The Future of the British Army 07 – ISTAR and Formation Reconnaissance (02) A Sensible Future


In the previous post I looked at a few issues that might influence equipment and structure decisions. Do we employ stealth or fight for information, have organic or non-organic reconnaissance units and what is the relative importance of secondary roles that reconnaissance units tend to get used for.

If the answer to the first question is to use stealth then this will result in a completely different set of equipment than if we chose the fight for information route. The resulting equipment will also likely be used for secondary roles, probably more often than a pure reconnaissance, so the answer to question one is even more important.

The problem here is that often, the ‘model answer’ for one question results in an unacceptable compromise for another.

If we attempt a one size fits all approach we inevitably overcomplicate matters by trying to meet diametrically opposed requirements, this drives price up which inevitably reduces quantities. The time taken to come to a conclusion drags out the process, making it vulnerable to the latest military trend and that is before we start the process of taking pen to paper.

Welcome to the wonderful world of FRES, where a C130 transportable vehicle would have the protection of CR2 and cost the same as a Land Rover.

I am of the opinion that until someone invents anti-gravity plasma drives we cannot produce a single vehicle that does it all and must therefore accept the very simple notion that a single vehicle cannot possibly meet every single requirement.

As much as I think CVR(T) is a brilliantly executed concept that has proven itself time and time again, the FRES Scout approach is more relevant for many situations. I do not, however, think the CVR(T)’s a combination of tactical and strategic mobility be discarded so lightly if only we had those plasma antigrav generators.

The answer to this conundrum is simple; accept there exists a need for a range of vehicles with varying levels of mobility and protection that be deployed as the situation dictates.

To repeat a phrase from an earlier post;

One job, one tool

To carry out effective reconnaissance we need everything from a shanks pony to a Challenger tank and to carry out those all-important secondary roles we need an equally diverse range of equipment.

The arguments about fighting or sneaking become irrelevant, because you need to do both, is this unrealistic in light of fiscal constraint, arguably, yes. But as with all the ‘future of’ posts I have tried to shift the funding levers to reduce some capability areas to free up funding for others.

This is one of the ‘others’

Despite the complete discrediting of the FCS/FRES/RMA PowerPoint fest about information being a substitute for old fashioned concepts of combat effectiveness the impact of timely information and the rapid dissemination of usable information should not be underestimated.

ISTAR is an area where we can leverage our technological superiority at the expense of personnel numbers where continuing cost pressures will drive them down.

A Sensible Approach

If we look at the current approach it is entirely logical.

FRES Specialist Vehicle will create a family of vehicles based on an Infantry Combat Vehicle, the GD ASCOD2. Protected mobility, scout, repair, recovery, command, ambulance variants are planned with bridge laying and a direct fire variant using a common base vehicle.

These will replace CVR(T) and some FV432’s although the final makeup and distribution of variants amongst the planned Multi-Role Brigades is still a ‘work in progress and therefore anyone’s guess.

Because of several decades of frankly scandalous incompetence we have found ourselves in a position where instead of an innovative vehicle industry that could create a decent vehicle with export potential we have had to settle for a gold plated version of an in-service foreign vehicle that first started trials 20 years ago.

By 2017 when the first FRES SV comes into service the base vehicle will be a quarter of a century old.

£500 million will buy us 7 prototypes which whilst I understand things are expensive it is still difficult to comprehend, no matter how clever GVA and CIDS are, how the concept phase will cost this much.

FRES Scout is in many ways a conservative design, technologically mature concepts throughout. Whilst TRACER was proposing hybrid electric drives, survivable crew capsules, remote main weapon, acoustic sensors, band tracks and silent running FRES Scout will be conventional in almost all aspects.

Whilst the electronic architecture will be modern, reflecting the current norms of the automotive industry, it will feature conventional tracks, a diesel engine, a flat bottomed hull, a conventional layout and a manned turret. TRACER took an innovative approach to crew survivability, the three sitting in a single capsule with the driver at the front on the centreline. ASCOD has the driver over to one side, near the tracks.

Reading the tea leaves and having a wild stab in the dark the FRES SV will eventually replace CVR(T) and some FV430’s. Eventually, they will also replace Warrior so we will end up with a pretty common vehicle fleet.

To keep the short term costs down Warrior will be retained but have a very similar set of overall characteristics to FRES so the direction of travel should be obvious.

At the lighter end of the weight scale, the new build Spartan/Scimitar hybrid will continue to provide a tactically and strategically mobile light armour support capability for 3CDO and 16AAB, supplemented by various combinations of Jackal, Foxhound, Viking and even Bronco until the promised land of FF2020 extra money comes up with something new, maybe based on OUVS.

Who knows

So a sensible future might just be exactly what it is planned.

Of course, budget pressures may result in the complete cancellation of the FRES programme (this has been signalled in various rumours in the press) and if this happens I would expect to see Warrior and CVR(T) continuing their double act. The Warrior upgrade programme and purchasing a few CVR(T) Mk2 may well be the accepted alternative.

In the next post, I am going to look at a less than sensible future, which I actually think makes more sense!

The Future of the British Army Series…

The Future of the British Army 01 – Scene Setting

The Future of the British Army 02 – Tasks and Capabilities

The Future of the British Army 03 – Rank and Size

The Future of the British Army 04 – Structures

The Future of the British Army 05 – Heavy Metal

The Future of the British Army 06 – ISTAR and Formation Reconnaissance (01)

The Future of the British Army 07 – ISTAR and Formation Reconnaissance (02) A Sensible Future

Supporting Articles

The Need to Rethink FRES

A Brief History of FRES

Medium Armour – what is it, and what does it mean for the post 2020 force structure?

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