In spring 2016, EXPLOINSIGHTS was invited to participate on the Industry Panel for the annual National Defense Industrial Association’s (NDIA) Munitions Executive Summit (MES).
These events have an interesting past: they last for about 1.5 hours, and the idea is that selected employees from companies with a background relevant to the “theme” of the conference are invited to give a short briefing on their perspective of said conference theme. What has made these “interesting” is that some speakers give great briefings that get you to think, while others simply use the session as an opportunity to promote their company – “We are X, located in places a, b and c; we make and provide these widgets and these services, and we are brilliant“.
The theme for the MES this year was “Munitions Operations in a Complex Business Environment“:
EXPLOINSIGHTS Inc. was asked to provide a perspective of the Government-owned Contractor Operated (GOCO) facilities versus private Company Owned Company Operated (COCO) facilities.
For those not in-the-know, the subject of “GOCO v COCO” is hotly debated in both industry and government circles, and with controversial positions from some stakeholders at times. A recipe for an interesting Industry Panel discussion!
EXPLOINSIGHTS invitation was based on the CEO’s (Andrew Wilson) experience at working at both GOCO and COCO facilities in the field of energetic materials and ammunition (Andrew’s experience is unique, as he performed that role in both the UK (early career) and USA (since 1999). Unsurprisingly, Andrew had an opinion on the subject, but what probably caught many people off-guard is that Andrew’s view was NOT (as is common for these events) influenced by the fact that he was now a COCO employee (normally, COCO stakeholders support the COCO’s, and GOCO stakeholders of course support the GOCO – partisan like). Not today:
A full copy of the Munitions Executive Summit briefing, which includes the EXPLOINSIGHTS briefing developed and presented by Andrew, is available from here or here. Andrew’s briefing explained how he personally is strongly in favor of GOCO facilities (even though he now does NOT work at one, so that makes him instantly a rare-person at these events – arguing FOR a national capability that does not provide employment). He made the case that military grade Energetic Materials (propellants & explosives) AND the resulting ammunition products are not commodities and should not be treated as such, because free-world “market forces” are not the driving forces behind conflict and thus the need to defend a nation against an aggressor. Andrew said that trying to treat ammunition as a commodity and allowing for a “decline” in a nations ability to make lethal ammunition because “demand is low today” is tantamount to giving up your place on the world stage. There are no buggy-whip producers today, and that’s OK because we don’t need them to beat bad-guys trying to kill us. But if you stop buying ammunition today because we are at peace or, as Andrew argued, close down a power-house ammunition plant because we don’t need the volumes today then you better hope you NEVER need them EVER again because you cannot re-establish them overnight. And private COCO industry simply cannot turn-up the production dial and make 50-times more of what you are buying simply because you have a conflict that no-one expected. So Andrew came out strongly in favor of retaining GOCO’s and investing in them. And unsurprisingly, that remains his position today too.
As part of his presentation, Andrew contrasted the state of affairs of the US v UK energetic materials industrial capabilities: the US has two very large GOCO plants that produce propellants and explosives. These are expensive to own and maintain, even by government spending standards; but they exist and they can produce a LOT of energetic material relatively quickly. Contrasting that, the UK closed its indigenous propellant and explosive capabilities at the turn of the century. This was effectively a COMPANY decision, not a government decision; And today, Britain buys explosives from France, and propellants from Germany. Andrew says he often wonders how that sits with UK Generals and military strategists now. And the recent BREXIT decision is not likely to make that a more palatable strategy going forward. Andrew says Watch to see WHEN Britain changes its mind, and learns that ammunition and explosives are NOT commodities after all!
Andrew explains that after his talk, during which he got a lot of questions (they ran out of time), he got a lot of additional questions and feedback during the subsequent conference breaks regarding his part of the briefing. He explains there were company and US government officials that “wanted to hug me”, but also one company official wanted to “stab me in the eye with a spear”. By Andrew’s assessment, that meant he got their attention, which was his goal.