Some 40 years ago at the Royal Navy career office in Hartlepool, in the North East of England, a Royal Marine noticed a young boy loitering outside. He went to investigate.
“What do you want?” he demanded.
The 12 year old David Moody stood firm. “I want to join the Navy,” he said. “What makes you think you can join the Navy?” responded the Marine. Again, the reply was swift. “I’m 12. Nelson was 12 when he joined the Navy and I want to join the Navy.” At which point the Marine relaxed and invited him inside.
This interaction, which came about only after Moody skipped school and walked almost 10 miles from his home in central Middlesbrough, was actually rooted from much earlier in his life when, aged 5 years old, his family purchased their first colour television. “I remember watching a Royal Navy warship steaming across the screen and I turned around and said ‘I want to do that’,” recalls Moody. “My Dad thought it was just a passing fancy but I was totally captivated.”
Fast forward to today and Moody is a serving Royal Navy Captain, on the verge of being promoted to Commodore to become Head of Space Capability at UK Space Command. It’s been quite the journey, one that has taken in a range of seafaring roles, as well as positions with NATO, military crisis command and, on one memorable occasion, the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), where he was responsible for providing 24/7/365 mobile telephony for Afghanistan and working closely with the Afghan government and cellular providers.
Moody’s current focus, however, is an endeavour which marries the potential of humankind and technology, one which captures our restless yearning for exploration and discovery, not to mention our collective determination to break new frontiers: space.
Out of this world
Ever since Galileo built his first telescope in 1609, people young and old have been drawn to the promise of celestial exploration. Today is no different. We continue to gaze upward at the night sky, dreaming of what lies beyond. However, space is now not only a source of awe and wonder but the newest Defence domain, one that has rapidly become critical to military operations large and small.
Think about it. Today’s armed forces need space-based assets such as satellites for reconnaissance, weather monitoring, communication, GPS navigation and much else besides. The information gathered and delivered through satellites is critical for national security operations and missions, including crisis response and counter-terrorism. And at the same time, space is becoming more crowded and competitive, with satellites vulnerable to interference from hostile actors and space hazards such as debris and space weather.
Just like his 12 year old self, Moody refuses to flinch. “I’m looking forward to it,” he says. “The government has set itself some fairly heady ambitions in the Integrated Review and Defence Command Paper, which talk about national ambition to be a meaningful space actor by 2030.” A challenge of this magnitude, he continues, will require enormous effort, in part due to the sheer number of other countries also increasingly reliant on space and taking advantage of their ability access space themselves.
“The velocity of technology development in the space sector is bewildering. Keeping pace with these advances, while also contextualising our capability development in a manner which is consistent with national ambition across a rapidly developing international stage, is a tall order”
Captain David Moody, Head of Space Capability at UK Space Command
“The rest of the world – and I don’t just mean the big players like America, China, Russia and India – is waking up to their dependence on space,” he points out. “And the velocity of technology development in the space sector is bewildering. Keeping pace with these advances, while also contextualising our capability development in a manner which is consistent with national ambition across a rapidly developing international stage, is a tall order. If the Space Command Capability Team can crack this in three years we will have done well, but that’s the challenge.”
Fortunately, as he begins this new celestial quest, Moody can call on his eclectic range of career experiences which will no doubt help shape his approach.
Starting life on the ocean wave
Moody’s 36 year career is a testament to the Royal Navy’s ability to train its personnel and push them onwards towards fresh challenges and steeper responsibilities. It helps, though, when individuals possess the drive and ambition which Moody clearly has in spades.
His naval career began in September 1985, starting work as an apprentice – “having messed up my ‘A’ level exams I could no longer join directly as an officer” – but he soon realised that he’d make the right decision to opt for life at sea, rather than an alternative ‘back-up’ career with British Steel. And he wasn’t one for life in the background either.
“Upon joining HMS Collingwood in 1986 I told my brand-new divisional officer that I didn’t want to be there,” recalls Moody.
“He thought I meant the Royal Navy as a whole but what I meant was that I could probably make Chief Petty Officer by the time I was 28 years old and then what would I do? I told my Divisional Officer that I wanted to transfer to be an officer. He liked my ambition but said that my education wasn’t quite good enough and we’d have to work on that. Throughout the following two years at HMS Collingwood, and throughout my apprenticeship, I passed every exam and won virtually every prize going; this proved to my line managers that I was serious.”
His officer career began in 1988, with stints at Dartmouth Royal Naval College and the Royal Naval Engineering College followed by his first role as a Deputy Weapons Section Officer on HMS BRAVE, and then a few years teaching electronic warfare, which is where he was selected for a his full career commission as an officer.
Shortly afterwards, Moody’s career “really started to take off” with a posting to NATO with responsibility as the System Manager for all of NATO’s strategic communications throughout North Western Europe. “I went there as a relatively senior lieutenant but even so this was quite the baptism and it felt like it was more responsibility than any lieutenant should be asked to cope with,” he admits.
Taking on such responsibility, including all of the satellite communications down to submarine communications in support of NATO forces deployed around the world, proved to be an enormously broadening time. The role meant he had to manage NATO’s communication systems and provide technical, engineering and logistic support to a number of communication sites in Denmark, Germany, Norway and the UK. But it clearly went well – shortly afterwards he was promoted, again, this time to the rank of Lieutenant Commander.
Rather than returning to a posting aboard ship, Moody’s next role was again on land, this time a three year posting at the Defence Crisis Management Centre (DCMC), a role which he describes as “one of the most defining jobs in my career”.
His primary role was to co-ordinate, manage, upgrade and deliver the DCMC’s communications and information systems and this involved the management and control of senior officer briefings and classified video-tele conferencing with international partners, as well as co-ordination with crisis management organisations across a range of government departments and international partners. The posting coincided with a time of huge tumult – both at home and abroad.
“From a country perspective we had events like the Foot and Mouth outbreak, the fuel crisis and the Fire Brigade strike, while the biggest worldwide event was 9/11,” he says. “Being at the very heart of the government response to these events, including the beginnings of ISAF and helping government develop the national civil contingency secretariat handbook for managing national emergencies, meant that I’d never had a more challenging or rewarding time in my career.”
To illustrate his point, he recounts what happened at the height of the fuel crisis – where protestors blocked oil refineries and depots in response to rising petrol and diesel fuel prices and caused widespread disruption to fuel supplies.
“I was at home on the south coast and I was urgently recalled to London but had not refuelled my car that weekend” recalls Moody. “The Chief of Defence Staff duty officer spoke to Gold Command then I was phoned up by a Metropolitan Police Commander saying I was to proceed straight to the front of the queue at a specific fuel station near my home and a police cruiser would be waiting for me by a pump.
“When I got there the policeman told me to fill up my car, beyond the two gallons limit which everyone else faced. He then insisted on escorting me under blue lights towards London, so I could make it in time. This drove home the importance of what I was doing in terms of supporting Defence tasks with national and international implications.”
A return to sea on HMS MONTROSE followed and time in both Navy Command Headquarters and the Maritime Capability Trials and Assessment team. His work over that period had been growing his profile and he was subsequently rewarded with promotion to Commander.
Next stop, Kabul
Another key career highlight was Moody’s posting to Afghanistan where he was employed as a lead officer for cellular communications as part of ISAF.
“Having originally joined ISAF in a civil military liaison role, I was quickly brought in front of General John Allen, the ISAF commander at the time, worried about what I’d possibly done wrong, only to be told that he was placing me in charge of mobile telephony for the entire country, which was a bit of a surprise as you can imagine,” recalls Moody.
“I then met with senior government officials and ministers, and went to work on restoring cellular communications on a 24/7 basis for Afghanistan. By working with mobile telephone companies and countering insurgent and criminal disruption, ISAF ensured that the government could appropriately communicate with its population. I came back from that particular tour to be one of only seven UK people that year who were awarded a NATO meritorious service medal.”
UK Space Command, which only opened for business in April this year, is staffed from the Royal Navy, British Army and Royal Air Force, as well as the civil service. Based at RAF High Wycombe, alongside RAF Air Command, its three functions are space operations; space workforce training and growth; and space capability, Moody’s area, which is focused on developing and delivering space equipment programmes.
Moody is clear that his area will only flourish if it is able to harness the talents and knowledge of the UK’s rich ecosystem of partners across government, academia and industry alongside international partners all working together to strengthen UK national security. “We are absolutely dependent on industrial linkages and partnerships that are of mutual benefit,” he explains.
“Defence alone does not have the financial headroom to develop the all the space technology itself including taking advantage of machine learning, advanced robotics, quantum technologies alongside space based systems. Commercially everything that flies, moves and sails, and that has a link to space, has their technology needs. And in many cases the government is no longer at the forefront of that technology drive. Defence and wider government will have to carefully work together and harness commercial and defence consortia and alliances.”
Moody goes on to say that Space Command will also have to strike a balance between developing new technologies and maintaining what it can already call upon.
“New innovative technological investment that simultaneously adopts machine learning and artificial intelligence within existing frameworks to get near to original return on investment is ok, but not to the point it becomes an overwhelming distraction and hides a revolutionary opportunity”
Captain David Moody, Head of Space Capability at UK Space Command
“There may a need for hard choices including having the courage to ‘sunset’ particular capabilities as maintenance may not realise the original return on investment or benefit” he points out. “New innovative technological investment that simultaneously adopts machine learning and artificial intelligence within existing frameworks to get near to original return on investment is ok, but not to the point it becomes an overwhelming distraction and hides a revolutionary opportunity.”
Getting the mix between fresh investment and maintenance of existing capability is far from easy, he continues. “It is a difficult path to follow,” he admits. “Difficult because Defence is a publicly accountable body and having already invested heavily it should always maximise the return. This is going to be a challenge especially considering the technology velocity in the space sector.”
Despite such challenges, Moody blends confidence and optimism about what lies ahead and that should come as little surprise. After all, his has been quite the career arc, packed full of achievements and highlights, all of which will doubtless stand him in good stead for his new role. And yet some of his experiences remain classified – for the time being at least.
“The thing I’m most proud of? My time at the DCMC and in ISAF in Afghanistan are high on that list, but the rest I’ll keep to myself!”
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