It’s little wonder that, with global security high on the agenda, the UK defence budget is set to increase from £29.7 billion in 2004/05 to £33.4bn in 2007/08. In real terms (after inflation) this represents average annual growth of 1.4 per cent and will amount to the UK’s longest period of sustained real term growth in planned defence spending.

John Taylor, director general of information at the MoD, says: “The settlement for defence allows us to invest in new capabilities to increase our agility, flexibility and deployability. Providing world-class equipment to our Armed Forces requires major investment, so as well as using these increased resources we are also driving a major efficiency programme to maximise every penny spent on defence.” During this period the Ministry plans to spend some £3bn through its main divisions responsible for technology consumption – Defence Procurement Agency and its Science/Innovation/Technology unit – alone. That does not include its research and development (R&D) unit, the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl), from which defence systems specialist Qinetiq was floated on the London Stock Exchange in February 2006. The MoD is committed to making 2.5 per cent efficiency gains over the Spending Review period last completed in 2004. This equates to £2.8bn of efficiencies over the three years to 2007/08, which it has said it plans to reinvest. Technology has had a key role to play in this strategy for some time now.

Central to this has been the £4bn Defence Information Infrastructure (DII), a massive 10-year project designed to support MoD operations with a common, secure network. Seven years in and the project has faced criticisms of creeping scope and challenges inherent in its sheer scale. DII is intended to support 2,000 MoD sites with some 150,000 fixed or mobile terminals and 300,000 user accounts. There are likely to be several hundred applications available through DII, with the aim of them having consistency in look and feel of the Microsoft XP platform.

Also the ability to handle data classified as secret is fundamental to its design. “The programme is also an enabler for enhanced electronic communications in current military operations including Iraq and Afghanistan. This new IT system provides the framework for several other large-scale IT programmes.”

The network is also envisaged to handle not just data, but also graphics and video. But voice, as in Voice over Internet Protocol is out of scope and will be handled by a different MoD network. Similarly, communication with aircraft is out of scope and is handled by a further collection of networks. The Atlas consortium of companies, made up of EDS, Fujitsu, EADS, LogicaCMG and General Dynamics, was appointed to the task of rolling out DII in March 2005. In January 2007, Adam Ingram, Armed Forces minister said (in answer to a Parliamentary question) that a total of 2,244 new DII desktops had been delivered by 18 January and were operational across 166 of the 680 sites planned for phase one, due for completion in April.

He added that some 4,647 desktops should have been rolled out by the end of December 2006. “The rate of delivery of DII desktops is determined by a formal rollout schedule and this schedule relies on sites being prepared and ready to receive them. Delays in these areas, and in the provision of some software releases, have had an adverse effect on the speed with which ATLAS is able to rollout DII to sites,” said Ingram. As the programme is extended across the MoD, single applications that manage HR, financial logistics and military data are increasingly used to manage day-to-day defence business. “Over the next 12 months, an updated version of the system will be extended to the Army, Navy, RAF and MoD headquarters. The programme will enable several other business projects to be implemented and this will mean various locally-based IT systems and applications that are used by individual MoD sites are phased out.”