The Story of FRES – Introduction

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.

CVR(T) Protoype
CVR(T) Prototype
FV432 Early Production (Image Credit - A Turner)
FV432 Early Production (Image Credit – A Turner)

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.

CVR(T) Scimitar 2 in Afghanistan
CVR(T) Scimitar 2 in Afghanistan
FV432 in Iraq
FV432 in Iraq

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

English Electric Lightning 1964
English Electric Lightning 1964

To this

RAF 6 Squadron Eurofighter Typhoons on Exercise Bersama Lima 11 in Malaysia
RAF 6 Squadron Eurofighter Typhoons on Exercise Bersama Lima 11 in Malaysia

The Royal Navy, from this

HMS Walrus
HMS Walrus

to this

HMS Astute and HMS Dauntless
HMS Astute and HMS Dauntless

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

The Story of FRES – Introduction

The Story of FRES – The Sixties

The Story of FRES – The Seventies

The Story of FRES – The Eighties

The Story of FRES – The Nineties

The Story of FRES – US Experience in the Balkans

The Story of FRES – 2000 to 2003

The Story of FRES – 2004

The Story of FRES – 2005

The Story of FRES – 2006

The Story of FRES – 2007 and the Trials of Truth

The Story of FRES – 2008

The Story of FRES – 2009 and a Return to FRES

The Story of FRES – 2010 Scout Contract Award

The Story of FRES – 2011

The Story of FRES – 2012 to 2014

The Story of FRES – A Summary


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.





About The Author

Think Defence hopes to start sensible conversations about UK defence issues, no agenda or no campaign but there might be one or two posts on containers, bridges and mexeflotes!

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June 8, 2014 5:11 pm

Just finished reading these FRES posts, and I keep saying this, it seems, but this is one of your finest essays yet.
Well documented and well written.

A must read!

June 8, 2014 6:30 pm

I think the pictures you’re using to illustrate your point are a bit misleading. Its only the outside shell of the vehicles that have remained the same. The clever bits are in the systems internally which you can’t see, although CVR(T) 2 gives the game away a bit.

Something else to consider is Tornado for the RAF. Design origins in the early 1960s, in service for about 40 years, replacement ~2020. But fundamentally its a very different aircraft to the original design, and is one of the most effective strike/reconnaissance aircraft flying today (mostly because after all the time in service we’ve fixed all the things that don’t work).

Otherwise, this FRES series reads great from the posts so far