Collaborate to protect: Why joining forces is vital to counter emerging and evolving threats

By Peter Lovell

In today’s UK defence and security environment, the threats have changed, and the challenges have deepened. Keeping nations safe and protected calls for more than conventional thinking and incremental improvements. And no one nation or organisation can succeed alone. We need to be connected, coordinated, and collaborative.

International events have combined to sharpen the focus on defence, both within and outside the sector. From the invasion of Ukraine to the constantly shifting threats from asymmetric warfare and cyber-attack, the challenges facing national security leaders are stretching traditional approaches and structures beyond what they were originally designed to counter. These threats have exposed the gaps and weaknesses in the existing relationship between defence, wider government, and industry.

The vital role of strategic relationships

Given the geopolitical and threat context, the UK Ministry of Defence (MOD), wider government, and industry have been searching for a more strategic relationship for years. It’s the right approach. Yet there is little definition around what this strategic relationship means, and precisely what it looks like?

For us, the answer is clear. It means a more equal collaborative partnership. Both have their part to play as genuine partners to the other. It’s a move towards a world where:

  • There is a capability framework that allows defence and industry to understand both how capabilities integrate with partners and allies, and operate interchangeably with those allies
  • The way in which the whole defence system, not just equipment, practically integrate to enable this is well understood
  • Innovation is recognised and valued, and has a route to deliver technology to users quickly
  • The industrial base is resilient to global instability and able to deliver on those integrated systems quickly and flexibly.

Government: establish a clear capability framework to focus collaborative effort

Success will require defence (across government, industry, and allies) to act as a single organism, with resources and thought flowing to the area of greatest need almost effortlessly, and with integration the norm. Getting to this point is a team game that will be won through cooperation and collaboration.

Defence needs to move away from the provision of bespoke equipment against a precise requirement – which is slow, expensive, and squeezes out innovation – to a partnership with industry to solve problems using the best of industry solutions. This requires the MOD to provide a capability framework, refresh thinking on how programmes are set up, and then intelligently and actively manage those contracts to deliver value.

Industry: take a more proactive approach

As a strategic partner, industry needs to mirror, reinforce, and drive the change the MOD has started. Industry should not take a passive approach. It should be standing shoulder to shoulder with the MOD to drive a timely and competitive response so that both UK defence and industry build capability and reputation together.

In practical terms, this could look like joint research and development – accelerating the UK’s excellent research into production; joint talent and capability building; increased innovation through new entrants; joint investment in future viability; and increased resilience of UK and allies’ supply chains.

Collaborate to protect

We need government and industry to work together in a more balanced partnership focused on solving problems. While the global context gives a timely imperative to change, and change in the system has started, it needs to gain momentum.

Progress on this front is not only vital to countering increasingly persistent and evolving threats – but also to create better outcomes: improved collaboration; faster and bolder innovation; and more responsiveness in the face of adversity.

About the authors

Peter Lovell PA Global Head of Defence and Security

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