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The force structure set out in the SDSR and the remodelling of the MOD will be the most significant reform programme for a generation Minister for the Armed Forces Nick Harvey said today.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

Mr Harvey made these remarks during a speech entitled ‘Transforming Defence: Implementing the Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR)’, at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) today.

See Mr Harvey’s full speech at Related Links.

During the speech, Mr Harvey said:

The National Security Strategy (NSS) and the SDSR provide the baseline, the parameters, the direction for everything in Defence from this point on.

Strategy, operations, force structure, resource - all are framed by the vision set out in the SDSR. The SDSR is the agreed blueprint.

He added, however, that we do need to take our time to work through the decisions required to implement the vision:

They are not straightforward and they are not easy - the devil, as they say, is in the detail.

We need to make sure the growth of capability is coherent and compatible with current operations, to make sure that where we reduce we do so without creating undue pressure elsewhere, and where we strengthen capability we do so with new efficiency.

We need to make sure that our people are looked after through the process and that they understand what it is we are asking them to achieve.

Mr Harvey went on to say that the transformation of Defence is not just about creating a coherent defence capability for the future, but making that capability sustainable:

Just like the rest of Government, Defence must learn to live within its means,” he said.

That is why the reform agenda is not just about the big ticket items decided in the SDSR, it’s about driving through new systems and processes - of accountability, transparency, cost control, realistic planning, firm and controlled project management - to bring the efficiency required to keep Defence within the funding envelope.

He continued:

The SDSR took some very difficult decisions to help rebalance the defence programme and has significantly reduced the underfunding.

But the act of implementation will require us to continue to develop and refine our plans to live within our means - because we are not there yet.

Outlining the vision of Future Force 2020 Mr Harvey said:

Throughout the next few years, the mission in Afghanistan remains our Main Effort.

Having made this commitment in the SDSR, this shaped many of our other decisions; the proposed changes to the Army, for example, and the preference for Tornado over Harrier.

As we transform Defence we will have to ensure that the decisions we make do not have unintended consequences for operations in Afghanistan.

This may slow the process down as each implication is worked through, but it is the right thing to do - right for national security and right for the men and women on the ground in Afghanistan.

Despite the hardship and sacrifice shared with our international partners and the Afghans themselves, we are now operating from a position of strategic strength and there is cause for cautious optimism despite the significant challenges ahead.

We have made it clear that there will not be British troops in a combat role or in the numbers they are now in Afghanistan by 2015 and depending on progress we may be able to start reducing our footprint earlier as we transition to more of a support role.

So in transforming Defence we need also to think beyond Operation HERRICK and ensure equally that each decision we make is in line with the adaptable posture set out in the SDSR.

Future Force 2020 isn’t a specific package for a specific operation. It provides a menu of force elements from which we will be able to draw in the future.

It provides a force structure which will enable us to react rapidly to crises, to conduct operations similar to Afghanistan, but also to respond with flexibility and agility to a range of threats.

Mr Harvey said that the SDSR was not just about cuts, it was about change - transforming to meet the challenges of the future with coherent and sustainable capability:

It will take time to ensure we are making the best decisions possible, not only for the Armed Forces and our people, but taking into account the impact on the areas concerned.

At the same time, we need to maximise receipts for the taxpayer from disposals of those parts of the estate we no longer need. All in all, a massively complex jigsaw which we will take some time to assemble.

I know that people want clarity as soon as possible, but I would prefer to get these things right rather than rush them.

Mr Harvey also talked about the role of the MOD, saying it is equally important that we transform how we do things as well as what we do:

To be successful, transformed Armed Forces require a transformed Ministry of Defence.

We must recognise how immensely complex and wide-ranging the business of Defence is, and, while the MOD knows it needs to change, it is worth reflecting on the vast amount of work that the Department carries out quietly and effectively.

The MOD undertakes a huge and diverse set of tasks, from military operations to estate management, from medical services to postal services, from meteorology to coastal protection.

This makes it difficult to bring unified strategic direction to all parts of the Department. Much has improved in the last few years, but much more needs to be done.

Under the leadership of Lord Levene, the Defence Reform Unit is working through how to create a MOD that is simpler, more effective, better-led, and, quite frankly, less wasteful of time and resources.

Everything is in its scope. We are looking at the whole system, the ‘operating model’ of Defence - the internal structure and processes, the senior rank structure, and how people are to be held to account.

We are looking at how to incentivise staff so that the behaviours we want to see are encouraged - leadership, personal accountability, creative thinking and innovation.

We are looking at how we generate and sustain forces, as well as at tour lengths and harmony guidelines.

And in all of this we are working to reduce significantly the running costs of Defence.

Mr Harvey said this programme to transform Defence cannot be done overnight, it will take time to implement:

But taken all together the force structure set out in the SDSR and the remodelling of the MOD by the Defence Reform Unit, this will be the most significant reform programme for a generation.

We have new leadership in the form of the new Government, a new Chief of the Defence Staff, General Richards, and the new Permanent Secretary, Ursula Brennan, along with Jon Day and Bernard Gray.

Success will be collective, as must be the effort. It will be the energy and determination of military, Civil Service and indeed the wider Defence community, including yourselves, that will make the transformation in Defence happen.

Published 10 January 2011