The need to rethink the UK’s Armoured Vehicle Strategy
This is a post from Monty that I have been sitting on for a while, apologies to Monty [TD]
According to official MoD figures released in June 2013, the British Army has 501 horses and 334 tanks.
No one (apart from Liberal Democrat Danny Alexander) has suggested cutting the number of horses.
The UK has more horses than tanks.
The number of horses isn’t surprising.
The number of tanks is.
Perhaps there’s a good reason. According to official tourist statistics, there are 31 million visitors to London each year and they spend more than £18 billion. A major attraction is the colour and pageantry of the Monarchy typified by the Household Cavalry, King’s Troop RHA and Foot Guards.
The annual cost of maintaining our mounted regiments is a drop in the ocean compared to the revenues they help bring in. When it comes to the comparatively low number of Main Battle Tanks, no one has suggested that we need less.
However, of the total number quoted, only 227 Challenger 2’s have been issued to front line units; the reminder are held in storage as reserves. Meanwhile, the US Army and USMC have 10,000 M1 Abram’s, the Israeli Army has 1,000 Merkava’s, the German Army has 400 Leopard 2’s, and the French Army has 400 LeClerc’s.
Even Switzerland, with a defence budget of just $4 billion, has 380 Leopard 2’s.
It is not unreasonable to ask whether the number of tanks the Army has at its disposal reflects a clear prioritisation of our defence needs based on a robust analysis of current and future threats or is merely a reflection of our broken economy and sub-standard defence planning?
More than just tanks, we need to ask whether the UK’s entire armoured vehicle strategy is fit for purpose and equips the Army with sufficient IFV’s, APC’s, CVR’s, and PPV’s to perform the many roles expected of it?
Since 2008, a colourful new expression has entered our military vernacular: capability holiday.
This is recognising that you need to replace certain equipment, but postponing purchase until you can afford it. The risk of this approach is that when the skills relevant to designing, building and operating highly sophisticated equipment are mothballed, they tend to atrophy and are lost. Rebuilding them a decade later can cost more than if the capability had been retained at a very basic level.
Worse than this, the other problem is that, having learned to survive without a certain capability, the people who deprived you of it have a horrible habit of saying: since you have survived so well and for so long without said capability, you never actually needed it in the first place.
This is all well and good until an urgent need arises.
We then end-up spending far more than we would have ordinarily spent to buy equipment that is available more than ideal.
In the world of military procurement, the one unchanging certainty is that the next generation of ships, aircraft or vehicles will invariably cost three times more than the legacy equipment it replaces.
The F35B Joint Strike Fighter being procured to replace the Harrier is perhaps an extreme example, but, while defence budgets continues to grow in absolute terms, David Cameron’s pledge to cut UK defence expenditure from 3-4% of GDP to around 2% suggests that our future armed forces will be smaller and leaner than before.
Looking ahead, we’re going to need to make some tough choices about what we buy and how many we acquire to ensure we get the maximum bang for our bucks. But selecting the right equipment also means we need to make smart choices. We can’t afford to waste money on kit that does not work.
Regrettably, the UK’s recent vehicle procurement record reeks of incompetence and the fuzzy thinking that results from committee-made decisions.
In a climate of enduring austerity, UK needs to make some tough choices. It also needs to make smart choices.
Under existing plans, the Royal Navy is getting Type 45 destroyers, Type 26 Global Combat Ships and the much vaunted CVF Carrier(s). As exciting as this sounds, it amounts to a total of 21 ships. Prior to World War 2, the Navy had 450 ships including 7 aircraft carriers.
The RAF is getting an estimated 48 F35B Joint Combat Aircraft, 22 Airbus A400M Atlas tactical transporters, 14 Airbus A330 Voyagers for air refuelling and transport and a modest amount of new UAV’s.
Meanwhile, Army troop numbers have been cut from 100,000 to 80,000 and the only new armoured vehicle in the Army’s pipeline is the FRES SV Scout tracked reconnaissance vehicle.
The latest news, however, is that FRES SV, like so many previous UK AFV programmes has run into difficulties.
The 40 mm CTA cannon is reported to have an unacceptably short barrel life while its feed mechanism is mechanically unreliable. With an increased armour requirement, the vehicle is also struggling to meet weight targets, which is indeed surprising because ASCOD 2’s ability to deliver growth potential in terms of maximum vehicle weights was a key factor in it being chosen over CV90.
Even without unexpected issues, the decision to use the ASCOD 2 IFV chassis for a reconnaissance vehicle remains controversial.
Despite the MoD insisting that a vehicle weighing 35 tonnes versus CVR(T)’s 7-10 tonnes was necessary to achieve protection requirements, critics consider that the size and weight of FRES SV is fundamentally too big to perform the reconnaissance role. The counter to this is that the reconnaissance role has evolved, with the capability to fight for information an essential new requirement.
In future, reconnaissance regiments will evolve into highly flexible medium tank regiments that use their speed and agility to perform a variety of battlefield roles.
Assuming that ASCOD 2 is an appropriate choice for whatever roles FRES SV must perform, it remains an IFV platform. That being the case, it would make sense to adopt a common platform for both IFV and Recce roles. So, if we adopt ASCOD 2, it seems logical to use the same platform to replace Warrior.
Under current plans, Warrior will not be replaced before 2040.
It will have to make do with a mid-life upgrade despite being older than most of the soldiers who operate it.
However, the Warrior Capability Sustainment Programme (WCSP) programme now also appears to have stalled.
This is because of vulnerabilities that have emerged from its use in Afghanistan, which suggest that a fundamental redesign is required to make the vehicle less of a death trap in the event of fire. Furthermore, fitting the same 40 mm CTA cannon will apparently reduce the vehicle’s capacity to carry dismounted soldiers.
Then there is Challenger 2, which is also approaching obsolescence.
Its life extension programme appears as though it will only encompass minor changes. In fact, looking at the current AFV plan, it is quite easy to conclude that the Army is the least important arm of our three armed services. But the aim of this article is not to fight the Army’s corner relative to the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force, but simply to emphasise the fact that the time has come to rethink our AFV needs and to develop a coherent long-term plan for new vehicle acquisition.
The UK has more than 2,000 front-line AFVs that were acquired before 1980
An old and obsolete fleet
The jewel in the UK’s AFV crown is the FV4034 Challenger 2. This well-regarded MBT entered service in 1998. It uses the same chassis as the Challenger 1, which dates back to the late 1970s, but features a new turret with an advanced fire control system developed in the late 1990s. Unique among NATO countries, the UK adopted a rifled 120 mm gun, the L30A1.
In addition to armoured piercing APFSDS ammunition, it fires high explosive HESH shells which are ideal for destroying fortified positions. After the UK ceased production of rifled 120 mm ammunition, a new Belgian supplier was found in 2009. At some point in time, however, the UK will need to invest in new ammunition or fit a new gun.
Challenger 2 is equipped with second generation Chobham ceramic / composite armour, Dorchester armour, and is frequently described as the best protected MBT currently in service. Despite the plaudits, Oman has been the only export customer, ordering 38 units. The total number of vehicles delivered to the UK was 408 units, but the current inventory of 334 will be reduced to 250, with just 227 issued to the UK’s five tank regiments. Though Challenger 2’s design is more than 20 years old, it remains one of the world’s leading MBT designs and is expected to remain in service until 2035.
In any event, the Challenger 2 fleet will need to be further upgraded to remain a credible MBT. This was recognised in 2001 when the Challenger Life Improvement Programme (CLIP) was initiated to develop a revised vehicle mounting the Rheinmetall L55 / U55 120 mm smooth bore gun – the same weapon used by the German Leopard 2A6/ A7. Tests showed that the tungsten DM53 APFSDS round achieved better penetration than the UK’s controversial depleted uranium CHARM 3 penetrator. In 2006, CLIP was rolled into a second programme, the Challenger 2 Capability Sustainment Program (C2 CSP).
Fitting a new 120 mm smoothbore gun to Challenger 2 has proved to be problematic, because its larger one-piece ammunition takes up more turret storage space than the UK’s existing 120 mm rifled ammunition, which is stored in two separate pieces. Consequently, Challenger 2 is likely to require a brand new turret design. The previous estimated cost of £386 million to upgrade the fleet was almost as expensive as acquiring a second-hand fleet of Leopard 2A6s with new 120 mm smoothbore guns.
Consequently, the programme ran out of steam in 2008, becoming another casualty of MoD austerity. A third programme, the Challenger 2 Life Extension Programme (C2 LEP), was announced in July 2013 and is expected to receive funding in mid-2014.
It isn’t yet clear whether the 120 mm rifled gun will be retained or replaced by a 120 mm smoothbore gun.
The FV510 Warrior IFV was developed in the early 1980s and came into service in 1988. It was meant to completely replace the FV430 series of APCs and related family of vehicles. The total number of Warriors acquired was 789, including 489 section vehicles, 84 command vehicles (FV511), 105 repair variants (FV512), 39 recovery variants (FV513), 52 Artillery observation vehicles (FV514) and 19 artillery command vehicles (FV515).
This was not enough to replace all of the existing FV430s and almost 900 FV430s remain in service.
The Warrior section vehicle has a crew of 3 and can carry 7 dismounts. It mounts the L21A1 Rarden 30 mm cannon, an old but reliable weapon, which fires clips of 3 rounds, and a coaxial Hughes 7.62 mm chain gun. Used extensively in both Iraq and Afghanistan, the Warrior’s basic armour was upgraded with cage armour to defeat RPGs.
In 2006, a new Theatre Entry Standard (TES) Warrior was fitted with appliqué armour to provide all-round protection from 14.5 mm AP projectiles. Unfortunately, IED attacks have shown that the vehicle is still vulnerable, particularly the fuel tank. The vehicle also needs to be modified to allow troops to exit more quickly in an emergency and to have better fire-fighting equipment.
As recently as October 2013, these improvement had not been made.
By any objective standard, Warrior is starting to show its age.
Like Challenger, Warrior has also suffered from delayed upgrade programmes. The Warrior Capability Sustainment Programme (WCSP) will eventually upgrade 643 vehicles with the Warrior Modular Protection System (WMPS) and Warrior Enhanced Electronic Architecture (WEEA). Then the Warrior Fightability Lethality Improvement Program (WFLIP) will upgrade 449 section vehicles with the new CTA 40 mm cannon, which is stabilised. This was originally meant to be mounted in a new turret, but will now use the existing one. Despite Lockheed Martin being announced as the winners of the competition to upgrade the Warrior fleet in 2011, work has yet to commence. The in-service date for the revised vehicle is 2018 and it is expected to stay in service until 2040.
The cost of the improvement programme is reported to be around £1 billionn
FV430 / Bulldog
First introduced in 1962, the FV430-series was the British Army’s first fully tracked APC and the UK’s answer to the US’s highly successful M113 tracked APC.
Mounting a 7.62 mm machine gun, the FV432 section vehicle has a crew of 2 and can carry 8 dismounts. Variants include a repair and recovery vehicle (FV434), command vehicle (FV436), guided missile (Swingfire) platform (FV438), signals vehicles (FV435 / FV439), and a self-propelled artillery gun variant, the Abbot (FV433).
As noted above, it was intended that Warrior would replace nearly all FV430-series vehicles, but, as costs rose, it was decided to retain approximately 900 vehicles. Although production ceased a long time ago, the drivetrain and other components have been upgraded and additional armour protection has been added. Appliqué Dorchester armour plates on the front and side of the vehicle have increased weight and reduced mobility. The average age of the fleet means that reliability is not what it was.
In Iraq, there were several instances of vehicle breakdowns that left crews stranded in hostile territory. There is no escaping the fact that this is an old and out-dated vehicle.
The CVR(T) family of vehicles was introduced in 1971. Originally mounting a Jaguar J60 4.2-litre in-line 6-cylinder petrol engine, it was a revolutionary design that relied on speed and manoeuvrability for protection as much as the vehicle’s aluminium armour. With a small size and relatively low weight of 7.8 tonnes, it could easily be transported to wherever it was needed, including being underslung from a Chinook helicopter. During the Falklands Campaign, CVR(T) provided invaluable fire support. Its low ground pressure, about 5 psi, allowed it to negotiate boggy ground impassable to other vehicles.
Primarily used to equip reconnaissance regiments, nine different variants were produced, all with names beginning with the letter S. The British Army acquired 313 Scorpion (FV101) reconnaissance vehicles fitted with a low velocity 76 mm gun; 328 Scimitar (FV107) reconnaissance vehicles mounting the Rarden 30 mm cannon; 48 Striker (FV102) ATGW launcher vehicles with Swingfire missiles; 478 Spartan (FV103) armoured
personnel carriers; 50 Samaritan (FV104) armoured ambulances; 205 Sultan (FV105) armoured command vehicles; and 37 Samson (FV106) armoured repair and recovery vehicles. Additional types included the Sabre, which mounted the Fox CVR(W)’s 30 mm turret on a Scorpion hull, when the latter was retired; and Stormer, which is a larger version of the Spartan APC with an extra set of road wheels. The UK bought 62 Stormers to mount its Starstreak anti-aircraft missile system. A further 29 units of the flatbed version of Stormer were acquired to mount the Shielder minelaying system.
The UK acquired a total of 1,863 CVR(T) vehicles. They have also been exported to Belgium, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, The Philippines, New Zealand, Ireland, Spain, Chile, Venezuela, Nigeria, The UAE, Jordan, Oman, and Iran. In total, more than 3,500 CVR(T)s were produced.
The first CVR(T) upgrade programme, the CVR(T) Life Extension Programme (LEP), began in 1988 when a larger and more efficient 5.9-litre Cummins diesel engine and an upgraded transmission were fitted. Then in 2010, BAE Systems via a UOR order was asked to produce 50 Scimitar Mk 2 vehicles. Scimitar 2 is a new-build Spartan hull mounting the Scimitar’s 30 mm cannon turret on top. The vehicle has increased armour protection including composite / ceramic armour and a redesigned fuel system. Weight has increased to 13-tonnes.
Given its age, many older CVR(T)s have now been retired, but approximately 900 remain in service. By today’s standards, the CVR(T) design is extremely old and dated. The Scimitar’s 30 mm cannon is totally outclassed by other 30 mm weapons. Its flat bottom hull is vulnerable to IEDs and its aluminium armour can easily be pierced by .50 Cal heavy machine gun fire. Not before time, it is due to be replaced by the FRES Scout SV. This new vehicle discards the small and lightweight formula for a larger 35-tonne vehicle based on the ASCOD 2 platform and mounts the new 40 mm CTA cannon. It is not clear, however, when FRES SV will enter service.
AS90 and M/GMLRS
The AS90 155 mm self-propelled gun entered service in 1993 and replaced the Abbot FV433 105 mm self-propelled gun and M109 155 mm self-propelled gun. In total, 179 vehicles were acquired, with approximately 89 remaining in service. Though 20 years old, both gun and platform have life left in them.
This is guided multiple-launch rocket system based on the US M270 weapons platform. The launcher can fire 12 rockets to about 40 kilometres with precision accuracy. This system dates back to 1983. The UK acquired a total of 42 launch vehicles.
Like AS90, this platform is old, but has life left in it.
Viking and Warthog
Viking and Warthog are all-terrain vehicles based on the Hagglunds BvS 10 / BvS 206 amphibious personnel carrier. Viking was acquired in 2005 after an extensive trials and development programme. Warthog was acquired in 2010 via a rapid UOR programme when the Viking’s protection was found to be deficient. While both vehicle types provide utility through their all-terrain mobility, neither is a true AFV or ideal APC.
Both vehicles feature a distinctive tandem box hull arrangement and articulated steering system. In the Viking, the front section weighs 5-tonnes and the rear section 3.5 tonnes. It can seat 4 soldiers in the front and 8 in the rear. The UK acquired a total 158 vehicles with four variants: troop carrying variant (TCV); command variant (CV); repair and recovery variant (RRV) and ambulance variant (AV). In addition to being used by the Army, Viking is also used by the Royal Marines. Like the CVR(T), Viking has a low ground pressure enabling it to traverse all kinds of terrain. Without substantial armour, Vikings deployed to Afghanistan proved to be vulnerable to IEDs. Within two years of Viking being fielded, losses forced it to be withdrawn from frontline service. Viking is now being re-issued to Royal Artillery units as an equipment transporter for the new Watchkeeper UAV
Warthog is the UK version of the ST Kinetcis Bronco and visually looks very similar to the Viking it replaced. It offers increased protection, greater mobility and a larger load carrying capacity, enabling it to carry 6 soldiers in the front cab and and 10 in the rear. A total of 115 vehicles with the same four variants as Viking (TCV, CV, RRV and AV) were ordered. While Warthog has proved more effective than the Viking, it too is being transferred to the Royal Artillery as a Watchkeeper transporter vehicle.
An army of jeeps and trucks
To support its primary range of armoured vehicles, the British Army has recently acquired a large assortment of wheeled vehicles that are essentially armoured jeeps and trucks.
Vector is a light protected patrol vehicle (LPPV) based on the Pinzgauer 6×6. Intended to perform the same LPPV role as Foxhound (see below), it has proved to be deficient across a number of areas and has been withdrawn from theatre. What future role the UK’s 153 Vectors will perform is unclear. In hindsight, it was a poor choice.
Husky is the UK version of the US Navistar MXT-MV 4×4 with a flatbed load area at the rear. It is a tactical support vehicle that can transport small loads around the battlefield under protection, making it suitable for combat resupply. The UK acquired 327 Husky vehicles despite the fact that it had been previously rejected by the US Army for not providing sufficient protection. Again, it was not an ideal choice.
Panther is a new command and liaison vehicle based on the Iveco LMV Lince and has assumed some CVR(T) roles, but with less mobility. The UK has acquired a total of 401. The procurement process was heavily criticised and the MoD appears to have paid much more than many competing designs would have cost for a vehicle that offers marginal IED protection, poor interior space and average cross-country performance.
The UK has acquired 400 new Foxhound LPPVs and 736 Mastiff, Ridgeback and Wolfhound PPV variants. These infantry mobility vehicles provide significantly greater IED protection, but at a much higher cost and without significant off-road capabilities (see below).
There are 868 armoured Land-Rover variants including 371 Land-Rover RWMIK for fire support and reconnaissance roles and 485 protected Snatch 2 vehicles. Though better protected than the disastrous original Snatch Land-Rover, they are not in the same class as Foxhound. Similarly, the Land-Rover RWMIK has been replaced by Jackal, which has greater underbody protection from IEDs. Since these vehicles have mostly been replaced by those listed above, they will be withdrawn from service at some point.
In addition to its fleet of protected vehicles, the Army has its ‘C’ fleet, or logistics and support vehicles. This includes a further 12,000 general purpose, utility Land-Rovers and 5,000 MAN HX60 4×4 trucks with a payload capacity of 6 tonnes.
Finally, there are an additional 1,800 specialist vehicles including cranes, heavy transporters, dump trucks, tankers, water bowsers, bulldozers and a fleet of 92 HET Oshkosh 1070F 8 x 8 tractor units to transport Warrior and Challenger 2s.
In summary, the UK is spending a huge amount of money on vehicles, but very few of those vehicles are front-line fighting vehicles with a significant offensive armament. We seem to be buying an excessive number of different platform types for vehicles that perform fundamentally the same roles. Do we need Jackal, Panther and Husky? Could not a single common platform based on Foxhound be adapted to perform all of the roles they perform? Worst of all, we have bought more than a 1,000 vehicles that proved inadequate for the roles they were supposed to perform and needed to be replaced.
UORs Have Sucked up the Budget
It needs to be pointed out that a large percentage of the Army’s future vehicle budget has been consumed by UOR purchases for Afghanistan. Latest estimates suggest that expenditure since 2006 was approximately £2-£3 billion. We plan to gift more than £1 billion worth of clapped-out vehicles to the Afghan Army when we leave and there isn’t much left in the AFV pot to replace them with new vehicles.
Two UOR vehicles are noteworthy.
One is the Foxhound LPPV and the other is the Mastiff PPV.
The Army has acquired 400 Foxhound (Ocelot) 4x4s. This light protected patrol vehicle (LPPV) offers unprecedented protection in its weight class, accommodates up to six soldiers and can mount a variety of weapons including the .50 Cal HMG, 40 mm GMG and 7.62 mm GPMG. Foxhound has proved to be a highly flexible vehicle that is rapidly deployable by air and able to perform a variety of mission types. Consequently, it will be taken into the core equipment budget and used to equip several light role infantry battalions. Feedback suggests that it is an excellent vehicle, but, irrespective of Foxhound’s proven capabilities, we should not be blinded by the fact that it is essentially an armoured Land-Rover and has relatively limited cross-country mobility.
The second major UOR purchase was a fleet of larger protected vehicles. The UK bought 248 Mastiff 6×6 PPVs, 90 Wolfhound 6×6 PPVs (Mastiff with a flatbed load area at the back) and 157 Ridgeback 4×4 PPVs. These vehicles can carry 10-12 soldiers and can be equipped with the same defensive weapons as Foxhound. The Mastiff family offers greater IED protection than Foxhound, but the penalty is more limited off-road performance. This vehicle has undoubtedly saved lives in Afghanistan, but Mastiff is little more than a heavy armoured truck that depends on good roads. The decision to take this vehicle into the core equipment budget reflects the fact that the British Army has an ongoing need for protected mobility. But, it cannot be considered as a true wheeled APC, because it cannot keep-up with tracked vehicles across country. It is merely a substitute for the trusty 4-tonne truck (which, with a rear flatbed and canvas cover, is totally unsuitable for carrying troops when the threat of IEDs exists).
To pretend that Mastiff is any kind of replacement for the FV430 series or an alternative to FRES UV is to sell the Army short.
It has been persuasively argued by Think Defence and other military commentators that if the UK had not abandoned its MRAV collaboration with Germany, we could have acquired the Boxer 8×8 instead of Mastiff. Similarly, if the FRES UV programme had not also stalled, we could have acquired the Piranha V 8×8. As it was, we spent between £200-£300 million trying to procure a highly mobile wheeled APC without a single vehicle being fielded. Both the Piranha V and Boxer would have provided much greater cross-country mobility and combat flexibility as well as providing comparable IED protection.
The emerging structure for Army 2020 suggests that FRES UV may have now assumed a lower priority. Those who defend the purchase of Mastiff say that it was simply a case of buying what was available, at a price we could afford and at the time when we needed it. This may be true, but with an improved approach to vehicle procurement, we could and should have acquired a fleet of 8x8s similar to the US Stryker Brigades that have more than proved their worth across a wide variety of combat roles in Iraq and Afghanistan and, equally important, will continue to play an important role beyond these deployments.
The 8×8 wheeled APC is a relatively new AFV type. As such, the optimum design configuration continues evolve as they are used more widely. Clearly, there are risks attached to acquiring a large fleet of vehicles that may need ongoing development or modification. For example, despite the many strategic, tactical and logistical benefits provided by the US Army’s Stryker 8×8 vehicle, it was acquired before the IED threat was fully appreciated. Inevitably, combat experience has forced the US Army to upgrade its entire fleet by adding a double V-hull for better protection.
The KMW Boxer is a German 8×8, which we could have acquired, and has greater protection than Stryker. It has a modular design that enables the basic chassis to accommodate a variety of mission modules which can be swapped as needs dictate. However, this makes the Boxer 2-3 tonnes heavier than rival designs and puts it right on the limit of what an A400 can lift. The GDE Piranha V (a Piranha IV redesigned around the UK’s individual requirements) also offers increased protection. Unfortunately, it is flawed in other areas. During the UAE Army’s wheeled APC trial one was overturned, not while crossing a steep sand dune, but on a level road. Whether this was due to the steering system design or because it is inherently top heavy isn’t clear, but the design needs modification. In hindsight, the UK may have been fortunate in not having bought the Piranha V. Had we done so, we might now find ourselves in the same position as the USA and needing to spend extra money to upgrade to our own 8×8 fleet.
As the conflict in Afghanistan draws to close, it is only now that a benchmark specification for 8×8 APCs has emerged. While other early 8×8 vehicles may need to be upgraded, both Stryker and Boxer would have been a better choice for the British Army than the slow, lumbering, and overweight Mastiff
Preparing for the Next War not the Last One
As we look ahead to determine our future requirements, we must consider how our needs have evolved in the light of recent experience. Does Afghanistan define a new AFV paradigm or is it merely a one-off deployment that does not reflect a wider spectrum of threats? Our AFV fleet presently incorporates a COIN operation focus, but has our selection of vehicles compromised our ability to field effective forces across a wide range of potential deployments and mission types?
In spending our tax receipts wisely, military programme managers are frequently urged to prepare for the next war not the last one. This requires us to prioritise a wide range range of threats according to how likely they are and how serious their impact would be.
The British Army is organised around three types of conflict scenario:
- Low intensity policing, peacekeeping, training and support role
- Medium intensity counter-insurgency / counter-terrorism role
- High intensity major domestic or international conflict role
Each of these scenarios can be further divided by their duration: short (6 months or less), medium (2 years or less) or long-term (More than 2 years). The challenge is to equip our soldiers (and other armed forces) to counter the broadest possible range of threats across the most likely scenarios without compromising their ability to deal with a less probable, but potentially much more serious major conflict.
Underpinning our analysis of likely future deployments should include the political consideration of how essential a British response is when operations take us beyond defending UK soil. Bitter experience has taught us that it is often better to get involved before a minor indirect threat becomes a major direct one. However, we seem to adopted a more extreme strategy of being a self-appointed global policeman. Has our involvement in Afghanistan made the UK a safer place? Has it made a difference for the Afghan people? The British public’s attitude to Syria seems to suggest that, as regrettable as the situation is, it is none of our business. Perhaps future deployments will be confined to close-to-home situations?
Building on Corin Vestey’s excellent recent review of UK defence planning, we need to identify and prioritise the things we most wish to protect. One important point he made was that irrespective of any external threats, there is an over-riding need to ensure the UK’s own internal security. That makes protecting national assets is a number one priority governing our choice of equipment. Corin listed a variety of things based on a hierarchy of human need: food, water, shelter, warmth and so on. Which gives us a neat list of domestic UK assets:
– Power generation and distribution facilities
– Food supply (including agricultural)
– Water supply (Including treatment and waste disposal)
– Transport infrastructure (roads, airports, ports, railways and public transport)
– Telecommunications (including command and control networks)
Any of these essential assets could be threatened internally, e.g. attacks by home-grown terrorist organisations, but also externally, e.g. attacks against the UK initiated by a foreign power. While physical assets need protecting, we tend to think of potential conflicts only in terms of seizing territory (land appropriation) and direct military response (attrition of the enemy’s capability to wage war). Beyond any existential threats that may exist, there are less obvious, indirect threats that seek to destabilise our way of life, dilute our culture, or impose a different system of values upon us. They can be far more subtle in appearance, but no less lethal in effect. Rather than the knock-out blow of an all-out attack, we face death by a thousand cuts. At what point to you swat the mosquito that is irritating you. You may not notice the first bite or the thirteenth, but by the time you resolve to take action, you may already have malaria. When a wider definition of potential threats is considered, the roles of our national police and intelligence services assume a much greater importance.
The other major evolution has been the means through which we wage war. Drones are proving to be a much less expensive means of eliminating enemy. Since they don’t have pilots, the risk of casualties and political fallout these produce can be avoided. Then there is cyber warfare. The Israeli offensive action against Iran’s nuclear programme represented a fundamentally different means of prosecuting an offensive campaign. It included direct action: not an air strike, but the assassination of key personnel and scientists involved in running the programme, and also indirect action: a cyber attack through the Stuxnet virus, which caused all of the nuclear centrifuges to spin out of control so that they completely destroyed themselves, denying the Iranians the means to make nuclear weapons. Both were more cost-effective than direct military action.
The big elephant in the room of defence planning – nuclear weapons
Before we begin to consider the size of our conventional forces and the vehicles they will need, we need to remind ourselves that our nuclear arsenal has direct impact on the size of our conventional peacetime forces. In various debates about whether the UK should retain its nuclear capability, it has been pointed out that abandoning Trident would require us to have much larger and more expensive conventional forces to ensure our security. If this is true, in a post-Cold War world, where we retain a nuclear capability, we need to consider how the optimum size of our land forces is influenced by the policies that define when we would press the nuclear button.
The recent sabre-rattling by North Korea ceased as abruptly as it started. Was this because China or the USA threatened it with massive retaliation if it should attack South Korea? Quite possibly. But what if North Korea had unleashed a conventional attack? Without sizeable conventional forces, nuclear weapons might be the only viable response.
It has been suggested that nuclear weapons have dramatically curtailed the time period during which international tensions build and reach crisis point. Hitler became an acute problem over 10 years. North Korea recently became belligerent in a matter of weeks. Few people would disagree with the notion that conventional forces are preferable to nuclear weapons. But if we want avoid using them, we need to have a credible navy, army and air force. Traditionally, we have always had smaller peace time establishments due to the belief that a period of political manoeuvring would give us time to reinforce our conventional forces. In today’s fast-moving world, we might not have enough time to reinforce a conventional capability before needing to use a nuclear one.
Consequently, conventional forces are not irrelevant. They can buy vital time before a doomsday scenario becomes inevitable. They can even be used preemptively to disable an aggressor’s nuclear weapons before they are triggered, e.g. attack by Special Forces units. Even when nuclear weapons give us the upper hand against an enemy that doesn’t have a similar response, their indiscriminate use is unlikely to be tolerated by the international community, so some form of conventional forces will need to be retained as an option until a nuclear attack is the only recourse.
Discussion of the fundamental aims behind our defence policy may seem a long way away from decided how many tanks (as well as combat aircraft and ships) we need. But until we set realistic priorities, we cannot equip ourselves appropriately. In essence, there are four pillars of UK defence planning.
The Four Pillars of Defence Planning
- Self-defence of the United Kingdom. We need to protect ourselves from any direct action that might threaten our liberty, prosperity, democracy, indeed, our way of life. Situations might include a direct enemy attack against the UK mainland or our economy. Traditionally, this was seen as an invasion by sea or air. Today, it could be a cyber attack that paralyses infrastructure or communications. It could also be an indirect attack that prevented food, fuel and vital supplies from reaching the UK. It could be attacks against natural resources, e.g. oil and gas reserves, or compromising other assets that might paralyse the economy. A direct attack by conventional forces has given way to terrorist attacks conducted by internal and external dissident groups, e.g. the IRA and Al Qaeda. Sustained and successful terrorist attacks against airliners carrying passengers could easily paralyse the Country if we were unable to stop them.
- Protection of British and Commonwealth interests abroad. We need to be able to protect commonwealth partners with whom we have mutually dependent trade agreements, e.g. Nigeria and oil. Situations would obviously include defending any legitimate government that asked for our help against an external threat, but also overpowering a coup.
- Support of the United Nations: the global police force / peace keeper role. This is the role we performed in Kosovo and Bosnia and part of the reason why UN member forces are presently deployed in Afghanistan. It consists of the restoration of legitimate democratic government; helping nations build and manage their own police and national security capabilities; protecting the civil population in a political vacuum; and providing aid after a natural disaster, especially when law and order have broken down. The role increasingly includes counter insurgency operations against terrorist organisations, action against organised crime gangs and pirates in international waters. Above all, the role is about providing nations with the support they need to become self-sufficient and self-determining.
- The fulfilment of treaty obligations including NATO and the European Union. This is honouring the mutual commitment to our allies, where an attack against one nation is regarded as an attack against all. NATO was originally created to protect the West against the Warsaw Pact threat. Since the demise of the Soviet Union, NATO still exists but former Cold War scenarios are now redundant. With new threats emerging, including Iran, North Korea, former-Soviet Union states and, possibly, even China, NATO still has a role play. Over time, NATO and the UN may merge into a single entity where the world community will protect member states from an attack by another rogue member. In the meantime, Britain’s membership of the EU implies the responsibility to protect our European neighbours in the event of an attack.
The important thing to emphasise here is that whether we take action to protect the things we value or protect other nations who depend on us, e.g. a Commonwealth nation invaded by an aggressor, we will need boots on the ground. Deploying troops quickly, reliably and in a fit state to perform the tasks we ask of them will require us to equip them with the right range of vehicles.
The IED threat has been discussed at length. Although it is right to categorise such weapons as mines, their asymmetric effect in shifting the balance of power towards less well-resourced insurgent groups has forced us to take them seriously. In COIN warfare there is no FEBA. Wherever troops travel, they are at risk. If the UK was ever forced to defend itself against a substantially larger attacking force, we might ourselves use sophisticated mines in exactly the same way as the Taliban has used crude pressure-plate devices against us. In other words, protected mobility is now needed at every level.
The Tank is Dead, Long Live the Tank
So, using the four pillars of defence planning, we can begin to consider the scope of our armoured vehicle requirements. Let’s start with 20th Century’s signature asset, the tank, and the heavy armoured vehicles that support it. A previous article on this topic generated a lively discussion on the future of armour.
Without wishing to rehash the debate, a number of important summary points were made:
- We need to maintain tank forces simply because potential enemies have so many. The large number of main battle tanks currently in service across the globe, approximately,108,000 in total, represents a significant threat. NATO and its allies could mobilise around 18,000 tanks. That leaves more than 90,000 tanks that could potentially be ranged against us.
- The threat of air attack does not render tanks obsolete. It goes almost without saying that attack helicopters and strike aircraft have become extremely adept at engaging armoured vehicles. This assumes that air superiority (or at least parity) allows ground attack aircraft to operate with impunity. With constant blue skies above Afghanistan and the Middle-East, we tend to take 24/7 air support for granted. However, in a major conventional conflict, no self-respecting armoured division would deploy without organic anti-aircraft artillery (AAA) systems. Just as hand-held anti-tank missiles have been a great equaliser in tank versus infantry encounters, hand-held anti-aircraft missiles are starting to pose a greater threat to combat aircraft. With a range of AAA at its disposal, an advancing armoured division could easily defend itself against air attack. Deploying armour or deploying aircraft / helicopters to counter armour boils down to selecting the right tactics to suit the needs of what may often be a very fluid situation.
- Tanks are still the best way to take out other tanks. While aircraft are good at neutralising armoured targets, they cannot hold ground. Moreover, large tank guns excel at taking-out other tanks. If a potential enemy launched a sizeable armoured thrust against us, our best chance of repelling it would be to deploy as many tanks as we could muster. Though we might use air assets, we would rely on the physical presence of ground-based defensive armour to neutralise enemy AFVs. Potential enemies have a huge advantage in tanks numbers, which means every vehicle capable of destroying tanks we could mobilise would make a difference. The Russian view is that any tank is better than no tank, which is why so many older models remain in their inventories.
- Tanks cannot continue to become bigger and heavier. In seeking to gain a competitive advantage over Russian and Chinese tanks, many western designs have incorporated thicker armour. But even the best protected NATO tank has no defence against a proper anti-tank gun, such as the Russian 2A46 125 mm smoothbore gun or larger air launched anti-tank missiles such as the AT-16 Scallion (9K121 Vikhr). Any future attempt to up-armour tanks is likely to provide only short-term advantages. The penalty of increased protection is increased size, increased weight, increased cost and reduced mobility. In the same way that naval battleships grew in size without achieving invulnerability, ultimately leading to their obsolescence, 80 or 90 tonne tanks are impractical. It is difficult to transport them to where they are needed and once they get there, very few bridges can support their weight. They’re also perceived as high-value, high-priority targets by the enemy.
- Historically, the best tanks have always been those that provided a balanced mix of firepower, protection and mobility. Arguably, the best tank designs of World War 2 were the Soviet T-34/85 and German Panzer V, Panther G. Both tanks offered excellent mobility, superior firepower and good protection. Whereas the best tanks that the Allies could muster, the Sherman and the Cromwell, had good mobility, their armour was weak and they had inadequate firepower. Thus, the Allies needed a ratio of 3 to 1 to defeat Axis forces. Luckily we had superior tank numbers. In the end, quality may not be enough to overcome quantity. As the quest to give contemporary MBTs increased protection results in NATO tank units having a reduced number of lumbering behemoths, perhaps the time has come to prioritise mobility again?
- The need for increased mobility suggests a requirement for lighter tanks. There are a number of ways to make tanks lighter. Two-man turrets with autoloaders have been adopted by some armies, although reducing crew numbers from four to three may not desirable, because crew duties will be shared by fewer personnel. Housing the crew in central armoured citadels with externally mounted guns can also reduce the armour requirement and thus vehicle weight, but may reduce crew situational awareness. Simply reducing the level of armour fitted to a vehicle may also help too. New tank designs, such as the French LeClerc, incorporate weight saving measures that reduce weight without compromising overall protection or mobility.
- Infantry Fighting Vehicles need as much protection as Main Battle Tanks. Most IFVs have less protection than the MBTs they are meant to follow and support. It has been suggested that future infantry fighting vehicles should be as well protected as tanks. Israel has already recognised this need with the Namer APC. This uses the Merkava battle tank chassis minus turret to house an infantry squad. However, as soon as you add armour or a cannon to an infantry fighting vehicle you make it heavier or handicap its ability to carry infantry soldiers. Concepts for the next generation infantry fighting vehicle, such as the Ground Combat vehicle or GCV, suggest considerable weight and size gains to balance carrying capacity, protection and firepower
- IFVs and Reconnaissance vehicles have become medium tanks. It has been suggested that as soon as you fit a cannon to an infantry combat vehicle, it starts to look like a tank. If it looks like a tank, then the chances are it will be used like one. Many existing tanks in service across the world can be neutralised with a 25 mm or 30 mm cannon. During Gulf War 1, a significant number of Iraqi T-54/ T55 and T-62 tanks were destroyed by Bradley M2 IFVs. When they encountered better protected tanks that could not be penetrated by their 25 mm chain guns, they used their TOW missile launchers instead. Who cares that the troops inside the Bradleys became little more than passengers? With the US Army using the M3 Bradley as a dedicated cavalry vehicle, a new trend has been established for using modified IFV platforms in the tracked reconnaissance role. This is what the UK’s new FRES SV is intended to do. While it has room for 2-3 dismounts, it is primarily an agile medium tank designed to complement Challenger 2 Main Battle Tanks. If we need to play a numbers game, reconnaissance vehicles with more offensive firepower could be a good thing.
- New armoured formation structures are emerging. In the UK, Armoured brigades have now been built around a new structure: 1 x MBT regiment, 1 x Recce regiment, and 3 x MICV regiments. Tank regiments provide the primary anti-tank capability supported by infantry in MICVs, while the Recce regiment provides reconnaissance, flank support, and a medium anti-armour capability. As a concept this seems to make sense, although some believe that the medium armour role would be better performed by a second heavy armour tank regiment. The counter argument is that, although a second tank regiment would provide greater firepower, it would be a less agile and flexible unit. A Challenger 2 costs more than twice as much as an ASCOD 2 FRES SV. So, if numbers matter, then less expensive medium tank vehicles will allow us to field a larger quantity of vehicles.
In the short term, the case for heavy armour seems to be well made. The current crop of Main Battle Tanks represents a powerful and flexible combat tool. The three leading Western designs are the US M1A2 Abrams, the German Leopard 2A7, and the UK’s Challenger 2. The Challenger 2 appears to be the best protected. The Abrams is the most agile, but uses a thirsty gas turbine engine. The German Leopard seems to provide the best overall compromise between firepower, mobility and protection. The M1A2 Abrams and Leopard 2A6 use the Rheinmetall L44 and L55 120 mm smoothbore gun respectively. Another top contender is the Israeli Merkava III/ IV. Recent Israeli experience has provided important lessons about how tanks should be used in a combat environment where infantry have copious amounts of ATGWs at their disposal. In truth, we won’t really know how relevant tanks are until the current generation are truly tested in a major conventional clash of titans.
The Need for Strategic Mobility
Modern battle tanks remain formidable battlefield assets, but getting them quickly to where they are needed can be a challenge. A C-17 transport aircraft can carry a single M1A2 Abrams. Deploying an entire tank regiment by air, let alone a whole brigade, is an expensive and inefficient proposition. For this reason, tanks are usually transported by sea. Once tanks arrive in theatre, however, they need wheeled transporters to get them to where they are required. Long distance deployments by road can quickly wear out tracks. While new banded tracks (continuous rubberised tracks) can aid mobility, heavier AFVs still need to use traditional linked tracks. These can soon heat-up on hard road surfaces which makes them expand leading to vehicles ‘throwing a track’ or other mechanical problems. All in all, tanks remain mechanically complex and need constant preventative maintenance to ensure they remain battle ready.
The UK’s CVR(T) series of vehicles has proved to be a light and highly mobile tracked solution that could easily be deployed to trouble spots. In an IED-infested environment, vehicles such as the Scimitar and Spartan, which have only lightweight aluminium armour, have become vulnerable. While they can avoid conventional roads and tracks to reduce the risk of IED attack, they can be easily be disabled by heavy machine gun fire.
Foxhound and Jackal provide excellent strategic mobility and have become a new currency in rapidly deployable vehicles. Foxhound is a worthy addition to the UK’s core capability, but the jury is still out when it comes to Jackal. While it is essentially another Land-Rover surrogate, albeit with improved underbody protection and superior rough-terrain performance, it is not a true armoured vehicle. Without having an enclosed crew compartment, the protection it offers is somewhat limited – as several fatal attacks in Afghanistan have sadly proved.
Recognising the need for armoured formations that can be rapidly deployed using existing road networks, the US Marine Corps acquired the LAV-25, an amphibious 8×8 vehicle mounting the Mk 242 Bushmaster 25 mm cannon. The LAV-25 has only basic armoured protection and carries a crew of 3 plus 6 dismounts. Adopted in the mid-1980s, it provided a rapid response capability. The wheeled AFV concept has shown itself to be remarkably effective, not least because it allows units to deploy long distances independently. During deployments to Panama and Gulf War 1, US Marine units equipped with the LAV-25 showed they could be as effective as tracked armoured units, especially when operating in built-up areas.
In addition to 8×8 vehicle types, various armies have experimented with 4×4 and 6×6 configurations. Overall, a larger 8×8 chassis is needed to carry a full infantry squad, especially if the vehicle is required to mount a cannon. Furthermore, 8×8 designs tend to have better weight distributions than 4x4s or 6x6s, so offer better cross-country performance.
Initially, most 8×8 designs were notably inferior across country versus tracked vehicles. As the breed continues to evolve, rough terrain performance has benefitted from hydro-pneumatic suspensions, advanced transmissions and tyre systems with adjustable pressures. In particular, Patria of Finland, Singapore Industries, Supacat of the UK, Nexter of France, Krauss Maffei of Germany and Iveco of Italy, have all made great strides in drivetrain performance for military wheeled vehicles.
The Rise of the Wheeled AFV
The success of the US Marine Corps’ LAV-25s led to the larger Stryker 8×8 M1126 Infantry Carrier Vehicle being developed. This has a crew of 2 and can carry a full squad of 9 soldiers. With better protection, improved suspension and a more powerful engine, the Stryker has shown itself to be a highly capable asset. The US Army has now fielded a number of Stryker Brigades using a whole family of vehicles based on a common 8×8 chassis.
When the first Stryker Brigade was sent to Iraq in 2004, it immediately made an impression by deploying 500 miles in three days. What was different about this formation was the lack of the usual logistics tail that follows behind an armoured formation. An entire brigade with everything it needed moved en masse to Northern Iraq to relieve a brigade of the US 101st Airborne Division. Once deployed, it was discovered that self-contained Stryker units could police large areas and easily redeploy to trouble spots when the need arose. Though Stryker units made extensive use of the Iraqi road network, they could also move across more challenging terrain with relative ease.
It is entirely possible that a wheeled formation may be attacked by a tracked heavy armour unit. That being the case, wheeled units must be able to defend themselves against main battle tanks. While a typical 8×8 vehicle would seem to be totally outclassed in wheels versus tracks clash, an 8×8 vehicle that mounts a large anti-tank gun should be as capable of destroying a T-90 as the T-90 is capable of destroying it. Victory of one over the other is likely to depend on speed of target acquisition (FCS), tank gunnery skills (training) and engagement range. The level of armour protection would, for the most part, be irrelevant – a hit on either vehicle is game over. But one key survivability factor is whether an 8×8 has sufficient cross-country mobility to outmanoeuvre an enemy tank or at least get into a tactical position where it can deliver effective, accurate fire.
In addition to standard infantry carrier versions, the US Army also adopted the Stryker M1128 MGS – Mobile Gun System, which mounts a 105 mm gun in remote turret served by an autoloader. Its primary role is to eliminate other 8x8s and to support infantry units as they seize objectives – just as a normal MBTs supports tracked APCs / IFVs. The M1128 Stryker MGS is similar to the Italian Army’s Centauro vehicle, which mounts either a 105 or 120 mm gun, and the South African Roikat, which has a 76 mm gun. Firing direct high explosive shells and anti-tank APFSDS rounds, these vehicles are often described as wheeled tank destroyers, although their primary role is to support infantry. It isn’t yet clear whether these vehicles are best deployed singly within wheeled APCs infantry battalions or as independent wheeled tank destroyer regiments. Italy uses its Centauros in separate cavalry units, and attaches them to infantry battalions as required.
While Italy’s Centauros have been successfully deployed in a variety of theatres, including Bosnia and Afghanistan, the US Army’s Stryker MGS vehicles have achieved only limited success. Adding extra armour over and above the extra weight of the 105 mm gun system has made them less agile, so further refinement is required. Despite teething problems, the wheeled tank destroyer remains an important addition to armoured capabilities.
Although the Stryker was better protected than the LAV-25, experience of IEDs in Iraq and Afghanistan showed that an increased amount of armour was needed. As noted above, the US Army has now upgraded its Stryker fleet with double-V hulls. As other redesigned 8×8 models have appeared, average weight range has increased from 18-19-tonnes to around 28-29-tonnes creating what is a new class of medium armoured vehicles. Design goals have focused on adding as much protection as possible while keeping vehicle weight below 30 tonnes so that a single vehicle to be carried in an A400 or two in a C-17.
In the tracks versus wheels debate, there is a clear consensus that tracked vehicles ultimately remain more agile across rough terrain and provide a more stable gun platforms. That said, wheeled vehicle technology has caught up, so the difference is no longer as great as it was. There are likely to be many situations where wheeled combat vehicle formations can substitute heavy armour tracked AFVs, especially when the latter are not available or unable to deploy quickly enough. A decade ago, when the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan started, the 8×8 concept was relatively immature. Today, as combat experience has led to improved designs, they have become highly effective vehicles that provide a medium armour capability which complements heavy armour ones.
The Three Tier AFV Structure
Based on the above discussion, a three-tier AFV structure has emerged:
Heavy Armour formations are comprised of main battle tanks, e.g. Challenger 2; infantry fighting vehicles, e.g. Warrior or its replacement; reconnaissance vehicles based on a IFV platform adapted for the role, e.g. FRES SV Scout; and tracked artillery, e.g. AS90 155 mm SP gun.
Eventually we will need to replace Challenger 2. One way to do this is to partner with Germany to develop something like a Leopard 3 with Dorchester armour and a 120 mm smooth bore gun. Another approach might be to buy whatever the USA replaces the M1 Abrams with. If we urgently needed to acquire more tanks today, Leopard 2A7 might be our best option.
Although the ASCOD 2 vehicle selected for the FRES SV role has been criticised for being too large and heavy, the Army maintains that a smaller tracked reconnaissance vehicle would be unlikely to provide the level of required protection for the evolved reconnaissance / medium tank role. More than that, the basic ASCOD 2 platform has been redeveloped to create a proper reconnaissance vehicle design that is faster and more agile than an MBT. Fitted with the 40 mm CTA cannon, Scout SV is supposed to be able to destroy anything up to a T-72 tank. Given the unproven nature of case-telescoped ammunition, the 40 mm CTA weapon represents quite a risk. The Mk 242 Bushmaster 30 mm, Bushmaster III 35 mm, or Bushmaster IV 50 mm might all be safer and ultimately more effective options. The Mk 242 is extremely an effective and proven design with an upgrade path to 40 mm – it is also used by many of our NATO allies.
If we insist on using an IFV vehicle for the reconnaissance role, why not use Warrior? This might be a sensible option if we had sufficient Warriors. Since we only have enough for armoured infantry battalions and the GKN production line is now closed, we have no alternative but to procure a second vehicle.
As previously noted, it makes no sense to have two IFV platforms in our AFV fleet. By delaying the Warrior upgrade programme and FRES SV acquisition until 2020-2025, we could acquire a single platform for both reconnaissance and infantry fighting vehicle roles. If we stick with current plans to acquire ASCOD 2 for the FRES SV role, we could ultimately replace Warrior by acquiring more ASCOD 2s. If the ASCOD platform is likely to be obsolete when we get around to doing this, perhaps we should consider delaying both Warrior upgrade and FRES SV acquisition until 2020-2025 and then commence a programme to replace both Warrior and CVR(T) simultaneously with a new common platform?
While we may need a vehicle the size of FRES SV for the reconnaissance role, it would be highly desirable to have a new compact, highly mobile, and lightweight tracked vehicle with good IED protection that can be airlifted by a Chinook – a true CVR(T) replacement. Foxhound shows that we can develop a lightweight wheeled vehicle with adequate armour in the 7-10-tonne weight class, so why can’t we create an equivalent tracked vehicle? Instead of mounting a 40 mm CTA cannon, we could fit a lightweight weapon similar to the Hughes 30 mm cannon fitted to Apache.
Another school of thought is that it could make sense to replace Challenger, Warrior CVR(T) and AS90 with a single, common heavy armoured platform to create four separate vehicle types, including an artillery gun platform. To avoid excessive size and weight, the infantry vehicle might only have a light cannon. All vehicles would have a similar level of protection.
Medium Armour formations are built around 8×8 wheeled vehicles using a structure that mirrors that of Heavy Armour formations. Units would be comprised of wheeled tank destroyers, e.g. Centauro B1 8×8 with 120 mm gun, wheeled armoured personnel carriers, e.g. Patria AMV 8×8; wheeled reconnaissance vehicles, e.g. Centauro 8×8 with 40 mm CTA cannon; and towed artillery, e.g. 155 mm gun.
One advantage of the newer 8×8 designs is that a single, common platform can be used to create a variety of vehicle types. The IVECO Centauro Tank Destroyer, Freccia IFV and Draco multi-role gun platform are all built on the same platform. One noteworthy addition to Patria’s 8×8 AMV family is a mortar vehicle. The Nemo 120 mm breech loaded mortar system is able to fire in both direct and indirect modes to provide a substantial fire support capability. A standard 8×8 APC can also be used as a gun tractor to tow field guns with the rear compartment being used to stow ammunition.
The other important 8×8 capability is the ease with which such vehicles can be made amphibious. Royal Marine Commando battalions could be equipped with an amphibious 8×8 to replace Viking. A further benefit is cost. Typically, 8x8s cost 40-50% less than a tracked equivalent and are estimated to cost 30-40% less to run and maintain due to increased fuel efficiency and the need for fewer spare parts.
Light armoured formations would be comprised of light wheeled vehicles, e.g. Foxhound and towed artillery, e.g. M118 105 mm light gun.
There is a strong case for creating a reconnaissance vehicle with an enclosed crew compartment to replace Jackal. A low-profile Foxhound with light cannon in a compact turret would provide the crew with superior IED protection than an open cab 4×4. If we retain Jackal, we should see it for what it is: a glorified Land-Rover. Buy as many Jackals as you want, but don’t let it prevent you buying a proper AFV.
There is also a case for using Foxhound to replace Husky, Puma and Vector. Reducing the total number of chassis types would contribute worthwhile cost savings while providing a vehicle with good IED protection.
While Heavy Armour units would primarily deploy by sea, both Light and Medium Armour units could be deployed by air.
The three Parachute Regiment battalions would continue to provide a rapid reaction force and helicopter-borne air-assault brigade. Regiments on the ground would be supported by integral light armoured vehicles and towed artillery. Royal Marine Commandos would be a seaborne equivalent of the air assault brigade.
Future Force Size and Structure
Any credible future AFV plan must achieve three objectives:
- Define the required capability based on a robust prioritisation of current and potential threats
- Develop an appropriate force size and structure
- Build unit formations around a reduced number of AFV platforms
The threat has already been discussed in some detail above and the three classes of AFV reflect a broad set of capabilities to defend national interests across a variety of situations. The challenge is now to suggest a logical force size and structure that matches our prioritised requirements and, of course, our budget.
The size of the UK’s Army may be shrinking, but even with 80,000 troops, we still have more than 30 infantry battalions. That is sufficient to create 10 brigades or three divisions. It would not make sense to have three full-on heavy armoured divisions (and we probably don’t have sufficient UK bases to house them anyway). NATO allies can reasonably expect the UK to contribute two complete divisions (six brigades not five). In reality, we have the manpower to muster 3 divisions. It is simply a question of organisation and equipment.
If we agree that the tank has life left in it, then one of the three divisions should be built around a conventional tracked armoured division structure similar to what we have today with the second constructed around an identical but less expensive medium armour structure using 8×8 wheeled vehicles. The third would be a light and easily deployable rapid reaction force with light vehicles. This would give us a heavy division, a medium division and a light division as follows:
Three heavy armoured brigades with each consisting of:
1 x Tank regiment: Tracked MBT with 120 mm gun
1 x Reconnaissance regiment: Tracked IFV with 40 mm CTA cannon / 35 mm cannon
3 x Infantry battalions: Tracked IFV with 40 mm CTA cannon
1 x Artillery regiment: Self-propelled 155 mm howitzer on same IFV chassis
Three medium armoured brigades with each consisting of:
1 x Tank destroyer regiment: Wheeled 8×8 MGS with 120 mm
1 x Reconnaissance regiment: Wheeled 8×8 APC with 40 mm CTA cannon / 35 mm cannon
3 x Infantry battalions: Wheeled 8×8 APC with 12.7 mm HMG / 40 mm GMG
1 x Artillery regiment: Wheeled 8×8 APC with 120 mm breech-loaded mortar
Three light armoured brigades with each consisting of:
1x Reconnaissance regiment: Wheeled 4×4 with lightweight 30 mm cannon
3 x Infantry battalions: Wheeled 4×4 with 12.7 mm HMG / 40 mm GMG
1 x Artillery regiment: 105 mm gun towed
(The three Parachute Regiment battalions could form an air assault brigade within the Light Division. Although they would primarily deploy using helicopters, they would need appropriate light vehicles to support operations).
Any additional infantry battalions that exist outside these structures would perform the same function as the Adaptable Force under Army 2020
Examples of Regiment and Battalion Structures
(FRES UV MGS 8×8 regiment would mirror this structure)
Examples of Regiment and Battalion structures showing vehicle types and numbers
Total cavalry: 15 regiments (with 300-350 soldiers per regiment)
Total infantry: 27 battalions (with 600-650 soldiers per battalion)
Total artillery: 10 regiments + Force artillery assets (with 300-350 soldiers per regiment)
(Engineer, Logistics and Signals unit structures not included)
Estimated total manpower requirement: 24,000-26,500 soldiers
Total Challenger 2 MBT = 168
Total FRES SV Scout = 264
Total FRES SV = 108
Total Warrior IFV = 720
Total 8×8 APC (FRES UV) = 720
Total 8×8 TD (FRES UV MGS) = 168
Total 8×8 Recce (FRES UV Recce) = 264
Total 4×4 Recce (Foxhound/ Jackal) = 240
Total 4×4 Utility / LPPV (Foxhound/ Panther) = 948
The total FRES UV requirement would be 1,260 vehicles and would completely replace all Bulldog and Mastiff vehicles. In essence, FRES UV and a joint FRES SV /IFV platform would be the Army’s CVF. Such a programme would be likely to cost £6-7 billion (based on FRES UV costs of £2 million per vehicle and FRES SV /IFV costs of £4 million per vehicle), but it would provide the Army with a true 21st century “go anywhere, do anything” capability.
(1) Challenger 2 would not be upgraded, but replaced by either a Leopard 2A7 purchased off-the-shelf or even second-hand or a jointly developed Leopard 3.
(2) Although we would reduce our MBT total to 168 units, we would gain 168 wheeled tank destroyers, effectively increasing our tank force to 338 units.
(3) Under this structure, we would purchase fewer FRES SV vehicles (3 regiments versus 5) but this would provide budget to replace Warrior.
(4) Assuming that ASCOD 2 gets back on track, a development of the same vehicle would be used for the IFV role.
(5) A joint replacement programme for Warrior and Scout SV would create a requirement for a single IFV/ Recce platform and a total of 1,092 vehicles.
(6) Warrior CSP would be cancelled, and deliveries of the new IFV would commence after all FRES SVs had been delivered.
(7) Foxhound would be used for all 4×4 roles replacing Panther and Jackal.
The proposed Army 20020 structure is a random ORBAT that leaves 18-20 infantry battalions needing some form of protected mobility, artillery and armour support to enable them to deploy effectively to wherever they might be needed. At the moment, the protected mobility requirement is fulfilled by five unacceptable vehicles: the ancient tracked FV432 / Bulldog APC; the slow, immobile Mastiff 6×6 MRAV; the unarmoured 6-tonne MAN truck; and the ubiquitous 4×4 Land-Rover. With the exception of Bulldog, none of these vehicles has significant cross-country mobility and only the Mastiff provides significant protection against IED, mines and RPGs.
The one good vehicle in our inventory is Foxhound, but this is a light protected vehicle that lacks the same level of protection as heavy or medium armour options. So while it is suitable for some roles, especially COIN deployments, it should not be viewed general purpose APC. Within its capabilities, the Foxhound platform could be used to replace a number of existing platforms.
The Foxhound platform has been proposed as a Jackal substitute. Foxhound as is could replace Vector, Panther and Husky.
Getting the overall balance of vehicles right requires the UK to reorganise its AFVs formations around a simplified heavy, medium and light armoured vehicle structure. We need to rationalise the number of vehicle types around a four well-chosen platforms:
- Main battle tank
- Tracked IFV / APC / SPG / Recce / Specialist support vehicles
- 8×8 MGS / APC / Recce / Specialist support vehicle
- 4×4 LPPV / Recce/ Specialist Support vehicle / Command & Liaison
We particularly need to prioritise the acquisition of FRES UV. As the MoD continues to dither about which 8×8 APC it wants to adopt, the armies of the USA, Canada, France, Germany, Poland, Finland, Norway, Holland, Italy, Czech Republic, Sweden, South Africa, Turkey, Singapore and Switzerland have all recognised the importance of such vehicles and acquired sizeable 8×8 fleets. As a result, these countries have a capability to rapidly deploy large formations across long distances – something we cannot yet do.
Most recently, in Mali, the French Army’s wheeled 6×6 VABs and 6×6 AMX10-RCs allowed units to gain a rapid toe-hold in key areas that simply wouldn’t have been possible using tanks and tracked APCs. In particular, the AMX10-RC provided immediate on-the-ground firepower making a strong case for well-armed wheeled vehicles – it would have taken weeks to deploy tanks. In many situations, wheeled vehicles will be in and out long before heavy armour becomes a factor.
Wheeled vehicle formations are not a substitute for tracked units – they complement them. While it would be unwise to deploy an 8×8 formation against a heavy armoured unit, if an 8×8 unit is unexpectedly engaged by heavy armour, it should be able to defend itself. Each medium armour brigade should have an MGS regiment, a reconnaissance regiment and two or three infantry battalions. (Artillery guns or mortars could also be mounted on the same 8×8 platform or such vehicles could be used to tow wheeled artillery.)
Light armour brigades will be rapidly deployable and equally flexible. They would be able to support air mobile battalions. Ultimately, the combination of heavy, medium and light armour ensures that all troops are able to travel in reasonable safety to get to wherever they are needed ready to complete what mission tasks they have been given.