The UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) is making permanent a streamlined acquisition unit that was started as an experiment two years ago. The Rapid Capabilities Office (RCO) has injected a sense of innovation and urgency by “supercharging, not subverting, the system,” according to Air Vice Marshall "Rocky" Rochelle, the MoD’s chief of staff for capability and force development.
The British RCO has followed the lead given by a similarly named and chartered organization in the Pentagon. Like Bob Work, who headed the American RCO, Rochelle has stressed the ever-accelerating pace of commercial information and systems-technology development, and the need for the defense world to exploit this. “Why aren’t we doing acquisition like Google or Elon Musk?” he asked.
“We have a culture that strives to achieve 100 percent solutions but it is handicapped by risk aversion,” Rochelle said at the Air Power Conference in London last week. “The current way of doing things often leads to costly and extended integration of capabilities.”
Like its U.S. counterpart, the British RCO is working a number of classified projects. But Rochelle has publicized two emblematic efforts. One was the rapid development and launch of a small satellite named Carbonite 2 that is now providing color video surveillance imagery from space. The other was an active decoy system named Britecloud that was quickly fielded on the RAF’s Tornado combat jets. Rochelle revealed that development funding for these efforts was shared equally between the MoD and the contractors—Surrey Satellite Technology and Leonardo, respectively.
The RCO is currently studying future combat aircraft concepts with BAE Systems, Leonardo, MBDA, and Rolls-Royce in a grouping named Team Tempest. This work is running in parallel with the Anglo-French Future Combat Air Systems (FCAS) studies that BAE Systems and Dassault Aviation have been leading.
According to Rochelle, the Team Tempest work is focused on open systems design, modularity, and affordability through applications. Earlier this year, the RCO issued an RFI for low-cost, dispensible combat UAVs. It went to small and medium-sized companies and to academia, as well as to established defense companies.
But, as Rochelle noted last week, the development of next-generation capabilities should avoid “a dogged fixation on platforms.” Information will be the lifeblood of the future, he said. The RCO is exploring “agile” rather than “fixed” command and control, because “the opposition will try to disrupt our [command and control], so we need multiple pathways to get the information forward.” Rochelle also emphasized multiple rather than single domains; and much greater fusion of sensor information.