In many armed forces, the role of formation reconnaissance is carried out by heavily armoured vehicles, either Main Battle Tanks or modified infantry combat vehicles actually fighting for information instead of being stealthy. The real stealthy role is often fulfilled by very small wheeled vehicles and there are a number of competing doctrines that dictate the design of such vehicles.
Whatever the underlying doctrine, CVR(T) has performed a wide range of roles in its long career but as it is replaced by FRES SV it might be worth asking what we are going to lose by replacing an 8-11 tonne vehicle with one weighing in at 40 odd tonnes. Most of the discussion on FRES has revolved around what we will be getting rather than what we will be leaving behind.
In 1982 Scimitar and Scorpion played a decisive role in the Falklands Conflict, especially the Battle for Wireless Ridge and they have been successfully used in almost every conflict the British Army has been involved in since it was introduced in the early ’70s. In this operation, they were not specifically used as armoured reconnaissance but as mobile fire support for very light forces.
Having a vehicle that is below the magic 10-tonne mark allows that vehicle to be underslung by a Chinook, carried on a DROPS flat rack, airdropped and carried in multiples by tactical airlift aircraft. It is likely that the C130 will be leaving RAF service in the medium term so looking at the A400, it would be able to carry three such vehicles or a pair of them for long-range flights. Scimitar could also be carried on an ISO flat rack container and its exceptionally low round pressure and narrow width means that it can go places simply denied to other vehicles. Scimitar could also move at serious speed on road surfaces and self deploy without the use of a flatbed truck.
Looking at FRES SV and comparing;
DROPS/Standard Truck, NO
Deploying even short distances will require a Heavy Equipment Transporter, of which we have a mere 79 of and they are operated as a PFI.
What about gap crossing?
At 8-11 tonnes CVR(T) can use a wide variety of existing bridges, FRES Scout will be limited in the bridges it can use. The Air Portable Ferry Bridge, at Class 35, will be out of bounds, as will the Class 30 Trackway.
One has to ask if the decision to go from 10 to 40 tonnes has really been thought out in the context of strategic mobility.
To see how much this degrades usability simply look at a couple of scenarios and calculate how many CVR(T) versus FRES Scout can be delivered to an airhead in a given period of time.
Using an A400, zero for FRES and 3 CVR(T) on a single flight
Using a C17, 1 for FRES and 10 for CVR(T) on a single flight
One might argue that we do not intend on deploying armoured vehicles by air, that a large vehicle is needed for survivability or that 1 FRES is worth many CVR(T) and these are all valid points, but the difference is stark.
It gets even worse when deploying from a port to the area of operations, at a push CVR(T) could self deploy i.e. drive there itself or failing that be transported on the back of almost any military or civilian truck. With FRES we either have to wait for one of the very small numbers of HET’s we/KBR have or try and find civilian low loaders that can handle 40 tonne plus loads without a special dispensation or ‘heavy load’ restrictions. It is probably fair to say that low loaders like HET’s operate at crawling speed in comparison with standard trucks.
Whilst in the area of operations we could in some circumstances, airlift CVR(T) as an underslung load by Chinook or even airdrop them to support light forces and carry outflanking, envelopment, interdiction or deep strike operations. When engaged in amphibious operations a Chinook operating from HMS Ocean would be able to move CVR(T) inland instead of having to rely on our limited number of LCU’s.
None of these will be possible with FRES SV and in a strategic deployment context, I am struggling with the Rapid part of Rapid Effects.
The ‘answer’ to these mobility challenges seems to be defaulting towards Jackal because that is what we have been using in Afghanistan. Jackal is no doubt an excellent vehicle but is open-topped, vulnerable to small arms fire and shell fragments, has no NBC protection, has limited firepower, limited sensors (even the Gucci ones with mast-mounted surveillance systems) and in soft terrains like mud or snow also has limited mobility when compared with the 40-year-old CVR(T)
Going back to the first question, do we really need such a lightweight and multi-role vehicle, what is the underlying doctrine and mission requirements?
If the answer to these questions is yes and we need a vehicle that is sub 10 tonnes, has a reasonable level of protection, firepower and mobility then what can meet those requirements.
The elephant in the room is IED protection, CVR(T) is very vulnerable and this is a large part of the decision to ‘go heavy’
I suppose the most obvious answer is CVR(T), perhaps a development rather than a few re-manufactured hulls using the latest in lightweight armour and propulsion systems. This doesn’t address the IED issue though.
If not that then, how about a Think Defence hair brain scheme?
Take the front hull of a Viking and replace the body with a V-shaped 2 seat crew pod, arranged in tandem like Apache. Fit a remote weapon station and mast-mounted sensor pod. The weapon station could use anything from an HMG to a 30mm ATK 30mm cannon or the Lightweight Modular Missile. This would still come in at sub ten tonnes, be amphibious and highly mobile in both a tactical and strategic context. I have conveniently forgotten the transmission tunnel but come on, these are just ‘details’
If not that, are there any designs available off the shelf that can match the sublime blend of mobility, protection and firepower that is CVR(T)
The German Wiesel is an interesting class of vehicles, Sven might be able to shed some light on their deployment to Afghanistan whilst they are incredibly mobile, perhaps too small to be survivable in the age of the IED.
I still think there is a need for small and highly mobile vehicles that can support a wide range of missions and provide something better than wheeled vehicles but as I said, the elephant in the room is the IED, maybe it’s just not feasible.