At the beginning of the nineties the British Army had in service three distinct families of non-Main Battle Tank armoured vehicles which were, in age order:
- FV432 – in service 1963
- CVR(T) – in service 1972
- Warrior – in service 1986
In addition, there were a number of specialist vehicles like the FV180 Combat Engineer Tractor (in service since 1976). And let’s not forget the Saxon, too!
CVR(T) was getting on in years and thoughts had now turned to its replacement. FV432 was even older and had never been completely replaced by Warrior, as originally intended. Now that ambition was rekindled.
Forming a backdrop to these aspirations were momentous changes in technology and the political landscape.
Advances in vehicle electronics, communications technology, sensors and computing equipment would all be harnessed for military vehicles, despite the technology drivers being largely civilian in origin. The microelectronics revolution was moving into gear.
The first SMS text message would not be sent until 1992 but the background work was well under way. First generation analogue mobile networks were in limited service based on the iconic Motorola DynaTAC cellphone, while the much more advanced 2G digital mobile telephone networks were already in development
Desktop computers had gone from the ZX81 in the early eighties to IBM PC Clones, which were widely adopted. The World Wide Web had been invented, the first web search for porn had taken place and Photoshop was at Version 1.
The next ten years would see even more rapid change and military equipment would benefit just as much as plumbers, stockbrokers and spotty faced teenagers.
There was also significant political change.
The fall of the Berlin Wall and the dawning of the end of the Cold War resulted in Options for Change, the title of the 1990 Defence Review, the first carried out since the 1981 Nott Review. In the House of Commons on 25th July 1990 Tom King MP, the then Secretary of State for Defence, said;
In the options for change studies, we have sought to devise a structure for our regular forces appropriate to the new security situation and meeting our essential peacetime operational needs. Our proposals will bring savings and a reduction in the share of GDP taken by defence.
The peace dividend was about to be harvested.
Options for Change precipitated a reduction in armed forces personnel by just under 20%, the formation of ‘British Forces Germany’ (following the disbandment of ‘British Forces of the Rhine’ and a reduction in the number of personnel deployed to Germany) and a whole host of other amalgamations and changes. The Army suffered the greatest reduction in manpower, going from 160,000 to 120,000 personnel.
Operation GRANBY – The Gulf War
In response to the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in August 1990 a coalition was formed that would see 35,000 British personnel deployed as part of Operation GRANBY. 4th Armoured Brigade, 7th Armoured Brigade and HQ 1st (UK) Armoured Division, and 5,000 vehicles, were all shipped to Saudi Arabia in time for the 1991 kick off.
7th Armoured Brigade consisted of the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards and Queen’s Royal Irish Hussars in Challenger I, with 1 Stafford’s in Warrior. 4th Armoured Brigade was infantry heavy with 1st Battalion Royal Scots and 3rd Battalion Royal Regiment of Fusiliers in Warrior, with 14th/20th Kings Hussars in their Challengers.
These two brigades would be reinforced by personnel from the Grenadier Guards. Over 250 Warriors of all variants were deployed to the Middle East.
The FV432, Warrior and CVR(T) all saw action, as did the Ferret and a few oddballs like the Wessex Saker and Longline Light strike/Fast Attack Vehicles.
Operation GRANBY also resulted in changes to the peacetime establishments. Instead of using FV432s for mortar fire controllers and Milan teams, additional Warriors were provided instead. This was a clear recognition that FV432 was now behind the curve.
An appliqué armour package was fitted to the Warrior vehicles, in theatre, to provide greater protection. The utility of this additional protection was proven when a Warrior Infantry Command Vehicle was hit by a 120mm HESH round fired by a Challenger I of the Scots Dragoon Guards. It resulted in much less damage than one might reasonably expect, and no deaths, although there were some very serious injuries.
A number of Warriors were modified with a turret-mounted Milan firing post. Although it could not be used on the move it did provide much greater mobility for Milan than the FV432s would have.
This operational replacement of some FV432 and CVR(T) with Warriors enabled other organisational changes that differed from the peacetime norm. Instead of mixing armour and armoured infantry they were now organised independently and were only combined on a mission specific basis.
By the end of January 1991 1 (UK) Armoured Division was declared operational after much preparation, training and re-organisation.
By the end of February, after 100 hours of fighting, it was all over.
The FV432, Warrior and CVR(T) all saw action, as did the Ferret, M109, M588, several M113 artillery variants and the oddball Wessek Saker and Longline Light strike/Fast Attack vehicles. The Longlines were subsequently acquired by the defence consultantcy Ricardo who continued to develop the weapons mounting system into the various flavours of WMIK Land Rover, via the Land Rover based Multi-Role Combat Vehicle demonstrator.
GKN and the MoD specified reliability as a key criteria during the development of Warrior and this approach would be vindicated. The Warrior fleet achieved a 95% availability during Operation GRANBY despite the significant additional protection weight and climactic conditions.
Also noteworthy was the Vehicle Launched Scatterable Mine System (VLSMS), which was procured as an Urgent Operational Requirement. This project started from a clean sheet of paper. There was no Stormer flatbed in any stage of development, it was not just a case of adding the mine equipment to an already in service flat bed type vehicle. The majority of the parts were from a Stormer but the hull, electrical harnesses, and GIAT Minotaur system interface were all new. The first VLSMS vehicle was in Kuwait just 14 weeks later.
Let’s pause to consider this achievement…
In those 14 weeks the design was created, the hull designed, the plates drawn, the MVEE Spec 1318 armour stock bought and delivered, the plates plasma cut and edges profiled, the hull jigs and fixtures made, new components ordered and manufactured, the hulls welded/machined/painted, the wiring harnesses designed and hull measured for cable lengths, the harnesses manufactured, the Stormer parts sourced, the vehicle assembled, and the interface electronics designed and manufactured.
The GIAT system arrived in the UK and was mounted on the Stormer flatbed, the vehicle was tested, the mine system was tested and the complete design signed off (interim clearance, I suspect) before the was vehicle shipped.
The six units ordered were delivered at one week intervals thereafter. It was never used in anger and withdrawn soon after GRANBY. Ultimately, the GIAT system was replaced with Shielder that used a Honeywell Volcano system.
But even so… 14 weeks to design and deploy a brand new system!
During preparations it was recognised that the conventional tactics for close reconnaissance that had been developed for use in Europe were less suited to the wide open desert. Wide open spaces favoured reconnaissance by strength rather than guile. The Challenger 1 Main Battle Tank had better optics than CVR(T), longer ranged firepower, much better protection in the absence of cover and in the terrain, the same mobility. So, as is entirely normal in these situations, units were re-organised into task specific groups. In this case a Recce Group now consisted of eight Scimitars , four Spartan Milan Compact Turret vehicles, one Sampson and a Forward Observation Officer Warrior.
At this point CVR(T) was over 20 years old and, although there had been some incremental improvements, the basic design was beginning to show its age, especially in comparison with newer vehicles. The optronics were noted as being particularly poor for the conditions encountered during operations in Iraq.
Improvements were needed, badly. So it was a good job that the MoD had already started the CVR(T) replacement process!
During the nineties there were a number of vehicle development programmes intended to inform and/or replace CVR(T), Saxon and a number of other types
Future Family of Light Armoured Vehicles (FFLAV)
Although FFLAV was started in 1988 I have included it here for convenience.
First there was the Family of Light Armoured Vehicles (FLAV), a 1980s programme intended to develop replacements for the CVR(T) and FV430 series vehicles.
When FLAV failed to deliver anything, the project became FFLAV, the Future Family of Light Armoured Vehicles programme, which picked up the pace during the early nineties in the aftermath of the Gulf War. Operations in the Gulf had reinforced the problems of reduced mobility, capability and survivability caused by the age and growing obsolescence of the FV432 and CVR(T) vehicle families.
If there was a recognition before the Gulf War that replacements were needed, there was certainly much more of a recognition now, as lessons were assimilated.
FFLAV looked across the Army’s vehicle fleet and rightly concluded that there were too many types with overlapping roles, and the equipment in service could be consolidated by using a more coherent approach.
It probably marked the high point of joined-up thinking concerning the Army’s vehicle fleet. One might argue that such thinking has been significantly poorer both in planning and execution since.
Within FFLAV there was also a desire to replace Warrior through the Multi Base Armoured Vehicle study. As a result, FFLAV was thought to have the potential for a total of 7,000 vehicles. To say the market was excited would be rather an understatement and so, in the late eighties and early nineties, a series of partnerships and consortia emerged to offer the MoD a single prime contractor for the entire programme.
Alvis, in conjunction with the Swedish Hagglunds AB, French Panhard and Spanish ENASA proposed a range of wheeled and tracked vehicles ranging from 3.5 tonnes to 24 tonnes.
The Panhard VBL, weighing between 3.5 and 4.5 tonnes would satisfy the Observation, Command and Control, Rover, Liaison and Internal Security Roles. Stormer and CVR(T) would be further developed, filling the 8-10 tonnes and 9-13 tonnes weight classifications
From ENASA (Empresa Nacional de Autocamiones S.A.) the 14 to 19 tonnes BMR-600 would be used for Armoured Personnel Carrier (APC), Ambulance, Recovery, Repair, Command and Control, and Medium Calibre Weapon Carrier. Incidentally, the Austrian BMR is called Pandur I and the Pandur II is a development, with an extra road wheel. The BMR-600 was first developed in 1972.
Finally, Hagglunds would provide the 20-24 tonnes CV90 for the Armoured Personnel Carrier (APC), Reconnaissance, Observation, Recovery, Repair, Self Propelled Mortar, Infantry Fighting Vehicle and Engineer Tractor.
GKN partnered with Mowag of Switzerland to create the GKN Piranha. TheWarrior 2000 would be used for the heavier variants. GKN even managed to sell the Piranha to non-UK customers like Saudi Arabia and Oman. for example.
FFLAV also marks the point at which the MoD and Army publicly recognised that the observation, surveillance and reconnaissance requirements could not be met with a single light weight vehicle family like CVR(T).
It should be noted that FFLAV was not a formal programme with specific requirements but more of a study.
VERDI and WASAD – Significant Developments
VERDI and WASAD were two significant pieces of research work carried out by MVEE and industry.
The Wide Area Surveillance Automated Detection (WASAD) project built on earlier work at the Vehicles and Engineering Establishment (MVEE) which examined remote vision, vehicles with external cameras (instead of optical periscopes) and unmanned turrets. The MVEE had concluded that the available technology of the period was not mature enough for adoption into service. WASAD took another look, with newer technology. It developed a panoramic day/night vision system that included automatic target detection and recognition whilst on the move, connected via voice recognition to the fire control system on a modified Challenger 2.
The Vehicle Electronics Research Defence Initiative (VERDI) also built on previous work. This was the Systematic Approach to Vehicle Electronics research project (SAVE) including the grandly titled Modular Assembled Vehicle Installation System (MAVIS), or to you and I, a shelf!.
It examined how modern vetronics (a portmanteau of the words vehicle and electronics), sensors and communications equipment could be exploited to improve performance and reduce crew numbers.
This work culminated in the VERDI-2 demonstrator.
The demonstrator had a telescopic mast equipped with thermal imager and image intensifier.
Inside, a single crew pod had interchangeable operator positions.
Each of the two crew stations had two CRT displays that could show mapping information, GPS data, symbology and sensor information.
A later version had a modified turret with the Shorts High Velocity Missile, Air Defence Alerting Device (ADAD) and a mock up of the CTAi 40mm cannon.
The crew stations were fully interchangeable and, when used in conjunction with a short/medium range wireless network, could share data between vehicles. One of the concepts trialled was to use two Warriors as section vehicles with the section commander carried in an adapted Stormer APC following behind.
VERDI also demonstrated a remote surveillance concept using a small remote-controlled tracked vehicle called HARP. It was carried as a demountable payload in the crew compartment.
Work sponsored by the MoD on CANBus Platform Integrated Command and Controls System (PICCS) and Common Infrastructure for Battlefield Information Systems (CIBIS) were all attempts to standardise crew workstations, sensor and other electronic systems integration and could be seen as the building blocks for the later Generic Vehicle Architecture.
Alvis fitted a Scorpion with a CANBus controller and remote power switching, used to investigate system robustness and general suitability. The Alvis Vetronics Integration Demonstrator (AVID) programme was a Stormer fitted with an elevated sensor mast. It was similar to VERDI in some ways, investigating integration issues, advanced sensors, navigation and communications.
The choice of Warrior for use as the base vehicle for the VERDI demonstrator seems to suggest that there was an explicit recognition that CVR(T) did not have the space, or electrical generation capacity, for modern sensors and computing equipment. In other words, CVR(T) was now obsolete.
GKN would go on to explore a ‘Stealth Warrior’ theme with a demonstrator that removed a road wheel, added smooth wheel ‘hub caps’ and track covers. Other features included a revised exhaust design to cool and redirect the hot gas, a 25mm Delco turret, inward sloping side skirts, radar absorbent coatings and a telescopic sensor mast from Radamec that included day/night and thermal sights, laser rangefinder and battlefield radar.
Although the Stealth Warrior was less ambitious than VERDI and AVID there are shades of FRES SV Scout there, perhaps?
VERDI was a significant development but in itself, went nowhere. While it would inform future studies, and the technology of the day was arguably not advanced enough, the direction of travel was clear. CVR(T) was too small and a larger vehicle was needed.
Royal Ordnance developed the RO2000 family of vehicles with the Egyptian market in mind but did not achieve success.
FFLAV Ends. TRACER and MRAV Begin
Work ceased on FFLAV and its various studies informed the creation of two new programmes, TRACER and MRAV. Meanwhile, the work done on VERDI provided some useful insight for both the Command and Liaison requirement that was being pushed into the future. After the Ferret was withdrawn in 1992, the Future Command and Liaison Vehicle (FCLV) would resurface in the early 2000’s as Panther.
But I digress.
Back to TRACER and MRAV
Although both started and finished at different times they are peers in that they both came from the failure of FFLAV so it is right to present them in parallel.
1992, Staff Target (Land) 4061, more commonly known as TRACER, Tactical Reconnaissance Armoured Combat Equipment Requirement was to be the new CVR(T) replacement.
Is it just me, or does TRACER sound a million times better than FRES, anyway, onwards…
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)
When I say a CVR(T) replacement that is not strictly true, more like CVR(T) would leave service and TRACER would enter, the two vehicles being quite different.
Going back to the origins of CVR(T) it had two main design drivers, reconnaissance in support of armoured battle groups in Germany and as a light air deployable armoured vehicle for all those troublesome post Empire flare ups.
Air deployability ruled the design roost as evidenced by the width; CVR(T) was narrow enough to fit between rubber trees in the plantations of Malaya, for example.
TRACER took a different view. The reconnaissance mission had primacy over deployability, although this was also an important consideration.
It is important to note that TRACER filed in the ISTAR* category (tower) inside the MoD and, as we look back at what was happening with UAVs, we see that the Phoenix UAV system was then approaching troop trials in 1995.
* Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition and Reconnaissance
Click here to read more about Phoenix and Watchkeeper.
These studies were seeking to balance the investment between land and air based systems for ISTAR roles.
In the same period, the US Army had also started looking at a replacement for its Bradley M3 in Cavalry squadrons and the M1114 HMMWV ‘Humvee’ in scout platoons
After a number of wheeled and tracked prototypes were developed as part of the Armored Reconnaissance Scout Vehicle programme, the Future Scout Cavalry System (FSCS) was born.
The TRACER and FSCS programmes were subsequently harmonised and a joint project created. Both nations requirements would be met by a single vehicle, the Armoured Scout and Reconnaissance Vehicle (ASRV). It is important to note, for the avoidance of confusion, that both programmes continued to be referred to, in their home nations, by their original titles: TRACER and FSCS. The intended end product of both programmes was the ASRV which, if successful, would be produced in both nations.
The Armoured Scout and Reconnaissance Vehicle was specified in a Memorandum of Understanding signed by the US and UK in July 1998, the original Operational Requirements Document having being agreed in December 1997.
Although a common vehicle was envisaged, the British Army had an additional requirement for their variant to be equipped with a long-range anti-tank missile. This was intended to provide overwatch for vehicles deployed forward without protection from main battle tanks.
France and Germany both requested observer status on TRACER although neither had a comparable requirement.
Contracts for an initial study phase were signed with two consortia, each composed of a mix of UK and US companies, in January 1999. The mix of UK and US companies was intended to facilitate an equal work share between the native industries of the two nations.
At this early stage, the UK and US had slightly different requirements but the project was still initiated amid hopes of a rapid introduction and reduction in costs.
TRACER was intended to not only provide intelligence, but also:
- Act as a deterrent,
- Monitor opposing forces,
- Help maintain freedom of movement,
- Provide a credible offensive capability by directing direct and indirect fire onto enemy forces.
The two competing consortia for the Project Definition Phase were SIKA International (British Aerospace, Lockheed Martin, Vickers Defence and General Dynamics) and LANCER (Marconi, Alvis, United Defence and Raytheon).
Each would be required to produce detailed specifications, training requirements, production plans/costs and an integrated demonstrator vehicle.
The estimated UK requirement would be for 400 vehicles with the US taking 1,200.
The studies progressed well and planned to go through affordability review in early 2001, after which a number of subsequent options would be open for discussion, including completion and report in 2002.
Estimated cost at this point was £118 million at 1999 prices.
By the end of 1998 the MoD had spent £7.3 million on TRACER.
TRACER would run on through to 2002, but more on this later.
Whilst the US and USA were looking developing TRACER/FSCV as a vehicle that was capable of both stealth and the ability to fight for information, the Dutch and German Army agreed to build the Fennek, a small vehicle optimised for stealth.
After the cancellation of the Future Family of Light Armoured Vehicles (FFLAV) programme, GKN proposed a merger with Vickers Defence but this was rebuffed and, eventually, GKN and Alvis merged, instead.
In 1992, both Germany and France had wheeled armoured vehicle programmes in their early stages. France had Véhicule Blindé Modulaire (VBM) and Germany, Gepaanzerten Transport Kraft-fahrzeug (GTK).
It was agreed that a jointly designed vehicle would be able to satisfy both nation’s requirements. It would replace the French AMX-10RC, VAB and ERC-90 Sagaie and the German Spahpanzer Luchs, TPz1 Fuchs and M113. France and Germany were also set on the idea that the vehicle would equip the future Euro Corps. With an eye to the Gulf War experience the new vehicle would be wheeled, probably in an 8×8 configuration, weigh approximately 25 tonnes and have a centralised tyre pressure system.
At a meeting held in Bonn in December 1993 between the French Defence Minister, Francois Leotard and his German counterpart, Volker Ruhe, the establishment of a joint armaments agency was agreed. This was not a European agency but a French/German organisation to manage a specific number of joint programmes. From this would eventually spring forth OJAC or, as it was known in the French, Organisation conjointe de coopération en matière d’armement. One of these projects was the VBM/GTK.
OJAC is now known as OCCAR. the Organisation for Joint Armament Co-operation which was ratified in 2001 and which, unlike its predecessor, today involves six nations: France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Belgium and the United Kingdom.
At Eurosatory 94 two vehicles from France and Germany were on display that were claimed to met the harmonised VBM/GTK requirement, the French Giat Vextra and German Daimler Benz EXF.
In the early eighties, Daimler Benz had carried out a number of trials with heavy wheeled vehicles. The Daimler Benz (EXperimental Fahrzeug) EXF, shown below with concrete test weight in place of a turret eventually developed into the 32 tonne 8×8 Radkampfwagen 90. The Radkampfwagen 90 was fitted with a Leopard turret and proved many of the concepts that would go on to be used in MRAV and Boxer.
In 1992 GIAT privately funded the Vextra technology demonstrator to explore the potential for heavy wheeled combat vehicles. It weighed 27 tonnes, was powered by a Scania diesel engine and could carry nine dismounted personnel or 6 tonnes of cargo. The initial GIAT Vextra models were fitted with a one man 25mm DRAGAR turret.
The programme was for single vehicle to replace AMX-10RC, VAB, ERC-90 Sagaie, Spähpanzer Luchs, TPZ1 Fuchs, M113 and Marder.
The baseline requirement called for a 25 tonne vehicle that could carry nine dismounted personnel and be capable of a road speed of 120kph (about 75mph). Centralised tire pressure would provide the equivalent mobility to tracked vehicles.
Also on display at Eursatory 94 was a 6×6 mockup called European Vehicle Armoured (EVA) that was also intended to showcase what the end product might look like.
Despite the outward display of harmony, two vehicles, four national manufacturers and one requirement.
It was bound to end in tears!
The UK was offered membership of this agency in 1995 following a request from the MoD to join the VBM/GTK project which was, by that stage, formally known as the Multi-Role Armoured Vehicle (MRAV).
The industrial landscape was quite diverse at the time but, understanding the implications of losing, all the European manufacturers formed consortia. These would eventually coalesce into two competing teams.
Team International: Vickers, Alvis, Henschell, Kuka and Panhard
Eurokonsortium: GKN, Krauss Maffei, MaK/Rheinmetall, Wegman and GIAT.
France wanted GIAT to be part of both consortia but the UK and Germany were having none of that nonsense.
April 1998 saw the competition winner announced: Eurokonsortium.
Team International threatened legal action because the original requirement called for a 6×6 design, and Eurokonsortium had submitted their winning 8×8 at a late stage.
Team International eventually submitted their own 8×8 proposal but 5 months after the official closing date and their protest went nowhere.
The plan called for deliveries to commence in 2004 with a total quantity of just under 3,000 units.
A year after the winner was announced a lead nation had yet to be appointed and there is no doubt the devil made work for idle hands.
Differences emerged, with Germany aligning with the UK while France increasingly moved away from MRAV. They began to favour a wheeled Infantry Fighting Vehicle that would work closely with the LeClerc Main Battle Tank, a role fulfilled by Warrior and the new Puma vehicle in German service.
France was also still smarting from the UK/German decision to insist that GIAT could only be part of one of the competing consortia.
France left the programme in 1999 to create the VBCI.
Whilst TRACER and MRAV were being progressed there was business to attend to in the Balkans.
Operations in the Balkans during the nineties would prove to be significant for the armoured vehicles of the British Army and, indeed, those of other nations.
Despite many wishing them away in favour of lighter, wheeled alternatives, the same combination of main battle tanks and infantry fighting vehicles as was used in the Gulf a few years earlier would, once again, prove their continuing relevance.
For most of the nineties the British Army would be deployed in the Balkans in one form or another. The Warrior, CVR(T) and Saxon, which were by this stage considered legacy platforms, would all see extensive use in this modern theatre.
The first deployment was in 1992 as a result of UN Resolution 743, the so-called Vance Owen Plan. 743 called for the creation of buffer zones between Serb and Croat forces in Bosnia and Croatia, the zones to be monitored by UNPROFOR.
Both CVR(T) and Warrior would prove to be reliable and capable vehicles, with the protection and imposing presence of Warrior, and the small size of CVR(T), proving to be very useful.
After Serbian forces took UN personnel hostage in 1995 a joint UK-French reaction force was formed, without the white paint of the UN. After sustained air and ground operations were mounted, the resultant peace talks led to the Dayton Accords and some semblance of peace.
One of the key emerging requirements in the aftermath was for ordnance disposal and, in particular, route proving/clearance. Mines were used liberally by all belligerents. SFOR issued two mine awareness post cards which illustrate the variety of different devices used.
All forces in the conflict suffered from mines. The images below (taken from Cold War Warrior) show the aftermath of a TMA3 mine strike on a Saxon in the hills above Rama Lake, Bosnia, in 1994.
Other vehicles were not so lucky. Personnel were killed by mine strikes whilst riding in a Spartan CVR(T).
Anti-sniper turrets were fitted to a number of AT105 Saxons deployed to the Balkans. These turrets were from surplus FV432s.
After the accords were signed UNPROFOR became the NATO-led IFOR and off came the white paint
In 1996 three Alvis 4s were procured for operations in Macedonia for £1 million.
In 1998 British Forces deployed to Kosovo as part of KFOR.
In the same period British Forces were also involved in Macedonia on Operation AGRICOLA.
All these operations showed the continued relevance of ‘heavy metal’. Yet one incident was to have far reaching consequences for British Army vehicles: the Russian dash to Pristina.
At the cessation of hostilities in Kosovo on June 11 1999, a joint NATO/Russian peacekeeping force was agreed and NATO forces began to move into position to take up their roles.
As a show of strength and to gain greater influence 250 Russian personnel in 30 wheeled armoured vehicles moved overnight and took up positions in Pristina Airport, blocking access and presenting KFOR with a very delicate situation.
Despite some rather aggressive and misplaced orders from General Wes Clarke the situation was resolved without shots being fired.
It is a fascinating incident to study. Click here for a good rundown, but what really sent shockwaves around the world was the fact that the Russians had completed a long road march right under the noses of NATO and, as a result, everyone in the military sphere began to look upon their rather old BTR 8×8 wheeled vehicles with much envy.
This one incident would be used as an example many times in forthcoming arguments about medium weight forces.
In 1999 another five Alvis 4s were obtained for operations in Kosovo at a combined cost of £2.3 million. The total of fourteen Alvis 4/8s obtained to this point cost £4.5 million.
As operations in the Balkans played out during the nineties, military vehicle development continued.
Warrior, Saxon and CVR(T)
The MoD awarded a £35m five year contract to British Aerospace to upgrade the Swingfire wire-guided anti-tank missile system in 1990. It was called the Swingfire Improved Guidance (SWIG) programme.
SWIG would replace all the analogue electronics with the latest generation digital systems. Most notably, it would change the guidance from command to automatic command, i.e. the operator now only needed to keep the crosshairs on the target and not manually fly the missile.
At the beginning of 1990 the British Army had approximately 500 Saxons in service in the UK (including Northern Ireland) and Germany. In 1991, an additional order was placed for 100 more vehicles.
Scorpion was taken out of service in 1992 due to concerns about the 76mm gun filling the turret with toxic smoke.
That same year, with TRACER in progress, the Army embarked on a vehicle rationalisation exercise that would see Saladin, Ferret, Fox and Scorpion also withdrawn from service.
Because some of the Foxes and Scorpions were in good condition it was decided to do some Frankenstein conversions and mate Scorpion hulls with Fox turrets. Sabre was the result.
By the end of 1994 Sabre conversions had started at Base Ordnance Depot Donnington and by 1995 with 104 vehicles released to service, the programme closed.
Meanwhile, in order to enable CVR(T) to soldier on until TRACER came into service a Life Extension Programme (LEP)was initiated in 1995.
The LEP had three main elements. The first was the replacement of the all Jaguar petrol engines with a diesel engine and upgraded TN15E transmission. The second was the installation of additional secure radio equipment and a thermal imaging sight that, unlike the installed OTIS, would allow use on the move. The third comprised of several minor improvements which were to include fitting a GPS, a new 30mm APDS round and replacement of some of the electrical systems.
After competition between Perkins, Cummins and Steyr-Daimler-Puch, the Cummins 6BTA was selected and a £32m contract awarded to BAE for the work. Deliveries of the LEP CVR(T) commenced in 1998.
In a separate development, during 1997 the MoD announced that 170 CVR(T) Scimitars would receive an upgraded thermal imaging system for both observation and gun sighting.
The candidate chosen was the Thales Sight Periscopic Infrared Equipment (SPIRE). However, the full 170 vehicle aspiration was subsequently reduced to just over 100 and the later batches were to carry the prefix Enhanced, or E-SPIRE.
A number of additional Scimitars were also fitted with the SPIRE system under an Urgent Operational Requirement for service in Bosnia as part of SFOR.
As part of the SPIRE programme 40 Scimitar were also fitted with a TacNav digital compass and navigation system from KVH.
As the decade closed, the remaining CVR(T) vehicles were provided with a new single pin track design called the TR10 from William Cook Defence.
As a result of these many different upgrades, the homogeneous CVR(T) fleet began to fragment, with fleets within fleets becoming the norm.
By the mid-nineties CVR(T) was an export monster with over 1,800 vehicles sold to 20 nations, on top of the 1,863 brought into service with the British Army.
The Royal Ordnance and GIAT 45mm Cased Telescoped Weapon System (CTWS) demonstrator was completed in 1991 with the prototype the following year. The CTWS was intended for TRACER, a mid life Warrior upgrade and the French VAD.
In 1997 the decision was made to move the calibre to 40mm and rename it the CT2000 (rather optimistically, as it would turn out to be).
Time for a sneaky Mexeflote picture, cunningly disguised as a picture of a Saxon!
ASCOD and CV90
Although not in UK service during this period CV90 and ASCOD would go on to be involved with the current FRES SV Scout, so it is useful to examine their origins.
The Austrian Spanish Co-operative Development (ASCOD) was a joint project with Spain and Austria. ASCOD is much like Warrior: a 25-35 tonne engine-forward infantry fighting vehicle with 30mm automatic cannon and seating for dismounted infantry. The partner companies were General Dynamics, Santa Bárbara Sistemas and Steyr-Daimler-Puch Spezialfahrzeug GmbH (SSF). In Spanish service it is known as the Pizarro, and in Austria it is called the Ulan.
The first prototype was completed in 1992 and production commenced four years later, in 1996.
A number of variants of the Pizarro were proposed or developed, including a command vehicle, advanced reconnaissance, recovery, HOT missile carrier and others.
The VCOAV (Vehículo de Observación Avanzada) Advanced Reconnaissance Vehicle would be developed in the next decade but in 1996 ASCOD developed the 105mm Light Tank variant. This was fitted with the same turret and 105mm main gun as the South African 8×8 Reumech OMC Rooikat. The ASCOD 105 LTE was subsequently purchased by Thailand, incidentally, Warrior was also trialled with the same turret.
In 1998 General Dynamics, who by then owned ASCOD, trialled it with the same Low Profile Turret as would be used in the Stryker Advanced Gun System (AGS). This used the M68A1E4 105mm main gun, a slightly modified variant of the M68 as used on the M60 Patton and M1A1 Abrams main battle tanks, which itself was a licence built variant of the Royal Ordnance L7 as used on the British Centurion main battle tank.
Trials were apparently successful and the data was used to develop the AGS Low Profile Turret further.
The first CV90 prototype was actually completed in 1988. Testing continued and deliveries commenced for the Swedish Army in 1994.
Like ASCOD, it is available in a number of variants in addition to the Infantry Fighting Vehicle: Forward Observation, Forward Command, Recovery and Air Defence.
The CV90-40 Air Defence Variant entered service in 1998. A trial version with the GIAT 105mm TML turret was completed in 1994.
The same turret as mounted on GIAT Vextra.
In total, just over 500 vehicles were delivered to the Swedish Army across a number of variants and tranches, for a total value of just under £980 million, including development of the main variants.
Norway and Switzerland ordered CV90 in the late nineties.
This is another subject that is not directly related to FRES, but is important because it is an influencing factor in the evolution of FRES.
In response to the mine threat in Bosnia a requirement for a mine protected vehicle was created.
This is where it gets very complicated; making sense of the commercial arrangements in this niche market area is extremely difficult. This is because there are several competing viewpoints on, and differing interpretations of, the same series of events. That said, the following might not be 100% correct but it is as accurate as it is reasonably possible to be.
The Mamba 4×4 was a development of the earlier Mamba 4×2 that was created by Mechem, and used the South African Army’s old Unimog 416 trucks as parts donors. The production contract was awarded to Reumec with the basic design licensed from Mechem. Higher strength steel and multiple design refinements had allowed the manufacturers to flatten the deep V that characterised the earlier vehicles and, as a result, create a more practical layout.
The first Mamba 4 x4 prototype was tested in 1993.
In late 1993 two prototype vehicles were sent to Alvis in the UK, who had partnered with both Mechem and Reumech.
The two prototype vehicles were the Iron Eagle scout car and the first 4×4 version of the Mamba 2.9m wheelbase mine protected vehicle.
Despite a number of problems with both vehicles, Alvis saw some potential and decided to develop them both further.
The Iron Eagle became the Alvis Acorn which then evolved into the Scarab, Scarab 2 and Scarab 3. The later models were reportedly extremely mobile.
The Mamba 4×4 was eventually called the Alvis 8 as it carried eight people.
Both vehicles were trialled in Bosnia in 1994, according to Janes.
The images below show an Alvis 8 (left) and the Alvis 4 (right).
After a successful trial of the Alvis 8 the MoD requested a shorter wheelbase version (2.4m). This was to become the Alvis 4.
Because of time pressures Alvis also loaned the MoD a number of Alvis 8s. These were the longer wheelbase version with the old fashioned running gear, meaning that there were both versions in theatre at the same time.
Both the Alvis 4 and Alvis 8 were commonly called Mambas. The Alvis 4 had a number of modifications including an armour plate to defeat the TMRP 6 mine, stretcher lashing points, and Clansman radio wiring and battery charging systems. The original requirement was for a vehicle that could extract casualties from vehicles that had detonated mines although they would, eventually, also used in the route proving role.
Six vehicles were deployed to the Balkans in 1996 for use by the Royal Engineers, costing £1.2 million.
The Alvis 4s were a great success but the harsh climate and terrain of the Balkans, combined with the extra weight imposed by additional armour and old fashioned mechanicals, exposed a number of reliability and safety limitations, so they were eventually disposed of and a replacement sought (more on that later).
In 1996 three Alvis 4s were procured for operations in Macedonia for £1 million.
In a 1997 presentation from Colonel James Anderson on the military aspects of mine detection and clearance, the priority which the Royal Engineers and MoD placed on this role was stated, thus;
The biggest threat to the Army’s mobility – in war and operations other than war – is landmines. Hence the most important programmes are now counter-mines programmes. This represents a considerable challenge. Of particular concern is trying to shift the balance of the overall programme without upsetting existing capabilities or distorting them too far.
Colonel James Anderson RE
The Army’s mindset was clearly focused on the issue, at least within the confines of the Royal Engineers.
This quote is illustrative of the struggle between addressing the immediate threat in Iraq and Afghanistan, and wanting the equipment programme to reflect the kind of fight the Army thought would be more likely, or wanted.
The problem was that mine protection was still perceived as a specialist area, and so responsibility for addressing it was confined within the specialist arm of the British Army, the Royal Engineers.
In 1993 another five Alvis 4s were obtained for operations in Kosovo at a combined cost of £2.3 million.
A total of 14 Alvis 4s and 8s had been obtained up to this point at a combined cost of £4.5 million.
The Plastic Tank
The nineties were a busy period in armoured vehicle development.
The Advanced Composite Armoured Vehicle Platform (ACAVP) was often called the ‘plastic tank’ although it was neither simply plastic, nor a tank. The aim was demonstrate how an advanced plastic/glass fibre composite called E-Glass could provide protection comparable to steel and aluminium, but with a reduced infra red and acoustic signature and significantly improved corrosion resistance, especially against salt water. A separate spall liner, common on steel and aluminium vehicles, could also be eliminated.
Development started in 1993 after a two year feasibility study and progressed through a number of stages until mobility, safety and survivability tests were concluded. Only the hull was composite; all the other components were straight out of the existing vehicle parts bin: for example, the running gear, engine and transmission were from an Alvis Warrior while the turret was from a Fox.
The trials did reveal a few failures in some of the automotive components but, reportedly, the hull exceeded all expectations.
Weighing in at 24 tonnes the monocoque-hulled demonstrator was configured for the recce role with a two man crew pod at the front, mission module in the middle and turret and powerpack at the rear. It had frontal protection against 30mm AP and 14.5mm protection elsewhere.
GKN, Westland Aerospace DRA (DERA), Army Base Repair Organisation (ABRO), the University of Plymouth, Shorts Brothers, Vickers, Alvis, Hexcel Composites, Ciba, Kidde-Graviner, Perkin and Vosper Thorneycroft were all involved at some stage.
Whilst it should be remembered that Russia trialed a fibre glass PT76 and the USA experimented with the Advanced Technology Demonstrator (ATD) – Composite Armored Vehicle (CAV) – the UK’s Advanced Composite Armoured Vehicle Platform (ACAVP) was more ambitious in its use of composite materials for the monocoque hull.
A 2000 Parliamentary Question provided information on the cost.
HC Deb 06 June 2000 vol 351 cc172-3W 172W
Mr. Hancock: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what is the cost to date of the work carried out to develop the Advanced Composite Armoured Vehicle Platform; what was the total budget provision and completion date for development and trials; and if he will make a statement. 
Dr. Moonie: The total cost to the MOD of the Advanced Composite Armoured Vehicle Platform is expected to be £6 million, which is within the total budget provision when the programme started in 1993. The 173W initial automotive trials have been successful and the development and trials process is expected to be complete in October 2000.
The material chosen was one of the cheapest available. At £3 per kg, E-Glass was considerably cheaper than S2 Glass at £11 per kg, or Kevlar aramid fibre at £20 per kg. One of the design innovations was the stud mounted armour panels that would allow sections to be removed for carriage in a C130. The hull alone was 60mm thick and weighed about six tonnes with the automotive, mission equipment and appliqué armour panels making up the balance.
It was only a technology demonstration programme, and was concluded in 2001, but it was definitely at the cutting edge of material and fabrication science and proved that a 20%-30% weight reduction was possible. The general conclusion from ACAVP was that although valuable weight savings were possible, carbon fibre composites would provide greater potential due to them being much stiffer, thus reducing the need for additional material density.
Pull through to the TRACER programme was planned but as we all know, FRES killed TRACER and the rest is history.
It is interesting that in the years since, the use of composites has been limited to add-on panels in protected vehicles like the Snatch and Foxhound, rather than what we might consider ‘fighting vehicles’ where steel and aluminium hulls still reign supreme.
The ‘plastic tank’ is currently at the Tank Museum and regularly gets an outing at shows.
It is even in the Guinness Book of World Records
Table of Contents