UK Acquisition Reforms: Military to Focus on Increasing Spiral Development

Defence Industry

London: The British military’s focus on increasing spiral development use means the Ministry of Defence is changing how it assesses new equipment being introduced into service.

The MoD will drop the use of the terms initial operating capability and full operating capability on spiral development programs. It will instead refer to new equipment as reaching “minimal deployable capability” as it is handed over to the military, procurement minister James Cartlidge told Parliament February 28 in a statement about acquisition reforms.

“In a world where our adversaries are threatening to out-compete us in capability terms, we have no choice but to reform acquisition — or see our military competitiveness diminished,” Cartlidge told Parliament. The changes to spiral development evaluation is one of five key areas of what the British call the Integrated Procurement Model.

Other areas of procurement marked for change include a greater emphasis on the exportability of equipment being purchased; more integrated requirements for the armed service and the breaking down of organisational stovepipes; earlier engagement with industry on future requirements; and new checks and balances to ensure better decisions at the start of programs.

Cartlidge said the key to the reforms is delivering new equipment more quickly. In the future, “rather than striving for perfection before delivering to the frontline, capabilities at 60%-80% of their full potential will be provided to the user, allowing early application, and subsequent improvements to reach their full potential,” Cartlidge said. “We will pursue spiral development by default.”

Cartlidge told lawmakers the MoD’s new procurement model is being introduced starting next month, with the primary aim avoiding programs like the Ajax armoured vehicle and the Crowsnest airborne early warning radar, which he described as “over-complex, over budget and over time”.

“For contractual reasons, existing programs will continue under their current procurement mode,” he added. On April 8, “we will publish our new spiral development playbook so that extant programs which can adopt spiral features will be empowered to do so.”

In a document supporting the procurement reform announcement, the MoD said by the end of this year it will have assessed the defence equipment portfolio to identify opportunities to apply spiral development to new and already underway programs.

John Louth, an independent defence analyst here, said “good enough, rather than perfect, is smart in terms of obtaining an early capability that can be matured and moved through the technology readiness levels.”