Exclusive: Thompson: defence reviews need stronger evidence

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) has learned lessons about appropriate timescales and evidence-gathering from the 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR), MoD permanent secretary Jon Thompson has told CSW, and work has already begun on a 2015 SDSR.

Fabrice DeBatty

By Matt.Ross

03 Oct 2012

Asked whether elements of the 2010 SDSR should be rethought, Thompson first praised the government’s commitment to holding five-yearly SDSRs before noting that in developing the 2010 review “we certainly learned some lessons about what kind of preparation you need to have and what that requires, and what’s the right kind of evidence that ministers need to consider in making judgements”.

By 2015, he added, “how we fit with other organisations in a national security concept will have matured. The national security adviser, for example, was a new function in 2010. The unit that supports him was new in 2010, and [the SDSR] was run in a speedy period: only six months.”

Explaining the pressures on the 2010 review, Thompson noted that “it was done in a fairly aggressive timetable. People who’ve been here [at the MoD] a lot longer than I have would say that an SDSR probably takes about 12-months. It was done with a new government, in the middle of a financial crisis, in a new structure, in a six-month period. I think it made broadly all the right choices, but as we learn more as we time goes on we’ll refine that for the next SDSR. You have to learn lessons from the past in order to mature an appropriate future”.

To make sure all the right development and analytical work has been done in good time for the 2015 SDSR, Thompson explained, “in late 2012 we’ve already begun some of the preparation work for a post-election SDSR, assuming that a new government would want to conduct such an exercise. There are people in our strategy and finance units thinking about what’s the right kind of evidence, what are the big choices, and there’s a programme of work that builds up to 2015.”

While Thompson defended the key outcomes of the SDSR – including the coalition’s subsequently-reversed decision to cancel its order for F-35B jump-jets and move to the F-35C ‘carrier’ version – his comments suggest that MoD officials are keen to enter the 2015 SDSR process with a better understanding of the ministry’s project pipeline. The MoD has been developing its project management skills and recruiting more specialists, Thompson explained.

“The question is whether we can build a sufficiently large cohort to manage what is an enormous portfolio, worth £120bn in terms of project capital investment,” he said, adding that in the meantime the MoD is filling the gap by drawing on private sector skills. “We need to continue to build that cohort, and in the interim we need some additional support from other people who are specialists in this area.”

See also: Interview: Jon Thompson

Read the most recent articles written by Matt.Ross - Kerslake sets out ‘unfinished business’ in civil service reform


Foreign Affairs
Share this page
Partner content