FRES – What Might Have Been

We have covered FRES in much painful detail but one of the notable ‘le grande cock ups’ was the UK’s decision to invest in the MRAP programme, then pull out after investing hundreds of millions and finally to put the resultant vehicle (Artec Boxer) through the subsequent FRES Utility Variant (trials of truth)

Of course it wasn’t selected, it wasn’t quite exactly what we wanted, there were no ex senior civil servants and officers working for Artec and the usual reasons for not selecting something that actually delivers a reasonable capability at a reasonable cost in a reasonable time frame came out in full force.

One of the nations that stuck the course with MRAV, Germany, has in last few weeks transported 4 Boxers to Afghanistan, ready for a deployment in August

Whether you agree with the concept or design is not relevant to this discussion but the fact that we are still farting around with FRES whilst others defined their requirements and stuck with them should be a lesson on how to develop vehicles.

We used to be good at this stuff as well

28 Comments
Oldest
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Pete Arundel
Pete Arundel
July 29, 2011 11:51 am

I’m not sure about Boxer – or, indeed, any of these 8×8 vehicles.

They’re hugely complicated, hugely expensive and, well, just plain HUGE.

Now I know that they are designed with much more thought put into mine protection, crew comfort and safety than previous vehicles but the Boxer, for example, carries three crew and eight dismounts.

An M113 carries two crew and eleven dismounts whilst being almost half the length and less than half the weight. OK, it’s comparing apples and oranges to a degree, but I do wonder if a modern, tracked APC would be any more expensive to design, build and operate than a modern 8×8 vehicle with it’s complex transmission, steering and tyre pressure regulation system.

A tracked vehicle would almost certainly be more compact even if it was designed to the same protection level as Boxer.

I’m not anti-wheels and honestly believe that for FRES-UV they are probably the right choice but as Jed suggested ( in his article here; https://www.thinkdefence.co.uk/2011/07/fres-uv-%E2%80%93-a-modest-proposal-for-a-family-of-%E2%80%9Cprotected-utility-vehicles%E2%80%9D/ ) a simpler vehicle than Boxer would be better value.

Nigel
Nigel
July 29, 2011 12:53 pm

Pete…. I think you might have missed the point that was being made in this piece. As the article is at pains to point out – “Whether you agree with the concept or design is not relevant to this discussion but the fact that we are still farting around with FRES whilst others defined their requirements and stuck with them should be a lesson on how to develop vehicles….”

To the point you make around wondering whether a modern tracked APC would be any more expensive…. Well the Germans have also developed the Puma (an IFV I grant you, but nevertheless the most modern tracked equivalent in the world) in parallel with the Boxer…. Total cost per copy is currently coming in at 3.5 times that for the Boxer and you can bet that support costs will be at least double….

ArmChairCivvy
ArmChairCivvy
July 29, 2011 3:21 pm

RE “Total cost per copy is currently coming in at 3.5 times that for the Boxer and you can bet that support costs will be at least double”
– somewhere I read that a Puma is close to 4 £m, so a Boxer then at about 1 £m? Need about 100 per bn, 5 bn’s and some (if any)TA – call it half a bn upfront
– FRES Scout and related versions; need fewer than above, but at a higher unit cost. Another half billion?

When everything that is already on the books (and not ripe for the tip) is allocated, what is this rebrigadeing into MRB’s actually going to cost?
– concentrating several of them to around Edinburgh and East England areas will help to share training grounds (and there is a lot of Defence Estate to dispose, to pay for any investment of this kind; effectively a swap)

Phil Darley
July 29, 2011 5:07 pm

The thing is

A. We subsidised the Boxer development
B. As we didn’t buy any the unit cost gas increased
C. We ended up spending a fortune on UORs that resulted in vehicles that are only really suitable for a limited use, whereas Boxer can be used for both COIN, Peace Keeping and high end war fighting
D. We would have provided work for UK companies and thus could gave led to more export orders for traditional UK defence customers

Pete Arundel
Pete Arundel
July 30, 2011 3:01 am

I didn’t miss the point. Honestly. I wasn’t commenting on the article but on the Boxer itself.

An APC is a box on wheels – or tracks. Protected mobility. Boxer, I believe, won’t make a good fighting vehicle and it’s an expensive, complicated a bloody enormous armoured taxi.

At forty-odd tons I would expect Puma to be closer to an MBT when comes to running costs than a tracked APC such as a 432, M113 or even Warrior – mind you, I have absolutely no way of ind out how much it costs to run a modern AFV of any type . . .

Tony Williams
Tony Williams
July 31, 2011 10:52 am

It is certainly true that the MoD has for decades been remarkably persistent in pouring vast sums of money into one AFV scheme after another without having anything in service to show for it. At the very least this demonstrates an inability to form and maintain a consistent view of what is required.

To be fair, as we have lurched into one conflict after another, priorities have changed, sometimes in quite radical ways, as a result of experience. So it doesn’t necessarily follow that consistently following though an original concept to production and service would have given us what we now need. Neither is it clear that what we think we need now is necessarily what we will need the next time our troops go into battle. Which makes the re-equipment task difficult indeed.

Boxer and Puma are both highly specified and state of the art. I presume that they are therefore likely to be the most expensive vehicles in their respective classes. As well as the heaviest, and therefore the most difficult to transport. Is this really what we need? I’m not in the best position to judge (but then, is anybody?).

I suppose if I had the thankless task of specifying future AFVs (which might sound like fun, but just wait until everyone who disagrees – and there will be many – get their knives out) then I would follow a few principles:

1. Select a very few basic chassis, using readily available components, and produce variants of them to cover the functions required, even if not every one may be optimal for the task.

2. Design them to have some weight/space capacity for the inevitable upgrades during their service lives.

3. Build in a decent level of basic protection against IEDs, mines and AP ammo, with scope for adding more.

The last of these is mostly the result of Iraq and Afghan experience (and has of course resulted in huge increases in the weight of vehicles) but the first two should be common sense anyway. So I do think that with more consistent and focused planning, the MoD should by now have got into service families of light AFVs which, although maybe not ideal, would have been the 70-80% solution which would have sufficed.

In particular, rather than always going for new designs, I would have taken a long, hard look at the scope for upgrading existing stock. For instance, given that Warrior is considered a satisfactory basis for an upgrade to keep it in service for the next 20 years, and that the chosen FRES SV vehicle is remarkably similar in its basic specification, why couldn’t the Warrior have been upgraded and equipped to do that job?

Jed
Jed
August 1, 2011 1:36 am

Tony said: “For instance, given that Warrior is considered a satisfactory basis for an upgrade to keep it in service for the next 20 years, and that the chosen FRES SV vehicle is remarkably similar in its basic specification, why couldn’t the Warrior have been upgraded and equipped to do that job?”

Tony your not the first to ask that question in numerous comment threads on this blog, and the answer is extremely simple: Numbers.

Even if we upgraded every Warrior ever built, that is still in existence, it would not provide enough to fulfill the requirement. And as Warrior is long out of production, building new ones does not seem to be an option either.

Chris.B.
August 1, 2011 2:06 am

Maybe it’s just me being odd (or the 2am wake up Tesco value coffee), but my plan for FRES would roll something like this;

Stage 1 – Identify all the potential vehicles in service (with our forces or someone elses) that could fill the scout role.

Stage 2 – Identify all the potential vehicles in service (as or others) that could fill the troop carrying + variants idea (CV90, Puma, Boxer, VBCI etc)

Stage 3 – Build a team consisting of officers and NCO’s with experience of driving and operating these kind of vehicles, both here, on exercises and in Afghan/Iraq, plus a few bods who know a thing or two about money and growth etc.

Stage 4 – Allow said team from Stage 3 to test the living Sh*t out of the prototypes in whatever manner they feel is best suited, with some gentle nudging to include tests involving driving with full armour packages etc.

Stage 5 – Select clear winner.

Stage 6 – Bloody well just get on and start building it.

ArmChairCivvy
ArmChairCivvy
August 1, 2011 2:14 am

Hi Jed,

Wiki says “A total of 789 FV510 and variants were manufactured for the British Army”

Now we have only 350+ that are deemed good enough for the upgrade (more of them for the new electronic architecture than the – on top of that – gun-on-the-move further upgrade).

I am sure you are right, just that 50% attrition seems quite high?

Tony Williams
Tony Williams
August 1, 2011 7:00 am

Jed, given that the number of Warriors to be upgraded seems to be shrinking fast, as ACC said, and so is the number of FRES SV to be acquired, the numbers probably add up by now.

Even if that weren’t the case, manufacturing some new hulls for the Warrior would surely be a lot cheaper than acquiring a brand new vehicle, as well as saving on future maintenance etc.

Gabriele
Gabriele
August 1, 2011 9:22 am

“manufacturing some new hulls for the Warrior would surely be a lot cheaper than acquiring a brand new vehicle, as well as saving on future maintenance etc.”

Almost certainly no.
Producing new Warrior hulls would be a lot more expensive than building ASCOD hulls. The ASCOD production line is open and still hot.
The Warrior line is long dead, and you’d have to rebuild it out of thin air, like the Warrior was a new vehicle never before produced.

The MOD did consider upgrading the Warrior for the FRES Scout role, but numbers and cost and other factors did not compare favorably at all with going with another vehicle.

Tony Williams
Tony Williams
August 1, 2011 11:34 am

“Producing new Warrior hulls would be a lot more expensive than building ASCOD hulls. The ASCOD production line is open and still hot.”

Well, we would have had that £500 million to play with to start with…and then continuing savings through commonality of training, spares and maintenance.

Anyway, I thought we were supposed to be getting a highly modified version of ASCOD, essentially a new vehicle?

Mike W
August 1, 2011 3:23 pm

@Tony Williams,

While my preference would probably be, like yours, to use upgraded Warriors instead of FRES SV (it would be cheaper if feasible), I am sure that Jed is right in his assertion that “the answer is extremely simple: Numbers.”

Remember that the upgraded Warriors would have to do the reconnaissance job in Formation Recce regiments (5 of these?) as well as continue with their role in Armoured Infantry regiments (5 of those too?) I think that the Recce regiments would probably need over 70 vehicles each at the very least. Not only Scimitars would need to be replaced but also Spartans, Sultans, Samsons, etc. So 5 x 70 =350.

Then there are the armoured Infantry Infantry battalions. To the best of my recollection, each of those used to employ 57 Warriors. So, 5 x 57 = 285.

In other words the total number of vehicles between the two roles would be approaching 600. Is it really feasible to provide such numbers by simply using Warriors? A second vehicle is needed, I’m afraid, unless the new hybrid Scimitar/Spartan vehicle is produced in large numbers for reconnaissance. I have probably been talking a lot of bilge about possible numbers (and others must put me right if I am sadly out) but I don’t think the Warrior can fill all the requirements.

@ Chris.B. Love the ideas. Brilliant. They’ll never do it, though. Too sensible!

Tony Williams
Tony Williams
August 1, 2011 3:35 pm

Mike, the numbers of AFVs which will survive in service simply aren’t known, and won’t be until the next round of cuts appears next month. All we can say, with reasonable confidence, is that they seem likely to be a heck of a lot less than have been assumed recently, which in turn are a heck of a lot less than were originally planned.

What may be significant is that the most recent MoD statement, which identified those major projects which WILL be going ahead despite the new round of cuts, mentioned the Warrior improvement but did NOT mention FRES SV. This is what I posted on another thread here, a week ago:

“The news in today’s Jane’s Defence Weekly is that a “fully funded and balanced 10-year equipment plan” will be published by September. Final details are still under review, but it has been announced that several major projects will go ahead. These are:

– additional CH-47 Chinook helos

– RC-135 Rivet Joint aircraft

– development of Global Combat Ship (Type 26 frigate)

– initial spending on the F-35

– installation of cat+trap on one carrier

– upgrade to Warrior IFV

So the WCSP has survived – but no mention (so far) of FRES SV. Probably a sensible choice – get the most out of what we have, and maybe install some of the FRES recce equipment in some Warriors.”

ArmChairCivvy
ArmChairCivvy
August 1, 2011 3:43 pm

Hi Mike W,

I am just doing the “ball park” numbers (like you) with no real knowledge of “usable” inventory.

350+285= 635 (not even trying to stretch to all specialist versions)

Recce +AI that is, put in Warthog at about hundred (in my books for AI, even though we had a v interesting discussion around recce use of it) :
635 -100 = 535; suddenly it looks doable
– even with the 285 early ASCOD delivery (Frenchie did not mention the source/ its vintage)
– small number of Spartan/ Scimitar new-builds in AAB
– Warrior as IFV and knocking out all the earlier generation FVs (plus the Warthogs making up the numbers for 5 AI bn’s)

Unknowns
– ASCOD other than the pure Scout; wait to 2024 now? FRES UV slotted in between ASCOD deliveries?
– need for Warriors to cover the gap in protected mobility as part of recce formations (in the interim)
– transformation of artillery:
— SPG (heavy) to towed light,then to protected and not so light on wheels
— same for the GLMRS (from heavy and on tracks, to wheels)
— keeping enough of heavy ( both G & R) by moving them to TA Rgmnts?

ArmChairCivvy
ArmChairCivvy
August 1, 2011 3:48 pm

Agreed “So the WCSP has survived – but no mention (so far) of FRES SV. Probably a sensible choice – get the most out of what we have, and maybe install some of the FRES recce equipment in some Warriors.”
– and push re-brigading out to 2024?

Otherwise the trade-off between cutting manpower and cancelling procurements is just too sharp, and will produce an unworkable end result (either way)?

Mike W
August 1, 2011 6:10 pm

@Tony Williams

“Mike, the numbers of AFVs which will survive in service simply aren’t known, and won’t be until the next round of cuts appears next month. All we can say, with reasonable confidence, is that they seem likely to be a heck of a lot less than have been assumed recently, which in turn are a heck of a lot less than were originally planned.”

Tony, I hope that you are wrong. Surely, if we are to have 5 Multi-Role Brigades, each with a battalion of Armoured Infantry, the vehicle figures cannot go much below those I have suggested. What are we going to do? Run Armoured Infantry on two companies, or even one, of Warriors per battalion? You might as well do without the name “battalion” at all, perhaps even do without Armoured Infantry, full stop.

As to your other point: “What may be significant is that the most recent MoD statement, which identified those major projects which WILL be going ahead despite the new round of cuts, mentioned the Warrior improvement but did NOT mention FRES SV.”, I don’t think that the non-mention necessarily sounds the death knell of FRES SV.

Other equipments were mentioned in the SDSR but did not merit a mention in the most recent MOD statement: e.g. loitering munitions (Fire Shadow? C-RAM, Terrier, more anti-IED equipment, new EW equipment, etc. etc.) Does the fact that those were not mentioned in the recent statement mean that they have all been cancelled? Actually, while typing this, I have become fearful that you might be right! I hope not, for the future of the British Army!

@ArmChairCivvy

“need for Warriors to cover the gap in protected mobility as part of recce formations (in the interim)”

That’s the bit that really worries me. By my arithmetic, there can’t be enough Warriors, can there, even with your suggestion of employing Warthog as AI? The last suggestion would require a new buy, as we only have approx. 100 Warthogs and some of those will be clapped out after another three years of Afghan slog. Anyway, I think that Warthog is more suited to Mechanised than Armoured Infantry.

As to your suggestion of putting heavy artillery with the TA, I have my doubts but the prospect of manning such equipment would certainly bring in the recruits.

Monty
August 1, 2011 11:19 pm

Sorry to join this debate so late. Alas, my hols have taken me to a place without an internet connection.

TD, I agree: you have to admire the Germans when it comes to AFV procurement. They do tend to do an excellent job. The Boxer isn’t the best design out there, but it is certainly adequate and gets the job done. The Bundeswehr seems confident that it is more mobile and better protected than the US Striker while it possesses a worthwhile capacity for future upgrades, not least because of its modular design.

Industry has learnt much about 8 x 8 development through this and other programmes. General Dynamics ongoing upgrades to the Piranha series have see the original version evolve into a highly capable combat vehicle, which some British Army officers believe is now better than the Boxer. With newer or evolved designs, we’re seeing much better packaging of the drivetrain and suspension components. The ability of some 8x8s to run on just four wheels means that the need for armour protection may have been overstated in earlier designs: why protect components that can be easily replaced? Clever design is reducing the amount of protection needed around the axles and thus the overall weight of the vehicle.

Two reasons why the UK pulled out of the MRAV programme were concerns about weight and size. The Boxer is an enormous vehicle. It was only used in the trials of truth as a benchmark. The competing Piranha IV, even before it morphed into what would have been Piranha V, was considered to be a better vehicle. I don’t know, but am beginning to suspect that the UK’s failure to field a FRES UV had more to do with the state-of-the-art than incompetence. We realised that the species would evolve and become considerably cheaper, more reliable and more capable in the 10 years since 2000.

Today the main reason to have 8x8s is strategic mobility with an acceptable level of protection. This isn’t just about deployment in Afghanistan or other War on Terror hotspots that may require British troops to act as self-appointed global policemen, but deploying rapidly across Europe should a direct threat appear to our own security. Whatever scenarios we plan for, there is a realisation that such vehicles must have decent cross-country mobility as well as on-road reliability. Achieving these requirements in a design that isn’t too complex or expensive or massive is desirable but difficult. What I like about newer designs or evolutions of existing 8x8s, such as BAE Systems RG41, is that they are better thought-out.

It is also about choice. With a much greater choice of more or less equivalent designs, we can force down the price. So, I think we will get a very good FRES UV in time.

Tony Williams
Tony Williams
August 2, 2011 3:13 am

Mike: “As to your other point: “What may be significant is that the most recent MoD statement, which identified those major projects which WILL be going ahead despite the new round of cuts, mentioned the Warrior improvement but did NOT mention FRES SV.”, I don’t think that the non-mention necessarily sounds the death knell of FRES SV.

Other equipments were mentioned in the SDSR but did not merit a mention in the most recent MOD statement: e.g. loitering munitions (Fire Shadow? C-RAM, Terrier, more anti-IED equipment, new EW equipment, etc. etc.) Does the fact that those were not mentioned in the recent statement mean that they have all been cancelled? Actually, while typing this, I have become fearful that you might be right! I hope not, for the future of the British Army!”

You are right, the list of projects I quoted is merely an interim one (and was only concerned with the major equipment items, not things like anti-IED kit). However, the fact that the Warrior was included in the list but FRES SV was not says something about the MoD’s priorities.

Curious, really, since the last time that such items were discussed by MoD, a few months ago, the WCSP had been put on hold for a few years while the FRES SV was to go ahead. It seems that the MoD is being consistent where AFVs are concerned in having a chronic inability to make their minds up!

Mike W
August 2, 2011 11:48 am

Monty,

It’s interesting to learn that some British Army officers believe the Piranha is now better than the Boxer. I would very much like to see an 8 x 8 vehicle in British service, one which has “decent cross-country mobility as well as on-road reliability” and it might very well be that we shall eventually “get a very good FRES UV in time”. However, unless the planned 8 x 8 is shown to perform well in COIN warfare i.e. have good protection against IEDs etc, then I feel that at least some money should be spent on a “crossover”, dual purpose vehicle such as the RG35, suitable for COIN as well as high intensity war.

Regarding your point that “the UK’s failure to field a FRES UV had more to do with the state-of-the-art than incompetence. We realised that the species would evolve and become considerably cheaper, more reliable”. That is only true in part, I think. I believe there was a third factor, one that played a greater part than either of these and that is the inconsistency of Government funding. The Government vacillating on many occasions between suggesting that money was available for the project and suddenly withdrawing it, meant that the MOD/Procurement Agency/ the Army, etc. often did not know where the hell they were. Still, to know that, because of the time lapse, we might be eventually (2025?) getting something better is consoling.

jedibeeftrix
jedibeeftrix
August 2, 2011 12:13 pm

@ Monty

Just been looking at the RG41 datasheet and it looks to be a very interesting vehicle!

I’d like to see some further explanation for the following quote:

“The RG41 has a high payload capacity, a class-
leading turning circle, good power-to-weight ratio
and a unique hull design.”

How much better is its turning circle?
What makes its hull design unique?

Regards

JBT

andyw
andyw
August 2, 2011 2:38 pm

Hi Jedi,

BAE have a web page on the RG41…

http://www.baesystems.com/Sites/IDEX/Products/RG41/index.htm

The fact sheet (pdf link on the right) says the turning circle is 19m kerb to kerb. The hull is unique because…

“The vehicle’s unique design also means that it is easy to maintain and repair in the field. The lower hull structure of the RG41 consists of five modular units joined together and bolted under the top structure of the vehicle. Any damaged modules can easily be removed and replaced individually with pre-fabricated replacement sections, saving both time and money.”

jedibeeftrix
jedibeeftrix
August 2, 2011 3:40 pm

and it has a semi-v shaped hull, i like.

how much does one cost compared to a pirahna V or the south african thingy?

andyw
andyw
August 2, 2011 3:46 pm

I haven’t seen any prices mentioned anywhere, I don’t think they’ve actually sold any yet!

ArmChairCivvy
ArmChairCivvy
August 2, 2011 3:59 pm

Aren’t the RGs “[or] the south african thingy”?
– ever so refined since the ’70s bush wars?

When the competition to replace the “old stuff” was resolved, it gave:
South African , locally produced version of Patria AMV, which Wiki details as follows:
“264 units. Designated Badger.[17] There will be five versions: a standard infantry carrier, a command car, fire support variant, mortar carrier and tank hunter.[18]”

Has RG been entered to bids elsewhere?

ArmChairCivvy
ArmChairCivvy
August 2, 2011 4:04 pm

Prices… I wish I knew

– Gabby’s number (programmme divided by units ordered so far was scary) as for Italy
– Stryker, once through the first year of LRIP, saw unit price halved subsequently
– there is nothing wrong doing 350 Warriors (they exist), may be throw another 250 of Desert Warriors into the pot, all good and well
– but doing a whole new vehicle for 270 or even multiples of it is a fool’s game (as for the unit cost, saying nothing of the capability. But in the end the latter will have to be divided by the former, and the resulting “co-efficient” will come under scrutiny)

Dave
Dave
August 2, 2011 8:55 pm

We missed a trick with the SEP

A range of vehicles – tracked, 6×6, and 8×8 – with conventional or electric drive variants and a significant order from the British Army would have a created quite possibly a world leader in this market based on the success of the CV90 and the lessons that could have been incorporated.

Monty
August 2, 2011 10:40 pm

While the RG41 is an undoubtedly interesting vehicle with a number of useful developments. New lightweight armour protection technologies are moving towards production. This will provide a step-up in IED protection without compromising mobility or cross-country performance.

Two significant recent developments are spall liners and suspended seating which impede blast transfer. Angled floors and blast deflector plates also provide added protection. While maximum IED protection is desirable, the more we protect our vehicles, the larger our enemies will make their IEDs. Even Canadian Leopard tanks have been upended by gigantic devices.

While Piranha V was the benchmark design in 2007, technology has moved on. General Dynamics Piranha VI when it sees the light of day should be another leap forward. Interestingly, the highly innovative suspension technology from the Ocelot (Foxhound) vehicle is scalable.

Mike W: you make a very good point. The Army and MoD were royally screwed around by the Government concerning the availability of funds.

As things stand, I believe we should gain clarity by 2015 on exactly what we want the FRES UV family to be. No Army is sure what capabilities can realistically be designed into these vehicles or how to use these vehicles now and when new capabilities become feasible. They are not wheeled AIFVS or tanks, but they can go off-road and can defend themselves against tanks.

The way I see it, they should be used deliver dismounted infantry as close to the enemy as possible so that the infantry can close with and neutralise enemy threats on foot. Such vehicles should obviously be able to provide supporting firepower, both directly and indirectly.

I also go back to the most important realisation of modern warfare: terrorist insurgents are no respecters of traditional battle lines. Once you leave the intimate safety of your Camp Bastion you are a target.