The Future Rapid Effect System (FRES) was the project name for a class of medium weight armoured vehicles that were intended to replace a number of legacy British Army vehicles such as CVR(T) Scimitar and FV432. FRES has been called the poster child for all that is wrong with the Ministry of Defence and the British Army; hundreds of millions of Pounds and many years frittered away for no value.
This is the story of FRES, what went before and what came after; Scimitar to Ajax.
This is a consolidation and update from the Think Defence The Story of FRES series. But first, there are two important acknowledgements to make;
- The limitations of this document;
- The contributions of others.
This document has been completed without access to key decision makers and only using open source data. Because of this, the result will, inevitably, be incomplete and any interpretations may not be wholly valid.
That said, it is an honest attempt at creating an accurate account of the many attempts by the British Army to bring into service the Future Rapid Effect System (FRES), what came before and after, ultimately, the SV Scout/Ajax vehicle family.
As a piece of work, it will always be work in progress, as more information comes to light I will include it and create an update post on the main blog.
As one might imagine, this document has required a great deal of research.
Sources have included print and online media, numerous web forums, and the Royal United Services Institute, the National Audit Office, Hansard and manufacturers web sites. Where relevant, I have linked to these sources. In addition to these sources I must give special mention to a number of people that have provided specific input, offered editing suggestions and opinions, and in some cases, imagery and other files.
Without their assistance, this document would have been much the poorer.
- ‘Challenger 2’ from Plain Military;
- ‘Chris’ from Think Defence;
- ‘Red Trousers’ from Think Defence;
- Cold War Warrior,
- Mike R from Think Defence,
- Dr Richard North from the EU Referendum and Defence of the Realm blogs.
Others have also provided input but wish to remain anonymous.
A big thank you is due to all.
Where do you start with FRES, the Future Rapid Effect System?
FRES was a wide-ranging programme that aiming to deliver a range of vehicles to replace legacy vehicles like the FV430 and CVR(T) which have been in service since the 1960s.
Certainly one cannot ignore the successful and not so successful programmes that went before and came after, operational influences, the transformative zeal of military theorists and the dead hand of politics. This document will explore them all.
It was a concept that promised so much, but ultimately, delivered only invoices and a never ending stream of concept drawings.
So here they are; the CVR(T) and FV432, still going – perhaps not strong – but definitely still going.
What makes FRES such a fascinating and, ultimately, very depressing subject is that it spans a number of momentous historical events such as the end of the Cold War, post Cold War military transformation, the UK’s transition to an interventionist foreign policy and back again.
By 2020, with any luck, the Army will finally have its replacement vehicles, but during the same period the major equipment of the Royal Air Force and Royal Navy has evolved beyond recognition.
Opinions on Army 2020 vary, of course, but even its most ardent advocates would admit that its vehicle plans remain aspirational and wholly reliant on the hodge-podge of types introduced as UORs during recent operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
This is the very definition of the equipment tail wagging the doctrinal and organisational dog.
Instead of ushering in a new era, Army 2020 is looking increasingly like the last chicken in the shop, at least when it comes to vehicles.
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.
And, let’s be honest, there is some stiff competition there.
Failure to deliver has cost hundreds of millions of pounds and, without veering too far into tabloid hyperbole, many service personnel their lives and limbs.
Surely failure on such scale has consequences?
The House of Commons Defence Select Committee thought as much:
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.
This exchange must surely elicit some measure of sympathy for the hapless Ursula Brennan. She took the justified tongue lashing from Mr Bacon despite the fact that the overwhelming responsibility for the failure of FRES, and its predecessors, to deliver anything tangible resting firmly with others.
Looking at FRES in its entirety, including the various programmes prior to it and after, it is difficult to escape the conclusion that the majority of blame does not rest on the easily-targeted shoulders of civil servants, politicians and BAE, but instead on those wearing a uniform.
Where the Army is concerned, FRES is an entirely self-inflicted wound.
I have no doubt that the decisions taken over the years seemed sensible at the time. Those involved did not make these decisions with the deliberate intent to waste time and money. However, 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 the length of which simply beggars belief.
And absolutely no one has been held to account for this lamentable performance.
It could, however, be reasonably argued that getting a pound of flesh is exactly the opposite of what is needed. The time and money expended is not going to come back and the MoD should now focus on the future.
The trite mantra ‘Lessons must be Learned’ is easy to say but very difficult to do. Complex organisations staffed with people inevitably make mistakes, but FRES is a case study in exactly how not to obtain equipment and maintain a defence industrial capability, and should therefore, provide ample material to learn from.
That said, there comes a point when you have to be blunt and ask demanding questions of the people that made the decisions.
However, this document is not intended for that purpose. That is for others to do.
Instead, this document will look at the story of FRES from the outside in, and try to explain how it all happened, how it replaced a number of programmes, and how it itself was replaced by yet another programme.
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.
In between the introduction of CVR(T) and FV432 in the 1960s and the beginning of FRES there have been quite a few others: FFLAV, TRACER and MRAV. These programmes will also be described.
But first, the ‘Story of FRES’ begins with the story of the vehicles it was designed to replace: CVR(T) and FV432, and it is here that I will start.
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