A Clever Lightbulb and the Increasing Cost of Military Equipment

Whilst Chris has raised an issue about defence economics a couple of news items today struck me as pretty indicative of why the West is pricing itself out of military conflict.

First up was from ADS and covered the internal lighting arrangements for the Foxhound Light protected Vehicle


The article describes the light

Foxhound (above) is equipped with intelligent internal lights – intelligent by design and intelligent in application. In physical terms the LED technology means they are very low profile – giving more headroom for the soldiers travelling in the vehicle. As back door opens the light goes from white down to red – NVIS friendly capability in a single compact unit.

The DC Combi light has a rugged design which provides excellent resistance to shock and vibration and provides high reliability in the field. The light is a ‘fit and forget solution’ as there is no requirement to replace bulbs or tubes and it has a MTBF of over 50,000 hours

We have already seen how stuffed full of kit Foxhound is, situational awareness, communications, counter IED and power management equipment has contributed to what is an outstanding vehicle but one that costs a million quid each.

British Army Foxhound Light Protected Patrol Vehicle (LPPV) interior
British Army Foxhound Light Protected Patrol Vehicle (LPPV) interior
British Army Foxhound Light Protected Patrol Vehicle (LPPV) interior
British Army Foxhound Light Protected Patrol Vehicle (LPPV) interior
British Army Foxhound Light Protected Patrol Vehicle (LPPV) interior
British Army Foxhound Light Protected Patrol Vehicle (LPPV) interior
British Army Foxhound Light Protected Patrol Vehicle (LPPV) interior
British Army Foxhound Light Protected Patrol Vehicle (LPPV) interior

Simple it aint.

Oxley, the company who make the lights are an old British company innovating and doing well in their field, who can argue with the MoD working with British SME’s to provide a smart solution, a light that switches between white and red and doesn’t need maintenance.

Anyone remember those old penthouse lights, red was achieved by colouring in the lens cover with a felt pen!

When you look at this you cannot argue with the intent, but somewhere somehow the requirements process has resulted in a custom designed light fitting with all manner of clever stuff where before a felt tip pen and/or a manual switch might have done.

The article also goes on to describe how Oxley are also developing (i.e. a bespoke design) the prototype for FRES Scout

Oxley is also developing prototype lighting solutions for the General Dynamics Scout SV. This includes interior DC Combi dual mode crew lighting and the Gooseneck LED task light designed and manufactured to meet LED Defence Standard 59-411, and Land Class A and B EMC benchmark for UK military equipment

DEF STAN 59-411 is all about electromagnetic compatibility which is designed, for example, to stop an electrical piece of equipment messing with another, say a fuse mechanism, so all well and good. Do a spot of Googling on 59-411 and you will find a minefield (no pun intended) of information about comparisons with US standards, EU standards, product marking and technical documentation.

No wonder a light fitting is so expensive.

A wise chap from the USA said this a while ago

If we keep designing ever more exotic, ever more expensive ships, we’re going to unilaterally disarm

Given the USN’s track record it might surprise you to see who said it but the point is well made and applies across the board.

Whilst we are over in the USA the second story that caught my eye was about the unmanned K-Max.

I have followed this project since it started, posts here, here, here and here

What appealed was the simple and rugged helicopter starting point joined with relatively simple technology to make it remotely piloted. The K-Max was never going to be a utility helicopter or a multi role gunship, it was designed specifically for heavy lift and operating in harsh conditions without the constant support, almost Russian you might say.

The unmanned K-Max’s have been doing sterling work in Afghanistan, confounding the critics and astounding its supporters in equal measure.

The reason, a simple requirement.

OK, so one crashed a few weeks ago but the cost benefit equation is still in its favour.

But the temptation to improve, tweak and ‘add value’ was too much to resist.

So now we have more development work.


This includes;

A Wescam MX-10 hi-def EO/IR sensor was installed and a Ku-band satcom antenna mounted below the K-Max’s intermeshing rotors. A waveform was developed that avoided blockage by the rotating blades by “shooting the signal between rotor cycles, to go between the blades,” the company says.

The dynamic mission replanning demo involved uploading a no-fly zone direct to the air vehicle in flight. The aircraft sensed the obstacle directly ahead, and automatically replanned around it.

Also demonstrated was obstacle avoidance and landing-zone selection using a Fairchild Controls Hellas lidar to autonomously check the landing-zone slope, detect obstacles and select a safe area to drop the cargo.

Simple now becomes complex, newly developed waveforms to shoot EO signals between the rotor blades to a satellite for example.

I don’t have the answer, I am not saying Foxhound should not have a light that automatically switches from white to red or that the K-Max shouldn’t have an MX10 turret but just that it is easy to see why defence equipment costs so much and why we are only able to afford so little of it.

Again, think about what Ray Mabus said (bugger, given the game away)

Don’t fixate on these two examples, they are just illustrations but answer me this;

Can the West design and bring into service any major military equipment that is as simple as what precedes it or have we institutionalised complexity and the inevitable up escalator of costs and down stairway of quantity?


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August 14, 2013 7:33 pm

There’s PhDs galore in this subject. We seem to have a gutteral instinct to gold plate things and to push ever onwards.

To not have the best, to settle for something less than cutting edge is an argument so absurd in some minds that it’s not even said. It is literally incomprehensible.

It’s not just the military. Dad bought a 5.1 surround system many moons ago – cost a lot of money – was cutting edge. I used it for years, but when I didn’t have room for it anymore I couldn’t give the thing away. Worked as well as the day it was made yet it was worthless. Literally worthless. Not even the charity shop would take it.

Summin ain’t right.

Defence Insider
August 14, 2013 8:23 pm

More for Less isn’t that the current MoD mantra? Problem is with reducing troop numbers the equipment capability needs to replace boots on the ground. Where there might have been a guy with a gun now he needs to be able to laser designate, communicate, drive, shoot, collect ISTAR data etc etc. we in the industry dress it up as force multiplication.

I can’t see it changing unless we get more guys on the ground. Look at Typhoon, an air defence asset now doing good stuff in a multi role capability and watch keeper, an artillery spotting UAV will now doubt end up being armed to the teeth.

Problem is where does it stop?

August 14, 2013 8:26 pm

I’m all for simple. Simple means repairable, simple means locally sourced spares in an emergency, simple generally means more robust.

There’s a new Def Stan in town, 23-9, which covers the amazingly highly specified generic vehicle architecture (it beans databus standard) with which all ground vehicles are to be fitted. Many manufacturers have apparently taken this to mean only the high capacity databus is allowed to control anything in the vehicle, from sensors comms & weapons at one end of the scale to lights wipers and heater at the other. For crying out loud why do we need a computer to be involved in windscreen wiper switching? I bumped into the fellow from Abbey Wood who was creating the guidance document for the application of this Def Stan in military vehicles (a multi-layered approach he said) so I put in a very strong request to be permitted to operate the base vehicle with simple switching of 24V DC. Something that can be fault-found and repaired with the most basic of tools in the nastiest of conditions. The alternative of course is the computerised switching system; when it goes wrong and the vehicle crew is faced with the terminal blue screen, do they call up a help desk in India or just keep cycling the power in the hope it decides to work again? I doubt anyone on board would undertake software debugging under fire… I often wondered why software crashes were described as ‘Fatal Error’ – I think I might just have tripped over the answer.

I can see some value in a generic plug & play standard in the commercial world, but I have doubts it will be of real value in matt green vehicles. Not because the idea is flawed, but because these vehicles stay in service (often not doing very much) for decades, in which time the commercial world will have rattled through several generations of plug & play standards. Either GVA sticks at 2010 standards for the next 20 years (in which case less and less commercial stuff will be available that still works with the standard and more and more is custom made again) or all the vehicles need to keep up to date just in case, with their databus systems and already fitted legacy stuff upgraded to meet new GVA every 4 or 5 years. Either way round, there’s a lot of cash to be sunk in maintaining commonality through the decades. Or we do what we do now, which is make each vehicle mounted collection of systems work together and leave well alone until it all needs changing or the vehicle/role is pensioned off. That still seems the best value approach to me.

August 14, 2013 10:19 pm

: I did a short review on the original post, but so far as I could tell, the GVA standard doesn’t specify much apart from gigabit ethernet over copper or 10 gig over fiber. In fact, I took it to task for not specifying what services were available (eg, routing, ACL’s). It did specify the physical interfaces, and I suspect they will endure quite well. Where I work very long lived buildings are being specified with 50/125 multimode fiber with the expectation it can be upgraded by changing the endpoint devices.

In the commercial world, everything: door security devices, cameras, users, wireless access is rapidly converging on ethernet. This is partly due to power over ethernet and the cabling savings that result, but also because it is a bog standard protocol that “just works”.

Your assertion that we should just leave old stuff in place until it breaks has merit, but only for things that have very low bandwidth requirement. Your windscreen wipers have almost none, so you can leave them out. Your engine management system does not…potentially :-)

Brian Black
Brian Black
August 14, 2013 10:58 pm

Shouldn’t the interior light go from on to off when the door is opened?

If bits and bobs like the lights aren’t fitted from the outset, then countless manhours are spent tinkering with every vehicle across the fleet.

The lighting circuit for an off/red/white switch inside, with on off/on switch on the door, is not complicated, but that’s the sort of lazy job that would occupy a sergeant technician for at least a couple of days. And that would just be the initial fit, plenty of tinkering over the years to follow.

Probably more efficient to just supply the stuff that squadies will bodge together anyway. I never understood why I’d find myself cutting and fitting vehicle cam skirts and windscreen covers three or four times a year when an eight year old child in a Calcutta sweat shop could stitch together something sturdier that might last a couple of years, and do it for 12 pence an hour. The Army would have saved a fortune instead of throwing rolls of tattered cam into a skip and starting over after only a few weeks.

Translucent red nail varnish is better than felt pen for colouring the glass over your tactical lights. We always had more nail varnish than felt tips too.

August 15, 2013 2:19 pm

Worked as well as the day it was made yet it was worthless. Literally worthless. Not even the charity shop would take it.

This is completely irrelevant to the post, but charity shops generally have a rule of never accepting any donated electrical appliances. The reason is customer safety: if you sell someone a dodgy stereo that later bursts into flames, you are (very rightly) liable for the damage. Charity shops want to avoid that risk, and they also don’t want to have to spend money on getting lots of second hand electrics checked over by a qualified spark before they put them on sale: better to just have a blanket rule of ‘no electrics’.

August 15, 2013 6:38 pm

I am afraid you have missed the point.

It is not that *we* are pricing ourselves out of the defence game, it is that the US is pricing the UK (and the rest of Europe) out of the defence game.

Since WW2 the UK economy has consistently shrunk as a proportion of the US economy, at the same time the US spends more of its much larger and faster growing wealth on defence. Thus, in our efforts to keep up we are inevitably and frequently forced to accept ever lower numbers and/or lower quality. Foxhound, like T45, is an example of lower numbers, CVF of both numbers and quality.

This process will only accelerate as UK governments consistently squash genuine economic activity in the UK,

August 15, 2013 8:39 pm

It is the economy of junk but I’m starting.

The United States is a protectionist country, it does what it wants with his money, which is the world standard, it has a doctrine, it creates the appropriate military projects, it make wars that it want.

We are a continent with an open economy, with undistorted competition, rather than close our external borders and create a European customs, we close our factories and rebuild in emerging countries.

At the military level we are the auxiliaries of the USA, we are a smoke screen that hides the loneliness of USA to the international community.
The U.S. say “see, we are a UN-mandated coalition” which they provide the vast majority of equipment and men.

Our military spending is expensive because we don’t aspire to become a military power, with goals, we are not doing enough joint military projects, we each do our part in small projects, the making of small projects at the national level is horribly expensive. We need a common doctrine for joint projects and common weapons.

And it is impossible in a political point of view.

So we continue to be the countries that have military spending that cost expensive.

September 14, 2013 11:36 am

The EU is a customs union…..
Europeanised weapons projects have always been disastrous, because the aim is to equally divide work share and employment, not create cost effective and combat effective weapons.

If you take out France, the UK spends more on equipment than the rest of the EU25 combined on equipment.

It does look like a committee of generals have sat around a table and thought “wouldnt that be nice for the men”, whilst ensuring all the men were locked outside.
Can we not trust the men we trust with firearms to press a light switch?
Does that question not seem obscene?