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Whole Force concept and rethinking trust between Defence and Industry


Christina Balis, Global Campaign Director for Training & Mission Rehearsal - QinetiQ, and Alan Whittle, Director of Strategy and Plans - Inzpire

It’s been ten years since the release of the independent Levene Report on UK Defence reform, which sought to formalise the concept of ‘Whole Force.’ This was an effort to ensure Defence is supported by the most cost-effective balance of regular military personnel, reservists, MOD civilians and contractors.

While progress in implementing the Whole Force concept has been slow, there are growing indications of the need to rethink this fundamental relationship between the public and private spheres in support of broader Defence capability, and training in particular.

military personnel jumping out of the back of an aircraft for a parachute jump exercise

Need for a partnership model

Since the publication of the Levene Report, analysts have pointed to a failure to fully operationalise the Whole Force. Despite its evolution from ‘concept’ to ‘approach’ and a growing recognition of industry’s role as an essential component of a broader Defence Enterprise, traditional conceptions of outsourcing as primarily a driver of cost efficiencies still remain.

If its potential is to be fully realised, the Defence-Industry relationship needs to evolve into a partnership model; the key to improving the relationship is the development of trust and incentives to work collaboratively. Indeed, the UK government’s 2021 defence industrial strategy specifically calls for a ‘deeper, more sophisticated, and strategic relationship between government and Industry which is more direct, trusted, and transparent’.

Overcoming challenges

There are many challenges to building trust among buyers, providers and users of Defence capability, from cultural differences between military and civilian organisations, and inflexible acquisition processes, to an innate risk-aversion bias characteristic of all parties involved in government procurement.

Rethinking the importance of trust and how it can be built, rebuilt, and sustained across the Whole Force as a team is fundamental to overcoming such challenges and for achieving an effective Defence Enterprise.

Benefits of a Whole Force approach

A Whole Force approach should be implemented, based on a deeper, more effective integration by all parties. Clearly, there must be total trust between industry partners and their military counterparts; based not solely on previous experience of designing, developing and delivering effective training, but also on a proven and demonstrable history of engendering truth, honesty, and humility – with an esprit de corps grounded in shared experiences and an understanding of the importance of a positive training outcome.

For the most potent and effective outcomes, disparate branches of the different military domains need to consider how they best operate together. It makes sense that the focus of uniformed personnel turns to frontline tasking, leaving more of the training outcomes to be performed by a dedicated and well-trained Industry personnel cadre, most of whom have a military background in specialist areas and can therefore be relied upon to have the necessary experience, integrity and commitment.

The commitment to creating and maintaining a Whole Force structure with frontline military personnel, the reserves, the Civil Service, and Industry being trusted to deliver their part in the enterprise, should in turn offer cost efficiencies through lower staff turnover rates, along with the savings that can be made through the provision of third-party services and assets.

Building trusted training partnerships

Contracted Industry trainers, military staff, military trainees, and the commercial agencies that bring the parties together, should act as a team where trust is a vital component. Without trust they are simply a group of people who contractually work together.

Due to several factors such as cost, emphasis on net carbon zero and availability of assets, there has been a real shift towards training in synthetic and Live Virtual Constructive (LVC) settings. Within such settings, it will increasingly make sense to use a blended team of industry expertise and military colleagues working together to offer the best possible training solutions.

Trust is most likely to be built when kindred spirits are involved in the training process – individuals who have actually ‘walked the walk’ by putting themselves in harm’s way. An understood shared ethos leads to common empathy and a willingness to understand the needs of all parties.

It is also important to consider that companies as a whole must be trusted to deliver on their contractual promises – the entire enterprise needs to be brought into the trust equation for optimal results. All too often military training outcomes are adversely affected by a divide between those delivering the desired outcomes and those monitoring contracts. For trust to flourish in a Whole Force environment, the contractual arrangements must have the concept of trust at the very heart of their ambition.

Final thoughts

In the Whole Force, and especially where exceptionally high-quality training outcomes are expected, there is no place for transactional relationships. There must be a fully understood, agreed and approved set of requirements provided, which leave no room for doubt that they will lead to the desired training outcome for the end-user. The end-user must have complete confidence in their training providers, and this requires a new partnership model supported by innovative, flexible commercial arrangements.

A deeper dive into our thoughts on the importance of trust in defence capability can be found in The Trust Factor report – a series of short essays exploring the topic.