The tendering process in the Ministry of Defence

Increasing their defence spend for the first time in a decade will be seen this year by European NATO states. Concerns about Russia, the migrant crisis and the terrorist threat have led to many European governments focusing on their military budget. Director of International Business Development at Ultralife, David Reeves, explains why the company has chosen to expand its services in Europe.

Each country has its own variations of the defence supply chain. However, government defence departments typically look to prime contractors to fulfil orders. These prime contractors are often given the contract for an entire programme, such as equipping a soldier for a new mission. The prime contractor will then search for original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) who can supply equipment for the package. Alternatively, they might buy products from manufacturers who produce off-the-shelf goods.

The exception to this rule comes when there is an urgent operational requirement. When troops are unexpectedly deployed or existing equipment is destroyed in operation, UK Government defence departments will often go to suppliers directly.

At Ultralife, we provide a range of commercial and military off-the-shelf goods and have previously supplied products into the UK Bowman programme; a range of tactical radios which are used on the frontline. By using off-the-shelf goods, companies can be assured that the equipment is ready for use and has already been tested to ensure it meets military regulations. Therefore, prime contractors can quickly integrate them into their equipment and governments can quickly deploy them to where they are required.

The briefing process

Once prime contractors have given their brief to the subcontractors, it is the subcontractor’s responsibility to ensure the timely delivery, quality, safety and reliability of the product. Using their own expertise, they also consider factors that may limit the original brief.

For example, a battery used to power a military radio must be able to withstand extreme conditions, from the hottest desert to the coolest Arctic frost. They also balance the practicalities of the design with the ergonomic impact on the soldier. The more features that are added on, the more batteries a soldier will typically need to carry, adding unwanted load for the soldier.

In the defence sector, we often compete against a number of other companies who offer similar products. In the battery industry in particular, all of our customers push against the laws of physics, wanting a smaller size and lighter weight coupled with an increase in power. By choosing experienced suppliers, customers should expect a top of the range innovative product from a company who works towards their goals.  

Innovation maintained

Suppliers should also suggest value propositions throughout the service life of the product. As technologies advance, the battery manufacturer should be at the forefront of innovation, suggesting useful modifications for the next generation of products and backing this up with credible test data. 

These upgrades and technology refreshes ensure that the products used in the military are the most up to date on the market. Ultralife recently acquired UK battery manufacturer Accutronics, whose extensive in house UK research and development (R&D) facilities mean we are able to stay at the cutting edge of battery technology in Europe.

Another important feature to consider when choosing a supplier is the after-sales programme. As contracts can often last for many years, it is essential that prime contractors take this into account in the form of warranties or service plans.

At Ultralife, we provide a through-life management plan to ensure that our products are effectively maintained. We support the prime contractor to ensure that the product is repaired or replaced if it is needed. By using a reliable supplier with a comprehensive after sales service, customers can avoid the problem of having products that need repair but can no longer be maintained by the original supplier.

All OEMs should prioritise quality and due diligence at all stages of the supply chain. By doing this, prime contractors and government departments can rest assured that they will receive a quality product at the cutting edge of technology from their suppliers. Given the large amount of money that the MoD invests into military equipment, it is in the interests of the supplier and the contractor to produce a quality product, the success of which could lead to further lucrative contracts.