By my count, the title page for the first chapter of the new First Principles Review (FPR) of the Department of Defence lists 48 previous reviews dating back to the Tange Review of 1973. You have to wonder if another one is going to succeed where all of the previous ones came up short.
If the FPR doesn’t work, it won’t be for lack of ambition. It’s a pretty significant shaking of the tree, and some of the structural changes are far reaching. Probably the most significant change, and certainly the most noticeable from the outside, is that the DMO will cease to be a semi-autonomous organisation and will be subsumed into the Defence central structure.
It’s effectively the end of the DMO as we know it. The rationale is that DMO provides services that are part of an end-to-end capability definition, acquisition and sustainment process, which all becomes part of the Capability Acquisition and Sustainment group under the Deputy Secretary for Policy and Intelligence. There’s some sense to that change, but there are dangers as well.
For a start, the DMO doesn’t just go and buy stuff. It also has a regulatory role, and acts to protect the Commonwealth’s interests in acquisition processes. As Mark Thomson once wrote, it’s not necessarily in Defence’s interest to downgrade those functions. Second, that’s a very big workload for the new DepSec position, and it’ll be quite a juggling act.
Those changes will require a number of senior positions to be downgraded, and there’ll be staffing reductions at other levels as well. In fact, there’ll be quite a few senior staff members seeking new opportunities. Seven of the current 16 Deputy Secretary positions will be abolished, along with a number of equivalent military positions, including the Head of Capability Development Group. I wrote about changes to responsibility for capability development in my previous post.
Changes go beyond the org chart, and the responsibilities of some of the continuing positions will be significantly altered. On the uniformed side of the house, the Chiefs of the three individual services will have a reduced role in the senior decision making framework. They’ll no longer sit on the Defence Committee, which will now be pared down to just six people. In terms of decision making, that’ll certainly make the room less crowded, with the group being about a third of the current size.
On the other hand, the responsibilities of the Chiefs for sustainment of their forces are said be enhanced under this review. Already being charged with the responsibility to ‘raise, train and sustain’ force elements for government in their role as Capability Managers , it’s not entirely clear what the Review means in terms of change. And there’s still a mismatch between responsibilities and resources—the Chiefs might be responsible for sustainment, but the sustainment resources appear to sit with the DepSec P&I.
Similarly, the Chiefs will retain carriage of the development of capability requirements, but the civilian side of the house will hold the contestability card. All in all, it’s hard to see the Chiefs being thrilled by these developments.
At the top of the uniformed ranks there are some welcome developments. As I wrote on The Strategist earlier, the ADF needed a Capability Manager for joint capabilities—those things that don’t naturally sit with any of the single Service Chiefs—and the Review has made that recommendation. There’s also a streamlining of the powers of the Chief of the Defence Forces vis-à-vis the Service Chiefs. No longer will a CDF Directive require three single service Directives to implement.
All in all, the FPR is a serious shakeup of the Defence Department. Some of the elements aren’t novel, and echo previous arrangements, and some are new ideas. But all of them will live or die on the quality of implementation, and that’s what we’ll have to keep an eye on over the next couple of years.