Time to Cancel FRES SV?

ASCOD_5

THIS ARTICLE HAS BEEN SUPERSEDED BY A DETAILED STUDY INTO THE HISTORY OF FRES

https://www.thinkdefence.co.uk/future-rapid-effects-system-fres/

Can UOR equipment provide a viable alternative for Cavalry regiments ?

Introduction

In this article I will attempt to bring together a number of threads that are based on current events, but also based on ongoing discussions in the comment threads of this site, as pertaining to various inter-related subjects. There are a number of distinct elements, but the overall theme is that of Armoured Reconnaissance in the British Armies FF2020 organizational structure.

Specific themes include:

  • Taking UOR kit into the core fleets
  • Getting the greatest value for money in a time of tight budgets
  • The role of the armoured cavalry regiments
  • The continued requirement for FRES Scout in a smaller army

Hopefully I will be able to bring these threads together to make a cohesive argument for what is I believe to be a fairly modest proposal, as given away by my suitable contentious and attention grabbing headline – that we can cancel FRES SV and spend the money elsewhere.

Armoured Reconnaissance, cavalry roles, and FF2020

There has been considerable discussion across the comment threads of various TD articles on the shape and form of armoured reconnaissance capabilities, and what kind of kit should replace the large number of venerable CVR(T) platforms that used to equip what were once calledFormation Reconnaissance Regiments”.

It might be said that the armour branch of the British Army has been in continual flux since the end of the Cold War; and due to the many and varied attempts to replace CVR(T) that pre-dated the existing FRES Scout programme, the armoured Recce role in particular has been in a somewhat confused state of doctrinal development, versus deployed reality in the middle east. We benefit on this site in having an Ex-Cavalry Officer, a serving member of the Singapore Armed Forces with a recce role, and other experts all of whom have varying opinions. Of course opinions are just that, they cannot be wrong nor are they universally “right” and as in any military endeavor there is rarely a single “one size fits all” solution to a particular problem set.

Personally I have been a supporter of the FRES Scout capability (if not the chosen vehicle) and 30 plus tonnes of what is essentially a Infantry Fighting Vehicle to replace the far lighter weight CVR(T) seemed like the right way to enhance protection on the modern battlefield for the Cavalry regiments. Herein lies the crux of the size, weight and capability arguments to me – Cavalry regiments have traditionally had roles above and beyond reconnaissance.

These have included:

  • Screening the main force
  • Rear guard for the main force
  • Flank guards
  • Rear area security
  • Response force (to assist in plugging gaps and preventing enemy breakthroughs)

On paper at least, all of these roles were ascribed to Cold War BAOR Armoured Reconnaissance Regiments equipped with lightweight CVR(T) series vehicles. Of course the fact that they are “armoured recce” regiments, also means advancing to contact with known / unknown enemy forces in order to “fight for information”.  This is where the arguments – sorry – discussions (!) normally begin in the comment threads, with the tension between fighting for information versus stealthy acquisition of such information.  The proponents of the stealth approach eschew protection for mobility, firepower for situational awareness and revel in the capabilities provided by modern optical / optronic and other sensors in assisting their desire to remained undetected by, and “not in contact” with the enemy.

However for the sake of simplifying concepts and categorizing capabilities with nice neat labels, we might say this is the difference between “armoured recce” where the mere fact of being armoured suggests fighting for information, and “surveillance”.

Either way, whichever style, concept of operations or tactical doctrine the reader prefers, the army that presided over the last few decades of failed programmes eventually chose a vehicle based on the General Dynamics Ascod 2 IFV to be the FRES Scout – the armoured recce platform of the future.  The Venn diagram below attempts to take the standard Iron Triangle and add in the “recce” element, showing the FRES Scout in the sweet spot in the centre of the overlapping capabilities.

I have also added some of the other vehicles available to the army to show extremes of protection and firepower (Challenger 2 MBT for both), the new Scimitar MK2 in the intersection of mobility, firepower (30mm cannon) and STA (new optics, thermal imager etc) and the Husky in the intersection of mobility, STA and protection – although I this case the point I am making is that the protection is relative to the Jackal 2. This is a point I shall return to later, at which point hopefully my intention will be more clear.

The Armoured Recce Iron Triangle
The Armoured Recce Iron Triangle

Do we still need FRES Scout ?

So, onto the contentious main thrust of my modest proposal, to first ask a question: with the smaller army and new force structure of FF2020 do we still need FRES Scout or indeed the tracked Common Base Platform of the FRES SV family at all ?

As I have noted, I don’t have a problem with the size, shape, weight or capability of the FRES Scout, I am not a massive fan of light weight tracked or wheeled alternatives.  No, I ask the question based on the force structure and value for money propositions.

When FRES Scout was originally envisioned, and indeed when it was chosen in it’s current Ascod 2 incarnation, we had 7 Formation Reconnaissance Regiments.  Unit’s that could be assigned as a Divisional asset, with lots of CVR)(T) series vehicles in a Regiment, and BAOR Armoured Regiments had even more CVR(T) vehicles, with each having their own Close Recce Troop of 8 x Scimitar.  So there were a lot of Cavalry / Armoured Recce units, and a lot of vehicles that needed replacing.

However that is not the reality of today’s army or that of the near future. Instead we have:

  • 3 x Heavy Cavalry / Armoured Recce units in the Reaction Force
  • 3 x Light Cavalry units in the Adaptive Force

So we now have only 3 regiments destined to receive a fairly small number of FRES Scout, while the 3 Light Cavalry regiments and their aligned Reserve force Yeomanry Regiments are to be equipped with wheeled vehicles, mostly Jackal 2 for the regulars, and LR Wolf WMIK for the Yeomanry (at least in the interim). Tellingly there is no “to be replaced by FRES Scout” note against these Light Cavalry Regiments in the FF2020 glossy brochures.

However there are factors other than the Scout variant requirements to take into account. FRES SV was to replace 100’s of remaining FV432 series vehicles, and CVR(T) series vehicles other than the Scimitar. Command vehicles, ambulances, signals vehicles, repair and recovery vehicles used by Armoured Regiments, Armoured Infantry, Armoured Combat Engineer units etc etc…..

Up to 125 Warrior variants maybe updated for some of these roles under the Armoured Battlefields Support Variant (ABSV) project as part of the Warrior Capability Sustainment Programme – but even for a smaller army, 125 such vehicles is not enough. Even if the FRES Utility programme was also meant to replace some FV432 series vehicles as well as the AT105 Saxon and some CVR(T) family members,  FRES UV will be a wheeled vehicle and there remain a large-ish number of pretty old tracked armoured support vehicles to replace with some urgency.  Let’s return to this subject after we examine the return of UOR kit, and it’s absorption into the core fleets.

UOR to Core

As we now know, a large amount, probably the majority, of vehicles procured under Urgent Operational Requirements (UOR) for operations in Afghanistan is to be returned to the UK and absorbed into the ‘core fleets’ of the army. The one vehicle type mentioned that appears to have been axed is the Warthog, but I will return to this momentarily.

The Venn diagram below shows 4 major factors in the decision to take UOR vehicles into the future as ‘core’ equipment.  Realistically we can’t always hit the sweet spot in the middle (red x marks the spot), but we maybe able to fit into one of the other intersections, providing a “good enough” capability with existing UOR kit, and within the budgetary constraints currently imposed.

Returning UOR Vehicles
Returning UOR Vehicles

According to Wikipedia, roughly we are talking about the following numbers of UOR vehicles:

  • Mastiff – 350 ish
  • Ridgeback – 168 (including Command, Ambulance and Weapons carrier)
  • Husky TSV – approx 350 (including Command, Ambulance and new Recovery variants)
  • Jackal 2 / 2A – 250
  • Coyote – 70
  • Warthog – 100
  • Scmitar Mk 2 – 60

Many of the numbers are “ ish “ because articles quoting procurement numbers are often contradictory, and I can’t find numbers for losses in country.

We know the Mastiff is going to be the mount for the 3 x Mechanised Infantry battalions of the Reaction Force, there being plenty of them for this role, including command vehicles, enough to carry the mortars, be out fitted as ambulances etc. No doubt others will remain with, or going into storage for RE EOD units.

However what I am interested in, is maximizing return on investment and value for money by use of various of these UOR vehicles in the Cavalry / Armoured Recce Roles.

A modest proposal – leverage the kit we already have instead of procuring FRES Scout

If we can bin the Nimrod MR4 at such a late stage in the project, surely we can bin the FRES Scout, and utilize existing equipment ? We may use the FRES SV programme budget to enhance these existing vehicles, and perhaps make ‘top up’ purchases to get numbers to where we need them to be.  The remainder of the FRES SV budget could then go to FRES UV ! As anyone who has read my pieces before will know, I believe Infantry should only be “light” for a very good reason (Marines, Airborne, Airmobile, Alpine) and that having Infantry battalions in the “General Purpose – Light” role simply because we can’t afford enough armoured (or “protected”) vehicles is just not good enough for such a small army on the non-linear and asymmetric battlefield. So diverting money to FRES UV seems like a good idea, but we digress………..

There are many forms of battlefield recce, from the Infantry Recce platoon crawling through undergrowth under cover of darkness to achieve a good over watch point, to Royal Corps of Signals units intercepting and direction finding enemy communications and other electronic emissions. Royal Artillery UAV’s, from Desert Hawk to Watchkeeper, Lynx and even Longbow radar equipped Apache’s of the Army Air Corps. In this context I believe that the role of the Cavalry Regiment, when tasked with Recce should be non-stealthy, survivable and capable of fighting for information during high tempo maneuver warfare.

That said, the role of the Formation Recce Regiment as the eyes and ears of the Division seem to have been replaced in current operational doctrine with the “Brigade Reconnaissance Force” (BRF)as the task oriented construct, which maybe based around the core provided by a Cavalry Regiment. Although many of our readers / commentor’s do not seem to understand the innate flexibility of a task oriented organizational structure, arguing for units that are dedicated to specific tasks; those of us who are ex-army will probably agree the ability to task organize and form battle groups and other composite units and sub-units as required to undertake the task at hand is at the core of the British Armies operational flexibility.

So for the new Brigades that form the Reaction Force, and the 3 planned brigades that can be pulled together from the pool of Adaptive Force units, I can see a BRF being created based around the Cavalry Regiment, but including Infantry Recce platoons, STA and air assets etc, as shown in the diagram below:

Brigade Recce Force
Brigade Recce Force

Therefore with this context set, let us move onto the details for the modest proposals.

Modest Proposal 1 – the Light Cavalry Regiments

At the moment it would appear that the 3 regular Light Cavalry Regiments of the Adaptive Force will be equipped with the Jackal 2 vehicle, as we have a large number of them returning from theatre. Personally I have big issues with the Jackal, mainly as any vehicle in this mine / IED centric universe that seats the crew over the front axle is simply not good enough.  Also despite the much vaunted situational awareness benefits,  I don’t like it at all for the “Cavalry” role. However, we do have a lot of them, so I would push the Jackal 2 into the Recce platoon role for the Mastiff mounted Mechanised Infantry. I would also push it into the Support Coy’s of these battalions, for use by the MG Platoon and even Anti-Tank platoon as it is undoubtedly a pretty good weapons platform. We probably have enough to also equip the Light Protected Mobility Infantry Battalions (those to be equipped with Foxhounds) in the same way.  We have them, we are going to keep them, lets use them, but just not for Cavalry roles.

For the 3 Light Cavalry Regiments I would pull together all the Husky TSV models. With approx 350 on the books, including the base variant with an open weapons station mounting a 7.62mm MG, command and ambulance variants, and even a new recovery variant, we could have 3 regiments that use variants of the same vehicle for the majority of their sub units.  For Regimental HQ, a bigger aid post, and general purpose usage, the Light Cav could utilize some of the approx. 168 Ridgeback vehicles in service. On the theme of UOR Kit,  I have not seen anything about what is going to happen to the Hirtenberger 60mm mortars that were purchased, but I would pass them all to these Light Cav Regiments, more for their utility in dropping smoke screens and provide IR / white light illumination than for HE.

The majority of the Husky’s might retain the current open topped, manned “weapons station” with .50 cal M2 or 40mm H&K GMG, however some might be equipped with the full Selex Roadmaster suite with both mast mounted sensors and RWS. Even better, an Anti-tank version would have its RWS equipped with a Javelin launcher – hey I did say we could use some of the FRES Scout money to enhance the UOR Kit as required !

Some additional Husky’s for the Reserve Yeomanry Recce regiments would be a good idea. With the Whole Fleet Management concept, and the role of these regiments in supporting their aligned Regular Adaptable Forces regiment, perhaps enough to provide a single squadron’s worth of vehicles per regiment would be enough, with UK based troop and squadron level training using the LR WMIK’s ?

On a slight side note, the un-armoured Navistar MXT upon which the Husky TSV is based was one of 9 originally selected contenders for the Operational Utility Vehicle order before it was cancelled, and morphed in to the dormant requirement for a Multi-Role Vehicle (Protected).  With the various versions of the Husky already in service, plus the new Navistar MXT-VA APC variant, perhaps we should just bite the bullet, indulge in some standardization and just take the Husky on as MRV-P ? It does not offer the protection levels of the much more expensive Foxhound, but it doesn’t need to meet this requirement.  I am sure the APC version is at least offering the same levels of protection as the old Saxon did ?

Heavy Cavalry – the Challenger 2 Recce Variant

Oh yes, I went there…….

In one comment thread, our illustrious leader TD himself suggested if we want a “heavy” Cavalry Armoured Recce vehicle, why not go the whole way and use a Challenger, just as U.S. Army Cavalry regiments are equipped with M1A1.

While I understand there is a considerable difference in mass between a 30 plus tonne FRES Scout Ascod 2 and 60 tonne plus Chally 2, with all the Recce, Surveillance and Target Acquisition assets we at our finger tips outside of the Armoured Recce regiment, why not lever the upcoming the Chally upgrade programme, the fact that we have existing and spare vehicles in storage and save our selves a lot of money !

TD covered the Challenger 2 LEP in this article.  With the more powerful but smaller engine leaving space for perhaps a diesel genny APU, for quiet fuel efficient power generation for running the sensors and comms kit,  new optical sensors, the additional RWS (and thus optical / thermal sensor channel) of the Theatre Entry Standard kit etc,  a Chally 2 for Recce use would potentially have an excellent multi-channel optical sensor capability.  This could perhaps be further enhanced with other elements of the full Selex Road Marshal suite as TD described in this article.

Perhaps we would just need an armoured box on the turret roof into which the mast mounted sight could be retracted ?

The Heavy Cavalry Regiment does not need to all heavy though.  Although I am on record as stating CV(T) is too light and not well enough protected to fight for information, again we have spent cash on upgrading a whole bunch of these vehicles for operations in Afghanistan, so why not lever that investment and add a squadron of these vehicles to our Heavy Cav regiment ?  With 60 ‘brand new” Scimitar 2 light armoured recce vehicles, and an unknown (to me via Google) number of remanufactured Spartan APC, Sultan command vehicle, Samaritan ambulances and Samson recovery vehicles, all with new hulls offering enhanced protection, more powerful diesel engines and upgraded suspension; we would appear to have enough to add a 16 vehicle Scimitar 2 “Close Recce Squadron” plus enough of the other variants for Squadron and Regiment HQ’s, and even an STA troop with battlefield radar etc (as per the old Formation Recce Regiment).

Again if we have an amount of the FRES SV budget to spend, why not upgrade the remaining Stormer based ex-StarStreak and Shielder vehicles that are still in storage – extra space is always appreciated in command vehicles and ambulances.

Heavy, medium and light capabilities integrated into a Reaction Forces “Brigade Reconnaissance Force”

So to answer the undoubted criticism that the Chally 2 is just too heavy for the way we have traditionally conducted armoured recce ops, lets look at how it can fit into a range of capabilities available to the Brigade commander of a deployed brigade of the Reaction Forces.

Obviously you can’t strip all of the constituent units recce capabilities, as they still need their own limited capabilities for use at their more local level, on  the more constrained operational frontage of a particular battle group. However please don’t get to caught up in the details, this is just an example.  Also don’t forget that other UOR kit that applies but is not specifically depicted might include a Desert Hawk unit, and Apache and Watchkeeper, plus RA Warrior FST vehicles etc.

The other capability not depicted is that which would sit at Brigade HQ in the form of the Intelligence cell and the C3 capabilities required to pull together the outputs and disseminate the consolidated intelligence picture to combat units.

Brigade Recce Force
Brigade Recce Force

Tracked Armoured Support Vehicles

We have 100 Warthog vehicles that apparently are not being integrated into the core vehicle fleet. As noted at the beginning of this article, part of the FRES SV programme is to deliver command vehicles, ambulances and larger ‘aid post’ vehicles, and other tracked armoured support vehicles to replace up to hundreds of old FV432 family vehicles. So again, keeping the Warthog, and potentially buying a few more seems to provide an alternative to various types in the FRES SV “Common Base Vehicle” family.

I understand that the Warthog would not be as well armoured or as well protected, but as previously noted, with a considerably smaller army, with a commitment to deploy a division at the most (based on best efforts) perhaps the Warrior upgrade programme will provide enough of the better protected support vehicles.

So the 100 Warthogs could certainly equip armoured ambulance units, and other CSS elements. If we wanted to make our Reaction Forces Armoured Brigades fully tracked, perhaps an additional buy of Warthog for the  3 Mechanised Battalions would allow the Mastiff to be passed down to the Adaptable Forces Protected Mobility Infantry battalions.

Summary and conclusions

In summary my modest proposal is to lever the UOR kit that we already own to enable the required Armoured Cavalry capabilities within the bigger set of ISTAR capabilities for the Army FF2020 order of battle.

I would suggest cancellation of FRES Scout and the FRES SV family, spending the budget elsewhere, including enhancements to the UOR equipment, including additional procurement. I really don’t see that the FF2020 orbat is big enough to warrant the FRES SV and it’s considerable expenditure anymore. The UOR kit, Chally 2 Recce Variant etc could keep us running well into the 2020’s and longer.

With funds diverted to the FRES UV requirement, with the tracked equipment in the Reaction Forces, perhaps we could dive into collaboration with the French who need to replace over 1000 VAB’s; or go with the RG35, but we don’t really need a heavy 8 x 8 IFV for this armoured utility role.

Looking further forward into the future, eventually we will need to replace Chally 2 just as our European NATO allies will need to replace a lot of Leopard 2’s – perhaps a common heavy chassis, suspension and drive train will provide for a front or rear mounted engine to provide an MBT, a heavy IFV and heavy APC (e.g. similar to the Namer), with Scout and other variants as required.

OK guys,  I will hand it over to the comment section now, so you can rip my modest proposals to bits.

 

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