Any discussion on vehicle coherence should logically be proceeded by the finalisation of doctrine and their resultant structures; do we go down the medium weight path as envisaged by FRES, are square armoured regiments supported by armoured infantry still relevant, are the multi equipment brigades the way forward or do we simply have lots of light infantry supported by a range of vehicles depending on the operational scenario?
The Army still seems to be enamoured with the medium weight concept with the recent announcements on the ASCOD FRES SV vehicles. If it is the intention to reduce both the heavy formations and lighter formations with a greater number of medium weight ones then impact on logistics is uncertain, what you take in one hand is given to the other. Operations in Afghanistan have shown that whilst dismounted operations against this type of enemy uses the same light infantry and small unit tactics that have evolved over centuries their means of transport is considerably weightier, for example Mastiff.
Other factors that might inform our vehicle choices is the knowledge that the current situation is unsustainable and we have to strive for standardisation, or to use the Think Defence term, Ruthless Commonality. As I have said before, this is about much more than neatness, we have to save money on driver training, spares, maintenance and integration by moving to as few types of vehicles as possible. I think I may be preaching to the converted here though!
The current drive must be to sustain what is in Afghanistan and when this operation ceases the Army will enter a period of recovery, during which time we must consider what to do with the hundreds of vehicles (and other equipment) purchased under UOR. Do we recognise that in the long term much of this equipment will not be suitable, or will the Army be told to keep it?
So many questions, none of which I am going to even attempt answer!
Instead, these are just some out aloud thoughts!
The tank is not dead and will not be in the future either so lets all stop calling them cold war relics, as ever though, they must evolve both in capability and organisational terms. I like the idea of organising tanks into smaller, more independent units, even down to independent armoured squadrons that have the full range of support equipment including recovery, combat engineering and recce. These squadrons could deploy in singles to support operations similar to Afghanistan or combine to create a larger armoured brigade. I think the days of having 2 armoured brigades are numbered. Their 120mm main guns are mainly for destroying other tanks so to improve utility in operations where they are being used to overmatch non armoured enemy forces we should be looking at creating an equivalent to the Russian BMP-T, armed with the 40mm CTA cannon and a range of missile armament, either Hellfire, CRV7-PG or the Lightweight Modular Missile for example. Maybe even a return of the 76mm, 90mm or 105mm main weapon is something we might consider for these lighter Challenger variants.
Whatever we do in the medium weight sphere, we still need to keep the Challenger 2, even in its main anti tank role but at a smaller scale.
Whatever the relative merits of CV90 or ASCOD I think we can all agree they are very similar and as far as the FRES concept goes it makes a lot of sense, only if it is followed through. In the medium to long term FRES SV should replace Warrior, Warrior variants and CVR(T). All the planned variants including the direct fire version should be introduced, in quantity.
Replacing AS90 completely with a combination of truck mounted modular 155mm cannon and GMLRS reduces the vehicle count even further.
Vikings should be retained with the RM and Warthogs, the Army.
I still think there is a gap for a small armoured vehicle, sub 10 tonnes so it can be lifted by a Chinook and more than one carried in an A400. Keeping to this weight also means they can be carried easily on railway flatbeds and trucks for extended reach. FRES SV is not strategically mobile because it will need a low loader, C17 or ship to deploy and on the battlefield can only move under its own power.
How about a derivative of Viking, leave off the rear module and replace the cab with a centreline protected capsule, mast mounted sensor package and remote weapon station carrying an ATK 30mm cannon or GMG/HMG?. It would be light enough to be airlifted, air dropped, amphibious and easily transported inter theatre.
The Terrier sticks out because it is only just entering service and will not have commonality with anything else. In an ideal world we would use ASCOD as a base for these types of vehicles but replacing it now would not be sensible so we should just accept it.
The IED is not going to go away any time soon so any new vehicles must take this into account. This reality means we have to accept that the Land Rover, Pinzgauer, Jackal and Panther should be withdrawn.
In the protected mobility and light logistics role we should go to a two tier fleet.
The Ocelot 4×4 PPV would replace the Land Rover and its many derivatives including WMIK, Snatch, GS and FFR. The modular nature of the payload bay makes this an attractive and versatile design. In non combat roles we should make more use of ‘white fleet’ vehicles like a Toyota pickup for example.
The Ranger would be a natural replacement for RB44, Pinzgauer (load carrier), Mastiff, Fuchs, Ridgeback, Panther, Wolfhound, Vector, Jackal, Coyote and Husky. Its approach to modular payloads is also attractive.
Both these can use the new common electronic vehicle architecture and have a growth path to the insertion of hybrid propulsion technologies.
The only fly in the ointment for Ranger and Ocelot is of road mobility, they don’t seem as agile in the rough stuff as Pinzgauer and Supacat families so perhaps there is a niche for a vehicle that has high mobility, relatively low weight a high degree of blast protection. This niche might be filled by an improved Jackal or even TMV 6×6.
With this, we couple replace the majority of the non logistics fleet with a small number of vehicle types, reaping significant benefits in training, logistics and ultimately, cost.
For the large logistics behicles we should simply keep on going with the MAN Support Vehicles except to convert the UBRE’s to containerised fuel distribution systems. The Royal Engineers Unipower 8×8’s should also be replaced with a containerised/flatrack bridging system. The C Vehicle PFI should be redrafted to that instead of Iveco Trakker trucks we
The Close Support Tanker is an interesting choice and is one of the most mobile vehicles we have but unless we are going to go for an articulated DROPS replacement then we might consider replacing the tankers with a tank container based system. Capacity might be lower which means more vehicles for a given delivery volume but this might be compensated for in other areas.
The Leyland/Foden DROPS replacement programme could simply use the existing EPLS system, bringing it into the main equipment programme and using SX rather than HX chassis.
An alternative to the traditional articulated truck might be an articulated dump truck type design that could combine a wide range of containerised/flatrack payloads with extreme off road mobility. The main problem with this type is the skid steering system and lack of on road legality in many countries, the Multidrive system might be a concept worthy of consideration.
By taking a holistic view of the entire vehicle fleet with a view to long term consolidation we can exploit design synergies and create a paradigm shift in vehicle provision.