The Future of the British Army 08 – ISTAR and Formation Reconnaissance (03) A Not So Sensible Future


If we cast our gaze back to the Future Family of Light Armoured Vehicles (FFLAV) study that ultimately spawned TRACER and MRAV it is as relevant today as it was then.

It came to the conclusion that what was needed was a three-tier vehicle fleet

As per the previous post, a sensible solution is to make do with what we have and existing plans, that is a combination of ASCOD2, Jackal, Foxhound and a small number of new build CVR(T) but where would be the bloody fun in that!

Roles and Requirements

The form must follow function but form might also dictate function.

In the previous post, I listed the roles and responsibilities of formation reconnaissance (the list from Sven) so depending on the formation that is being served, the vehicle and its associated systems, technologies and personnel must match its needs.

Lighter units whose ability to move rapidly may have different needs to others and the secondary roles may take on greater importance. A light armoured vehicle may be compromised when acting in support of an armoured brigade but might be just the ticket for a light role rapid reaction force.

With FRES SV and Protected Patrol Vehicles like Mastiff, we have become increasingly ‘weightier’ and this will inevitably have an impact on operational tempo and agility around the battlespace. If all we think we will be doing is counter-insurgency and peace enforcement type operations then this might not be all that bad but losing agility means predictability and that is never a good thing.

The ability to quickly move a light force, equipped with a modest degree of protection/firepower, is still a capability we should strive for and enhance. Whether this is airdropping or more likely by helicopter is to some extent, detail. In the teeth of increasingly competent air defence systems, this might seem an anachronism but mobility and agility allow one to advance from unpredictable locations, cut forces off and apply decisive combat power to rear areas for example.

This means that some equipment has to fit in the payload and space envelope of helicopters and aircraft.

The underlying theme is the maintenance of a range of vehicle types/weights that can perform the primary role of reconnaissance and the plethora of secondary ‘light armour’ roles that always seem to be needed more than the former.

Issues – Mobility and Transportability

Accepting the premise that the overwhelmingly vast majority of fixtures will away match the issue of transportability becomes relevant and when engaged in operations, mobility around the battlefield is an obviously important characteristic for any vehicle


Getting to the point of entry is arguably the easiest to tackle and the majority of the time it will be via a combination rail, sea, and possibly, air.

Rail; for most vehicles, the limitations placed on rail travel are not considerable although the weight of main battle tanks usually requires heavy-duty flatbed wagons. Unless operations are to be conducted in Europe rail transportation of vehicles is unlikely, even though the British Army operate rail transportation systems in Germany and Canada with specialists from The Royal Logistic Corps and the Royal Engineers.

Air; when discussing vehicles most people tend to dismiss air transportability as a secondary consideration, arguing that if a vehicle is going to be operating alongside heavy armoured forces there is very little point in moving them expensively by air where they will sit and wait until the big fellas arrive. There is much common sense in the position but there are certain limited circumstances where deploying by air a modest armoured force can be decisive. Rapid intervention with light forces, reinforced with light/medium armour, can be very effective. The original FRES concept was predicated on moving a medium weight intervention force by air direct to theatre by air. As we all know this was flawed in many aspects not least the amount of aircraft required but there is still some value in the concept and the weight limitations of available aircraft should be considered when designing equipment.

For the UK, those relevant aircraft are the A400, C17 and occasionally chartered Antonov 124’s.

The C17 can lift about 70 tonnes and whilst the UK has never transported Challenger 2 by C17 other nations have done so with their main battle tanks, the capability is proven even if we don’t practice it. It’s not generally recommended though and certainly not a practical exercise for austere locations. Vehicles between 20 and 40 tonnes could be carried comfortably and the UK has transported Warrior vehicles to Afghanistan using C17’s. In pitching a vehicle at the 20-30 tonne level, 2 are transportable per C17 or at a much lighter weight and depending on dimensions; up to 6 may be transported.

The A400 has yet to fully demonstrate a maximum load but the UK requirement is for 30 tonnes and the A400 website lists a maximum of 37 tonnes. Payload inevitably impacts on the range and the same website lists a strategically significant range of 2,450nm at 30 tonnes and 3,450nm at 20 tonnes. The ability to move such payloads at range is one of the significant performance features of the A400, even if it will be a concrete runway to a concrete runway for most of the time.

A vehicle with a weight of 15 tonnes means 2 at a time or 30 tonnes means one in an A400 or 2 in a C17, there are a number of combinations that can be tried.

To fit into an A400 and C17, the width of a vehicle needs to be less than 4m wide and 3.85m high.

Sea; the most common form of getting to the theatre will be by the sea, at least for any sustained or operation excluding the light role rapid reaction units. Whether by civilian ships, the Point class RORO PFI or amphibious shipping the main limitation is vehicle length and availability of ports and offload facilities. By using RORO ships heavy equipment can be driven straight off a boat and onto waiting for road or rail transport for movement to the area of operation.

Using ISO container flatracks to move vehicles removes reliance on RORO vessels or RORO port handling facilities and allows a deployment to take advantage of the global ISO container logistics system, ISO flatracks can utilise widely used lighterage and barge systems to move inshore.

The value of this should not be underestimated.

Standard intermodal flatrack usage would tend to restrain width to 2.3m. Length of a single TEU is about 6m and a weight limit of 30 odd tonnes. Height is also about 2.2m but this is less critical as they can be double stacked.

Road; as with rail, there may be limited circumstances where we can deploy directly to the point of entry via road, renewed conflict in the Balkans for example. Road transportability is also important for training and UK movements, abnormal load regulations are fiendishly complex, click here, but loads (including tractor and flatbed trailer) over 44 tonnes or 2.9m width require special permissions and notifications. Driving to a European theatre is again possible but with obvious limitations. Outside the UK these restrictions might not apply but moving from the port or point of entry via road will be the norm so road and bridge classification and the availability of suitable transport is an issue concern.


In some locations the point of entry might also be the area of operation, Sierra Leone being a good example, but in others, the area of operation might be some distance to the point or port of entry. This might also vary depending on the means of transport. If a vehicle is flown directly to Bastion it does not have a long way to get to the area of operation but if the said vehicle goes by a Point class RORO ship that disembarks at Karachi it has a very long and hazardous road move ahead.

Generally speaking, the same options exist except perhaps for rail although it should never be completely discounted.

Air; in a typical hub and spoke operation, strategic aircraft will bring in personnel and supplies (sometimes vehicles) to a strategically located main operating base location and tactical airlift aircraft will bring them forward to smaller airfields, Kandahar to Bastion being a good example, at least until the new runways at Bastion were built. There are a wide variety of scenarios here that might affect vehicle design but with the A400 and C17 being more or less capable of both strategic and tactical airlift operations this hub and spoke arrangement might not always be the best model.

The same issues as above therefore apply.

If we have ambition for air dropping vehicles then weight considerations will be influenced by the capacity of the Medium Stressed Platform successor, likely the Type V from Airlift Technologies, this limit being about 19 tonnes. Making a vehicle compatible with the 463L pallet system would constrain the vehicle to just under 2.4m

Road; there are two options, self deploy or catch a lift. Self-deploying significant distance for tracked vehicles is fuel-intensive, causes a great deal of track wear and therefore they tend to be carried to the area of operation on a low loader. Wheeled vehicles can self deploy much greater distances although segmented band tracks on light and medium weight vehicles can reduce the impact somewhat.

The UK has a small fleet of 96 Oshkosh Heavy Equipment Transporters operated under a 20 year, £290 million PFI with Fasttrax. The original trailer used for transporting heavy vehicles was from King Trailers but given the poor road infrastructure in Afghanistan, a number of Broshuisrough terrain trailers have also been obtained to allow the HET fleet to operate.

A lighter vehicle, like CVR(T), can be easily transported on more or less any truck, civilian or army. A simple jib can lift it onto the truck bed and move it long distances, even though CVR(T) can move quite effectively on road. DROPS have also been used quite often for deploying small vehicles including CVR(T), the Balkans especially made use of this method.

DROPS and CVR(T) in action

One of the implications of replacing CVR(T), which can move forward under its own steam or on the back of any truck, with the 30 tonnes plus ASCOD SV is that road moves forward will not be possible with anything but one of the 96 Heavy Equipment Transporters and specialist trailers. If we are only buying a handful this might not be so bad but given the numbers envisaged, unless we significantly increase the HET and trailer numbers in the PFI then we might have difficulty assembling a sufficiently strong force in a reasonable time, this could lead to vulnerabilities as the speed of deployment to a forward area is reduced.


Freedom of movement on the battlefield is critical to effectiveness. Although absolute weight is often less important than ground pressure it is still important, especially for bridges and road surfaces.

The NATO standard means of defining the ability of a surface to bear particular weights is called the Military Load Classification (MLC) system and common breakpoints are 30 and 70 tonnes, we use Class 30 and Class 70 trackway for example. If we use heavier vehicles then not only do we deny ourselves freedom of movement, channelled by road and bridge load-bearing capacity but we also increase demand for combat engineering support and once the weight goes over 30 tonnes, Class 30 trackway becomes too weak and above 35 tonnes the Air Portable Ferry Bridge also disappears from the menu.

Increasing weight has very real mobility consequences.

Other tactical mobility issues include the ability to cross gaps, climb slopes and traverse soft ground at speed. Tractive force is important for obstacle breaching and rapid acceleration can help in many circumstances.

If we set ourselves to helicopter portability the realistic limit for a Chinook sling load is less than 10 tonnes and if anyone listens to my suggestion of moving to the CH53K this can move up to 15 tonnes. Internally transportable vehicles for either the CH53K or Chinook are dimensionally challenging although the German Wiesel manages it for the CH53.


Other mobility factors include reliability and fuel consumption.

Fuel consumption is particularly important when advancing at speed and rear echelon capacity must be carefully matched to vehicle fuel consumption. This is another possible issue with FRES SV, when compared with CVR(T) total fuel burn will be significantly higher and the tactical fuel supply systems might struggle to keep up.


At this point the tracks v wheels debate hove’s into view and there are a number of factors to consider.

Deployability – Wheeled vehicles can self deploy from the point of entry so do not need transporters, for many scenarios, this is a major advantage

Survivability – Wheels are considered to be more vulnerable to shell fragments and small arms fire than tracks but if survivability includes the ability to move after damage then a wheeled vehicle has the advantage. If we consider manoeuvrability as a means contributor to survivability then tracks have the advantage, vulnerable points can be avoided for example. However, the scope for utilising the additional mobility capabilities afforded by tracks can be limited in some terrain where no amount of ground mobility will make a difference.

Mobility – a wheeled vehicle will generally have a much greater ground pressure than a tracked vehicle of the same weight, ground pressure being a determinant factor in mobility and because tracked drivetrains are lighter than wheeled, to carry the same amount of armour and payload, a tracked vehicle can be lighter, driving down the ground pressure again.

Higher speed on roads is generally easier to achieve with wheeled vehicles.

In difficult off-road conditions, tracked vehicles can usually achieve greater speeds. Large vehicles like Mastiff are heavy and no matter how many wheels or centralised tyre pressure management systems are added mobility going to be significantly greater and traction significantly poorer than for a comparable tracked vehicle.

As armour is added to improve protection against direct fire then this issue becomes acute, higher ground pressure and a limit on wheel size mean there is a practical ceiling for wheeled armoured vehicles off-road mobility even though this is improving.

Artificial obstacles in urban areas such as barricades, walls and cars etc present challenges to wheeled vehicles, not always insurmountable challenges but tracked vehicles, with their greater surface area on the ground, power to weight ratio and traction can more easily overcome these obstacles. The infamous US operation in Mogadishu showed that even old fashioned tracked vehicles like the M113 (driven by the Pakistani Army) could deliver winning effects in an urban environment, pushing through rubble and other obstacles.

In the aftermath of the special forces capture in Basra, Operation Thyme was mounted against the Serious Crimes Unit in Jamiat police station. The outer wall was breached by a Medium Wheeled Tractor of 38 Engineer Regiment and through/over the resultant rubble a number of Warriors from the Staffordshire Regiment entered the compound. The shock delivered by this breach might have been impossible to conduct with a wheeled vehicle, instead of going through a breach a wheeled vehicle might have had to go through the entrance. In the video below the Warriors can be seen entering the compound and pushing other vehicles out of the way.

Large wheeled vehicles are unable to execute changes of direction in close confines easily, requiring a ’23 point turn’ unlike a tracked vehicle, that can turn on the spot. Some modern wheeled combat vehicles can perform an on the spot turn but they are not common. 8×8 wheeled vehicles like the Boxer for example, have a high centre of gravity, meaning high speed turning or evasive manoeuvres can be hazardous. After several accidents, US Stryker’s are now speed limited.

The video below shows a very impressive off-road mobility demonstration for an early model LAV. Although the tests involving the removal of wheels have those axles conveniently chained in the up position it is still a striking video.

But in videos below, the extra weight of turrets, additional armour and electronic systems imposed on a similar chassis design, by later models, degrades mobility even in what might be reasonably considered to be only mild off-road conditions

And here

It is worth bearing in mind that there are relatively old designs but here is a clip of a Canadian unit in Afghanistan (skip forward to 2 minutes 40 seconds)

Several decades of studies have mostly concluded that the mobility advantages of tracks tend to trump the other advantages of wheels even though the gap has closed with modern wheeled systems.

Low ground pressure is not an automatic ticket to mobility though, many other factors come into play, as shown by the image below

Track development has not remained static either, advances in segmented band tracks from Diehl, Astrum and Soucy are addressing some of the traditional disadvantages of tracks. The vehicle weights at which band tracks are being proven is steadily rising and whilst they are not the automatic choice for all vehicles, up to 20 tonnes now seems to be perfectly feasible.

Weapons Platform Suitability – For small calibre weapons such as machine guns and automatic grenade launchers there isn’t any real difference. In the protected mobility role, light automatic weapons are all that is needed. However, when large calibre weapons have fitted the stability and low centre of gravity of tracked vehicles favours them. Large weapons on wheeled vehicles create recoil handling problems from both an accuracy and service life perspective. These problems aren’t insurmountable though, especially with advanced low recoil weapons.

Growth Potential – The ability to up armour, add extra weapons, communications or sensor equipment is now seen as a key requirement for combat vehicles. There is no real difference between wheels and tracks on this but in general, tracked vehicles have more space for a given set of dimensions, because of the simplicity of drive train and transmission for tracked vehicles.

Support – Fuel consumption is an increasing concern, with asymmetric conflicts the need for combat logistics, as opposed to logistics, becomes a greater demand, absorbing valuable combat power. Every litre of fuel or spare part places a considerable strain on logistics and support arrangements. The larger protected patrol vehicles have increased fuel consumption enormously over previous types. Tracks generally have poorer fuel economy than wheeled vehicles but as soon as difficult terrain is encountered or in stop-start activity, this is reversed. Run-flat tyres are very expensive and the US experience in Iraq with Stryker’s demonstrated that running costs are more expensive for wheeled vehicles than tracks (fuel and tyres).

If operating on hard surfaces for extended periods metal tracks tend to heat up and expand, requiring constant maintenance or running the risk of throwing a track.

The inherent complication of an 8×8 like drive train might need more maintenance than the very simple arrangements of a tracked vehicle, as shown by the diagrams below, but, vibration from tracks causes many problems so whilst the wheeled drivetrain might have more parts and be more complex it isn’t necessarily more maintenance heavy.

The traditional disadvantages of tracks; noise, road damage, low speed and maintenance are being addressed by segmented rubber band tracks and equally, the disadvantages of wheels; mobility and weight are also being tackled.

For an interesting take on a hybrid solution, click here and here

There are no simple answers to this deceptively simple question.

Issues – Weights and Measures

One of the burning issues with vehicle design is to what extent we let aircraft payload factors dictate design.

There are two competing thoughts, keep to aircraft weight limitations and take what protection fits within that envelope or design a vehicle with the desired protection levels and buy aircraft to suit.

As with road and bridge classification, there are a number of breakpoints and multiples. The table below shows weight as the deciding factor (volume, floor loading and sling point load considerations are ignored)

5 tonnes123612
10 tonnes 1136
15 tonnes  124
20 tonnes   13
30 tonnes   12
40 tonnes    1
60 tonnes    1

Other considerations are road transportation, landing craft and recovery capacity

 Class 30 TrackwayAir Portable Ferry BridgeLCVPLCURoad SpecialISO Flatrack

Stacking ISO flatracks is constrained by weight, a typical flatrack such as those manufactured by Domino can stack 9 high but only with a maximum weight of 24 tonnes, a tare weight of approx 4 tonnes. ISO flatrack carriage will constrain vehicle width to just over 2.4m. The A400 has a 4m width cargo hold, the C17, 5.5m, Chinook, 2.3m and CH53K, 2.7m.

Keeping a vehicle less than 2.4m provides the best combination; it could be carried on an ISO flat rack, the A400, CH53K and 2 abreast in the C17.

A narrow vehicle also allows it to get places out of bounds to larger vehicles

By keeping a vehicle within the constraints of a 20foot ISO container/flatrack we can not only utilise the huge civilian infrastructure used to move them on the ocean but critically, also the intermodal facilities of ports and trucks. The main reason the UK entered into the Points Class PFI was that the international shipping market was consolidating on larger and fewer vessels, particularly pure car pure truck carriers (PCPT), availability of RORO shipping for expeditionary operations was becoming tenuous. Whilst the agreement provides for 6 vessels the flexibility and additional capacity in the civilian container shipping market could be exploited.

The sub-5-tonne weight bracket is basically for quad bikes and vehicles like the Roush LAS100, Supacat ATMP and stripped down Land Rovers.

10 tonnes is the key point for Chinook lift and 3 in a single A400 or 6 in a C17, 2 abreast

If we were to step up from the Chinook to the CH53K the 15-tonne point becomes available, 2 in an A400 and 4 in a c17. Given length issues, 2 in an A400 might be more feasible than 3. There is constant pressure to improve helicopter lift capacity and the US and others have several studies and exploratory programmes, an evolved Chinook may be the result but ultimately, 15-18 tonnes is the likely endpoint for heavy vertical lift helicopters after Chinook.

Keeping a vehicle below 20 tonnes allows it to be carried on a C130 or some of the newer C130J class aircraft under development, the Embraer C-390 for example.

Beyond 20 tonnes the A400 only carries in singles and beyond 30 tonnes we start seeing mobility issues; ISO flatrack, DROPS, special load, bridges and trackways for example.

With tunable protection, these hard limits can be bent a little. The German Puma, for example, uses a modular armour concept, the base vehicle is designed to be transported in the A400 with additional armour carried in follow on aircraft. It is most unlikely that a vehicle will speed down the aircraft ramp and get stuck in straight away so allowing some time to assemble the armour add-ons is a sensible and pragmatic decision. The US M8 AGS used a scalable armour system and some of the newer Warrior UOR’s have worked on this principle.

The categories below may seem heavily biased to air transportation and when this is compared to actual airlift it might seem ludicrous but if the UK is to maintain its expeditionary capabilities we must carefully tailor equipment to available lift capacity and factors such as bridge classification or surface transportation will also be significant. Modular protection allows air transportability weight limits to be maintained whilst providing for improvements in protection when rapid transportation is not such an issue.

I know I go on a bit about ISO container constraints but if we are at all serious about moving stuff from A to B, the civilian intermodal container ecosystem has much greater capacity than any military logistics system.

With this in mind, I think the following is a reasonable weight distribution (assuming we start with weight and not other requirements such as survivability or payload)

Category A; 7.5 tonnes maximum weight, this allows 1 to be sling loaded by a Chinook, 2 from a CH53K and 4 in an A400 or 8 in a C17 (volume permitting). Air droppable, easily carried on civilian trucks or DROPS and able to traverse most if not all bridges and trackways.

Category B; 15 tonnes maximum base weight with the capacity to handle an additional 5 to 7 tonnes, this allows a base configuration to be slung loaded from a CH53K. 2 could be carried in an A400 or if 4 A400’s were used, the combined payload would be 6 vehicles and 6 additional 5-tonne protection kits. A C17 could carry 4 base configuration vehicles or 3 with the protection kits already fitted. Can be carried on standard ISO flatracks, utilise all RE trackway and vehicle bridges and be carried on the back of a standard truck or DROPS. Can also be lifted by the RE Terex AC35 crane and recovered using the SV recovery variant.

Category C; ideally this would be 30 tonnes base configuration with 5 to 10-tonne additional protection kit, 1 to be carried on A400 or 2 per C17. Additional protection kits would be available but this would reduce aerial transportation to C17 only.

However, this might seem too close to Category A and not deliver enough protection whilst still being constrained by the same deployment issues as the heavy equipment it will be supporting. Weight, therefore, becomes less of an issue because at 30 tonnes plus it is still a special load, borderline for ISO carriage and bridges and at a maximum for A400 carriage.

So for this category, I would be inclined to worry less about weight and concentrate on protection and firepower, true to the concept of stand up knockdown fighting for information in a high threat environment as per many of our recent discussions.

If you need to get the odd one or two into theatre by air, for whatever reason and however rare, as long as it is below 50-60 tonnes it can be carried by C17.

Issues – Protection and Weight Reduction

The original FRES concept eschewed protection for agility, situational awareness and active protection systems. Active protection systems showed great promise at the time but only recently have they been deployed. It is often assumed that the emergence of RPG’s and IED’s meant that the need for greater protection assumed a higher priority but should this have come as any surprise. In WWII armoured vehicles had spaced armour and even bedsprings to protect against HEAT warheads and if one looks at pictures of armoured vehicles in Vietnam the use of slats was widespread. Even more recently, battlefields across Africa and the Middle East confirmed that the RPG and ATGW remained a potent threat. The tackling of mines and IED’s by South African and Rhodesian forces in the seventies and eighties with the emergence of v-shaped hulls and other anti-mine/IED design features is also food for thought. Even explosively formed projectile IED’s were encountered in Northern Ireland in the seventies.

Sometimes we seem destined to painfully relearn lessons from other periods or places.

The degree of protection must always be balanced by the risk that it impairs the operation at hand, forcing personnel into armoured citadels insulates them from the surrounding area and may in some situations actually increase the danger levels. That said, there can be no doubt that modern protected vehicles have saved numerous lives.

There seems to be a move towards greater protection and whether this is driven by political expediency, the desire to have bloodless wars or the other factors, protection is a key design driver for any vehicle.

But, protection from what?

There are a wide variety of threats on the battlefield, large IEDs,s conventional mines, small arms, artillery fragments, large calibre automatic weapons, RPG’s, missiles, kinetic energy tank rounds and many more.

Protection levels against a number of threats are defined in the various STANAG standards (mainly STANAG 4569) and extensive testing can demonstrate proof against these standards. Typically they include explosive weight under wheels and vehicle centreline, direct protection against artillery fragments, small arms and automatic weapons.

With modern materials and innovative design features the old adage that protection always equals weight is not applicable anymore and there has been a huge international research programme to find materials and design features that provide protection and/or improve survivability (not the same thing) using blast chimneys, crew pods, hull shaping, composite armour, exotic metal and ceramic materials like super bainite, fabrics, electric armour, perforated armour, sacrificial components blast attenuating seating. The new Foxhound has demonstrated how old fashioned great design can improve survivability without making it weigh more than a Challenger.

Since our last attempt at replacing CVR(T) with TRACER a decade ago, materials technology has moved at a staggering rate. There are a wide variety of innovative approaches to armour and yet FRES Scout will utilise the same armour technology as that has been used for decades.

It might come as a surprise but many of these developments are UK originated.

Developed by Corus, Bodycote, DSTL, QinetiQ and the University of Cambridge, perforated Super Bainite steel armour not only improves ballistic performance it reduces weight, comes in at a fraction of the price of conventional armour steel and provides a sovereign production capability. Flash Bainite makes some very bold claims, stating that it is cheaper, lighter, higher-performing and easier to work with than conventional aluminium armour.

DSTL has demonstrated an electric armour that uses fast-acting super capacitors to disrupt shaped charges.

Aluminium encapsulated ceramic tiles from CPS Technologieshave demonstrated an improvement near ceramic tile edges and better protection against kinetic energy rounds.

BAE has developed a shear thickening liquid so-called bulletproof custard that is more likely to be used in body armour but may have utility for vehicle armour.

DERA/QinetiQ built the Advanced Composite Armoured Vehicle Platform, the so-called plastic tank, which was the world’s first monocoque armoured vehicle chassis that used composites instead of metals for load-bearing and protection. Advantages included a 15% reduction in weight, reduced thermal and radar signature, improved protection and resistance to corrosion (especially in saltwater)

Good background information here

At 24 tonnes it had frontal protection against 30mm AP and 14.5mm protection elsewhere and the weight could be reduced by using band tracks, a more compact power pack and hydropneumatic suspension.

It is now in the Tank Museum which is somewhat ironic given that the all-new FRES will be a generation behind it in terms of materials technology.

Currently, in service with British forces in Afghanistan, the UK manufactured Amsafe Tarian is a lightweight fabric-based system designed to protect against RPG’s and either replace or supplement conventional bar or rod anti RPG cages. A few months ago the MoD placed a large follow on order.

Looking further ahead, carbon nanotube materials are showing enormous promise, increasing protection and delivering yet more reductions in weight.

The latest active protection systems like Trophy and Iron Curtain are also capable of providing high degrees of protection against ATGW and RPG’s although they are not without some disadvantages.

Protection is also derived from mobility, effective tactics, situational awareness and good intelligence; we should not forget these simple principles because of experience in Afghanistan and Iraq. I will look in more depth at these issues in a future post on protected mobility vehicles but as this is primarily about reconnaissance and the timescale and requirements are subtlety different. In a typical enduring operation where protected mobility will generally favour the protection aspect fast-flowing combined arms operations will take a more balanced look.

Therefore, the protection afforded to a vehicle in each category will be what can be achieved within a space/size envelope and balanced with firepower, sensors, fuel, communications equipment and other payloads like UAV’s or personnel.

In short, we work back from size and weight not forward from protection levels. This may result in protection being just below a specific threat, an armour piercing 7.62mm round for example but instead of compromising on weight/size, we should compromise on ether design features.

There are no easy answers here because the demands will ALLWAYS be for more of everything but we should be realistic about likely threats and the ability of technology and good design to improve protection.

In addition to reducing weight by utilising advanced materials and active protection systems, there is scope in a number of other areas for additional weight reduction, using plastic optical fibre instead of copper cabling, common bus-based electronic distribution systems or segmented rubber band tracks to name but three.

Issues – Power and Propulsion

Modern combat vehicles have an insatiable demand for electrical power to support communications, sensors, ECM, display systems, onboard computing, weapon systems and offboard supply for dismounted personnel. As weights rise the need for more powerful engines is the simple result, more powerful engines weigh more and use more fuel, another penalty of increasing weight.

The massive global research programme in hybrid engine technology has far outpaced that in the military domain and yet again we saw a valiant attempt at introducing this technology with TRACER and some of the early FRES work. TRACER demonstrated the viability of lithium-ion battery technology in a 20-tonne vehicle a decade ago and battery technology a decade ago is almost unrecognisable compared to what is available now.

Sumitomo Electric is developing a low temperate molten salt battery that is ten times cheaper than lithium-ion and only this month have announced the development of a porous aluminium compound that will allow a battery with the same capacity to be reduced in volume and weight by up to two thirds.

MIT researchers have shown that silicon nanotube anodes can store 10 times as much power as graphite electrodes in lithium-ion batteries.

The US company Levant Power have developed a shock absorber that recovers energy to reduce alternator load and improve fuel consumption.

Hybrid engine technology is now commercially viable, even for large vehicles; solutions are available from Rolls Royce and others

British motorsport engineering is second to none and they are also embracing hybrid technologies, OakTecbeing a notable example. It is not just the engine/battery combinations that are being developed either, high speed flywheel systems are being used to supplement acceleration and sustain reduced fuel consumption.

Williams Hybrid Power has also have developed an innovative flywheel system.

Even the humble diesel engine is being subjected to a spot of innovation, Navistar (the manufacturers of the Husky, have teamed up with Ecomotors International to develop an opposed cylinder engine that eliminates the cylinder head and valve train resulting in a much more compact engine that improves fuel consumption.

Cella Energy is working on a hydrogen-based artificial fuel that uses micron-sized beads but can be introduced into existing technology without modification.

QinetiQ demonstrated some years ago their Hybrid Electric Drive vehicle.

The point I am trying to make is that we are awash with innovation, much of it British and yet after millions of Pounds of investment in research, our new project uses none of it.

Issues – We Used to Own the Night

The proliferation of night vision equipment is accelerating and Western forces traditional monopoly in ‘owning the night’ is under threat. Technology is not, of course, the only aspect of night fighting but any vehicle must pay particular attention to signature reduction and management features.

In high temperatures, the surface of armoured vehicles can reach 75 degrees centigrade with obvious performance, habitability, reliability and signature issues. DSTL is currently conducting a research programme to look at peelable coatings to reduce temperature and results have been promising but Saab seems to be the current market leader in signature control and thermal management or clever cam nets depending on your point of view.

Printable electronic ink is an exciting technology that may also provide adaptive coatings.

Issues – No Man is an Island

A reconnaissance vehicle self evidently must operate within the combined arms battlespace and with the increasing network connectivity afforded by satellite and advanced communication systems it is becoming increasingly complex.

A reconnaissance vehicle might enhance the product from a UAV, supplying contextual information or an additional viewpoint or it might utilise a live video feed from a UAV in order to better carry out its task.

Superb communications facilities are a prerequisite and this might include a modular VHF, HF, UHF and satellite fit.

The German ‘Move-It’ programme has developed a number of concepts for vehicles with integrals unmanned air and ground systems. Using a modified Wiesel 2, which can itself be remotely controlled, the vehicle has a small ‘garage’ at the rear of the vehicle for a Telemax unmanned ground vehicle and a section on the front glacis plate for an Air-Robot quadcopter.

This is an interesting concept that might in some ways compensate for a lack of mobility in the heavier vehicles and enhance the survivability of the lighter ones.

They do not necessarily have to be carried by the operating vehicle but command and control of short-range aerial and ground UAV’s is an exciting concept, relevant especially in close and urban terrain.

The ability to dismount and use the facilities of the vehicle is an important consideration.

Issues – Recce by Facebook

Don’t laugh, I am being serious.

The world and his dog are using geotagged imagery, posting images from mobile telephones onto Twitpic and Facebook and this is only likely to increase. On a traditional battlefield, we might exploit in an intelligence context, obtaining street-level imagery for example that cannot be obtained by aerial or satellite means. If we don’t already do this then we should be but I suspect it forms part of the intelligence community toolkit.

Not all future conflicts will be carried out in the sticks where the internet is not available, simply look at mobile telephone penetration in Africa or how the Libyan rebels are using Facebook, Twitter, blogs and other social media for trends. In fact, NATO planners have reportedly been taking advantage of social media in target planning.

The difference between mining this information for preparatory information prior to operations or airstrikes and using it in real-time is not as distant as you might think.

It is also likely that non-conventional or hybrid enemies will use social media as a command and control tool in addition to information operations. We might look at these means in the traditional sense of ‘warfare’ denying the enemy the means to exploit them but we should step back and realise there are many benefits of exploiting our enemies exploitation of the internet and social media and reconnaissance is one of them.

I am not advocating a dismounted reconnaissance team whipping out their laptop and start surfing Facebook but the means of collating geographically relevant and useful data, converting that into useful intelligence and rapidly disseminating it in an easy to use format must be central to the reconnaissance effort.

This snaps into the wider intelligence fusion and dissemination subject we looked at when discussing DABINETT.

After the cancellation of the Soothsayer project the state of Electronic Support Measures is uncertain, most effort recently has been directed to the counter IED effort. It remains a fundamental part of the reconnaissance mix.

In many locations, there will be a complex and well utilised electromagnetic spectrum to exploit. Everything from mobile networks to Bluetooth and WiFi to VHF military radios will be in use and likely to be carrying ‘traffic of interest’

Beyond the conventional direct finding and classification of emitters that might be carried out by any number of ground and aerial platforms, the short-range of WiFi and mobile networks means the collection antenna must be in relatively close contact if the aerial collection is not an option. Tapping into physical network transmission cables might also yield useful information.

Asymmetric enemies will seek to use commercial networks so exploiting or denying them to others is no doubt a handy capability to have.

Whether the forward reconnaissance vehicles are used to simply collect and transmit for analysis or collect and analyse would be dependent on technology choices and available bandwidth, plus of course the argument between the Royal Signals and Intelligence Corps!

The demand for high bandwidth communication links is outstripping supply and there is a growing awareness of ‘bandwidth dependency’ because we have not yet faced an enemy with the means to deny parts of the electromagnetic spectrum to us.

Adaptive communication technologies that piggyback on any available bearer (Wimax, Wifi, 3G, GSM etc)  is also a technology that may yet revolutionise military communication, all stuff for another post but I have put it here for completeness.

Issues – Industrial Confidence

Of course, the problem with a lot of military projects is that they take a hopelessly over-ambitious approach to technology maturity but there are times where it is absolutely right and proper to seek a step change rather than timidly clamouring for everything to be off the shelf.

The reason we have taken the current approach to FRES is that we seem afraid of technological innovation, almost lacking in confidence, made worse by approaching out of service date for CVR(T) without anything to show for two or three attempts at replacing it.

One of the underlying root causes of this lack of confidence is a basic lack of expertise, since selling off public sector development organisations, failing to invest in research and development and having an incoherent and grossly underfunded approach to defence industrial issues the dwindling UK expertise in defence vehicle engineering is telling.

Given the UK’s world-renowned expertise in automotive engineering that has actually provided some benefit to the defence sector recently as a result of a number of initiatives, it might be reasonable to suggest the expertise have simply transferred elsewhere and not entirely gone away.

Despite our lack of military vehicle technology strategies we also still have a number of world-leading innovators in transmissions, suspension, engines, tracks, armour, sensors and other areas so all is not lost.

Instead of appointing one of the majors as an apex contractor is it really beyond the capacity of the subject matter experts in DSTL and DE&S to run a design project, once the design has been finalised it can go out to production tender.

Maybe it’s time not only to innovate but have the confidence to do so.

Issues – Other Factors to Consider

Mastiff availability has been as low as 20% and when going from 30 to 35 tonnes, and unmodified Warrior suffers a 40% reduction in the mean distance between failure, so although we tend to wonder why so much emphasis is placed on upgradability that inevitably drives up cost and time into service there are good reasons for it.

I tend to think we often look too far into the future but it’s a difficult balance to strike.

Reducing the logistic footprint of any vehicle is also important, commonality of spares and in the field repair techniques being two significant factors. If we look at the Foxhound and its modular load system, this will greatly improve vehicle availability because they can be repaired in the field without recourse to back loading to the UK.

Although the need for a more survivable vehicle, defined by the need to fight for information (as per the previous post) and the greater threats on modern complex battlefields is entirely understandable, this extra weight does not come free.

Whilst we might be able to achieve more with a single modern FRES Scout than with multiple 40-year-old CVR(T)’s individual vehicle fuel consumption can have a large impact on operational tempo.

The UK does not have any armoured fuel delivery vehicles so those in the rear echelon will need to expose themselves to hostile fire more often. This will be exacerbated in a fast-moving operation where fuel rather than ammunition is the greatest logistic concern.

Thoughts on Design – Category A

Category A was sub 7.5 tonnes, fit on an airdrop pallet, be slingable by Chinook or 2 by a CH53K and narrow enough to fit on an ISO Flat Rack. If we don’t ultimately move to a heavier lift helicopter then it might make more sense to accept a single sling load either way, so 10 tonnes it should be (although the maximum payload of Chinook is slightly higher)

In this category, protection is limited by the need for mobility.

We actually have the ideal vehicle in service although not in the main equipment programme, the Supacat Jackal 2 of course. The base vehicle is approximately 7.5 tonnes although additional armour and equipment takes this higher.

An alternative that is in service with special forces is the Supacat HMT Extenda, similar to the Jackal but with the ability to add on an extra axle assembly called a hamper. The variable-height air suspension, key to its excellent mobility, also allows the ride height to be lowered so the vehicle can be carried internally in a Chinook.

The extra axle module can be separated to support slinging and fitted quickly once on the ground.

A wide range of sensors and communication equipment can be fitted; the Jackal ISTAR mounts a ROTAS sensor on an elevating mast for example. ROTAS incorporates an advanced ‘Catherine’ thermal imager from Thales, daylight TV camera and laser rangefinder that are linked into a navigation system for precise positional information. Combined with handheld sensors these can be used for cueing offensive support from artillery, attack helicopter or fast air, a potent combination.

Armament options include pintle-mounted 7.62mm GPMG, 12.7mm HMG and 40mm GMG and it should be possible to fit a demountable Javelin launcher. If more firepower is needed we might consider one of the various Nexter 20mm automatic cannons. These have been fitted to a wide range of vehicles and the ammunition provides a significant uplift in lethality over 12.7mm, this might be a sensible wider replacement for the M2 HMG.

Going up a notch is the ATK LW25 Bushmaster lightweight 25mm chain gun which has been demonstrated on a Kongsberg Protector remote mount and has a range of different ammunitions natures benefitting from years of US investment. It can also be fitted into the Palletized Autonomous Weapon System (PAWS) for ease of mounting on various vehicles.

Another and perhaps a final option for a vehicle of this size is the ATK M230LF 30mm automatic cannon that is a link of a variant of the electrically operated M230 weapon used on the Apache attack helicopter (ammunition and many components would be common) mounted in a Nobles Manufacturing Viper Gun Mount.

A remote weapon station could also be fitted for stabilised fire on the move; again the Jackal ISTAR has demonstrated integration with a Kongsberg Protector or a simple ring/pintle mount used instead, like the many we use from Platt Mounts. Some of the Coyote variants of the Jackal have been fitted with remote weapon stations.

A simple short-range micro UAV like one of the many quadcopter designs would provide additional capability at a modest cost, they do not need to provide imagery reach-back up the chain of command but provide a simple ‘over the hill’ view.

A medium-term technology insertion programme should be initiated to enhance the Jackal platform with a hybrid drive system, these are rapidly maturing, extra range, limited silent running and offboard power generation are especially useful for reconnaissance vehicles.  Reducing fuel use is also emerging as a core objective across the whole of defence.

A final alternative is a Foxhound which would be desirable from a commonality perspective but the Jackal’s cross country mobility is hard to beat.

Category A, therefore, is what we already have bought into the main equipment programme and enhanced with a handful of minor additions and a medium-term technology insertion programme.

Thoughts on Design – Category B

Category B is 15 to 22+ tonnes, less than 2.4m wide and overall dimensions within the envelope of a 20ft ISO container to provide a slingable CH53K (or equivalent post-Chinook heavy-lift helicopter), 2 or 3 in a C17 and multiples in an A400 package, where each aircraft either carries a vehicle or collection of protection kits and support stores/personnel.

This is clearly a compromise but with a more even balance of mobility (strategic and tactical) and protection but as I mentioned above, the ability to move rapidly around the battlefield, be helicopter liftable, rapidly deployable by air and utilise all manner of civilian transport infrastructure is a fair trade-off against other capabilities.

In Monty’s previous post he described a number of possible vehicle configurations, variations on engine placement, manned and unmanned turrets and tracks or wheels.

It might also be worth looking at a few existing or older designs to compare.

The sixties-era M113 based Lynx was an interesting design. Although only Canada and the Netherlands purchased them I think they were pretty advanced for their time. With a crew of three and a weight of fewer than 9 tonnes, each one was only lightly armed with 3 heavy machine guns but the sensors were top notch, including radar, thermal imaging and image intensification that were also capable of being dismounted and used remotely from the vehicle. Later versions included improved weapons. Smaller than a standard M113 its engine was rear-mounted, unlike the standard vehicle, and this provided excellent mobility.

A more modern vehicle is the Panhard Sphinx (Secret Project for High Intensity and New Conflicts), at 17 tonnes it will be equipped with a CMI turret sporting the same 40mm CTA cannon as FRES Scout and planned upgrade to Warrior. The Sphinx has been designed to meet the French AMX10RC replacement project called Engin Blindé de Reconnaissance et de Combat (EBRC). It is a conventional design reminiscent of the Alvis Saladin with the driver positioned centrally between the wheels rather than sitting over them as in a truck derived design, this has obvious IED/Mine protection benefits.

Protection is said to be STANAG 4569 Level V, pretty impressive for a vehicle with a weight of fewer than 20 tonnes.

There is a good image here, illustrating the size difference between it and a conventional wheeled armoured personnel carrier but it still looks too much like a Ferret 80!

The Jordanian King Abdullah Design and Development Bureau has recently purchased all of Belgium’s stock of CVR(T)’s with the intention of upgrading and selling them. KADDB has carved out an impressive niche in applying sensible and effective upgrades to legacy equipment and the Scimitar upgrade is no exception. The upgrade removes the RARDEN and replaces it with a 30mm 2A72 canon equipped with a dual ammunition feed mechanism and a host of other improvements.

The Stormer might be a good starting place

Something old and something new, plus of course CVR(T) and an upgrade, all showing how different design choices, constraints and technology can combine to create very different vehicles, all arguably tasked with the same job.

We could always put in a call to these guys!

One design that would seem to fit within the general characteristics of Category B is the old SIKA and LANCER TRACER.

Because of merger activity, Bae ended up in both competing consortia (go figure)

SIKA comprised BAe, Lockheed Martin, Vickers Defence and Genera Dynamics

LANCER comprised BAe, Alvis, United Defense and Raytheon.

The resultant Future Mobility Platform looked conventional but was anything but.

The base vehicle was manufactured in the USA and shipped to the UK for fitting of the Alvis turret. The pictures below show the base vehicle and turret mockup.

There aren’t many pictures of the actual turret fitted to the base vehicle about the interwebs but this one seems to be it.

The crew sat in a hull-down pod, driver in front and gunner and commander behind and to the sides. Like the recent Puma design, this sacrificed a little situational awareness for smaller dimensions, better protection and improved collaboration between the crew. The turreted version mounted the 40mm CTA cannon and a 7.62mm machine gun. The commander thermal viewer was a direct lift of the M1 MBT but the main sensor was a new design, mounted on a 5m elevating mast that when not in use, allowed the sensor head to be retracted beneath the armour. The elevating senor allowed the vehicle to remain in the dead ground or behind cover. The hybrid-electric drive provided 500kw of lithium-ion/diesel engine power that could accelerate the vehicle to just under 50kph in 9 seconds and achieve a top speed of 90kph. When the silent mode was engaged, the battery capacity allowed it to travel 6 to 10km and the total range was 650km. The base protection package resulted in a vehicle weight of 19 tonnes.

An impressive vehicle by any measure

Sula systems helped to develop the overwatch anti-tank guided weapon mockup. This could carry four 50kg weapons in an elevating turret and be designed to accommodate a mix of Brimstone and Hellfire II with the option to take a tri-mode variant. Integrating with the Apache Attack Helicopter Longbow radar it could team up and provide a non line of sight anti-tank overwatch capability.

This is a capability we still don’t have.

The old hull is still here, perhaps we should ask nicely for it back.

So a decade ago, TRACER was demonstrating hybrid electric drive with lithium-ion batteries, modular open architecture electronics and command system, an elevating sensor mast, integrated optical, acoustic and radar sensors and rubber band tracks. Low fuel consumption, excellent situational awareness, limited silent running and rapid acceleration were all on offer.

But then the FRES dream came in and messed everything up, TRACER is the ultimate ‘what could have been’

We have to note that many of these technologies, whilst demonstrated, were not mature, but this was 10 years ago.

How have we gone from cutting edge innovation to a warmed-over 20-year-old design whose greatest claim to fame is that it will use CIDS and have an ambulance variant!

My hare-brained scheme for Category B is therefore a new design drawing heavily on the LANCER TRACER and BAe SEP

To get to the base vehicle weight target of 15 tonnes the original 19 tonnes demonstrator would have to go on a diet, is this actually achievable, who knows, but what is certain is that 10 years of materials and automotive science and technology have relentlessly improved performance and driven down weight. Technologies that were a little cutting edge in TRACER are now commonplace and available off the shelf.

The basic configuration would be similar, a single crew compartment protected to a higher level than the rest of the vehicle and a split hybrid electric drive system with segmented band tracks. The choice of engine location towards the rear has some advantages but means the payload space becomes constrained. With compact engines, this might not be such a large problem but the now-defunct BAe SEP (Spitterskyddad Enhets Platform) mounted the engine at the front, traditional APC style.

At a base weight of only 11.5 tonnes, its combat weight could rise to 17 tonnes with 8 infantry and because of its decoupled suspension and band tracks internal noise was comparable to civilian cars. Protection up to 7kg of TNT under the track came as standard and additional protection kits were available. SEP also had the same modular payload system as the Boxer vehicle and a maximum range of 600km. SEP is a good starting point but because the Category B vehicle does not need to carry 8 personnel in opposing rows, its 2.9m width can be reduced to 2.4m

The starting point, or base vehicle, is, therefore, a cross between LANCER TRACER, BAe SEP and Stormer. A rear-mounted demountable payload module would allow easier repair and reduced maintenance, it is this modularity that is one of the main strengths of the Boxer and Foxhound. By separating the base vehicle from the payload module design and integration is simpler and hopefully cheaper.

If it is possible to combine all the recent technology advances to pull the weight down to the target figures of 15 tonnes then a modular protection pack might be a feasible means of increasing the inevitable compromise in protection, if this could be kept at about 5-10 tonnes the total vehicle weight would still be transportable in an A400 and C17.

Variants as follows;

Protected Mobility; in addition to 2 crews the protected mobility variant would carry 4 personnel and a remote weapon station with a GPMG or similar. The third crew seat (gunner) would normally remain unfilled although could be used for an extra passenger if needed.

Scout; the scout variant is the main event and equipped with a remote turret, something similar if not identical to the GIAT TOUTATIS that mounts the 40mm CTA in a 1.5-tonne package, details here, here. The turret carries 68 rounds in three natures with an elevation of -10 to +45 degrees.

Behind the turret would be an under armour elevating mast-mounted sensor such as the Thales ROTAS on the Jackal ISTAR would supplement the turret-mounted sensors. A more robust mast might also be used to mount acoustic, radar and NBC detectors. The ability to utilise the vehicle sensors and communications from off-board should be considered a key capability and a small quadcopter type UAV would enhance sensor coverage and allow the vehicle to stand off potential hazard zones.

Overwatch and Fire Support; this role seems to have been dropped from the new FRES variants but if we are to operate in moderate to high threat environments the lighter weight scout and protected mobility variants that will still need some form of anti-armour overwatch. This might be provided by a combination of an attack helicopter, fast air and even something like future concepts like the Fireshadow loitering munitions. However, against a competent enemy or in extreme weather these might not be available or effective so organic fire support will be needed. The original overwatch TRACER concept of 4 Hellfire class weapons still has value and this might be supplemented with the Lightweight Modular Missile for variable effects and non-line of sight operation.

A more robust elevating mast like that from Falck Schmidt might be used to loft both a sensor payload but also a low recoil automatic weapon. Instead of an elevating mast, we might even make use of the innovative articulating boom lift platforms used for work access, these have the advantage of not just going up and down. The ability to elevate a sensor or move it laterally are obvious in an urban environment but combine this with a weapon for plunging fires makes it particularly interesting in this context.

Combat in urban areas will be increasingly challenging as our infantry numbers decrease.

An even more interesting thought for an elevated mast-mounted weapon is the Rheinmetall RMK30 recoilless revolver cannon. Firing 30mm ammunition it has been trialled on the Wiesel and even proposed for a mast-mounted weapon for submarines.

Electronic Support, in the section above I mentioned the possibility of exploiting civilian satellite, private mobile radio, cellular, WiMAX and WiFi networks that will inevitably remain in use during most stages of an operation. Because these networks use relatively low power transmissions and if an airborne platform is not available the best method of intercept is to be in relatively close proximity. This means stealth and the ability to power collection and analysis systems like Roke Resolve. The MoD has purchased a number of portable systems from Roke, based on the Resolve system, under project SEER for electronic surveillance and electronic attack.

Based on the protected mobility version this would support space for two operators and analysis workstations.

Others; if you look at pictures for the original FRES or SEP concepts it seems the designers have let their imaginations run riot with everything from tethered aerostats to ambulances. From a standardisation perspective this of course makes a great deal of sense but in many other ways, there are too many compromises. If we look, for example, at repair and recovery, the small size compromises capacity and capabilities. Would it make sense for the more combat-oriented versions to use the common base platform but the secondary roles carried out by another vehicle?

This other vehicle would be Warthog derivatives; load carrying, ambulance and recovery. In split configuration, they can still be carried by Chinook and we now have support systems in place. They have a high degree of mobility and good protection but not as well suited to the other roles. In addition to those already in service, a load-carrying, command and mortar version should be introduced. Both are available off the shelf although introducing a 120mm mortar or not is subject to a future thread.

Operating a mixed vehicle fleet may seem anathema to effective support and logistics but would it be so difficult?

Thoughts on Design – Category C

After spending all our money on the son of TRACER the question comes to what might we use to slug it out, fighting for information as per the experiences of the USA in Iraq that were detailed in our introductory post on this subject.

This is of course where it gets interesting with regards to FRES Scout because at 30 tonnes plus it is neither strategically mobile as a 15 to 20-tonne vehicle would be, or as survivable as a Challenger 2.

In the descriptions above I noted that Category C does not need to be constrained by weight so the simple question is, why not Challenger 2 for this role.

Equip them with an elevating sensor as above and perhaps a satellite communication fit and jobs a good un.

We are scaling down the number of armoured regiments meaning that a number of hulls will become available for re rolling and because of the nature of likely operations we would not need to have that many.

Therefore, cancel the existing FRES Scout


Previously, I suggested an option to retain and develop expertise in the various disciplines of reconnaissance and surveillance might be to form a dedicated Corps or ISTAR (New Name Required cus’ that is crap)

An alternative suggestion is to improve on our already well practised ability to form and reform ad hoc groupings by creating a simpler organisation structure of building blocks.

We also discussed the merits of carrying out reconnaissance using organic or non-organic units, the different reconnaissance needs of varying size formations and implications for equipment.

As the conversation moved back and forth what became pretty clear was a need to have the flexibility of approach, appropriate skills and a range of equipment depending on the nature of the operation and the level at which the reconnaissance force was operating.

Whether we simply seek to improve reconnaissance capabilities in existing units, reinforce the existing formation reconnaissance regiments, create a ‘school of ISTAR’ or create a dedicated ISTAR Corps is to some extent irrelevant but it is an interesting discussion that should take place before getting on to equipment choices.

If we accept there is a need for diversity of equipment the question then moves to how best can they be organised.

The more diverse equipment types and roles we inject into a single grouping the more complex its service support becomes and more diffuse its training. Incidentally, this is one of the challenges the Multi-Role Brigade faces. Each Brigade will have within it everything from Challenger 2 to quad bikes and everything in between.

Like a number of hair-brained schemes put forth in the ‘future of’ series of posts, I am not entirely convinced of them myself but use them as anchors to hang the discussion off. The Royal Corps of ISTAR (New Name Required cus’ that is crap) is one of those.

There are many alternatives and none of them is right or wrong but for administrative neatness, I would propose the ISTAR Corps organised on the basis of independent squadrons and deployable regimental HQ functions that can plug into the larger brigade or divisional formation. It would be rare that an ISTAR squadron/s would be deployed alone but entirely possible.

Organising the ISTAR squadron also presents a few questions, should they be set up as self-contained multi-equipment multi-role or dedicated to a particular role and equipped accordingly?

One view would see an ISTAR squadron configured with a light, medium and heavy troop and another would see light, medium and heavy distributed within a single neatly self-contained squadron but multiplied by 3.

There are pros and cons for each approach, having multi-role and multi equipped squadrons increases flexibility and ease of rotation in and out of operations but adds a heavier support/service support burden as attached REME and RE units (for example) would have covered the full span of the equipment. The jack of all trades approach also inevitably leads to them not deploying as such anyway if the operation at hand does not need that full span of capabilities.

The discussion on this mirrors the discussion on Multi-Role Brigades and that one seems to be running and running so there are no easy answers.

Another option might be to accept that a Formation Reconnaissance regiment needs a range of vehicles that it selects prior to deployment. Instead of creating and organising units based on what they drive we create them based on what they do and provide a range of tools that they select as appropriate. As the debate about providing infantry units with an armoury chock full of different weapons moves on, is the same debate applicable to vehicles?

I am actually sympathetic to this concept, it’s the people that make the difference and with the right focus on training would it be impossible for a reconnaissance squadron to go one operation with

In the Heavy Metal post, I suggested forming the Armoured Regiments on a square basis, 2 armoured and 2 armoured infantry. The extra Challengers and Challenger Support Variants as proposed could carry out some of the reconnaissance tasks as currently carried out by CVR(T), in line with the suggestion that formations could provide for their own reconnaissance needs using equipment organic to that formation. One of the reasons I suggested creating a heavier equipped and the denser organised armoured regiment was to provide both flexibility and resilience to loss but it also supports the concept of organic reconnaissance where appropriate.

Where additional capabilities were deemed necessary, they could be detached from the ISTAR Corps and operated in addition to the heavier Challenger based organic reconnaissance.

This is back to institutionalising the Lego brick modular concept, again, not necessarily right or wrong, just something different to discuss.

Maybe the future is as per the MoD concept

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

The Future of the British Army 08 – ISTAR and Formation Reconnaissance (03) A Not So 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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