The character of war has fundamentally changed. The tactics and capabilities of the last century have little place on today’s ‘battlefield’. These facts were acknowledged in the Integrated Operating Concept 2025 (IOpC25), published by the Ministry of Defence in summer 2020. The IOpC25 called on Defence to pivot away from its comfort zone of high-intensity, traditional military capabilities if it is to compete with agile adversaries on the global stage. Instead, it called for a focus on below-threshold, agile methods of operating that draw on resources from across the UK’s defensive landscape, integrated with wider Government (and allied) levers of influence.
IOpC25 is Defence’s response to the wider Governmental move towards Fusion, but its concepts are equally applicable across Government – and more widespread adoption will facilitate improved integration. Government departments will need to make key changes to how they operate for this happen. Command structures must be truly integrated across Whitehall under a Lead Government Department (LGD), with leaders taking an adaptive and innovative approach to how they operate and manage their teams.
Building integrated command structures
For an integrated approach to command to be successful in Defence, the capabilities employed across Front-Line Commands must also be integrated. Fully achieving this vision will require an approach that we call Force-Centric Capability Management (FCCM) to be adopted across departments. FCCM is a new governance structure, designed by PA, that seeks to ensure all the Army’s capabilities are designed and procured with integration and interoperability as guiding principles, while also preventing these features from being traded out during delivery. Every aspect of the capability is designed to bolt onto a common platform so that information can be shared, people moved, and resources quickly deployed. This approach prevents siloed working and idle resources.
This need for inter-departmental integration isn’t reserved solely for the MOD. It’s imperative that the rest of Whitehall follows suit. Post 9/11, the Civil Contingencies Secretariat (CCS) in the Home Office developed the Lead Government Department (LGD) guidance for responding to crises. Although originally developed to be reactive in the event of a crisis, the LGD model could be developed according to, and drawing on, the principles of IOpC25 and FCCM, and deployed to co-ordinate actions involving multiple government departments.
Smarter, not harder
As the pace of technological change continues to accelerate, the UK’s adversaries are increasingly using readily-available commercial technology to launch disruptive attacks. Responding to this threat will take more than an overhaul of Defence’s current capability and acquisition system. Nor is it enough for Defence to increase the speed with which it can incorporate new technology. These responses will result in Defence remaining reactive.
IOpC25 breaks down military activity into four spheres – Protect, Engage, Constrain and Fight – with the majority of Defence activity occurring in the first three. It emphasises the need for more focus and investment in the first three areas to avoid escalation to Fight. In turn, Government needs to concentrate its resources on soft power initiatives. The creation of the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) was a positive move in this direction, providing it doesn’t lead to reduced investment, as it brings foreign aid and development work into alignment with Britain’s wider international objectives. Similar moves to break down departmental silos and promote efficient collaboration should be encouraged across Whitehall.
At the same time, it must be remembered that the Armed Forces alone can deliver lethal force on behalf of the UK. Any shift towards soft power needs to retain the ability to deliver high-intensity warfighting. Success will call for smart resource prioritisation and agile leaders who are ready to think big, start small and scale fast. Away from the main battle arena there needs to be a safe space where boundaries can be tested. The ability to fail safely, learn quickly, adapt and improve will accelerate innovation and optimise final results.
IOpC25 recognises that one of Defence’s key strengths is its people. The expertise required to deliver this innovative approach sits across multiple government departments. So, Whitehall needs to find new ways of deploying its cross-department talent. The time has come for a more agile management structure: a stable core of qualified leadership should be orbited by small teams of self-organising, multi-skilled individuals to facilitate quick decision-making and planning cycles. Communities of experts are already establishing themselves formally and informally across domains, as well as across Government, and this collaboration should be a springboard to improve integration.
To do this, leaders must be bold and move beyond the ‘closed-loop, bottom-fed approach’ and narrow career pathways that have blocked talent from strategic, decision-making roles. In some areas, this has constrained the diversity of knowledge, skills and experience among key leadership groups. By increasing the emphasis on professions rather than departments, mobility of talent will improve, increasing the diversity of experience and skills within key leadership groups. This must be further augmented by increased collaboration with the private sector. Skilled industry leaders can support the development of an innovative culture.
Together with the Integrated Review (IR), IOpC25 provides strategic direction and a framework for the modernisation of Defence over the next decade. However, its value and implications run deeper than Defence alone. It sets the precedent for what the IR must achieve across Government and enterprise. It encourages an adaptive, agile and smart approach to addressing the challenges the coming decade will bring, and outlines a strategy for deploying the UK’s resources to maximum impact. Wider Government should take note of its intent.