Where do you start with a series of posts about FRES, the Future Rapid Effects System?
It has been firmly rooted in the future since around 2001 and as at the middle of June 2014, delivered not one solitary vehicle into service.
FRES was/is a wide ranging programme that will deliver to the Army a range of vehicles to replace sixties era legacy vehicles like the FV430 and CVR(T), a pair of vehicle families that have been in service or development since the sixties.
The decades have rolled by, replacement programmes have come and gone, wars have been fought, money spent and still, CVR(T) and FV432 remain very firmly in service and will continue to do so for many years more.
FRES got close to delivering, had a series of wobbles and is still in development, at least for the CVR(T) replacement half of the requirement set.
By 2020, with luck, the Army will have its replacements vehicles but in the same period the Royal Air Force will have gone from this
The Royal Navy, from this
What is painfully obvious is that instead of creating a coherent doctrinal, organisational, industrial and technological construct for Army 2020 it is basing it around the availability of a hodge podge of vehicles, the very definition of the equipment tail wagging the doctrinal dog.
Instead of ushering in a new era, Army 2020 is looking increasingly like the last chicken in the shop.
That is not to criticise Army 2020 as a piece of work, in fact, I think it is an admirable effort to meet the simultaneous challenges of a changing threat landscape and reducing budget, but creating a new organisational format called ‘heavy protected mobility’ in order to find a home for the Mastiff is stretching things somewhat.
With some justification, many have labelled FRES the most shambolic, wasteful and downright scandalous waste of time and taxpayers money in the history of the Ministry of Defence
Lets be honest, there is some stiff competition there, am looking at you Mr Nimrod.
The failure to deliver has not only cost hundreds of millions and, without veering too far into tabloid hyperbole, many service personnel their lives and limbs.
No one has been censured despite the omnishambles that is FRES, a programme that has still to deliver a single vehicle to service despite decades of vacillation and spending money like it was going out of fashion.
In fact, the saga of FRES goes back many years with programmes called TRACER, MRAV and FFLAV
I am going to take a look at all of them and try to determine if FRES is still rapid and whether it will deliver effect
Of course, we all know with some certainty it is still very much in the future.
To aid with telling the story of FRES I am going to present the information on a timeline, taking detours into related projects and vehicles, the industrial landscape and wider historical and doctrinal conversations that have underscored the overall approach.
Returning to the issue of accountability.
I have no doubt that the decisions taken over the years would have seemed sensible at the time, service personnel and civil servants do not make decisions that are intended to deliberately waste time and money but with the finest quality 20:20 hindsight goggles on, those decisions have collectively deprived the Army of much needed equipment over a period of time that simply beggars belief.
No one has been held to account for the MoD and Army’s collective lamentable performance but you could make a reasonable argument that blame is exactly the opposite of what is needed.
Repeating the mantra that lessons must be learned is trite and well worn, but the Army must learn from FRES.
That said, there surely comes a point when you have to be blunt and ask demanding questions.
To put you in the right frame of mind for getting punchy, this is a most amusing piece of Civil Servant bashing on the matter so far, although to be fair to the hapless Ursula Brennan (a person seemingly so far out of her depth she would need a rubber ring to stand in a child’s paddling pool) she sat there and took the flak for others, the others with gold braid.
Mr Bacon: It is on page 6, paragraph 4: “The list of armoured vehicles projects cancelled, suspended or delayed in Figure 1 suggests that…the Department’s standard acquisition process for armoured vehicles has not been working.”
Ursula Brennan: We have acknowledged that there were failings in our procurement of armoured ﬁghting vehicles. Yes, we do acknowledge this.
Q24 Mr Bacon: Who has paid the price for that? Who has paid the penalty for that scale of error? Because for most of this decade—although we have had an enormous ﬁnancial crunch since 2008 or late 2007—it was a period of rising Government spending. It is a huge failure. Who is paying the penalty for that? Is anyone?
Ursula Brennan: The reasons—
Q25 Mr Bacon: Apart from the soldiers on the ground, obviously, who has paid the penalty for this failure in the Ministry of Defence?
Ursula Brennan: The reasons—
Q26 Mr Bacon: No, no, my question is who? The answer must be a person or no person.
Ursula Brennan: The reason why I wanted to say the reasons is because the reasons why certain programmes were stopped or cancelled were to do with decisions that were taken, in some cases about the procurement routes, between Ministers and ofﬁcials at the time about the way it was chosen to procure—
Q27 Mr Bacon: You are answering a question that is not the question I asked. You are giving me an explanation of how we reached this position through decisions having been taken. Plainly, some decisions must have been taken for us to end up in a particular position. There must have been bad decisions for us to end up in a particularly bad position such as this one. My question is who has paid the penalty for this in the Ministry of Defence? It’s a simple question. Who?
Ursula Brennan: I can’t point the ﬁnger at one person, because there isn’t one person who was responsible for the different sets of decisions that were taken about individual vehicles.
Mr Bacon: Is there anybody who has paid the penalty for this?
Vice-Admiral Lambert: If I can—
Mr Bacon: No, no, no. I am looking at Ms Brennan. I am asking her a question. She is the accounting ofﬁcer. She is the permanent secretary. My question stands; I’ve asked it three or four times now. It is very simple and very clear. Is there anybody in the Ministry of Defence who has paid a penalty for this?
Ursula Brennan: No. I don’t think I can point the ﬁnger at anybody.
Looking at FRES in it entirety, there is an inescapable conclusion, the majority of blame does not reside on the easy targeted shoulders of civil servants, politicians and BAE.
The Army must shoulder the majority of blame, pure and simple.
This is going to be a large series of posts.
Best put the kettle on!
The rest of the series
As one might imagine, this series has taken an enormous amount of research, taking into account many sources but I must give special mention to our Chris and Challenger2 from Plain Military, without their expansive knowledge and most helpful insight and support, this would have been much the poorer.