To say that the British Army wheeled vehicle fleet is somewhat lacking in coherence is rather an understatement. Various factors have conspired to create a wheeled fleet that at best is far too diverse and worse, a complete dog’s breakfast that is costing a fortune in support costs.
This is not news of course, it is well recognised by all concerned and several programmes have sought to rein 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 or put them so far back on the back burner they are still current in name only.
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 capability and so varied the logistic overheads are huge. PFI’s and overtly political decisions have made things worse.
Several years ago we selected 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 truck. ALC pick up the maintenance tab in the UK and Germany, 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. When ‘on hire’ in theatre it is REME that carry out maintenance on the C Vehicle PFI fleet.
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.
There are also a few legacy vehicles in the system, the Alvis Unipower for the General Support Bridge and Volvo FL12 Self Loading Dump Truck being a couple of notable examples.
Go down slightly down on the size scale with Pinzgauer and Mowag Duro based vehicles we have another couple.
If one has four or five basic truck types in an operational theatre, no matter what the contract arrangements, four or five sets of spare windscreens, indicator arms or fuel pumps have to be shipped there. Given the tremendous logistic challenge that Afghanistan, for example, represents, the impact of this, either in operational or cost terms, should not be underestimated.
On top of the logistic vehicles we also have plant and some of the more combat oriented wheeled vehicles like protected patrol Ridgeback, Jackal, Husky etc etc
We often hear how the air bridge is over stretched or the cost of fuel transporting things to Afghanistan is astronomical yet we seem to make life harder on ourselves.
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 more in the short term it will reap enormous cost savings and operational benefits later.
The first massive problem to overcome is a hugely diverse wheeled vehicle fleet that is sitting on the MoD’s ‘books’
Saying in modern conflicts there is no such thing as a front line is incorrect but one thing is certain, the grey areas are much larger. When looking at vehicles we must make certain assumptions about threats and to some extent, the future character of conflict and operations we can reasonably be expected to be involved in.
This of course raises the general issue of protection and the specific issue of IED protection. If we make the assumption that casualty tolerance remains relatively low and the most likely enemy forces will employ IED’s we must therefore set our position against these factors and design vehicles appropriately.
This sets up the possibility of a two tier wheeled vehicle fleet.
On operations where even a low threat of IED’s or small arms attack exist almost every vehicle will need some form of protection. If we look at wheeled vehicles in Afghanistan, the overwhelming vast majority of them now have IED, small arms and RPG protection, all added as UOR’s.
On other operations that are at a lesser scale of threat the disadvantages of this additional protection are many, fuel consumption, maintenance issues and even the outward appearance of vehicles can be detrimental.
The problem with slapping protection onto existing vehicles is they are very rarely designed to take it without penalty and the underlying designs are such as overcoming inherent design features to provide protection to appropriate levels becomes increasingly difficult.
I think the Army face some tough choices on vehicles, the days of putting a GS Land Rover into an operational theatre are long gone but there are tens of thousands of Land Rovers in service and little money or appetite to address these difficult issues. As we have discussed endlessly there are so many competing draws on a finite budget it is hard to see anything being given to a B vehicle fleet when the assumption is that the Army will be involved in nothing but Trooping the Colour for the next two decades.
Personally, I don’t wholly buy into this theory. There will of course be an elevated level of political reluctance to get stuck in beyond a spot of bombing from afar for some time, but politics change, circumstances change and we have to ensure we never go into an operation at the same level of equipment preparedness as we did for Iraq and Afghanistan.
This is the second fundamental problem for wheeled logistics vehicles, the protection dilemma
- The Current Situation
- Programmes and Projects
- A Sensible Future
The Current Situation
It’s difficult to know where to start this should provide a reasonable idea of the scale of the problem (don’t forget, these don’t include tracked vehicles or mobile plant like excavator or wheeled loaders and the RAF’s specialist vehicles are also not on the list)
Some of these are due out of service soon, if they haven’t already gone to Withams
Harley Davidson MT350 – manufactured for the MoD over a period of 7 years the MT350 is a derivative of the Armstrong MT500. About 1,700 were supplied over this period and they have seen extensive service although many have now been disposed of.
Yamaha Grizzly 450 Quad Bikes and Logic SMT 171B trailers are have been purchased specifically for Afghanistan to support infantry patrols and move small items from helicopter landing sites and they have now been enhanced by the issue of a short gap crossing kit called Gap Crossing Capability Short – Quad (GXC(S) Quad) or a pair of ramps to me and you.
Supacat ATMP provides light transport functionality
Truck Utility Medium/Light or more commonly known as the Land Rover is synonymous with the British Army and there are a very large number in service of various types. Project REMUS 1 will see about 6,000 of the TUM(HS) Wolf fleet bought up to a common standard for safety and compliance.
The TUM(High Specification) or HS, more commonly known as Wolf Land Rovers were fitted with a Weapons Mount Installation Kit (WMIK), now more commonly known just as a WMIK they have evolved through a number of revisions such as the Higher Payload (HP) to the latest variant called R-WMIK (Ricardo)
The Snatch Vixen is the latest version of the protected mobility land rover.
It’s a full time job keeping track of the various versions of Land Rovers!
Truck Utility Medium (HD) is the Pinzgauer and used in 6×6 and 4×4 variants with a number used in specialist roles in addition to the armoured/protected Vector, now withdrawn.
Supacat Jackal 2 is the latest variant of the HMT400 derived reconnaissance, rapid assault, fire support and convoy protection vehicle and the Coyote is its tactical support vehicle (TSV-Light) big brother.
Supacat Extenda is in service with special forces with the bolt on axle or hamper providing extra carrying capacity.
Truck Utility Heavy Duty 6×6 Duro III are generally used by Royal Signals users for the Reacher satellite terminals but also forms the basis of the Tellar EOD vehicle
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 and equally dodgy stopping distance.
Mastiff 3 is the latest variant of the large protected patrol vehicle
Ridgeback is the smaller version of Mastiff, 4×4 instead of 6×6
Wolfhound is a cargo variant of Mastiff and designed to provide a number of specialist functions including towing the Light Gun and transporting specialist EOD equipment (4.5 tonne cargo capacity or 3 NATO pallets) but by far the coolest variant is the modular working dog transport system. This replaces the standard load bed and provides for the safe and air conditioned transport of up to 3 dogs.
Panther is a command and liaison vehicle
Tactical Support Vehicle (Medium) or Husky from Navistar Defence is used in the infantry support role, fuel, water, ammunition and general stores carriage, although as with most vehicles in theatre it tends to get used for whatever is needed. It has replaced the Pinzgauer and Vector vehicles in Afghanistan
The Light Protected Patrol Vehicle UOR competition was won by the innovative Force Protection/Ricardo Ocelot, to be called Foxhound in UK service. This will be delivered in the patrol and support variants.
DROPS vehicles are based on a Foden or Leyland chassis
The Oshkosh wheeled tanker is deployed in three variants, the water and fuel close support tanker and tactical air refueller.
Also from Oshkosh is the Heavy Equipment Transporter
Although due to replaced by the Support Vehicles there are still plenty of Leyland DAF and Bedford 4, 8 and 14 tonners in the system
The Volvo FL12 Self Loading Dump Truck is used by the Royal Engineers
The C Vehicle PFI provides a number a Iveco Trakker 6×6 and 8×8 vehicles in a number of variants.
Fuchs NBC is a specialist reconnaissance vehicle
The Tank bridge transporter and General Support Bridging systems use various versions of the Alvis Unipower 8×8 truck
Seddon Atkinson Light Equipment Transporters supplement the Heavy Equipment Transporters
Due to be replaced by the SV recovery vehicle the Foden Recovery vehicle is still in service
Bushmaster is in service with a small number of very special users
The Force Protection Buffalo forms part of the Talisman counter IED system
Various MAN Support Vehicles will replace the 4, 8 and 14 tonne trucks including variants
I think that’s it
Oh, hang on
Springer, a light transport vehicle, I looked at this one in detail a while ago
The engine and sub systems commonality between these is almost non-existent.
If we started from scratch with a clean sheet of paper could we have possibly designed a more diverse fleet of vehicles, many of which do more or less the same job?
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.
The beast is out of control.
The Jekyll and Hyde PFI/Non PFI mix is also a serious cause for concern.
Lets be clear, this is one of those ‘no ones fault’ type situations and many of the vehicles are due out of service but we are where we are but have to look forward.
Programmes and Projects
Wheeled vehicle programmes seem to come and go at the MoD with alarming regularity but some have endured.
The Support Vehicles (SV) contract was to replace DAF 4 tonners and Bedford TM 8 and 14 tonne trucks plus assorted vehicles based on these chassis like the old UBRE POD’s and recovery vehicles. The contract was awarded in a cloud of acrimony and many think it was due to pressure to award it to a European rather than British or US organisation.
Total fleet size should be about 6,600 vehicles for £1.3billion, the numbers having been continually revised down from about 7,200 in initial news releases. However, with a number of UOR purchases that original number might actually be achieved but one kind of doubts the original contract value of £1.3billion will remain! Despite the controversy they are an excellent design, if more complex than what they replace, with a long heritage and the programme should complete in 2013.
On numbers, every time I read anything on the Support Vehicle contract the numbers change, I think a good final estimate will be about 7,000 across over 40 variants, some winterised and waterproofed etc.
MAN Military Trucks produce two variants; the SX has a stiffer chassis and coil springs so has much greater mobility, the HX is the lower specification variant, which of course we have ordered many more of. As usual with these programmes there were many more DAF’s and Bedford’s than SV’s, greater reliability and capability was factored into the requirement and low and behold, we need fewer to do the same job.
HX is available in…
Medium Mobility – HX60, 4×4
Medium Mobility - HX61, 6×6
Medium Mobility - HX58, 6×6
Medium Mobility - HX80, 6×6 tractor
Medium Mobility - HX81, 8×8 tractor
Medium Mobility - HX77, 8×8
SX is available in…
Improved Medium Mobility - SX44, 6×6
Improved Medium Mobility - SX45, 8×8
It’s difficult to provide a full list of the variants but the main types and initial ordered quantities, pulled from a number of different sources are;
- 5213, Cargo Vehicle Light CV(L)- Medium Mobility – 6 tonne (4×4)
- 376, Cargo Vehicle Medium CV(M) – Medium Mobility – 9 tonne (6×6)
- 105, Cargo Vehicle Medium CV(M) – Improved Medium Mobility – 9 tonne (6×6)
- 923, Cargo Vehicle Heavy CV(H) – Medium Mobility – 15 tonne (8×8)
- 230, Unit Support Tanker (UST) – Medium Mobility – 9 tonne (6×6)
- 81, Unit Support Tanker (UST) – Improved Medium Mobility – 9 tonne (6×6)
- 288, Recovery Vehicle (RV) – Improved Medium Mobility (8×8)
- 69, Recovery Trailers
A number of these will have hydraulic jibs and lifting tailgates
Operations in Iraq and Afghanistan have of course influenced the programme; in 2008 Project Fortress was let to provide a protected cab, weapons mount, run-flat tires and other theatre specific enhancements to just over 600 vehicles in a couple of tranches. Although a Riotous Assembly Protection (RAP) kit was designed the additional protection kit delivers an adequate level of protection when the vehicles are used in a combat logistic patrol, the route being cleared and/or proven beforehand. It a balance, the MAN integrated protection cab offers a greater level of protection but it is a case of balancing risks against programme costs.
The Unit Support Tanker is particularly impressive, the payload system is from Fluid Transfer International and a significant improvement on the old UBRE’s although it would have been preferable to have the fuel delivery element as a discrete loadable unit delivering obvious flexibility benefits but I suspect legislation prevented this.
This was a UOR so costs were in addition to the programme.
Also outside the main contract the Falcon communication system programme will use 107 HX60 6 tonne vehicles instead of the original Supacat HMT based solution that was unable to accommodate the additional protection now deemed necessary.
A benefit of the maturity of programme is the final number delivered will be applied across a much smaller number of Army personnel; we might actually end up with about the right number of vehicles.
C Vehicle PFI
The C Vehicle PFI incorporates engineering plant, cranes and other equipment. Awarded to the Amey Lex Consortium (ALC) in 2005 after a lengthy bidding process and is a 15 year deal, valued at approximately £600million. Equipment is centrally pooled in a number of locations and when units use the equipment they are in effect, hiring it. VT have subsequently acquired Lex Defence and are now part of the Babcock organisation. On contract commencement, ALC purchased the MoD’s equipment although it is rumoured that acceptance criteria was so stringent the MoD had to spend considerable sums getting equipment ready for the handover and for the same costs it could have bought new. This legacy equipment was to be phased out and replaced with new equipment as the agreement progresses, most of this has already happened.
Although the scheme includes operator training, surely it would have been logical to use the same equipment as the rest of the Army?
Not in crazy PFI land it isn’t, despite nearly 500 of the MAN Support Vehicles being fitted with jibs the C Vehicle PFI has provided similarly equipped Iveco Trakker units. There is nothing wrong with the Trakker but another vehicle type that overlaps completely with existing vehicles but provided as part of the PFI means yet another training requirement at a time when we should be consolidating equipment types, funnily enough, one of the core objectives of the C Vehicle PFI, the halving of equipment types.
The PFI has provided a number of 6×6 Trakker vehicles, total chassis order was 206 with variants include Self Loading Dump Trucks (SLDT), Medium Dump Truck (MDT) tippers fitted with the Thompson Loadmaster tipping body, Nurock volumetric concrete mixing plant, Truck Mounted Loader with an Atlas Terex lifting arm and a small number of well drilling rigs.
The MoD have also used the C Vehicle Contract vehicle to obtain a small number of 8×8 Trakkers with protected cabs of the Self Loading Dump Truck (SLDT) variant to replace the Volvo FL12 SLDT in Afghanistan.
Although the contract is running well I despair at two aspects, the decision to allow ALC to use the Trakker instead of specifying the MAN Support Vehicle and using dedicated vehicles for the concrete mixing, tippers and well drills when it would have been much more sensible to specify them as demountable units for use with DROPS/EPLS.
I will leave commenting on the PFI itself for another post but this disparity between equipment types is an obvious down side, plus of course the 120 days notice required for equipment unless a penalty payment is made.
Heavy Equipment Transporter PFI
The Oskosh Global Heavy Equipment Tractor (HET) is teamed up with a number of trailers from King Trailers and Broshuis, the King trailers being used mainly for very heavy equipment like Challenger and the Broshuis for Warrior sized and below loads (max 45 tonnes). The HET is a version of the US M1070 HET.
The HET’s are provided by Fastraxx, a PFI provider owned by Kellog Brown and Root. The PFI will run for 20 years and provides 92 HET’s, trailers and sponsored reserve drivers.
The implications of FRES Scout on this PFI are uncertain.
Combined Articulated Vehicle Programme (CAVP)
The CAVP is the successor to the Future Light Equipment Transport programme that will eventually look at providing a replacement articulated vehicle but how this integrates with the HET PFI is uncertain and the fact that it will replace the current Support Tanker which in comparison is new, is rather shocking!
The existing Seddon Atkinson tractor units will be replaced by this programme.
Last year, 20 Improved Mobility Trailers were obtained under a UOR for the Heavy Equipment Transporter. At a cost of £150k each, the trailers from Broshuis have greater ability in rough terrain i.e. Afghanistan, than the existing Trailmaster trailers which have now been withdrawn. Given the wholesale move from CVR(T) that can be carried on the back of a Foden DROPS or MAN EPLS, to an ASCOD SV which can’t, there is going to be a need a much greater number of HET’s and trailers.
Both Oshkosh and MAN have bid for this and the obvious choice would be Oshkosh but MAN have reportedly provided a converted a small number of HX chassis for trials purposes. Again, the future is unclear, do we go for commonality with the Oshkosh family or the larger fleet of MAN Support Vehicles?
Germany now selected the Rheinmetall MAN HX81 tank transporter unit so the competition would appear to be wide open.
Non Articulated Vehicle Programme (NAVP)
This used to be called the Heavy Load Distribution Capability (HLDC) programme and will replace the nearly 2,000 Leyland and Foden Demountable Rack Offload and Pickup System (DROPS) vehicles that have seen extensive service in many theatres. Although hook-lift vehicles had been used in the civilian market for some time we could argue that the British Army pioneered their military use, primarily in supplying artillery batteries with pallets of ammunition although the use has considerably broadened since then.
DROPS is a family of logistics vehicles that use a HIAB Multilift designed derivative of the Marel Corporation hooklift system, commonly used for waste containers. A research paper from the US in 1991 shows some of the thinking behind the DROPS and ISO Container system, click here to read, no seriously, do not proceed without reading it!
There are two types of vehicle, from the Army web site[
the Leyland Medium Mobility Load Carrier (MMLC), and the Foden Improved Medium Mobility Load Carrier (IMMLC). IMMLC is used primarily as an ammunition carrier in support of AS90 155mm self-propelled guns. MMLC operates solo, or towing a skeleton trailer. DROPS revolutionised logistics transport when introduced and continues to be the backbone of the Army’s transportation capability.
Coming into service in 1994 the IMMLC (Foden) contract was for £75million and 400 vehicles. The earlier Leyland MMLC contract delivered just over 1,400 vehicles.
Project Barricade in 2008 converted 90 Support Vehicle 15 tonne 8×8 vehicles already on the production programme with the Enhanced Palletised Loading System or EPLS. Since Barricade an additional 87 vehicles with EPLS have been obtained, outside of the main SV programme, with 31 of those being used for training.
The main difference between EPLS and the DROPS system is that EPLS can lift standard ISO containers without putting them on a flatrack first, obviously providing much greater flexibility although flatracks are used quite frequently for non container loads like vehicles, trailers or other equipment.
There is absolutely no doubt, EPLS is a success story, more flexible than DROPS and delivered in double quick time, but it is not necessarily the best system for the medium to long term. Once the load has been deposited on the ground it needs a crane or similar to reposition, the centre of gravity can be high which reduces mobility and the departure angle can be disadvantageous to certain loads. The original role of DROPS, delivering huge quantities of ammunition to Royal Artillery batteries, may have diminished somewhat, but simply looking at a typical Combat Logistics Patrol in Afghanistan it is clear that the ISO container has completely penetrated the logistics system mwah ha ha mwah.
It might be assumed that SV and EPLS will be a shoe in to fulfil the NAVP programme but things are never this clear, who knows where the programme will end up but the in service date is expected to be somewhere around 2022.
It is not known if the NAVP programme will include a replacement for the highly capable Alvis Unipower vehicles used by the Royal Engineers for the Tank Bridge Transport and General Support Bridging equipment.
Operational Utility Vehicle Systems (OUVS)
This was a programme, now cancelled, to replace the plethora of smaller non logistic vehicles like RB44, Pinzgauer and Duro etc
FRES (Utility Variant)
Despite putting a brave face on it, the MoD, does not have the financial ability to bring the FRES Utility Variant into service for some time.
It’s a woeful tale, detailed here and many many other times on Think Defence.
Whole Fleet Support
This has been in place for some time now but worth mentioning, it moves the majority of the vehicle fleet to a controlled humidity and temperature storage location to preserve the equipment. A separate training fleet is used and whilst the system initially met with some resistance I think it would be fair to say it has saved the Army a considerable amount of money.
A Sensible Future
We are in very real danger of actually having a fully coherent logistic vehicle fleet!
If we can just hold our nerve, specify the MAN HX81 as the vehicle for the CAVP programme, replacing the Oshkosh support tankers, also replace the HET PFI when it expires with HX81 and use a combination of SV’s for the NAVP DROPS replacement contract then for the first time ever the UK will have a common fleet of logistic vehicles that will provide a huge through life cost reduction.
The icing on the cake would be to replace the Alvis Unipower GSB’s vehicles with SV and pull back from the Iveco Trakker purchase by specifying the C Vehicle PFI utilises the same specification vehicles as the SV programme then ruthless commonality will have been achieved.
Replacing some of the specialist variants like the tippers, well drills and concrete mixers with a standard truck body and demountable payload combination would double the benefits.
As good as the Oshkosh vehicles are (and they are very good) I would trade the commonality benefits of a MAN fleet every day of the week and twice on Sunday.
It is within reach and even if we have to wait until the 2020 timeframe when most of the PFI’s expire it would still be a reasonable plan.
Instead of nine or ten completely different vehicle types we could have multiple variants of a single type, ruthless commonality in action.
Lower down the food chain is perhaps the more difficult issue to resolve.
Replacing the quite mind bending variety of light to medium weight vehicles is a serious financial and design challenge.
The most sensible and likely solution is to simply take into service some of the UoR vehicles, OUVS has been ceased and scraping together a theatre deployment fleet of vehicles may still be possible even accounting for the cost of refurbishment post Afghanistan. Some vehicles will be bought into the main equipment plan but some will inevitably fall out and find their way into the disposal agencies. Some may even remain in Afghanistan, recovery back to the UK potentially costing more than their disposal value.
Putting these vehicles through a refurbishment programme would still provide the Army with a reasonable fleet of vehicles that have been subject to considerable investment.
Instead of having a homogeneous fleet we will end up with several tiers of vehicles, those at theatre entry standard will be placed into environmentally controlled storage and broken out for the next overseas outing.
The huge costs will be hidden in current expenditure, easier to carry than the capital costs of any sweeping programme of rationalisation.
FRES UV will be formally cancelled or replaced with a selection of off the shelf vehicles like the RG35, which would seem to offer many benefits.
In the next post I am going to describe a less than sensible future so get ready for a selection of whacky hair brain schemes
The Future of the British Army Series…