How is it possible to summarise the Future Rapid Effect System (FRES)?
I suppose the first thing to do would be to define what FRES actually was, because, without great fanfare, the word FRES has been dropped. Indeed the concept FRES went the way of puttees a long time ago.
And therein lies the problem.
What FRES was or is remains a puzzle, wrapped in an enigma, an enigma that wears clown shoes.
I have decided not to summarise the history, this entire document to this point is over 50,000 words and to appreciate FRES, am afraid you are going to have to read it all :)
Its complexity defies easy summation.
Neither is the FRES/SV/UV story over, SV has progressed to manufacture order but not anywhere near the original quantities or variants envisaged and UV remains the merest twinkle in the Army’s eye.
There is much more to come, much more time and much more cost.
It is easy to criticise from the sidelines and if you go back o the beginning of this document to the limitations section we should remember the full story is yet to be told, in fact, it may never be told, this is certainly not it.
I also tend to have sympathy for those involved, looking at individual decisions it is relatively easy to appreciate how they were made, would I have made better decisions, would you?
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.
And yet despite this the result is plain to for all to see…
An enormous waste of money and time and much more importantly, you could make a reasonable argument that service personnel have suffered because of its ongoing failure to deliver.
If that is not a good reason to reflect soberly on what happened then nothing is.
The bill so far would be a matter for the National Audit Office to determine exactly 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
£321 MILLION AND NOT A SINGLE VEHICLE IN SERVICE
That is also a seriously conservative estimate and if we chose to consider the medical and welfare costs for personnel injured directly as a result of the failure of FRES and its predecessors to deliver tangible outcomes I suspect the number would be significantly higher.
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 conservative £321 million figure and who knows how much for the items in the paragraph above are future costs for production and through life support for Ajax and not forgetting, a complete restart of UV(W)/MIV whilst spending money bringing the
last chickens in the shop Protected Mobility fleet into core.
With the finest quality hindsight I think you could summarise FRES failure with the following points.
Cancelling MRAV and TRACER
TRACER was the result of a staggering amount of analysis and to say that the requirement was ambitious would be a large understatement. Despite this ambition the project delivered trials vehicles that were reportedly very good indeed. This ambition might have been a step too far for the technology maturity of the day and without trading requirements out for quicker and cheaper it is difficult to see how it would have entered service.
With some compromise, equally, it is easy to see how they could be in service now.
MRAV also had some challenging requirements with a focus on protection. It befitted from significant operational analysis from the original partner nations and once the politics were resolved went on to deliver a combat proven vehicle with some unique features.
It is equally easy to see how they could be in service now.
But this was not to be, both were cancelled because they were too big and too heavy with a couple of hundred million Pounds flushed down the toilet.
The New Kid in Town
The reason why the MoD found it necessary to cancel MRAV and TRACER had nothing to do with cost or size or weight, it was because there was a new kid in town, transformation.
Military transformation is a nebulous concept but it manifested itself into something more tangible following the 1991 Gulf War. Starting in the USA in the early nineties it progressed through a number of iterations until arriving at the Future Combat System or FCS in the late nineties.
There is no more powerful force in the universe than the latest idea and FCS with its resultant 75 page acronym glossary became an unstoppable force, dissenters were sidelined regardless of the attire status of the new emperor.
Despite the subsequent reams of criticism laid at the door of RMA, FCS and transformation in general its underlying concept of early intervention with sufficient force, enabled my modern communications, sensors and precision weapons, it sound.
It makes perfect sense.
The problem was, in seeking to increase force agility and responsiveness it concentrated on the payload (i.e. vehicles), not the aircraft and ships carrying that payload. Getting an armoured Brigade anywhere in no time at all is childs play, if you have enough C17’s!
A silly statement perhaps, but FCS decided to stick with the decades old C130 as its means of air delivery instead of thinking outside the C130 cargo box. In another irony, whilst the transformation advocates were redesigning the US Army from the top down the logisticians were quietly but significantly improving their ability to rapidly deploy both light and heavy forces.
One of the main planks on which UK defence rests is the desire to stand side by side with US forces, maintaining parity in organisation and capability, if not size.
There is nothing wrong with this, as a principle it has served us well so there was no way we were going to sit on the transformational sidelines.
In broad terms, where the USA goes, we follow.
The details may be different, the emphasis and approach different, but the broad brush strokes are the same.
And so we came to FRES after the USA came to FCS, simple as that.
The need for inter-service cooperation was laid bare by the Falklands Conflict in 1982, reinforces by the Gulf in 1991 and hammered home by operations in the Balkans throughout the nineties.
Policy, doctrine development and resultant equipment strategies became an increasingly joint function. The Army no longer decided wholly their own equipment needs and neither did the other services. A number of organisations were created outside of the service structures in the MoD, equipment capability and doctrine development were by now joint functions.
To say that the Army (or other services) had no control is plainly ridiculous but during the initial stages of FRES in the early 2000’s it is clear that there was creative tension, organisational friction or downright disagreement between some in the the Army and joint organisations that made the decisions.
That those joint organisations had Army representation is not in dispute but looking at the post holders in Director Equipment Capability (Ground Manoeuvre), the Integrated Project Team and the Joint Doctrine and Concepts Centre it is hard to see many RAC or Cavalry cap badges
Plenty of Gunners, Sappers, Royal Marines, Admirals and Air Vice Marshals though.
I don’t want to over egg this one but equally, there was a period where ‘what FRES was’ meant different things to different people.
If one needed more evidence, look at the terms of reference for the background work completed before Army 2020, emphasising in several places that it was an Army led activity, not something done to the Army, a veiled reference to previous times I think.
Ye cannae change the laws o’ physics *
The creative tension described above ended with DEC(GM) aligning FRES with the technologically risk FCS specification, particularly C130 carriage. To achieve C130 carriage whilst achieving a range of demanding survivability, logistics, sensor, communications and lethality specification points meant adding a significant element of technology risk.
Why the UK aligned FRES so closely with FCS during its early years, despite the intentions of the initial concept, the different UK approach to the centrality of the ‘network’, the likely in service UK airlift fleet and available budgets is not clear, but it happened.
The MoD sought to de-risk some of the technology issues with the ten TDP’s and the influential C130 carriage restriction did change later but introduced unwanted delay and wasted a lot of money.
This is exactly what they mean by ‘a conspiracy of optimism’, risks downplayed whilst benefits emphasised
* With apologies to Star Trek fans everywhere.
Confusion about what FRES actually meant
No doubt many people understood what FRES was but equally without doubt was the widespread confusion inside and outside the Army on the subject of what FRES actually was.
Was it a vehicle replacement programme, was it a new way of waging war, how about a means by which to organise the Army or deliver that dreaded word, effect?
The simple answer was it was all of them but not many people understood it.
This inability to articulate and get people to understand caused many problems and it still probably does.
The FRES medium weight rapid intervention concept is long gone but the name persists. A 40 tonne vehicles is not going to be delivering rapid effects any time soon so the decent thing should have been to cull it entirely and recast FRES as a simple vehicle replacement programme in an organisational that model pretty much the same as when CVR(T) and Saxon were introduced.
An Obsession with Growth Potential
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 meant in service vehicle options were consistently rejected.
But the UK is so very different in its requirements you see.
This stems from a fear of 50 year old vehicle fleets, the feeling seemed to be that the Army was only going to get one shot at delivering FRES (stop laughing) and so it had to be 100% perfect now AND 100% possible of being upgraded to perfect for the next 50 years.
It became a circular self defeating argument, adding growth potential added weight.
Warrior and CVR(T) have grown in weight by significant margins, they were not specified with loads of growth potential and it was certainly not central to the requirement but technology insertion over their lifetime has kept them mostly viable although the term mostly is open for discussion.
The irony is that FRES has continually grown in weight and Scout now sits near its top end weight so before it comes into service, that growth potential has mostly been absorbed.
A Lack of In House Skills
With the loss of the research establishments and a continual haemorrhaging of engineering integration skills the MoD found itself in the position where it simply did not have the technology integration skills to deliver a complex programme like FRES.
Organisational, personnel and programme management deficiencies combined with this lack of engineering capability lead to the FRES acquisition structure, a more complex and wasteful structure it would be hard to imagine.
And yet what other options were there for an MoD devoid of engineering skill?
We might also like to ponder on the disagreement with Atkins who have been proven to be absolutely correct in their estimation of in service dates, at least on current plans.
When the DPA and DE&s are just commissioning managers with the real skills sitting in industry every request will have a project code attached for billing later, every change is chargeable and everyone reverts to arse covering mode instead of partnership and pulling in the same direction.
This is not some rose tinted view of the good old days of men in brown coats but FRES is a clear argument for improving or re-insourcing complex engineering integration skills in the MoD.
Under Fire and Unwilling to Change
The FRES project came under fire from politics, fire which it could not withstand.
Although I tend to characterise FRES as a mostly self inflicted wound for the MoD and Army specifically, politics did have some influence, especially in the UV competition.
The Army stood accused of concentrating on FRES whilst allowing soldiers to die in Snatch Land Rovers and Vectors. That the MoD response to IED’s in Iraq and Afghanistan was tardy is a matter of record but the source of this tardiness less clear.
I do not buy for one minute the quick defence that the Army could not possibly have predicted the level of threat that IED’s posed, history stands in stark defiance.
Robert Gates next war-itis charge accusation was as equally valid for the MoD as it was for the DoD.
FRES and FCS were intended to fight a better Gulf War, the vast majority of scenarios for FCS (and therefore FRES) were based on rapid action against state level adversaries. Extended insurgencies were not considered, this was inexcusable for a British Army steeped in counter insurgency and possessing of world leading expertise in route clearance and IED neutralisation.
When the next war came it confirmed the enduring value of unfashionable heavy combined arms manoeuvre. The follow on phase from this next war was a protracted counter insurgency that made the majority of the outer protection onion skin layers irrelevant.
Faced with this reality, a reality that did not agree with the theory, the MoD decided to address the mismatch by the simple method of ignoring it.
Medium weight rapid intervention was the way we wished to fight and operations in Iraq and Afghanistan were therefore to be ignored.
Like a super tanker, the MoD takes a long time to change course, it is a complex organisation filled with governance systems run by humans, it was not going to change without the application of some external influence. This influence came from Robert Gates in the US, an effective campaign by a number of media outlets, new media commenters and a change of attitude within the Army itself.
When the MoD did change, it changed with speed and purpose, the UOR system delivering much needed protected mobility vehicles that largely transformed operations, particularly in Afghanistan.
This was good news for service personnel but not so good for FRES, poor and rushed decision and compromised activities like the farcical Trials of Truth just contributed to delays and cost increases for little benefit.
The Next War is…
Of course, no one knows but the current incarnation of FRES is predicated on the politically driven need to minimise casualties, especially against IED’s.
SV Scout is certainly a portly gentleman, much heavier and better protected than the legacy vehicles it will replace and the same weight as the heavy vehicles like Warrior is was never supposed to be.
It is very big, very wide and very heavy, a stealthy svelte vehicle that can tip toe across the softest of terrain, most fragile bridge or negotiate the narrowest track it is not, but then neither was TRACER so perhaps the recce advantages of being small and nimble have been eclipsed by the need to survive and the use of technology.
Which brings us on to that technology, SV Scout will certainly be a very advanced system but the lack of an elevating mast does seem to be a large omission given that detailed analysis during TRACER calculated significant survivability benefits for such a mast mounted sensor.
I am not qualified to answer the question of whether SV Scout is too fat for reconnaissance but it is obvious that in terms of deployability and mobility, it is more or less the same as Warrior and Challenger. It will need heavy and specialist transporter vehicles, will be compromised by road and bridge classification next to impossible to deploy by air at any meaningful pace and density.
This leaves a gap at the lighter end where low weight and small dimensions are of greater importance that protection, which looks like it might be filled by.
CVR(T) Mk 2
Despite the comedic potential of a replacement for the 50 odd year old CVR(T) being a newly build CVR(T) perhaps this is not a bad thing, joined by a lightweight wheeled vehicle.
Heavy recce and light recce, is that not what FFLAV concluded?
Don’t be silly!
As for UV, why we just don’t bite the political bullet and buy Boxer, I just don’t know.
Alternatively there is still design expertise in the UK and enough manufacturing capability.
Champagne Tastes Brown Ale Budgets
A charge not specific to FRES but if FRES was aligned to FCS and the well trousered DoD could not afford to realise FCS what chance did we have with FRES.
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