Most people look forward to retirement as a time to relax and take it easy, but for the 500 strong members of Universal Defence and Security Solutions Ltd (UDSS) – all former employees of the Armed Forces and Civil Service – that was never going to be the case.
UDSS is the brainchild of General Sir Richard Barrons KCB CBE and business man Peter Hewitt JP. It was founded in 2019 as a platform for highly experienced ex-servicemen – among them 3* and 4* generals – to continue to put their skills and experience to good use. Describing itself as a private consultancy firm offering, ‘policy, strategy and operational solutions for governments and businesses worldwide,’ it is, according to UDSS’s director, Vice Admiral (Ret'd) Duncan L Potts CB, “unique within the UK and Europe.”
Professional Military Education (PME) is an important part of UDSS’s repertoire. “PME is a very powerful part of defence engagement and the UK have a strong reputation for military thinking and education,” Potts tells me. “During my last job as Director General of Joint Force Development, I realised that the UK was providing education and training to about 120 countries around the world – that’s over 60 per cent of the UN. The demand is there, but the Armed Forces no longer has the capacity to support it.”
Earlier this year the Nigerian government requested assistance from the British government with the revision of their military doctrine. Rather than having to refuse Nigeria’s request, Westminster was able to commission UDSS to deliver on their behalf. “Good doctrine underpins all military activity…offering a guide on how to think, not what to think,” says John Kingwell CBE, head of strategy and PME at UDSS. “What the Nigerian chief of the army staff wanted was a complete review and refresh of how Nigerian armed forces create their doctrine. The relationship between doctrine and concepts, how you actually produce doctrine and the role of doctrine in counter-insurgency operations,” (one of Nigeria’s greatest security threats). “I was able to talk to the British military team currently based there, find out what the requirement was, and fly out two great instructors to run a bespoke one week course.”
"Clear doctrine is something every company and organisation can benefit from – from a corporate
law firm to the NHS – and UDSS can tailor courses
on it to meet their specific needs."
Phil McEvoy OBE
“Doctrine isn’t the most sexy topic… it’s pretty niche,” admits Phil McEvoy OBE, one of the instructors sent to Nigeria and a former lawyer in the Armed Forces. “The basis of the Nigerian course was to provide an oversight on military doctrine and how it’s produced in the UK, but the benefits are only felt if you have an organisation that’s prepared to write the doctrine in the first place, keep it updated and then implement it throughout their armed forces. That country, whether it’s Nigeria or Ghana, has got to have that focus and be able to take it forward to educate and inform. This all helps modernise these armies, which in turn is beneficial to the UK.”
Good doctrine isn’t only applicable to the Armed Forces – other industries can benefit too, says McEvoy. “It’s about asking yourself what you're doing, why you're going to do it and how you're going to it. Of course, other industries do ask those questions of themselves but whether it’s written down in doctrine format is something else. Clear doctrine is something every company and organisation can benefit from – from a corporate law firm to the NHS – and UDSS can tailor courses on it to meet their specific needs.”
So who exactly is UDSS’s target client? Kingwell replies, “Existing overseas militaries and governments, of course, but also the UK government, to make them realise that this spare capacity is here and able to support. The third group of people are diplomats and business leaders, all of who can benefit from our Executive Development Programme, which focuses on strategy, leadership, crisis management, operational logistics and talent development – all areas which the military have an unrivalled reputation in.”
One important point that Potts makes is that, while UDSS can draw upon its members to offer a panoply of services, it does not get involved in direct operations, nor will it do anything that is counter to the UK’s national interest. As for what the future holds, Potts envisions UDSS growing to become the lead defence consultancy in the world, a place where governments, militaries, diplomats and corporate companies can come for marked advice from those who have delivered at the top of their game in UK defence, offering cyber and technology support at one end of the scale, and land, air, maritime, environment security as well as PME at the other. “It’s in keeping with our government’s desire to create a global Britain,” Potts says. “The idea of harnessing these skill sets together and becoming the go-to reservoir. It’s a game changer.”