Reflecting on the Defence Command Paper Refresh 2023

Defence 1 Aug 2023 by Ali Nicholl

The Defence Command Paper Refresh (DCP23) has been released.

As the paper itself points out it is unusual to release a new command paper less than 3 years after the previous iteration but, as Defence Secretary Ben Wallace emphasised to the Commons while announcing the paper, the DCP23 aims to incorporate the ‘lessons learned’ from the conflict in Ukraine into the UK’s ‘core business’ in an impactful way.

As outlined in the previous IOTICS blog this refresh is a further reflection of the change, and pace of change, the UK defence industry must make to meet the challenges it faces today. This ‘does not just mean more ships, tanks and jets – indeed in [DCP23] there are deliberately no new commitments on platforms at all – because of that we stand by what we published in 2021’. However, what has changed is the absolute clarity and focus on pace, adaptability & extensibility,  partnership, and that enabling that focus requires a shift in procurement.


No alt text provided for this image
Defence Command Paper 2023: © Crown copyright 2023

In short,  ‘strategic advantage’ is derived from our investment in cutting-edge future technologies, including digital and data, and emerging scientific and technological advances’, but even with increased budgets, we ‘ cannot just continue to do more of the same’. There is a need for ‘a new partnership with industry and a focus on delivering rapidly upgradeable capability more quickly.’


Pace is writ large throughout the refresh, faster response, faster development, faster adaptation, faster adoption, ultimately faster-decision making. Speed of decision-making dictates the ‘tempo of operations’ – true for every sector not just defence. At IOTICS we believe that supporting faster decision-making requires the right data, with the right context, delivered to the right people, at the right time. It is therefore hugely reassuring to see data-centricity at the heart of this refresh. ‘Recognising that data-centricity and digital agility are increasingly important elements of our deterrence posture, we will reshape policy, structures, and skills to exploit the benefits of rapid digital change. This represents a fundamental shift in thinking, whereby data and digital technologies are no longer just ‘enablers’ but the cornerstone of our approach to deterrence.’


Adaptability & Extensibility

No alt text provided for this image
Defence Command Paper 2023: © Crown copyright 2023


One of the ways that data and digital technologies can be that cornerstone is in its ability to bring agility and flexibility into complex environments, and the MOD is accelerating delivery of its own digital transformation ‘the Digital Backbone’ to make that a reality.  The refresh talks of ‘shifting our thinking to fully integrate both steel and software, iteratively developing – spiralling – our existing capabilities to achieve battle-winning advantage.’ Indeed a big part of the ability to be adaptable is recognising ‘that capability is never ‘done’ it must constantly adapt to the changing environment in which we operate. Instead of defining the exact force structure we want, or the precise capabilities we need, we need instead to build our ability to adapt rapidly.’ This perfectly aligns with our approach at IOTICS where we deliver evolving ecosystems, low trust and no trust ecosystems where new technologies, partners, and approaches can be rapidly adopted, legacy systems can be extended and enabling ageing assets to be sweated for longer effectively keeping capabilities at the cutting edge.


It’s worth noting that the ecosystems in question extend beyond our borders. There is a clear emphasis across the DCP23 of interoperation with our allies across  NATO, the Five Eyes, the Joint Expeditionary Force, the Northern Group  and the deepening of relationships with Indo-Pacific, African and Middle Eastern partners. ‘Our alliances and partnerships are critical to our security and prosperity – whether through sharing intelligence, operating alongside one another, or building the next generation of capabilities.’ The ability of our global partners to cooperate at speed, using the levers of defence to promote stability, improve coordination and accelerate decision making requires a secure trusted framework for the sharing of information.


No alt text provided for this image
Defence Command Paper 2023: © Crown copyright 2023

It is the same pattern, at a different scale being called for by Defence Digital (the evolution of the MOD’s ‘communications systems and cloud architecture to enable game-changing data-led analysis and decision-making across Defence’). Interoperable data fabrics, which provide access without universal openness, and surface hard to find data from global siloes and delivers it, where appropriate, to the right individuals at the right time, in a form, frequency and level of granularity that allows the UK to credibly invoke alliances and partnerships around the globe to protect UK territories and interests. communications systems and cloud architecture to enable game-changing data-led analysis and decision-making across Defence.


Arguably the partnership with the greatest focus in DCP23 is that between industry and the MOD. As discussed in previous blogs, the change required, the pace of that change and the impacts derived from it are simply not possible using the methodologies of the past. How industry and the MOD interact needs to, and is, shifting. But, as foundationally what is meant by industry is undergoing a significant transformation. In short, a requirement ‘for a more agile acquisition process and an even stronger partnership between government and industry, both primes and small- and medium-sized enterprises.’

As a SME working in the defence sector we are obviously heartened to see a desire to harness the best ideas from wherever they come. Strategic suppliers are not measured by their size. We will identify the sub-contractors and SMEs that are of strategic importance to Defence – including those based overseas – and treat them as such.’ This combined with a clearly stated aim to move decisively away from a platform-centric approach in favour of a focus on the military effects we are seeking to achieve. Recent operations, including those by the UK and allies in Ukraine have shown the benefit of  ‘judiciously combining the truly high-tech with the low-cost, the off-the-shelf, the inventive, and the cheap – where these can be deployed rapidly to solve an operational challenge: the £100 solution defeating the £100 million threat.’

As outlined in the previous blog the request for new approaches is clear – ‘the pace of innovation across the battlespace is accelerating and cannot credibly be met through conventional – often decades-long – acquisition programmes and platform upgrades.  As a rule, we must buy simpler platforms more quickly and design into them the capacity to upgrade at speed – and not just with the original prime contractor.’


At IOTICS we wholeheartedly support the vision outlined in the DCP23 – exploitation of data at the heart of the  approach, a coherent digital architecture across the defence enterprise to integrate all the levers at their disposal, more dynamic operation within the international information environment and improved the coordination of Defence strategic communications activities. The ability of a more ‘sophisticated use of information’ to explain the approach, to build coalitions, to change the behaviours of adversaries, and to influence a wide range of audiences is a purpose that all of us can support.

Secure, flexible, adaptive ecosystems which enable rapid adoption of new technologies, trust frameworks for the engagement and interoperation of innovative SMEs and established primes, and patterns that scale to enable that interoperability across domains, geographies, and partners as requires decentralised approaches – virtualisation of assets, data and systems while ensuring access, governance and sharing are federated. Fixed, centralised architectures, platforms and integrations are familiar, but flawed. The comfort of 400 page requirement specifications and marquee names will need to be replaced with a confidence in a new era of defence capability founded on patterns, data access layers, and interoperable data architectures that  are more agile, efficient, cooperative and frankly cost effective. For some it will be hard to hear, for IOTICS our partners, customers and ecosystem of complementary technologies it is a vision, mission, and purpose we share.

Read more IOTICS Insight and contact us to learn more


Join Our Community

We enable the world’s data to interact safely and securely with other data, of all types, in all places, dynamically.