Well, what was all that about?

What an intriguing occurrence DSEI was earlier this month. The event was huge with the queues for refreshments only eclipsed by the lines waiting for the Ladies’ toilets: remarkable given that, from the footfall witnessed at the Excel Centre, the defence sector is still clearly dominated by men. The organisers reported that DSEI had grown by 25 percent on 2021 which seemed like an understatement as I waited patiently for my decaffeinated mocha – tip for 2025, the South Entrance noodles bar has the smallest queue and surprisingly good coffee. There were two real take-aways for me which has caused me to reflect over the past couple of weeks.

First, the vast and impressive BAE Systems’ stand took pride of place at the venue. But, for the first time that I can remember, it was located proudly in the international section instead of the UK area. This reflects, perhaps, the recent half-yearly commercial performance announcements that demonstrated that 2022 sales were dominated by the US client at 44 percent of sales, with Europe and the Middle East representing 30 percent and the UK at 20 percent. Whilst the company has been an international defence giant for decades now, employing 93,000 people in around forty countries, its confidence as a global player, bestriding borders, seemed more observable than ever. It will always feel British, but it will no doubt possess multiple other national identities within its global reach.

Second, and related, it was clear that BAE Systems, and other prime design, build and technology businesses, are continuing to come to the market in part through ever more strategic partnerships. Tempest, of course, is a key exemplar of this. Moreover, we can all anticipate the potential collaborations associated with emerging AUKUS ambitions and items such as training transformation in the UK.  Given these long-term federations and strategic affiliations, there will be an increasing need for the single version of the truth that project and risk management practices bring to defence. In an increasingly complex world with transformative technologies tumbling over themselves to change both the human condition and how we anticipate defending our lands, these integrated PM skills will embrace both diagnostics, at project inception, and through-life delivery. Stretching between partners, governmental clients, military end-users and across wickedly complicated supply and knowledge chains, the project control system will be seen as a strategic asset in its own right, driving both corporate performance and military effect.

By 2025, the organisers of DSEI might even utilise project risk management competencies to mitigate the risk of dehydration or bladder infection as the defence sector grows still further.

John Louth

Professor John Louth is senior strategic adviser to Redstone Risk. He serves on a number of UK defence boards as either a non-executive director or strategic adviser and sits on the panel of advisers to the House of Commons Defence Select Committee. His latest book on UK exports was published this year by Routledge. He is a collaborating professor with the University of South Australia in Adelaide.