overall effectiveness and resilience of the UK’s defence capabilities.