The desire to consolidate the Army’s vehicle fleet is about more than mere neatness, the more vehicle types we have, the more we need vehicle mechanics to be trained and when they are on a training course who is actually doing the spanner bashing, the more spares we need, the more contracts we have to manage, the more driver training, the more driver training course course development, the more driver course instructors, plus their trainers, the more ECM and communication integration (this is very expensive) and the more logistics planning activity that needs to be undertaken. Each military MoD civilian or military person in this chain has pension obligations, travel expenses and administration overheads.
The list goes on and on, so the end result of more vehicle types is quite simply, a ballooning of costs.
It might be stating the obvious, this is ‘not a good thing’
Due to a number of factors, the current situation, to be charitable, is a dogs breakfast, an understandable and entirely reasonable dogs breakfast, but a dogs breakfast nevertheless.
This is not news of course, it is well recognised by all concerned and several programmes have sought to reign it in, but the combination of a lack of cash, other priorities and operations in Afghanistan and Iraq have put paid to most of these.
Whilst the MoD and its civilian and military staff can be rightly proud of the manner in which Urgent Operational Requirements have been fulfilled, the failure of the MoD and Army to provide adequate vehicles in the main equipment programme is an illustration writ large of all that is wrong with our system of acquisition.
We should not let the success of the UOR system compensate or somehow obscure the fact that a UOR is a fundamental admission of failure to provide equipment for largely foreseeable needs. The majority of UOR vehicle types (but not all) have been a reaction to the proliferation of IED’s in Iraq and Afghanistan, whilst the MoD might say this came as a surprise, it wasn’t, and the fact that UK forces have been dealing with mines and IED’s for decades and has a vast corporate knowledge of the issue, makes it even harder to stomach. The very fact that UOR’s can generally be fulfilled with ‘off the shelf’ solutions indicates that someone had already foreseen the problem sufficiently early to put the said solution on their shelves for us to buy.
Short term economic expediency has resulted in a vehicle fleet that was and still is, limited in capabilities and so varied the logistic overheads are huge. PFI’s and overtly political decisions have made things worse.
Several years ago we selected the the MAN SX/HX to fulfil the Support Vehicle requirement but also selected the Oshkosh MTVR derived Close Support Tanker and Heavy Equipment Transporter, instantly creating a two manufacturer supply chain where with a longer term view on logistics commonality, we might have had one.
Compounding the problem is the C Vehicle PFI. The logical solution would have been to stipulate in the contract that the MAN HX/SX range would have to be provided for plant transport and as a base for a number of specialist vehicles like concrete mixers and tippers.
But no, it wasn’t.
The C Vehicle PFI is an availability contract, we don’t specify equipment types but instead concentrate on capabilities, the provider is, within the realms of the performance criteria, able to fulfil that requirement with any vehicle they like.
Consequently, ALC, the C Vehicle PFI provider, have introduced the Iveco Trakker 6×6 truck.
Because it is provided under a PFI availability contract, ALC pick up the maintenance tab, but the reality on operations is somewhat different to the predictable environment of the UK and Germany. There still needs to be separate driver training and there needs to be an in theatre logistics support operation for yet another vehicle type.
There is nothing wrong with the Trakker but there is nothing unique about it either, there is no practical reason why the MAN HX/SX could not have been specified. One suspects it finally came down to a cost argument but this is penny wise, pound foolish. ALC cannot shoulder any blame for selecting the Trakker, no doubt they are rightly approaching this from a narrow contractual perspective, meeting the contract terms and that is all that matters. Ironically, one of the objectives of the C Vehicle PFI is to reduce the number of types in service. Where we used to have Volvo, Terex, JCB, CAT, Hydrema and others; we now concentrate on a few number of manufacturers. The Royal Engineers, for example, now have to work with 3 truck types; SV, Trakker and the Unipower that are broadly comparable and I haven’t included the legacy types that will still be in service for some time in that number either. Integrating weapon systems, BOWMAN, armour and ECM is expensive and instead of doing it once, we have paid in triplicate, although I haven’t seen any pictures of the Trakker in Afghanistan with ECM and armour the principle remains.
If one has two basic truck types in Afghanistan, no matter what the contract arrangements, two sets of spare windscreens, indicator arms or fuel pumps have to be shipped to theatre. Given the tremendous logistical challenge that Afghanistan presents, the impact of this, either in operational or cost terms, should not be underestimated. Any vehicle has thousands of parts that can all go wrong and if any form of vehicle availability is to be maintained, spares are needed at the point of use.
These were not UOR decisions, where capability is more important than logistics or coherence and it is simply not god enough. As any reader of Think Defence will know, one of our recurring themes is ‘ruthless commonality’ and if this costs in the short term it will reap enormous cost savings and operational benefits later.
The situation is the same in the wheeled and tracked world.
At the top end we have the Challenger 2 Main Battle Tank which is supported by the Challenger derived armoured engineering vehicles Titan and Trojan. Supporting the armoured regiments are the armoured infantry where there is a mix of Warrior and FV432’s, it would have made sense to replace the FV432 with Warrior derived variants but this is not the case. Although there are Warrior observation post and recovery variants, there is still a number of FV432’s in the communications, command, ambulance, signals, mortar and other roles. AS90 uses a unique chassis (although with some component commonality with others) and the GMLRS uses a completely different chassis to anything else in service, apart from the recovery variant.
CVR(T) was and is an elegant piece of thoughtful design commonality with many variants sharing the same basic chassis and the Stormer HVM and Shielder vehicles are simply a growth version of the basic CVR(T) design. Currently in service are the Scimitar, Sampson, and Spartan types. The adaptability of CVR(T) is a credit to its designers and is something we should aim for in other areas, as we know though, they are going out of service to be replaced with the ASCOD 2 FRES vehicles.
The mechanised infantry are still nominally equipped with the unloved, Bedford derived, Saxon. Acting in the light gun limber and other roles is the equally despised RB44 that has the turning circle of a super tanker. The Pinzgauer (4×4 and 6×6) and Mowag/Bucher Duro are used in a number of specialist roles, Watchkeeper, Sentinel, ECM and EOD box bodies for example. The familiar Mastiff and Ridgeback will also be supplemented with with the Wolfhound logistics vehicle, based on the Mastiff.
Various flavours of Land Rover like the ambulance, GS, WMIK and Snatch, Iveco Panther, Husky and Coyote are in service across the Army. These will be joined by the Light Protected Patrol Vehicle which is set to replace Snatch, although its utility should see it adopted in other roles.
The Royal Marines have the Viking BVs10 armoured vehicle which will be replaced in Army service, but not RM, with the ST Kinetics Bronco, called the Warthog in UK service.
A number of specialist vehicles bring up the rear including the Kalmar rough terrain container handlers, Alvis Unipower 8×8 BR90 trucks, ATMP, Springer, Supercat Extenda, Fuchs NBC recce vehicle, Thales Bushmaster, Buffalo EOD vehicle, JCB HMEE, Terrier armoured engineering vehicle, Yamaha quads, Artic Cat quads, motorcycles and the Leopard tank derived Hippo Beach Armoured Recovery Vehicles.
Lets not even get into engineering plant, its enough to make ones head spin.
We need a long term strategy for coherence to reduce the logistics and training tail of our current vehicle fleet.
The current situation is not sustainable and is being held together by the daily miracles performed by The Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers and Royal Corps of Logistics, largely out of the spotlight. We do not help their cause by shovelling new vehicle types into the pipeline at every opportunity and whilst the understandable and entirely proper UOR purchases are serving their purpose, beyond current operations the drive for commonality must become an obsession.
One might look back at the lost opportunities and legacy of a disappearing industrial base with some melancholy, but we are, to coin a phrase, where we are.
That said, let’s not be too pessimistic, the UK is not short of automotive design experience and expertise by a long way, we lead the world in motorsport design for example and have a number of innovative designs such as those from Supacat, TMV, Multidrive, JCB, QinetiQ and Universal Engineering. Combined with the large programme management and integration expertise of BAe/GD/DSG and various component manufacturers such as Marshalls and Hiab we have the building blocks on which to base such a long term approach that not only serves the Armed Forces but the nation as a whole. Let’s not forget we used to make military vehicles for many overseas forces and there is no reason this cannot be the case again.
As operations wind down in Afghanistan the Army will, barring emergencies, enter a period of consolidation and without the pressure of high intensity operations both the Army and the MoD will have the breathing space to step back and realise a sensible strategy for vehicular coherence that delivers tangible capability improvements and significant cost reductions.
We should even look beyond vehicle commonality and delve into components, why should one vehicle or another have different steering wheels, indicator bulbs or batteries? We might even be able to extend this to major components such as wheels, engines or gearboxes. We already do this in the aviation world, using the same engine in the Merlin and Apache yields huge cost advantages.
Part 2 will look at a number of strategies for achieving the desired end state of more capability, at a lower cost and in a package that is exportable.