The Mortimer Review of Defence Procurement and Sustainment is a fascinating document. It makes a lot of sense, and there would be few who'd criticise defence minister Joel Fitzgibbon for implementing most of David Mortimer's recommendations.
Turning the Defence Materiel Organisation (DMO) into an Executive Agency would be an important step towards achieving the culture change that both its head, Dr Steve Gumley, and Australia's defence industry are keen to see. While this might make the DMO more distant from its principal customer, the Australian Defence Force (ADF), there's no evidence that the current relationship supports their mutual goal of delivering equipment and capability on time and to the required level of functionality.
However, while many will focus on Mortimer's analysis of the DMO, he also makes some very important comments about the Capability Development Group (CDG). This is responsible for identifying capability gaps and setting operational requirements for new equipment, but its people don’t understand the commercial and technical risks associated with military equipment acquisitions, Mortimer believes. “Defence has often pursued a unique Australian solution or modified an existing solution without appropriate understanding of the attendant risks to cost, schedule and delivery. It is important that this be avoided in the future,” he said.
Part of the problem, he believes, lies in the inexperience of ADF officers posted into the CDG. Not only do they lack project management skills, their postings last an average of only 18 months, despite the complexity of the projects they are working on and the lengthy deliberations and analysis required to develop them adequately.
Mortimer rightly points out that many defence procurement problems have their genesis at the Capability Development stage: "It is no exaggeration to say that the work of CDG is critical to the success or failure of the acquisition that follows." Defence acknowledged many of these issues when it implemented some of the recommendations of the 2003 Kinnaird Review, and both the DMO head, Dr Steve Gumley, and his counterpart at CDG, LTGEN David Hurley, emphasised how closely they were working together to improve Defence's capability development and acquisition processes.
But the CDG needs much more expertise in cost and schedule estimation and project management, believes Mortimer, as well as the project management skills necessary to deal with the inherent ambiguities at the early stages of major defence projects: “it is unrealistic to expect military personnel with limited training in project management to plan major acquisition projects,” he said flatly.
Defence has been a founder member of a new College of Complex Project Management, to which Dr Gumley attaches great importance. But the expression 'Complex Project Management' doesn't simply refer to the contractual and and engineering challenges of building and delivering a piece of defence equipment. It also embraces the uncertainties and ambiguities of the project's requirements definition stage: that's where the complexities lie. That is where the systems engineering approach must be applied by masters of complex project management - and that mastery must extend into the DMO also to ensure a continuum from conception to delivery, says Mortimer.
Mortimer recommends buying lots more defence equipment off the shelf; he argues a strong case, but as a separate post on this Blog points out, it is possible to reduce project cost and schedule risks while supporting an expanded role for Australia's defence industry: all it takes is the political will to make it happen, and a bit of enlightened self-interest by the ADF in supporting its domestic industry sustainment base.