Where do you start with a summary of the Future Rapid Effects System (FRES)?
I suppose the first thing to do would be define what FRES actually is.
And therein lies the problem.
What FRES is remains a puzzle, wrapped in an enigma, an enigma that wears clown shoes.
It started with a recognition that whilst CVR(T) was a brilliant design for its time, its time was coming to an end and there was a need for a protected mobility vehicle somewhat better than Saxon and FV432.
All military equipment evolves, becomes obsolete and needs to reflect contemporary operating requirements, CVR(T), Saxon and FV432 are no different.
The FRES story really starts with what went before it, CVR(T), FV432 and Saxon.
By the end of the sixties, CVR(T) was well on its way to being in service and FV432 was already there. As the seventies concluded, CVR(T) was firmly established with a family of vehicles having proven their lightweight rapid deployment value in Cyprus and Belize.
The vehicle size and weight was directly limited by transport requirements, the vehicles, ships and aircraft in service. The whole point of the vehicle was deployability; strategic, theatre and tactical. Protection, that was what was available whilst maintaining size and weight limits.
Size and weight ruled the roost, not protection, not firepower.
In 1982, those deployability and mobility characteristics would be spectacularly showcased again, in the Falklands conflict, and during the rest of the decade a number of developments would come to fruition, some not, that showed the inherent flexibility and soundness of the CVR(T) design.
At the end of the eighties the electronics revolution was providing a glimpse of what it could deliver on the battlefield but this was not the age of the iPhone or flat screen, electronics were bulky, fragile and had significant power and cooling requirements.
The Vehicle Electronics Research Defence Initiative (VERDI) was a somewhat revolutionary look at concepts that would exploit emerging computing, communications and sensor equipment. It is not specifically documented anywhere that I could find but I suspect the reason a Warrior was chosen as the base vehicle for VERDI and not CVR(T) was because of size constraints.
Also during the late eighties the MoD formulated a plan to replace its menagerie of obsolete vehicle types with the Future Family of Light Armoured Vehicles (FFLAV) study that identified a number of roles that would eventually inform the CVR(T), FV432 and other vehicle replacement. These were resolved down to 13 roles and 50 sub roles with a weight range of between 3.5 and 24 tonnes.
FFLAV was a sensible and low risk look at the big picture, not simply a vehicle replacement study but marks the start of attempts to replace CVR(T), 1989. It was far too sensible to survive reality intact but would go on to provide the basis for the TRACER and MRAV programmes.
Sprouting from the seeds of FFLAV would come two programmes; Tactical Reconnaissance Armoured Combat Equipment Requirement (TRACER) and Multi Role Armoured Vehicle (MRAV)
The 1992 Staff Target (Land) 4061, more commonly known as TRACER, Tactical Reconnaissance Armoured Combat Equipment Requirement was to be the new CVR(T) replacement. TRACER envisaged an in service date of 2004, by then, CVR(T) would have been in service thirty years and the design, over 40 years old (give or take)
It was a joint project involving the USA and UK, a scout/reconnaissance vehicle that would have replaced Bradley M3′s, M1114 HMWWV’s and CVR(T).
Despite showing a great deal of promise, TRACER was arguably a little too advanced for the time, extensive sensor fusion and target recognition software, all the usual sensors, a hybrid electric propulsion system, segmented rubber band tracks, elevating sensor mast and a single crew compartment with remote 40mm cased telescopic cannon.
VERDI-2 was a continuation study of the earlier programme that really pushed the boundaries of sensor integration, combining optical, thermal and radar. Another programme that was a littel too revolutionary, but then I suppose, that was exactly the point.
The second offshoot of FFLAV was the Multi Role Armoured Vehicle (MRAV).
As the programme matured it would be envisaged as an 8×8 wheeled vehicle delivered on conjunction with France and Germany to a harmonised requirement. France eventually dropped out (to develop VBCI) and the Netherlands joined
The vehicle would go on to become the Boxer and enter service with the Netherlands and Germany recently.
The first prototype of the ASCOD vehicle was delivered in 1992.
The end of the cold war, the Gulf War and operations in the Balkans would give rise to a new way of thinking that would envisage the application of military force in a new, or revolutionary, manner. Instead of the ponderous build up of heavyweight combat power prior to operations or as a follow on for lightweight forces, a medium weight force would bridge the time gap and as capabilities matured the medium weight force would replace the legacy heavy forces also.
US experience in the Balkans with the Sava River, Task Force Eagle and Task Force Hawk also had a considerable influence on the US Army plans for FCS. The Russian dash to Pristina Airport was also influential in shaping the evolving concept.
Although the UK would not completely drink the US Revolution in Military Affairs and Future Combat System (FCS) Koolaid of network controlled rapid deployed forces that would substitute mass for technology and speed, it would certainly fall in love with it.
Where FCS led, FRES followed, the UK had caught the ‘transformation’ bug and go first, go fast, go home was the new mantra.
Network Enabled Capability (NEC) and the transfer of control of major projects from a single service to a joint function would ultimately lead to FRES.
Despite its promise the US withdrew in favour of FCS leaving the UK alone, given the UK was by then following the same (or similar) philosophy as FCS, TRACER was cancelled, to be followed by MRAV.
FCS evolved rapidly during the late nineties and next few years but it eventually ended up with a requirement that focussed on networks, advanced sensors and systems and especially, rapid deployment by air, specifically C17 for inter theatre and C130 for intratheatre.
This put a series of physical constraints on the vehicle that would prove to be largely unachievable.
The reason the promising MRAV and TRACER programmes were cancelled was simply because the UK slavishly followed the US in its pursuit of C130 transportable main battle tanks.
No independent thought, no listening to the dissenting voices who knew full well it was a fantasy.
Civil servants or politicians were not making these decision, it was those in uniform.
9/11 would only accelerate the perception that big old US Army was ‘too fat to fly and too light to fight’
FRES formerly emerged in 2001 with a non competitive contract award to Alvis for preliminary informing studies.
Confusion followed, the concept was unclear and the acquisition strategy even less so.
The MoD appointed a third party Systems House (Atkins) to provide engineering and project management expertise and act as an intermediary between the MoD and the rest of industry, an industry that had suffered at the hands of MoD prevarication but was now gearing to for the massive project that FRES was promising to be.
War in Iraq demonstrated, as it did in did 1991 and operations in Balkans, the enduring value of heavy armoured vehicles that could take hits and keep slugging it out. Using the speed and shock of heavy armoured vehicles to dislocate the enemy was as valid in 2003 as it was in 1943.
Lessons learned reports would reinforce this point, notable by their absence was any notion of what was missing was the capability being promised by FRES.
FRES sailed serenely on.
TRACER had cost £131 million, MRAV, £57 million, by this point, delivering no vehicles to service.
Beyond some information and experience, the MoD had precisely nothing to show for the fat end of two hundred million pounds, money was being continued to be spent on the legacy fleet and industry and everyone else was scratching its collective heads about exactly what FRES was.
There followed a divergence between the Army, Joint Doctrine Development Centre (JDDC) and the Directorate of Equipment Capability in the MoD.
DEC would win that argument and the C130 17 tonne requirement was set in stone.
In service date was stated by the MoD to be 2009, 8 years after the programme was initiated.
Despite significant resistance from within the armies of both the USA and UK, the transformation advocates won the day, ably supported by industry of course, the revolutionary medium weight concept promised to be a tech fest to end them all.
The post combat phase in Iraq and operations in Afghanistan would soon demonstrate the requirement for high levels of protection wholly incompatible with C130 air portability. The IED/RPG combination and the arguably criminal tardiness in providing suitable vehicles in response to a largely predictable threat would politicise FRES as the word Snatch and IED entered the mainstream vocabulary.
The Army stood accused of being unwilling to adapt for fear of jeopardising its FRES vision of the future, Iraq, seemingly being a diversion from the real business of transformation.
FRES was entering its silly period as everyone seemed to have a different answer to what FRES was, confusion everywhere remained.
The envisaged contemporary operating environment was characterised by a diversity of operation types on the same mission. The ability to ‘nip things in the bud’ by rapid intervention by forces that were more capable than traditional lightweight forces was at the core of the concept. Although not using the same language as ‘too fat to fly, too light to fight’ it was the same argument as General Shinseki with FCS.
The essential ‘work in progress’ nature of the (Medium Weight Capability) MWCap was recognised by many, it is was about much more than a vehicle replacement programme. Much of the concept work during this period reinforced the criticism levelled at MWCap, a criticism that said it was oblivious of what was happening in the Middle East.
FRES sailed on.
The bizarre acquisition strategy with its complex structure would simply add to the ongoing confusion.
It is important to note again that Army transformation and doctrine development, and by extension, FRES, was managed not by the Army alone but by the Directorate of Equipment Capability in the MoD and the Joint Doctrine Development Centre (JDDC).
This is of great interest because there existed a divergence about what the shape and size of the FRES vehicles between the Army and JDDC/DEC.
Although General Dannat had been instrumental in getting MRAV and TRACER cancelled in favour of FRES in his autobiography he made the point about getting something into service quickly. It was already several years since FRES was started and the MoD were only just entering the initial assessment phase.
This sentiment was echoed by then Chief of the General Staff, General Michael Walker who was quoted in the book ‘Transforming Military Power Since the Cold War’ about what the requirement was;
A big armoured box, stick an engine in it, a set of tracks or wheels, and upgrade it as and when we needed
The Army, despite cancelling MRAV, itself a big armoured box, wanted a big armoured box
When you read those comments and realise that the Germans and Dutch were on the cusp of placing production orders for Boxer, a vehicle the UK had spent £57 million developing, it really is incredible, made even more when recent events are taken into consideration.
Despite this desire for simplicity, they (the Army) were over ruled by DEC(Ground Manoeuvre) who aligned FRES to FCS, the 17 tonne Main Battle Tank concept from the USA.
Again, the Army lost the concept battle.
For most commenters and observers of FRES this is often misunderstood or its effect under estimated.
This was reinforced by the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding between the UK and USA on Land Battlespace Systems. FRES started with a recognition that C130 transportability was useful but not critical it was now the exact opposite, just like the US FCS programme.
Reality and those inconvenient laws of physics eventually intervened and the requirement for C130 transportability dropped in favour of the A400M but not until a great deal of time and money had been expended on chasing the C130 goal for a vehicle with a high degree of protection, protection amply demonstrated as being a key requirement by operations in Iraq.
By 2005, as operations in Iraq bloodily continued, FRES had evolved, or more accurately, it was now a joint programme, the Joint Medium Weight Concept.
Some of this revised thinking included the rapid deployed by air element was now only at Battalion or Battlegroup level, not as many have subsequently claimed, whole brigades for which the UK simply does not possess the air transport fleet for.
FRES was still very much seen as being ‘significantly lighter’ than the current heavy forces and Challenger, Warrior and AS90
In service date was now 2010 with a cost of £14 billion
2006 saw FRES go back in time but perhaps forward in maturity, the transformational ninjas were losing ground.
C130 transportability was confirmed as being dropped and the Utility Variant was by now the top priority because of Iraq.
The Utility Variant was now envisaged as an 8 x 8 wheeled chassis, weighing between 25 and 30 tonnes. Joining the wheeled 8×8 would be two tracked platforms, one between 20 and 25 tonnes and the other between 30 and 40 tonnes.
Despite this the Joint Medium Weight Capability doctrinal underpinning still remained, the definition of medium weight now changed.
The convoluted acquisition strategy was also starting to show the cracks. The FRES Integrated Project Team (IPT) was operating with the assumption that the MoD Directorate of Equipment Capability, Ground Manoeuvre or DEC(GM) was actually called “Customer 1” and the Army “Customer 2”
Whatever the reasons for this, that the Army was designated Customer 2 was deeply symbolic of what FRES had become, a joint capability not a vehicle replacement.
In 1988 the FFLAV vision had a tracked vehicle between 20 and 25 tonnes, cancelled.
In 1992 VERDI-2 demonstrated a tracked recce vehicle in the 25 tonne bracket, no further work carried out.
In 2001/2 TRACER, a tracked vehicle between 20 and 25 tonnes had been cancelled, £131 million wasted.
Then we had a little wobble with FRES and here we were in 2006 aspiring to a tracked vehicle in the 20 to 25 tonne bracket.
On the utility vehicle variant, FFLAV resulted in MRAV, an 8×8 vehicle weighing between 25 and 30 tonnes, cancelled at a cost of £57 million and almost by magic and the power of the force, we were back with the notion of an 8×8 wheeled vehicle between 25 and 30 tonnes.
So 6 years later, we were back in post FFLAV country of TRACER and MRAV, plus a really heavy variant.
Is it any wonder the Army and MoD were roundly condemned, the defence select committee in 2007 describing it as;
A sorry story of indecision, changing requirements and delay
FRES was still seen as the long term solution to Army requirements and the protected mobility fleet were for ‘over there’, certainly not how the Army saw it fighting in the future or how they would want to fight.
The Chief of Defence Procurement (Sir Peter Spencer) was emphatic that FRES and protected mobility vehicles were very different
These UORs have not impacted on the budget for FRES, full stop
A report also confirmed the Army’s stance that NO off the shelf vehicle available would meet the FRES requirement, for any variant, and the main reason was upgradeability over the expected 30 year lifecycle of the vehicles, specifically, 10-15% additional weight growth.
An interesting position given a) the age of the vehicles currently in service b) none of them were specifically designed to be massively upgradeable and c) the difference between in service weights and current weights of the same vehicles.
Warrior started out at 24 tonnes and will leave service (probably in and around 2040) at over 42 tonnes.
CVR(T) started out at 7 tonnes and will leave service (who knows when) at over 12 tonnes.
Without being specifically designed for huge weight increases, they have both, with good engineering and design, managed to accommodate significant weight growth.
Then, the Medium Weight Brigade gave way to the Mechanised Brigade terminology. In order to counteract the epic levels of confusion about what FRES and the medium weight capability actually was, the Joint Medium Weight Capability (JtMWCap) was developed and accepted, Joint being the important word. JtMWCap absolutely avoided the word FRES but it was clearly a cover story for it and attempted to get buy in from the other services, presenting it as a joint concept.
The new head of DE&S (Lord Drayson) had previously insisted on the 2012 In Service Date (despite what Atkins said) and had pushed hard to give the Utility Variant some momentum. The politics of Iraq, Snatch and protecting our boys combined with the MoD’s confusion about what FRES actually was led to him concluding that replacing CVR(T) was much less of a priority than protected mobility.
Instead of a completely bespoke vehicle which would not be in service by the new target date of 2012 the new position was a modified military off the shelf vehicle, an evolution of existing designs.
This was another change in position, only a year earlier the MoD had been insistent that no in production vehicle would be suitable but it was now in a big hurry to do something, anything.
The market was assessed, all the 8×8 vehicle manufacturers invited to provide information, initial assessments carried out (including the AMV and Freccia) and three vehicles would go forward to the so called ‘Trials of Truth’ in summer.
One of the Boxer prototypes in APC configuration would participate in the Trials of Truth, joined by Véhicule Blindé de Combat Infanterie (VBCI) from Nexter (previously Giat Industries) and the General Dynamics Piranha V
It was rumoured that the head of DE&S, Lord Drayson, wanted the VBCI because it would be quickest into service. It is probably true that the Snatch Land Rover controversy and the ongoing political dimension on fighting two wars on a shoestring budget whilst the other services were steadfastly refusing to see the strategic importance of current operations played into the ‘need for speed’
Both Boxer and VBCI were rejected by the Army, despite what Lord Drayson wanted.
We had a choice of two vehicles that would need minimal development and were already (or about to be very soon) in production and a PowerPoint design, the PowerPoint of course won the trials. The actual vehicle trialled was not Piranha V but Piranha Evolution, a surrogate for the final design.
This alone made a mockery of the very term, trials of truth.
Instead of a stand up knock down fight between in service vehicles with the winner taking all, it was, essentially, a sham
In hindsight, there absolutely no possibility of Boxer winning and it’s inclusion and subsequent rejection was obviously to prove the Army leadership right in their rejection of it years earlier. By demonstrating it lost, the earlier decision to cancel MRAV and waste £57 million would be vindicated.
Its inclusion was a smokescreen, the Army wanted the General Dynamics Piranha V.
After a series of reported ‘blazing rows’ with Bill Jeffries who sided with the Army, Lord Drayson wrote to the Secretary of State for Defence, Des Brown, laying out the impasse.
Des Brown backed Bill Jeffries, the Army and the Investment Approvals Board, Lord Drayson walked.
With Lord Drayson out of the way the MoD then sat on the decision and the end of 2007 would come without any formal news of FRES Utility.
There were various rumours about the delay, some said all three vehicles did not do well and others said it was to give the Treasury time to batter down the cost, but it was simply a lack of decisiveness on the part of the new team at DE&S and the MoD. Many news sources guessed correctly that Boxer was a fig leaf and the only version in service was supported by Lord Drayson, with him gone, the obvious winner would be Piranha.
FRES Specialist Vehicles Scout was quietly back on the agenda with assessments contract awards to BAE and General Dynamics.
Making the assumption that future operations would include more Afghanistan than Gulf War the MoD published the Defence Strategic Guidance document in June 2008. Although the full spectrum combined arms operations were still considered an important capability to retain the DSG focussed on enduring stabilisation of counter insurgency type operations.
The next war would be the same as the last.
Meanwhile, in the USA, a seismic shift was about to take place in the Future Combat System (FCS) programme. After being restructured in 2007 in response to the requirements of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, the new Defense Secretary (Robert Gates) marked the card of the FCS with a speech about next waritis and the need to prevail in Iraq.
FCS was dead man walking and remember, where FCS led, FRES followed.
The Future Land Operational Concept (FLOC) was published later in the year but it was still talking about the Joint Medium Weight Capability.
At the end of the year FRES UV was as dead as Disco, preferred bidder status was withdrawn from General Dynamics over the issue of intellectual property, but still, FRES SV Scout was back on the front burner.
In 2009 the MoD confirmed FRES Specialist Vehicles would be obtained in a single programme in 5 Blocks of vehicles with 16 variants, an estimated quantity of between 1,200 and 1,300 vehicles and In Service Date of 2015.
The Army had changed its mind again, UV was not the priority after all.
The MoD also confirmed that the aborted FRES UV work had cost £131 million and at about the same time, the US FCS was formally cancelled.
If the FCS/FRES concept of substituting protection derived from mass, for speed, electronic countermeasures and networked precision was effectively buried by Iraq and Afghanistan, this was official wake.
The difference between the all powerful network in the FCS vision and the Network Enabled FRES concept was bought into sharp focus by the creaky BOWMAN system, effectively failing to live up to pretty much most of the promises made of it.
Following the design rights and intellectual property issues exposed by FRES UV and subsequently ridiculed by the Defence Select Committee, the MoD announced a new approach to design rights and intellectual property in April, this was called the ‘cake and eat it’ approach.
2009 also saw the MoD’s DSTL embark on the frankly bizarre Future Protected Vehicle Capability vision, commonly referred to as the 30 Tonne Main Battle Tank. After the FRES and FCS vision of a 20 tonne tank, reality had entered the world of fantasy fleets and instead of C130 transportable armoured vehicles the MoD was now spending money on A400M transportable armoured vehicles.
Readers at this point may well have to go and have a lie down before progressing.
£700 million on protected mobility UOR’s, several hundred million on CVR(T), Saxon and Warrior upgrades, £133 million on FRES UV, £57 million on MRAV and £131 million on TRACER
And we are back looking at the tank of the future, with scarce MoD funds.
The MoD is nothing if not persistent!
The FRES SV Scout competition was between General Dynamics and BAE, using the ASCOD and CV90 as a start point respectively.
Outwardly there was little to distinguish them, both using in service infantry fighting vehicle of nineties origins as the base platform and both were equipped with the mandated 40mm CTA cannon with a range of C4ISTAR, protection and automotive upgrades. The new Generic Vehicle Architecture would form the backbone of the sensor and electronic systems for both vehicles.
Neither featured a telescopic sensor mast as TRACER had and both were conventionally powered and protected, no hybrid powerpacks, electric armour, active hydrogas suspension or segmented band tracks.
This was a significant step back from both the TRACER and initial FRES visions because the MoD, smarting from relentless criticism, facing an impending budget crisis and continuing pressures of ongoing operations knew full well they would have to trade ambition for realism and getting something into service was critical for the credibility of the project and the department.
Therefore, FRES SV represented a paucity of ambition because it had to come into service.
On the flip side of this complain is the reality that new vehicles were needed and maybe something that was 80% was good enough. Many pointed to an inability to trade capability for time and cost led to the demise of TRACER.
It was and is a fair point.
Both BAE and GD solutions offered uplifts across the lethality and protection domains, would be equipped with the latest (albeit off the shelf) sensor systems and offered great potential of future upgrades through Generic Vehicle Architecture and automotive improvements.
Neither was a poor design, far from it, both being solid, well designed machines.
The main issue that most commentators remarked on was the sheer size and weight of both proposals. It is difficult to envisage a force comprising 30-40 tonne vehicles being rapid to deploy, mobile on the battlefield without significant manoeuvre support or being stealthy in support of the reconnaissance mission as defined by UK doctrine.
With the election out of the way the MoD and General Dynamics announced successful negotiations in June and the award of a £500 million contract for the Demonstration and Manufacture phase of FRES SV Recce Block 1. Seven prototypes would be built with first testing completed by the end of 2013.
Towards the end of January the Chilcot Iraq War Inquiry heard evidence of of a shocking lack of equipment in the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
The pressure on the MoD, on DE&S and on FRES was building.
Following the publication of the 2008 Defence Strategic Guidance and 2009 Future Army Structure (Next Steps) that recognised the most likely operation was not a large scale state on state operation but enduring medium scale interventions that would be complex, crowded and with ambiguous goals.
As Future Army Structures (Next Steps) matured in early 2010 the proposed light, medium and heavy structure gave way to the concept of six Ground Manoeuvre Brigades each with an identical modular structure. These brigades would be supported by three Support Brigades and a high readiness Air Assault Brigade.
Although FAS(Next Steps) made perfect sense it did not address the resource issue, indeed, when fully implemented it would have required a 10% uplift in personnel.
It was thus, utterly unrealistic.
This was recognised by March, FAS(Next Steps) was no more, General Richards instructed the Army to come up with a new plan that recognised financial reality and paid attention to the newly published Future Character of Conflict published by the Defence Doctrine and Development Centre.
And so was born ‘Transformational Army Structure’ or TAS
TAS bought the 6 plus 3 plus 1 Brigade model of FAS (Next Steps) down to 5 Multi Role Brigades and 1 Air Assault Brigade and instaed of 3 support brigades, a single Joint Theatre Enabling Command.
TAS was much more inline with the Future Character of Conflict that suggested that future operations would be more like Afghanistan than the Gulf War; congested, cluttered, contested and connected.
The Multi Role Brigade concept survived contact with SDSR 2010 but not unscathed, they would now be self supporting instead of using the Joint Theatre Enabling Command and force reductions across the board became the chosen position.
Although SDSR confirmed its commitment to FRES the concept of the Medium Weight Capability, joint or otherwise, was dead in the water.
The FRES vision of a bulging middle joined by a smaller heavy and light capabilities was gone.
The future was modular, the future was enduring and the future was certainly not the quick in quick out medium weight concept.
The five Multi Role Brigades, plus 1 high readiness Brigade and a smaller number of deployable HQ’s pretty much killed off the medium weight intervention force model of which FRES was the poster child.
It is difficult to see how as a programme, it could continue, given the underpinning doctrinal sands had completely shifted.
But survive it did.
Despite this, the National Audit Office published a stinging rebuke to the MoD in the form of its 2011 report, the Cost Effective Delivery of an Armoured Vehicle Capability.
It reported the total spent to date on FRES UV, FRES SV, TRACER, MRAV, Terrier and Warrior CSP was £718 million, with not a single in service vehicle to show for it.
FRES SV, Warrior CSP and Terrier were predicted to require another £9.1 Billion to complete.
FRES UV would be on top of that figure.
In 2011, in preparation for deployment to Afghanistan the German armed forces did two things, first they upgraded existing vehicles to the ‘Afghanistan A1′ configuration and second, announced that all new vehicles would now come off the production line in this same configuration, starting from vehicle number 41. Most modifications were relatively minor, more storage space, an improved crew harness with integral airbag, fitting smoke dischargers and increasing the height of the remote weapon station to improve depression angles. A more significant upgrade was integration of an ECM system and improved belly armour.
VBCI was already in Afghanistan by this point, both vehicles rejected by the MoD in the FRES UV Trials of Truth
Throughout the year, the Army had been struggling with squaring the circle of trying to fit 5 Multi Role Brigades into the personnel reductions described by SDSR and the additional reduction announced in July.
In charge of these initial studies was Lt. General Nick Carter and it was becoming apparent that the Multi Role Brigade construct was likely to be changed.
In the early part of 2012 more and more on Agile Warrior and the studies being carried out by General Nick Carter were being released and discussed. These studies were looking at the shape and organisation of the army in a post Afghanistan world where the regular army would be in the region of 80,000 personnel.
In May 2012 the Army released Joint Concept Note 2/12, Future Land Operating Concept, an update of the 2008 version.
It was an important milestone because it laid the foundations for Army 2020 and from a FRES perspective, completely expunged the whole notion of medium weight intervention forces.
The document contains ZERO instances of the word ‘medium’ and scant mention of rapid intervention.
One cannot escape the conclusion that the troubled concept of the medium weight force that was so completely aligned to FRES (or perhaps the other way around) was now history.
All that study, all those joint concept notes, hundreds of thousands of words, tens of thousands PowerPoint presentations and god only knows how many millions.
The underlying concept behind FRES was as dead a Monty Python parrot
In July 2012 Army 2020 was in the public domain and whilst the media generally focussed on the Reserves and cap badge bun fights, the Multi Role Brigade was no more, replaced with the Reaction Force, Adaptable Force and Force Troops.
Many believed that whilst the Multi Role Brigade was sensible it was simply unaffordable, even in the watered down concept presented in SDSR 2010.
Army 2020 would retain a heavy core with a lighter follow on force bolstered with an enlarged reserve component for enduring operations. There were (and are) many critics of Army 2020 seeing it as a return to the a Cold War comfort blanket, but in response to resource reality it was difficult to see other options and it cannot be said that it was without rigorous underpinning analysis .
Where did all of this turmoil leave FRES.
On the surface, completely unaffected.
FRES SV Scout work carried on throughout the year the odd news piece would highlight some element of the programme or another.
It also became apparent that final quantities would likely reduce and In Service Date slip. There was also some movement between the various blocks and a number of variants were quietly withdrawn from future plans. The Medium Armour element had already gone in 2011.
Towards the end of 2013 news emerged of problems with the Scout turret. Defense News reported that General Dynamics had agreed to pay Lockheed Martin several million pounds in compensation for failing to keep to a timetable on requirement delivery. It also reported problems with weight growth and a delayed ISD.
Testing continued in Spain
On the 20th June 2014 ARTEC handed the first production Netherland Boxer over to the medical company of the 13th NL Brigade.
And that is the story of FRES.
Despite the numerous missteps, wrong turns and what seems on face value to be procurement buffonery of epic proportions the current Scout development seems to be maturing, despite programme slippages and possible cost increases.
But the cost to get here has been significant to say the least, opportunities squandered and the British armoured vehicle industry greatly diminished.
The bill so far, not including medical and other welfare costs incurred as a result of the vehicles not being in service for current operations would be a matter for the National Audit Office to determine but from open source documents we can at least quantity, TRACER, MRAV, FRES UV and FRES SV costs to date.
£133 million on FRES UV, £57 million on MRAV, £131 million on TRACER and £500m on FRES SV to date
821 million of the Queens Pounds
£821 MILLION AND NOT A SINGLE VEHICLE IN SERVICE
We might like to reflect on the Finnish purchase of 60 CV90’s in 2004 for about £200 million or the £2.25 million unit production cost for German and Dutch Boxers a few years later.
Harder to quantify but still very much related is money (lots of) for development and production costs for the CTA 40mm weapon (shared between FRES and Warrior), UOR funding for protected mobility vehicles, various planned and UOR upgrades to the legacy fleet that would have not been needed if FRES was in service (accepting some of these might also have been needed for FRES), development contracts for related technologies such as VERDI and VTID, Generic Vehicle Architecture and a number of vetronics programmes, Future Protected Vehicle, Future Family of Light Armoured Vehicles (FFLAV) and the huge amount of time/money spent on development of the various flavours of
FRES Medium Weight Capability doctrine.
On top of that £821 million and who know how much for the items in the paragraph above are future costs for production and through life support for FRES SV Recce Block 1, development, manufacture and through life support of Recce Block 2/3, and not forgetting, a complete restart of UV whilst spending money bringing the
last chickens in the shop Protected Mobility fleet into core.
Where did it all go wrong?
An interesting question that is not really possible to answer properly without being in full possession of the facts, that I am not.
We should be very certain that the many people involved did not wake up one morning and say, let’s screw things up.
Failure has been the result of a myriad of mostly well intentioned decisions made with the information at hand.
All this is nothing but opinion based on open source material but if I was forced to lay the blame and with my finest hindsight goggles it would be in a series of bullet points;
- Requirements that changed too rapidly for programmes that lasted too long, or an inability to stick to what was wanted
- Being seduced by the easy allure of transformational technology whilst ignoring or downplaying risk, the infamous conspiracy of optimism
- An inability to consistently articulate what the programme was meant to deliver in support of changing doctrine
- An obsession with upgradeability and weight growth that consistently pushed the requirement beyond available vehicles whilst conveniently ignoring that pretty much every vehicle in service had experienced significant weight growth that had been accommodated with new technology
- Organisational, personnel and programme management deficiencies with a bizarre acquisition strategy that was a self inflicted wound, a result of getting rid of in house expertise in the development establishments.
- The sadly far too common revolving doors between industry and the MoD and the insidious influence it exerts
- Tardiness in reacting to a predictable threat in Iraq and Afghanistan led to justified criticism that the Army was protecting the future at the expense of the today which led to political intervention on the ‘protecting our boys’ theme. This intervention resulted in yet more requirements change and a series poor, rushed decisions.
- Differences of opinion and a general confusion around decision making and the influence of the MoD’s DEC and JDDC on an Army requirement.
- A fundamental inability to fully grasp that the MoD has champagne tastes and brown ale budgets
- A crowded equipment programme managed by an MoD unable to prioritise or control over ambition, especially for high cost maritime and air programmes
The net result was an enormous waste of money and time and much more importantly, you could make a reasonable argument that service personnel have suffered due to it.
If that is not a good reason to reflect soberly on what happened then nothing is.
But, that is all in the past, although we should not diminish the historic fact it is important to look forward to what the Army is getting.
First, the Army is not yet confirmed as getting anything.
The contract with General Dynamics is pretty much for development of Recce Block 1 only
Assuming the development contract finalises in good order (which it looks like it will) the MoD will probably place a production contract for a few hundred vehicles with them all being in service by the end of the decade(ish) whose programme cost will be astronomical.
The subsequent blocks remain in doubt and if I was a betting man I would be reluctant putting even 10p on the appearance of anything other than Block 1, who knows though.
If one thing is certain, it is that the original vision of FRES is long gone, what was claimed to be a transformational programme is now anything but, it is just a vehicle replacement.
FRES SV is now a simple replacement for CVR(T).
Gone is the medium weight intervention capability that would be built around FRES and form the bulk of the Army.
FRES Scout of course is certainly more than a modern CVR(T); significantly larger, heavier, better protected, armed and endowed with sensors and communications equipment not possible in the smaller CVR(T).
But the price for this ‘more of everything’ is a significant reduction in mobility and increase in visual signature.
The Army has traded the small and agile CVR(T) for the big beast that is Scout, a clear movement in the mobility, firepower, protection triangular scale towards protection.
All that is fair enough, and who are we to question but that a change has occurred needs to be noted.
If one looks at the deployment history of CVR(T) it is crystal clear that its agility and mobility has been a significant advantage, an advantage that will no longer be available.
Except of course, if CVR(T) Mk2 remains in service, the ultimate irony of the long search for CVR(T) is it may well be, for some users, CVR(T).
I think you could file that in the ‘you could not make it up’ section.
The requirement for a Saxon and FV432 replacement should not be overlooked in the concentration on SV either, there is still that circle to square.
The obvious answer is to pick one of the many 8×8’s on the market, take your pick, the field is open wide.
And yet in our rush to pick an off the shelf design, essentially for both UV and SV, we have lost the confidence in our ability to innovate.
CVR(T) was not an off the shelf design, neither was Warrior or FV432. TRACER, SEP and others showed that industry can still innovate and innovation does not always mean astronomical costs.
Good design is still possible, good designers exist, the skills are there even if the MoD’s confidence is not.
Perhaps the answer is to rediscover our ability to innovate.
One of the observations in the summary that drew some comment was the description of the interplay between the various
tribes organisations within the MoD and their influence upon the overall FRES programme delivery.
As an additional note, the following is a short piece to explain in further detail.
Following the 1998 SDR and Smart Procurement initiative the MoD created a single Equipment Capability Customer (ECC) called Deputy Chief of Defence Staff (Equipment Capability), a 3* joint post. Underneath, were four capability portfolios, each with a single manager; strategic deployment, strike, manoeuvre and information superiority. Spread across these four portfolios were fifteen individual 1* Directors of Equipment Capability (DEC).
The Joint Capabilities Board was chaired by the Deputy Chief of Defence Staff (Equipment Capability) with the four Capability Managers, the Director General (Equipment) and Director General (Research and Development)
Director of Equipment Capability Ground Manoeuvre (DEC(GM)) would normally take the lead on requirements setting after consulting with various stakeholders. Defence Equipment and Support (DE&S) then goes and delivers the requirement to the user.
The Deputy Chief of Defence Staff (Equipment Capability) was responsible for equipment capability but did not sit on the Defence Procurement Agency Equipment Approval Committee, a structure designed deliberately to reduce the influence of the services in procurement.
Dysfunctional, you decide?
FRES was no different to many other projects that had to deal with the constantly shifting sands of acquisition reform, smart procurement, IPT’s the move from the Defence Procurement Agency to Defence Equipment and Support and the removal of the development establishments.
The FRES series is not a commentary on the wider MoD ‘buying stuff’ transformation programmes that have come and gone in tune with the political tides but of course it is heavily influenced by it.
The FRES IPT was a largely civilian staffed team with representatives of DEC(GM) and the Army community.
As the Defence Acquisition Change Programme started in 2009 it started to move away from an individual project focus with formation of Programme Boards so FRES had to contend with all of this and with the latest Lord Levene defence reform, will have to contend with more.
This stuff is important because as we saw with TRACER, for the most part it was not in the DEC(GM) pillar, but ISTAR, and that might have been why it was so easy to cancel, stand fast those that think wasting £131m is easy.
An important pillar of Post Cold War British Defence thinking has been to be able to stand side by side with the USA. Nothing wrong with this of course but it does drive behaviours and for FRES, following US defence transformation was fundamental. Whilst the UK was keen on the US Network Connected Warfare concept it adopted a much more cautious approach, Network Enabled Capability (NEC), reflecting the British focus on technology as an enabler, not a replacement for speed, surprise and superior fighting capabilities.
In 2002, Air Marshall Sir Jock Stirrup was Deputy Chief of Defence Staff (Equipment Capability) and Major General Rob Fulton Director of Equipment Capability (Information Superiority), a Royal Marine . It was Major General Fulton that coined the phrase NEC and produced the NEC plan in 2002, it being endorsed by the Joint Capability Board the same year. The next year, after promotion, he was the new Deputy Chief of Defence Staff (Equipment Capability) and took the view that NEC would be embedded in more or less, every single programme, FRES being no different.
In the same period, the Effects Based Approach to Operations (EBAO) would also be a significant influence on FRES. EBO was another US theory (USAF more accurately and mainly focussed on targeting) that would be developed further for the UK, this time by the Joint Doctrine and Concepts Centre at Shrivenham, another result of the 1998 Strategic Defence Review. In 2002, the Director General JDCC was Air Vice Marshal Ian McNicholl and between 2005 and 2007, it was Rear Admiral Chris Parry.
EBO and NEC would bookend FRES
The original Army concept for FRES was relatively simple, first emerging in 2001 but a few years later it was to grow into a monster under the DEC. This divergence was clearly influenced by the US FCS concept and the developing NEC and EBO movements with the Directors Equipment Capability and Joint Doctrine and Concepts Centre, both ‘joint’ organisations.
Many of the FRES requirements were simply walked over from FCS, driven by the NEC and EBO activity.
The Army clearly had an eye of risk and operational experience but as FRES evolved in its early phase would it be unfair to point out that Deputy Chief of Defence Staff (Equipment Capability) was a Royal Marine and the driving force behind NEC followed by a REME officer and the Director’s General of the Joint Doctrine and Concepts Centre (JDCC) during this period was an Air Vice Marshal and Rear Admiral ? In 2004 Major General Dick Applegate was appointed Senior Responsible Owner Capability Manager for Battlefield Manoeuvre, Major General Applegate was a Royal Artillery Officer. Another Gunner, Brigadier Bill Moore was DEC(GM) between 2004 and 2007. The Director of Battlefield Manoeuvre in 2006, another Gunner. DEC(GM) from 2007 was 2 RTR, for completeness
This is not a finger pointing exercise but worthy of note.
My point is that during the formative phases of FRES between 2001 and 2007, it was influenced by a significant number of other projects, programmes and development organisations, many of them Joint in nature.
Joint infers all three services so this is not a statement saying the RAF or RN ganged up on the Army, clearly that is not the case, but there was a divergence between the initial Army thinking and subsequent requirements as defined by DEC(GM) and heavily influenced by the Joint thinking on NEC, EBO and the increasing importance of ISTAR in doctrinal development. Many observed that the Joint Doctrine and Concepts Centre had significant effect on the Medium Weight concept and its close alignment to FCS, and by extension, FRES.
In a number of sources, it was clear the actual Army users of FRES felt some disconnect between what it wanted and what it was getting.
At yet it was clear that the UK never bought in completely to the US vision of a Network Controlled Warfare and FCS, this seemingly contradictory position of close alignment with FCS but divergence from its underpinning NCW approach is probably worthy of further study.
Perhaps there was a general confusion on the interplay between them all, there certainly was a great deal of confusion at the time about the Medium Weight Capability.
So that is an expansion of my comments in the summary about the influence on FRES from Joint organisations that did not perhaps possess the background and skillsets to fully understand the implications on vehicle design of the concept?
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.