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Exploring affordability in concept generation for complex defence products

Time: Fri 2022-06-03 10.00

Location: E3, Osquars backe 14, Stockholm

Video link:

Language: English

Subject area: Machine Design

Doctoral student: Daniel Amann , Maskinkonstruktion (Inst.)

Opponent: Associate professor Poul Kyvsgaard Hansen, Aalborg university

Supervisor: Professor Mats Magnusson, Maskinkonstruktion (Inst.); Doktor Ingrid Kihlander, RISE

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National defence budgets face pressure from intergenerational escalating costs for complex defence products, such as fighter aircraft and submarines. These escalating costs originate from ever-increasing performance requirements due to the competitive nature of warfare. In combat, only winning is good enough. Therefore, the products’ performance is considered crucial for gaining an edge over an opponent. 

As the continuous development of ever-costlier complex defence products is not sustainable, it is high time for a path change towards affordability, meaning less costly products without any compromises in terms of operational requirements. However, the fact that this cost escalation has long been recognised as unsustainable indicates that a path change towards affordability will not be easy to achieve. Such a path change will likely require radical changes in product concepts – even though costs might be reduced in other ways, product concepts are believed to have the greatest potential. 

In accordance with this assumption, this thesis suggest that the phenomenon of continuous generation of ever-costlier complex defence concepts is ultimately sealed in the front end of innovation, where opportunities are identified and product concepts are defined. Accordingly, this thesis aims to explore how firms and customers can influence activities in the front end of innovation in order to successfully manage the affordability of complex defence products. 

This aim is approached through phenomenon-driven research performed in a set of four concatenated studies, represented by five papers. By letting successive studies be informed by preceding studies, new knowledge and theory are added to this under-researched topic. Empirically, several factors and aspects influencing the front end of innovation are identified as potential barriers to or enablers of path changes towards affordability. In addition, different measures that companies and customers can adopt to support such path changes are proposed. 

The thesis contributes to extant theory by providing a definition of affordability adapted to complex defence products, and by contrasting affordability with established concepts and methods aimed at making products less costly. Furthermore, benefits and deficiencies in the industry’s handling of concept generation for complex defence products are highlighted from an affordability perspective, and the influence of specific characteristics on path changes towards affordability in relation to complex defence equipment is described and discussed. Finally, conditions supporting affordability related to opportunities, knowledge and motivations are described, and the benefits of providing those generating complex capability-oriented concepts with cost-related information are demonstrated.

In addition to these contributions to theory, this thesis has several implications for the practice of companies and governmental customers. It highlights measures that these two sets of actors can take to shape conditions and, thereby, influence key activities in the front end of innovation to generate complex defence-product concepts that meet affordability criteria. These suggested measures constitute an embryo of an explicit approach to affordability management.