It seems the Future Weapon Locating Radar (WLR) – Assessment Phase (AP) has now completed and Saab Electronic Defence Systems selected as preferred bidder to fulfil the requirement with its Arthur Mod C system. Preferred bidder does not of course mean ‘order placed’
It will replace the existing MAMBA and COBRA systems currently in service and provide 12 systems and 2 trainers.
What is Arthur and what is COBRA?
Counter Battery Radar (COBRA)
COBRA entered service in 2004 according to the MoD but I thought it was a bit earlier, the definition of ‘in service can be interpreted in a number of different ways.
In 1998 the UK, France and Germany agreed a collaborative programme to design and manufacture a highly capable counter battery radar. It was to be managed by Organisation Conjointe de Coopération en matière d’Armement (OCCAR) as one of the launch programmes.
COBRA is designed quite simply to track airborne artillery shells/rockets, from their trajectory calculate the source location and pass this information on to other systems. The location of the launchers can then be targeted, usually with counter battery fire either using the MLRS/GMLRS, conventional artillery or airborne system.
Counter battery operations are as old as artillery it is because of effective counter battery fire that modern self propelled artillery systems are armoured, to survive the expected inbound. In a conventional artillery slugfest, batteries will generally fire and move pretty sharpish in order to avoid the inevitable inbound. COBRA was to replace the Cymbeline system and
The UK obtained ten systems at a cost of nearly £180million although in 2003, in a parliamentary answer it was stated that the UK’s share of the costs was £99 million and officially notified as £350 million, here. There are also a few different sources on the quantities in UK service, some sources state it was only 7.
The key feature of COBRA is its ability to detect and track multiple projectiles over a wide area and even provide fall of shot correction for friendly artillery. It is stated that the system can;
In less than two minutes, more than 40 six-gun batteries can be located and reported to a higher command or other system.
The manufacturer was named Euro-Art, based in Germany, whose partners are EADS, Lockheed Martin, Thales Defence and Thales Air Defence.
COBRA has seen service in Lebanon (with French forces), Afghanistan and Iraq, 3 sets have been sold to the UAE and Germany sold two of its 12 sets to Turkey. In service with 5 Regiment Royal Artillery it is mounted on a Foden truck, the same base vehicle as DROPS.
Mobile Artillery Monitoring Battlefield Radar (MAMBA)
MAMBA was obtained to provide light role forces with an effective counter battery system and in UK service, is mounted on a BV206 tracked vehicle. Based on the Ericsson ARTHUR Mod B system, MAMBA was ordered in 2002.
As a stop gap, before the full introduction of MAMBA, a Mod A ARTHUR was leased for a few years.
MAMBA entered service in 2004
In 2009, Italy ordered 5 sets with a contract value of £73 million, Czech forces have 3 at a contract value of £54 million so a rough cost £15 million to £18 million each, fully supported, although some sources indicate the 4 UK sets were a total of £30 million. As ever, estimating the cost of defence equipment is almost impossible.
The Mod B or MAMBA version featured an increase in detection range and improved accuracy.
Future Weapon Locating Radar (WLR)
The description in the advert was as follows;
The Artillery Systems Project Team is looking to procure new, single fleet Weapon Locating Radar (FWLR) systems along with the required Through life Support (up to 15 years). The pursuit of this requirement is being made to replace the existing mixed fleet of Uk Weapon Locating Radars, made up of two separate systems, (MAMBA and COBRA) and is being purchased as a “spend to save” activity, reducing the cost of the DLODs currently being realised with operating a mixed fleet.
And in the later advert
The UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) is currently evaluating options for providing the Future WLR capability for the Land Component Commander (LCC) and, subject to an investment decision, plans to conduct an Assessment Phase.
A capability to detect, locate and classify simultaneous Indirect Fire events, to a probability of 85% (minimum acceptable)/100% (most desirable) within at least a 90 degree arc with a single system and generate Point of Origin (POO) and Point of Impact (POI) for these in ##; 8 seconds (minimum acceptable)/ ≤ 5 second (most desirable) to provide a Circular Error Probability (CEP) of ≤ 50 mtrs to a distance of 30km (minimum acceptable)/ 100 km (most desirable). Operate in day and night and in all weather conditions in the following climatic conditions A2, A3, B1, B2,B3, C0, C1 and C2 (minimum acceptable)/threshold plus A1 (most desirable) ( as defined in Def Stan 00-35) with a time into and out of action of less than 2 minutes and for more than 12 hrs continuously.
Deploy on current and planned future air transport, namely A400M as a single load. Tactical mobility to be provided preferably on current or planned UK Land in-service vehicles so as to achieve Improved Medium Mobility and underslung CH47 (minimum Acceptable)/High Mobility (most desirable) (as defined in Def Stan 23-06/4). Integrate with LCC’s Command and Control (C2) data network.
Planning Assumption for Service Entry (PASE), which is currently 2012.
Lockheed Martin, SAAB Electronic Defence Systems, EUROART and Northrop Grumman were selected as bidders.
Whilst MAMBA and COBRA have performed well the logistics and training overhead of maintaining two small fleets, less than 15 sets all in, meant that it would make sense to standardise on a single type.
It is not clear whether WLR will be mounted on a truck or Viking/Bronco type vehicle but the description would indicate truck mounting, with the BV206 versions being withdrawn. The new version looks larger so perhaps Viking/Bronco mounting is not an option.
Mod C Arthur, now from SAAB, features a larger antenna and improved performance across a number of areas.
Spending Twice or Spending to Save
In just over a decade the UK will have spent £350m on COBRA, £30 million on MAMBA and extrapolating from other Arthur sales, £220 million on WLR.
We have also had to invest in multiple sets of the US Lightweight Counter Mortar Radar from SRC to protect smaller operating locations.
A very rough estimate of over £600 million to achieve a final capability of 12 sets, is this value for money or ruthless commonality gone too far?
I suspect that given the obvious financial constraints the MoD is living with, for it to have got this far, means that commonality must have significant and demonstrable financial benefits.
A lesson for the wider MoD perhaps.