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COVID-19 has proven that Fusion is critical – and attainable

Traditional approaches are no longer sufficient to tackle a threat landscape shaped by malicious actors and natural hazards. Globally, there has been a rise in sub-threshold operations – aggressive activity that doesn’t meet the threshold of warfare – typified by the Salisbury poisonings and invasion of Crimea. Sabre-rattling continues in both the East and the West, and we’re witnessing continued instability across North Africa. All of this is stretching the UK’s ability to protect its national interests. Introduce a pandemic and it’s clear a segregated approach to security is no longer a viable option.

Fusion Doctrine, the concept of bringing capabilities together across areas like security, economic and social policy to drive efficiencies, offers a potential method of response. In 2018 the Cabinet Secretary described the UK’s response to the Salisbury poisonings as an example of how Fusion can be used to strengthen the Government’s response to major incidents through the coordination of economic, military and foreign office actions. The 2020 UK Ventilator Challenge, where the public sector and enterprise rallied around one of the largest mobilisations of innovation, science and engineering since the Second World War, also demonstrates what can be achieved.

But fully integrated ‘fusion’ operations remain the exception rather than the rule. Siloed working practices mean inter-Departmental collaboration is not the default way of working, and it takes too long for ad hoc teams to form, normalise and perform. To strengthen cross-Departmental interoperability, the Integrated Review must make four fundamental changes to the way Fusion is implemented:

  1. Embed integration inpolicy and legal frameworks to overcome siloed organisational structures.
  2. Incentivise industry to integrate with, and operate alongside, the public sector to ensure the UK’s infrastructure and services are protected from foreign threats.
  3. Ensure integration thrives at the tactical level – this is where Fusion must operate across organisations in order to be successful - not just at the strategic level.
  4. Iterate, adapt and overcome – the UK must be able to respond quickly to emerging threats with a coordinated, adaptive approach.

1. Embed integration in policy and legal frameworks to overcome siloed organisational structures

Whilst successive initiatives have sought to embed collaboration across Government, longstanding barriers have led to weak and diluted action. For instance, inconsistency in legal frameworks and divergent goals often hinder successful collaboration. Senior Responsible Owners will be defenceless if the capabilities they command in a crisis are unable to operate together effectively, so tackling these barriers is key to reversing the trend.

There must be a drive for collaboration through Government setting clear frameworks and policies. Requirements for a common operating architecture, interoperable capabilities and collaboration must be set at a national level. Public organisations must be designed with integration at every level, and empowered and incentivised to work together from the ground up.

2. Industry must be incentivised to integrate with, and operate alongside, the public sector

For industry, the pursuit of short-term profit often wins out over threat preparation. Fusion’s existing focus on pan-Government integration fails to compel industry to improve integration or ensure it is well versed in working with Government departments to counter threats. The Integrated Review should provide the means and environment for collaboration across industry, incentivising the sharing of skills, knowledge and experience to develop a common approach.

Recent cyber-attacks, such as the state-based hack against the US Government, show that any weak links will be exploited to inflict damage on a nation’s Critical National Infrastructure. The UK’s NCSC (National Cyber Security Centre) is successfully working with industry by influencing the broader eco-system, encouraging operating systems to be updated, firmware to be reviewed and attacks reported.

If the Integrated Review were to develop policy to build integration across industry and the public sector, there would be greater opportunity to train together and be mutually supportive. For example, the Foreign Office along could provide intellectual property protection advice to businesses globally in exchange for shared training and development of joint operating processes. Such collaboration would facilitate deeper integration and reduce the risk of a coordinated attack across a range of industries.

3. Ensure integration thrives at the tactical level

To capitalise on the benefits of public and private collaboration, the Integrated Review should move integration from a strategic to a tactical level. Strong relationships here will reinforce and enhance integration at all levels, as it is the ability and ease with which experienced tactical level and middle management coordinators can work together that will define the outcome of a Fusion approach.  

The introduction of SROs, managing National Security Secretariat Implementation Groups as part of Fusion Doctrine, is fundamental to planning at a strategic level and coordinating a pan-Government response. Building alignment at the tactical level will focus collaboration on the teams who have the practical experience and knowledge of capabilities, as well as the procurement and distribution channels needed to call them into action. The UK has a vast reservoir of capabilities that are often dormant, both in times of national crisis and during normal operations. For example, the military’s logistics support infrastructure (available to move and sustain deployed forces in distant operational theatres) is under-utilised in peacetime, yet this capacity was successfully activated to build Nightingale Hospitals and support the UK Ventilator Challenge.  The ability to rapidly use these reserves will be vital to achieving the UK’s security and wider objectives.

4. If at first you do not succeed, iterate, adapt and overcome

In a recent speech, the Chief of the Defence Staff, General Sir Nick Carter, stated that he expected ‘training and exercising to be delivered as operations’. He insisted ‘we must be prepared to take risk, accept some failure and place emphasis on experimentation…’ to gain the adaptive edge.

The UK typically launches an integrated response to a crisis, as we saw with the foot-and-mouth outbreak of 2001, the 2005 London bombings, the 2012 Summer Olympics security support and the northern England flooding of 2015. But because this method is only adopted in response to individual crises, there is no standard approach that goes through a process of iteration and refinement. Lessons learnt are soon forgotten, possible improvements are missed and there is the inevitable scramble to renew skills each time a crisis emerges.

Instead, there should be a centralised crisis training and operations budget available for use only by joint teams. This would prevent single departments training in isolation and ensure efficiency of funding. By including training in this budget, Government should widen the role of the existing Conflict, Stability and Security Fund (CSSF) and increase the governance of how the fund is used. For instance, funds should only be available to those able to demonstrate sharing of best practice, collaboration and an iterative approach to training.

The Integrated Review also affords an opportunity to expand the remit of successful Defence-focussed units, such as the Defence Concepts and Doctrine Centre (DCDC) and Defence and Security Accelerator (DASA), expanding industry engagement and helping other government departments overcome the most complex ‘joint’ challenges. This will improve integration at the conceptual phase and see a trickledown effect, improving Fusion Doctrine and Standard Operating Procedures. These should be developed for integration at a national strategic and local tactical level to facilitate integrated command and control structures in the event of a crisis.

Fusion is not only critical, but attainable

The challenges of the pandemic have required rapid response times measured in hours not days, sums of government spending not seen since the Second World War, and supply chains stretched to near breaking point. In these times, adopting a Fusion approach can build strength across organisations, improve resilience and improve chances of success in defeating the virus.

It’s time to rip up the artificial divides that have separated critical activities into a myriad of obstructive silos and work together to ensure the UK can face its current challenges and emerge as an adaptive and prosperous independent nation in 2021. Fusion is the only effective response to the challenges that we face today, and it must be strengthened through the Integrated Review.

The Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy

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