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The Story of FRES – The Seventies

FV430 had entered service in 1963, by the early seventies production was in full swing and they were being used by many units in the British Army.

FVRDE and the Military Experimental Engineering Establishment (MEXE) at Christchurch amalgamated in 1970 to form the Military Vehicles and Engineering Establishment (MVEE)

CVR(T) Testing and Into Service

After producing seventeen prototype vehicles Alvis were awarded a production contract for 2,000 vehicles in May 1970.

At the time, CVR(T) was pretty ground breaking. One of the real breakthroughs was the use of welded aluminium armour throughout. Although the M113 and Sheridan made use of aluminium armour it was either lower quality type (5083 type) or not used throughout, the Sheridan for example, only had an aluminium hull, the turret was still steel. CVR(T) used the tricky to work with 7039 aluminium zinc magnesium alloy.

Trials took place in Australia, Abu Dhabi, Iran, and Canada.

By 1973, Scorpion had entered service with the British Army, specifically, the Blues and Royal in Windsor and 17th/21st Lancers in West Germany although it had been delivered to the Bovington and Bordon in 1972.

During the initial deployments in Germany a Scorpion also set the record for a tracked vehicle around the Nürburgring

CVRT at the Nurnburgring 02 740x564 The Story of FRES   The Seventies

CVR(T) at the Nürburgring

CVRT at the Nurnburgring 740x459 The Story of FRES   The Seventies

CVR(T) at the Nürburgring

The CVR(W) Fox entered service in 1975 with the 1st Royal Tank Regiment.

Deliveries peaked at 40 vehicles per month.

By the end of the seventies, the vision for a family of vehicles that could operate in Germany and as a rapid reaction vehicle for overseas deployment had been largely realised. None of the variants (wheeled or tracked) were without their flaws but the combination of speed, mobility and just enough firepower would go on to be proven many times over.

CVR(T) Mobility

Air transportability was a key design constraint of CVR(T), weight limits were set with the HS 681 transport aircraft proposal, two were to be carried on a single aircraft although as the HS681 was cancelled this changed to C130.

HS 681 740x578 The Story of FRES   The Seventies

HS 681

A maximum width of 2.1m was specified so that CVR(T) could move between rubber trees in plantations in Malaya and negotiate narrow tracks, this is the same width as the US HUMVEE by the way.

The image below was taken in Belize but it shows the width between trees theme quite well.

CVRT between trees in Belize 740x712 The Story of FRES   The Seventies

CVR(T) between trees in Belize

Steering geometry and track width to length ratios determined hull width and in order to squeeze the driver in when wearing winter combat gear the resultant narrow engine compartment width meant engine choice was limited, the Jaguar XK was the only suitable off the shelf engine that would both fit and provide sufficient power, although integrating the M113 diesel engine was also trialed.

The end result was a very compact and mobile vehicle with a weight of just under 8 tonnes and a ground pressure of less than 0.35 kg/cm2. Its height was less than 2.1m

The vehicle design requirements had been stringent, especially weight and size limits in order to meet air drop and air transport limitations of the in service and projected aircraft, the C130 Hercules for example. The assumption was made that air superiority would be tenuous, changing and certainty not guaranteed so the surveillance element of the wider reconnaissance theme was not ignored.

CVRT Scorpion loading in a C130 Hercules 740x467 The Story of FRES   The Seventies

CVR(T) Scorpion loading in a C130 Hercules

CVRT Scorpion on a Medium Stressed Platform 01 740x503 The Story of FRES   The Seventies

CVR(T) Scorpion on a Medium Stressed Platform

CVRT Scorpion on a Medium Stressed Platform 02 740x552 The Story of FRES   The Seventies

CVR(T) Scorpion on a Medium Stressed Platform

Sling loading by Chinook was also seen as a crucial advantage, one that would be exploited in the Balkans and the Falklands campaigns

CVRT Spartan Chinook sling load 740x432 The Story of FRES   The Seventies

CVR(T) Spartan Chinook sling load

A quote from a long out of print magazine summed up early experience with CVR(T) mobility and compactness

Not only was the Scorpion allowed into areas where no other tracked vehicles had been allowed, opening up new exercise possibilities, but it was also able to go where no other vehicle had been able to go before. We did an exercise early on called “Lobster Quadrile”, where our aim was to infiltrate behind the enemy. We achieved it by driving up a river bed at night, a route the enemy had not anticipated anybody using. You could motor along at very low revs making it very difficult for anyone to hear you, or to place you if they could hear the engine

Transport by truck was also a key requirement and many trials with the new Foden/Ampliroll hooklift pallets (now commonly known as DROPS pallets) demonstrated that the vehicle family could be transported long distance.

CVRT and Foden DROPS 01 740x430 The Story of FRES   The Seventies

CVR(T) and Foden DROPS

CVRT and Foden DROPS 740x480 The Story of FRES   The Seventies

CVR(T) and Foden DROPS

CVRT Scorpion on a Multidrive truck 740x318 The Story of FRES   The Seventies

CVR(T) Scorpion on a Multidrive truck

Their low weight also meant that if they did need bridging support, it could be of a lower bridge class and use more rapidly built types, the Medium Girder Bridge for example.

CVRT Scorpion on a Clas 60 MGB in Hong Kong 740x336 The Story of FRES   The Seventies

CVR(T) Scorpion on a Class 60 MGB in Hong Kong

CVR(T) therefore, was built around a set of requirements that placed mobility, strategic and tactical, at the forefront, a decision that would be vindicated time after time.

Even CVR(W) Fox got in on the air drop game…

Airdrop CVRW The Story of FRES   The Seventies

Airdrop CVR(W)

CVR – A Family of Vehicles

Although the initial prototypes only included the Scorpion variant CVR(T) always included the intent to develop a family of vehicles, the engine front layout being needed for the other variants. Over the next half dozen or so years a number of these variants would enter service.

FV 101 Scorpion

Scorpion was the original CVR(T) variant equipped with the L23A1 76mm medium velocity gun able to fire a number of natures, a lighter variant of the L5A1 used on Saladin. These natures included a very effective canister round, High Explosive Squash Head (HESH), High Explosive (HE), smoke, illuminating and various practice types. 40 rounds of ammunition were carried as standard in addition to 7.62mm ammunition used for the coaxial GPMG.

FV101 CVRT Scorpion 740x579 The Story of FRES   The Seventies

FV101 CVR(T) Scorpion

FV 102 Striker

Of all the CVR(T) variants, Striker was the most ingenious.

Intended to provide anti tank top cover for the other variants it was equipped with a launch system for the Swingfire anti tank guided missile.

CVRT FV102 Striker 01 740x458 The Story of FRES   The Seventies

CVR(T) FV102 Striker

After the cancellation of the Orange William missile in 1959 Fairey had continued development work on wire guided anti tank missiles and this would result in Swingfire. Introduced in 1969, Swingfire was a brute of a missile. The warhead weighed in at 7kg alone and it had a couple of unique features that set it apart from its rivals.

Upon launch, it could immediately switch direction by 90 degrees using a ‘jetivator’  and the sighting equipment could be dismounted to a distance of 30m and 15m higher or lower, thus, the launch vehicle could be advantageously placed for concealment. With the missile launcher in the stowed position Striker looked like just another armoured personnel carrier, not the lethal anti tank machine it was.

CVRT FV102 Striker 02 740x611 The Story of FRES   The Seventies

CVR(T) FV102 Striker

Swingfire Missile 01 The Story of FRES   The Seventies

Swingfire Missile – 90 degree turn after launch

Swingfire Missile 02 740x563 The Story of FRES   The Seventies

Swingfire Missile

The vehicle could carry 5 missiles in ready to launch boxes with an additional  5 stowed in the hull.

In true Research Establishment fashion, the boffins determined that the kill probability of each Swingfire was 40% so it would take precisely two and a half missiles to kill each enemy tank, also that a vehicle engaging enemy tanks with ATGW would only kill two before itself being destroyed.

Therefore five missiles were all that needed to be fitted!

FV 103 Spartan

To provide protected mobility for recce personnel or pioneers (for example) the Spartan was a relatively simple adaptation of the base Scorpion design. It had a higher roofline but was still compact and provided seating for 4 dismounted personnel in addition to the 3 crew. Spartan weighed slightly more than Scorpion but performance was the same.

CVRT FV103 Spartan 01 740x505 The Story of FRES   The Seventies

CVR(T) FV103 Spartan

In RAF Regiment, the Spartan was for some reason called the FV 109. Spartan was also used to carry Blowpipe teams and could mount the advanced (for its time) ZB298 ground observation pulse doppler radar.

CVRT FV103 Spartan with ZB298 Radar 01 740x491 The Story of FRES   The Seventies

CVR(T) FV103 Spartan with ZB298 Radar

It is also worth noting that a stretched Spartan was considered as a future replacement for the FV430, the same FV430 that was supposed to be replaced by FRES UV. The stretched version had an extra road wheel to accommodate an extra 3 dismounted personnel (7+3 crew), the Jaguar petrol engine was replaced with a Perkins diesel and this gave it greater range than the smaller petrol versions.

The base hull was also offered in this stretched format for the later US Airmobile Gun System

The image below shows the CVR(T) prototype number 11, a Scorpion, after it had been cut and extended with the addition of an extra road wheel. MVEE wanted to demonstrate that the basic hull could be used as a 10 man Armoured Personnel Carrier (APC). It used a Perkins diesel engine and showed the potential of the idea, retaining the mobility of CVR(T) in a larger form. MVEE then built another prototype from scratch called the FV4333 which was later called Stormer by Alvis, who bought the design rights from the MoD.

More on the road to the FV4333 Stormer later in the series.

Stretched Spartan P11 740x350 The Story of FRES   The Seventies

Stretched CVR(T) hull P11

Although it is well known that CVR(T) went to achieve excellent export sales it is less known that the first export customer, Belgium, actually part funded development and as part of the reciprocal agreement Belgium manufacturers participated in the production effort.

FV 104 Samaritan

With a high roofline the Samaritan was the armoured ambulance variant able to carry 4 stretchers

CVRT FV104 Samaritan 01 740x477 The Story of FRES   The Seventies

CVR(T) FV104 Samaritan

CVRT Samaritan 740x483 The Story of FRES   The Seventies

Rear nearside view of a Samaritan Armoured Ambulance. The rear door is open and one of the vehicles crew can be seen climbing aboard.

FV 105 Sultan

Sharing the same high roof as Samaritan, Sultan was a command variant equipped with map boards, bench seats, radio equipment, lighting and a penthouse (tent) to provide additional space.

CVRT FV105 Sultan 01 740x568 The Story of FRES   The Seventies

CVR(T) FV105 Sultan

CVRT FV105 Sultan 02 740x412 The Story of FRES   The Seventies

CVR(T) FV105 Sultan

CVRT FV105 Sultan 03 740x525 The Story of FRES   The Seventies

CVR(T) FV105 Sultan

FV 106 Samson

Equipped with earth anchors and a 3 tonne straight pull winch, Samson was the recovery variant

CVRT FV106 Sampson 01 740x525 The Story of FRES   The Seventies

CVR(T) FV106 Samson

CVRT Samson 740x495 The Story of FRES   The Seventies

A Samson ARV ( Armoured Recovery Vehicle ) of a Guards unit on exercise. Its rear ramp is extended to give the vehicle stability and purchase on steep slopes

CVRT Samson1 740x495 The Story of FRES   The Seventies

A rear view of a Samson ARV ( Armoured Recovery Vehicle ) of a Guards unit, on exercise. This photograph shows with great clarity the rear stabilization ramp and winching gear used to pull stranded vehicles to safety.

FV 107 Scimitar

In order to deal with enemy personnel carriers an alternative to the 76mm gun was needed. The solution was to specially develop a 30mm automatic cannon with a very high muzzle velocity and flat trajectory for accuracy. The Royal Armament Research and Development Establishment and the Royal Small Arms Factory (Enfield) developed the L21A1 RARDEN weapon system.

CVRT FV107 Scimitar 01 740x547 The Story of FRES   The Seventies

CVR(T) FV107 Scimitar

The RARDEN was developed with a nod to Hispano Suiza 30mm HS 831L, insomuch that it could fire the same ammunition, but the APDS ammunition that would contribute so much to RARDEN’s accuracy and effectiveness was developed specifically for the gun. At only 90kg it was also much lighter than comparable weapons of the time and the external spent case ejection system meant that fumes inside the turret were reduced.

CVRT Scimitar 740x497 The Story of FRES   The Seventies

A Scimitar Armoured Reconnaissance Vehicle on exercise in wooded country.

FV 721 Fox

The production Fox was equipped with the Rank Precision Industries SPAV L2A1 night sight and carried 99 rounds of ammunition for the RADREN 30mm cannon.

Early production Fox 740x512 The Story of FRES   The Seventies

Early production Fox

In addition to the straight reconnaissance role Fox was also intended to be used to counter insurgents and Warsaw Pact airborne forces in Germany where its high road speed and long range were advantageous. A number of other Fox variants were developed that used smaller turrets armed with only 7.62mm automatic machine guns but these never entered service.

Later proposals included a 25mm Hughes Chain Gun, this also did not enter service.

The Cutting of Teeth

In August 1974, Scorpions from A Squadron 16th/5th The Queen’s Royal Lancers, were transported by C-130 Hercules to Cyprus, to protect the British Sovereign Base Areas during the Turkish invasion showing off its deployability credentials.

Kingsfield Scorpion The Story of FRES   The Seventies

CVR(T) Scorpion in Cyprus 1974

A Scorpion light tank of the 16/5th The Queen’s Royal Lancers takes up position in the early hours of 14 August, when the Turkish offensive restarted. The task was to safeguard the British base of Dhekelia and the Lancers are at Ayios Nikolaos, on the edge of the base perimeter, only four miles from Famagusta. Within 24 hours, Turkish tanks were within sight of the town.

CVRT Scorpion in Cyprus 1974 740x658 The Story of FRES   The Seventies

The crew of a Scorpion light tank near Ayios Nikolaos watch smoke coming from bomb damage in Famagusta.

CVRT Scorpion in Cyprus 1974 740x576 The Story of FRES   The Seventies

CVR(T) Scorpion in Cyprus 1974

CVRT Scorpion in Cyprus 1974 02 740x584 The Story of FRES   The Seventies

CVR(T) Scorpion in Cyprus 1974

Rapid effects and air deployability in action, 1974, 40 years ago.

Another operation that showed the value of lightweight design occurred a few years later in 1977 when a number of Scorpions and Scimitars were airlifted to Belize to reinforce the garrison.

Warrior – A Child of the Seventies

Towards the end of the the seventies, as the FV432 had been in service some years but concepts for its replacement had started in 1969 at FVRDE. These initial studies had looked at trends in armoured vehicles and realised that the FV430 was too poorly protected and a heavier vehicle, up to 30 tonnes and powered by a 750hp engine, would be needed.

It was also proposed that the FV430 replacement would benefit from the new Chobham armour and the same RARDEN cannon as would be fitted to CVR(T).

The 30 tonne Chobham armoured concept was subsequently dropped but many of the proposed design features would be carried forward.

I wonder how far away from the 1969 FVRDE 30 tonne concept is to FRES SV.

Project Definition 1, or PD1 followed, completed by FVRDE between 1972 and 1976. FVRDE also contracted with a number of industry partners as part of PD1.

After the completion of PD1 a competition was announced, this time for the development phase, manufacturing being let seperately. This was the first time such an arrangement, where a single prime contractor was responsible for the whole of the design and development.

GKN Sankey won this contract in 1979, largely due to the technical prowess of the Sankey chief designer, Ken Lofts.

Although nothing was certain, the prevailing thinking was that the winner of the development contract would be in pole position for the manufacturing contract, at that time thought to be for in excess of 1,000 vehicles.

Mechanised Combat Vehicle for the eighties, or MCV-80 would be selected on the basis of a study between the GKN design and the US XM2 vehicle, later to go on to be Bradley.


GKN (or Sankey as was) developed the prototype Saxon as a private venture in 1976 as a low cost armoured personnel carrier and security vehicle based on the in service Bedford MJ 4 Tonne Truck.

Lets not forget, FRES UV was originally designed to replace the Saxon.

At the End of the Decade

The Christmas Number 1 was Another Brick in the Wall Part II by Pink Floyd.

Pink Floyd – Another Brick in the Wall, Part 2


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!


  1. Kent

    In the late ’70’s, as I believe I have related previously, I was involved as an NCO in the US Army’s HSTV-L project. It had the goal, if I remember correctly, of replacing the M551A1 Sheridan AR/AAV in armored cavalry regiments and in the “tank” battalions of the airborne and air assault divisions. This was a much more limited goal than the programs described in your reports, TD, but our army managed to screw it up nonetheless. In the test bed, we had a 75mm autocannon-armed vehicle that off-road would out-accelerate a jeep on a hard-surface (macadam) road, could be driven by either of the two crewmen in the hull, and could be fired by any of the three crewmen with target acquisition/designation from an independent viewer atop the turret. The aluminum frontal armor was sloped close to 80º and additional applique armor was planned for the “cav” versions and to be available for “airborne” versions as needed. It died because some “smart” guy somewhere thought the 75mm inadequate for “future threat armor” (At the time, the T-62 was the “threat” and was defeated frontally by the 75mm in live fire tests.) and asked for a 90mm version which would have required a much larger turret ring and heavier vehicle. Ironically, the “future threat armor” proved to be vulnerable to bursts from the M2/M3 Bradley’s 25mm chain gun during Desert Storm and Iraqi Freedom. Without something like the M1A1 heavy’s “special armor,” it is difficult to imagine that the “future threat armor” defeated by the Bradley’s 25mm would have been invulnerable to 3-shot bursts from the 75mm. Oh,well.*ARXkUgsG7Wa79Gs0IKRpbyZwSoiYIbwKE3n3mYkCKOaT24kBv9nTxqiFFZz3Fq5/17092010121216AM.JPG?width=733&height=515

  2. Observer

    I remember. You told us about the Ares. To be fair and honest though, I can see where the future threat paranoia might have a point. You’d want to stay ahead of the curve as much as possible, and it’s only in hindsight that you can say the predictions were overly pessimistic, so you can’t say that they made a bad decision, just that they made a decision that proved later to be the wrong one based on what they knew at that time and a conservative mindset.

    Hard to be fair though when pieces of equipment that are exemplary fall through the cracks due to decisions like these.

  3. tweckyspat

    What a difference potentially the MOD landscape would have looked (and UK aerospace) if HS681 had been adopted (assuming it worked in service of course….. big IF)

  4. Chris

    Twecky – I tend to agree about the technical challenges of HS681. Harrier apparently has lots of puffer jets at points that give good lever arm from CoG so the pitch & roll variations in the hover can be efficiently countered (those that worked on the jet will have better knowledge) and a zone controlled water spray onto the main compressor disc to restore uniform temperature across its face – hot air on one side only would dramatically affect L-R thrust balance. Or so I was told. All of this care and attention to keep a jet of fairly constrained CoG variation stable in the hover. Looking at a large cargo transport with 4 Harriers strapped under the wing in line abreast, knowing that longitudinal CoG was going to be much more variable, you have to conclude this was never a viable VTOL aircraft. What the vectored thrust would have done quite well was shorten take-off and landing runs. Give or take the airspeed at which the aerofoils stalled…

  5. wf

    @Chris: I rather liked the idea of the Boeing Super Frog C130 replacement: tailless with a variable incidence wing, takeoff and landing within 300m with enough oomph to lift a FRES(SV)

  6. wf

    @Chris: I’m with you on air deployed forces not using FRES class vehicles. I just found the concept fascinating, almost as much as their Pelican WIG effect concept :-)

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