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19 October 2020

New Report provides recommendations for optimising the armed forces to meet current and future challenges

The report by the Centre for Defence studies shares progress that has been made and what obstacles remain to deliver a Whole Force model.


A new report into improving the efficiency of the armed forces was published by the Centre for Defence Studies (CDS) in the Department of War Studies, King’s College London.

Commissioned by the Serco Institute, The Whole Force by Design: Optimising Defence to Meet Future Challenges, identifies what progress has been made and what obstacles remain to deliver a fully integrated Whole Force model in the UK.

The Whole Force is a partnership model between Regular and Reserve military personnel, Ministry of Defence (MoD) civilians, and contractors working together to deliver military capability. The approach aims to formalise and integrate all these component parts in a resilient, efficient and cost-effective manner. Central to this concept is the notion that the private sector is becoming an increasingly important component of the military’s operational capability.

As the government nears the conclusion of its Integrated Review of Security, Defence and Foreign Policy, the report provides a timely and important contribution to the on-going Whole Force debate and sets out a number of practical recommendations to progress its implementation. 

With Defence confronting a number of operational, equipment, budgetary and manpower issues, all of which are likely to intensify in the future, and which are already placing a significant strain on the UK’s military capabilities, senior MoD leaders have embraced the Whole Force as way of meeting current and future challenges. However, whilst there has been movement in operationalising the policy, progress has fallen short of a seamless integration of industry into the Whole Force that many had hoped would develop.

Drawn from original research interviews with Defence practitioners and material sourced from three roundtable events, which brought together current and former MoD and military officials, industry representatives and academics, the report puts forward a list of practical recommendations designed to progress the Whole Force and improve the Defence public-private partnership model. The recommendations are designed to be relevant for both government and industry, and, if adopted, should help to foster more effective public-private engagement necessary to implement and enhance the Whole Force.

The report author, Professor John Gearson Director, Centre for Defence Studies, said:

“The CDS is delighted to have worked with the Serco Institute to produce this independent report on the Whole Force.”

“While there are risks involved in further private sector integration into the UK’s Defence system, the benefits of maximising a fully integrated Whole Force considerably outweigh any disadvantages.”

“The Whole Force, if planned strategically and implemented consistently and efficiently, provides Defence with a means of increasing its capacity and resilience.”

“This is especially important given that Defence faces significant strategic and operational challenges, all of which are likely to intensify, and which are already placing strain on its ability to deliver military outputs.”

Kate Steadman, Director of the Serco Institute, said:

“The military’s central role in supporting the UK’s response to the Coronavirus Pandemic has reinforced the importance of having a defence sector that can keep us safe in the face of ever-changing threats.

“Now, more than ever, we need to see the conclusions of this report put into action and the benefits of Whole Force by Design realised including greater cost-effectiveness and a stronger and more capable defence capacity.

“By embracing Whole Force by Design we can smooth the transition between old and new technologies and accelerate the Ministry of Defence’s practical transformation in the face of new threats, including in areas such as Cyber, space defence, and autonomous systems.”

In this story

John Gearson

Head of the School of Security Studies

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