Dutch defense spends big on IT infrastructure, COMMS, and IT skills
The Government of the Netherlands is sparing no expense for its ongoing tactical communication tools and related IT infrastructure program dubbed Foxtrot. The program, which kicked off in 2020 and is worth between €1 billion – €2.5 billion, is starting to take shape with the first platform with modern connectivity (Spiral 0) to be delivered in 2026 and defense forces to use the first modern connection tools and underlying IT infrastructure by 2034.
Earlier this month, Defence Minister Ollongren, in a letter to the House of Representatives, discussed the needs of the Foxtrot program stating the modernization and replacement of tactical IT infrastructure resources (including military radios, internal vehicle networks, and intercom systems, command & control applications) to be vital the armed forces’ future.
Foxtrot will focus on military transmission and related services (combat net radio, aerial relay, and handheld radio), civilian transmission (Wi-Fi/LAN, SATCOM, LTE (4G/5G), IT infrastructure and platforms (network & intercom, position, NAV & timing, processing & storage, end-user devices, and gateways/security), and technical applications and middleware/core services.
The IT acquisition strategy explicitly shows a preference for Dutch suppliers. Despite the Defence Industry Strategy (DIS) stating a “balance between the best price for the best product, within the right time” approach, the Ministry of Defence’s Foxtrot program “opts for a 'best of breed' strategy in which the most suitable (part) systems are acquired from the market.” Suggesting, that there are also opportunities and value for non-Dutch IT infrastructure, (off-the-shelf) software, and services providers – those already working with Dutch allied countries are preferred, e.g., IBM, which delivered the UK’s new command and control (C2) system called GUARDIAN to enhance the UK’s air defenses.
One such example stems from US-based L3Harris Technologies, which was selected in November 2023 by the Netherlands Armed Forces to supply its radios for the Foxtrot tactical digitization program. L3Harris Technologies will deliver communication equipment for approximately 8,000 vehicles, 3,500 military personnel, 135 vessels, 170 aircraft and helicopters to improve interoperability between units, international partners, and the Netherlands Ministry of Defence (MoD). The first operational units will be equipped with the systems from 2026.
Frontier IT (GrIT) and Improved Operational Soldier System (VOSS)
Foxtrot is linked to two other ongoing IT transformation projects within the Dutch Ministry of Defence. The GrIT program with a budget of €3.3 billion must provide a renewed IT infrastructure for Defence and partly replace the current IT, covering data centers, networks, workplaces, cybersecurity, and managed services.
In September 2023, State Secretary Christophe van der Maat said that the ongoing program made insufficient progress in the first half of 2023, lacking project monitoring and progress measurement following a review by the ICT Assessment Advisory Board. On the recommendation of the advisory board, Defence will monitor supplier results in a more businesslike manner, meaning that it will no longer grant new assignments until previous stages have been successfully delivered.
VOSS, with a budget of €250 million to €1 billion, relates to the purchasing of new field equipment and also touches upon Foxtrot in the sense of smart combat vests and network combat control components supplied by Elbit, i.e., portable software-defined E-LynX radio station, a Raptor tablet computer, and related communication tools.
Bridging the IT Skills Gap
The Dutch defense sector is not only spending big on new communication tools and underlying IT infrastructure. In November 2022, on behalf of the Ministry of Defence, the Purchasing Execution Centre of the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate carried out a tender worth €400 million to hire new IT talent.
The contract framework awarded to Experis Professionals, HeadFirst, Hero Interim Professionals, ItaQ, the Dutch Center for Interim Management (NCIM), Need Staffing IT, and SynProfs, started to allocate permanent and temporary IT professionals on March 1st, 2023.
Important skills added to the MoD’s portfolio include cybersecurity, modern networks, data & analytics, intelligent technologies (IoT, AI), and legacy application and IT infrastructure transformation/modernization.
PAC opinion: While the Dutch defense sector continues to splash out on IT infrastructure, communication tools, and IT skills in a wide range of fields, project management is lacking, and quite frankly, has been deficient over the last decades leading to overspending and delivery delays, project postponement, and cancelations.
This may be down to the recurring IT suppliers and lack of MoD oversight, suggesting that, albeit challenging due to project sensitivity, room should be made to give new suppliers, with proven project management skills, an opportunity to work alongside existing suppliers and the MoD.