The Story of FRES – A Summary

Where do you start with a summary of the Future Rapid Effects System (FRES)?


I suppose the first thing to do would be define what FRES actually is.

And therein lies the problem.

What FRES is remains a puzzle, wrapped in an enigma, an enigma that wears clown shoes.

It started with a recognition that whilst CVR(T) was a brilliant design for its time, its time was coming to an end and there was a need for a protected mobility vehicle somewhat better than Saxon and FV432.

All military equipment evolves, becomes obsolete and needs to reflect contemporary operating requirements, CVR(T), Saxon and FV432 are no different.

The FRES story really starts with what went before it, CVR(T), FV432 and Saxon.

By the end of the sixties, CVR(T) was well on its way to being in service and FV432 was already there. As the seventies concluded, CVR(T) was firmly established with a family of vehicles having proven their lightweight rapid deployment value in Cyprus and Belize.

The vehicle size and weight was directly limited by transport requirements, the vehicles, ships and aircraft in service. The whole point of the vehicle was deployability; strategic, theatre and tactical. Protection, that was what was available whilst maintaining size and weight limits.

Size and weight ruled the roost, not protection, not firepower.

In 1982, those deployability and mobility characteristics would be spectacularly showcased again, in the Falklands conflict, and during the rest of the decade a number of developments would come to fruition, some not, that showed the inherent flexibility and soundness of the CVR(T) design.

At the end of the eighties the electronics revolution was providing a glimpse of what it could deliver on the battlefield but this was not the age of the iPhone or flat screen, electronics were bulky, fragile and had significant power and cooling requirements.

The Vehicle Electronics Research Defence Initiative (VERDI) was a somewhat revolutionary look at concepts that would exploit emerging computing, communications and sensor equipment. It is not specifically documented anywhere that I could find but I suspect the reason a Warrior was chosen as the base vehicle for VERDI and not CVR(T) was because of size constraints.

Also during the late eighties the MoD formulated a plan to replace its menagerie of obsolete vehicle types with the Future Family of Light Armoured Vehicles (FFLAV) study that identified a number of roles that would eventually inform the CVR(T), FV432 and other vehicle replacement. These were resolved down to 13 roles and 50 sub roles with a weight range of between 3.5 and 24 tonnes.

FFLAV was a sensible and low risk look at the big picture, not simply a vehicle replacement study but marks the start of attempts to replace CVR(T), 1989. It was far too sensible to survive reality intact but would go on to provide the basis for the TRACER and MRAV programmes.

Sprouting from the seeds of FFLAV would come two programmes; Tactical Reconnaissance Armoured Combat Equipment Requirement (TRACER) and Multi Role Armoured Vehicle (MRAV)

The 1992 Staff Target (Land) 4061, more commonly known as TRACER, Tactical Reconnaissance Armoured Combat Equipment Requirement was to be the new CVR(T) replacement. TRACER envisaged an in service date of 2004, by then, CVR(T) would have been in service thirty years and the design, over 40 years old (give or take)

It was a joint project involving the USA and UK, a scout/reconnaissance vehicle that would have replaced Bradley M3′s, M1114 HMWWV’s and CVR(T).

Despite showing a great deal of promise, TRACER was arguably a little too advanced for the time, extensive sensor fusion and target recognition software, all the usual sensors, a hybrid electric propulsion system, segmented rubber band tracks, elevating sensor mast and a single crew compartment with remote 40mm cased telescopic cannon.

VERDI-2 was a continuation study of the earlier programme that really pushed the boundaries of sensor integration, combining optical, thermal and radar. Another programme that was a littel too revolutionary, but then I suppose, that was exactly the point.

The second offshoot of FFLAV was the Multi Role Armoured Vehicle (MRAV).

As the programme matured it would be envisaged as an 8×8 wheeled vehicle delivered on conjunction with France and Germany to a harmonised requirement. France eventually dropped out (to develop VBCI) and the Netherlands joined

The vehicle would go on to become the Boxer and enter service with the Netherlands and Germany recently.

The first prototype of the ASCOD vehicle was delivered in 1992.

The end of the cold war, the Gulf War and operations in the Balkans would give rise to a new way of thinking that would envisage the application of military force in a new, or revolutionary, manner. Instead of the ponderous build up of heavyweight combat power prior to operations or as a follow on for lightweight forces, a medium weight force would bridge the time gap and as capabilities matured the medium weight force would replace the legacy heavy forces also.

US experience in the Balkans with the Sava River, Task Force Eagle and Task Force Hawk also had a considerable influence on the US Army plans for FCS. The Russian dash to Pristina Airport was also influential in shaping the evolving concept.

Although the UK would not completely drink the US Revolution in Military Affairs and Future Combat System (FCS) Koolaid of network controlled rapid deployed forces that would substitute mass for technology and speed, it would certainly fall in love with it.

Where FCS led, FRES followed, the UK had caught the ‘transformation’ bug and go first, go fast, go home was the new mantra.

Network Enabled Capability (NEC) and the transfer of control of major projects from a single service to a joint function would ultimately lead to FRES.

Despite its promise the US withdrew in favour of FCS leaving the UK alone, given the UK was by then following the same (or similar) philosophy as FCS, TRACER was cancelled, to be followed by MRAV.

FCS evolved rapidly during the late nineties and next few years but it eventually ended up with a requirement that focussed on networks, advanced sensors and systems and especially, rapid deployment by air, specifically C17 for inter theatre and C130 for intratheatre.

This put a series of physical constraints on the vehicle that would prove to be largely unachievable.

The reason the promising MRAV and TRACER programmes were cancelled was simply because the UK slavishly followed the US in its pursuit of C130 transportable main battle tanks.

No independent thought, no listening to the dissenting voices who knew full well it was a fantasy.

Civil servants or politicians were not making these decision, it was those in uniform.

9/11 would only accelerate the perception that big old US Army was ‘too fat to fly and too light to fight’

FRES formerly emerged in 2001 with a non competitive contract award to Alvis for preliminary informing studies.

Confusion followed, the concept was unclear and the acquisition strategy even less so.

The MoD appointed a third party Systems House (Atkins) to provide engineering and project management expertise and act as an intermediary between the MoD and the rest of industry, an industry that had suffered at the hands of MoD prevarication but was now gearing to for the massive project that FRES was promising to be.

War in Iraq demonstrated, as it did in did 1991 and operations in Balkans, the enduring value of heavy armoured vehicles that could take hits and keep slugging it out. Using the speed and shock of heavy armoured vehicles to dislocate the enemy was as valid in 2003 as it was in 1943.

Lessons learned reports would reinforce this point, notable by their absence was any notion of what was missing was the capability being promised by FRES.

FRES sailed serenely on.

TRACER had cost £131 million, MRAV, £57 million, by this point, delivering no vehicles to service.

Beyond some information and experience, the MoD had precisely nothing to show for the fat end of two hundred million pounds, money was being continued to be spent on the legacy fleet and industry and everyone else was scratching its collective heads about exactly what FRES was.

There followed a divergence between the Army, Joint Doctrine Development Centre (JDDC) and the Directorate of Equipment Capability in the MoD.

DEC would win that argument and the C130 17 tonne requirement was set in stone.

In service date was stated by the MoD to be 2009, 8 years after the programme was initiated.

Despite significant resistance from within the armies of both the USA and UK, the transformation advocates won the day, ably supported by industry of course, the revolutionary medium weight concept promised to be a tech fest to end them all.

The post combat phase in Iraq and operations in Afghanistan would soon demonstrate the requirement for high levels of protection wholly incompatible with C130 air portability. The IED/RPG combination and the arguably criminal tardiness in providing suitable vehicles in response to a largely predictable threat would politicise FRES as the word Snatch and IED entered the mainstream vocabulary.

The Army stood accused of being unwilling to adapt for fear of jeopardising its FRES vision of the future, Iraq, seemingly being a diversion from the real business of transformation.

FRES was entering its silly period as everyone seemed to have a different answer to what FRES was, confusion everywhere remained.

The envisaged contemporary operating environment was characterised by a diversity of operation types on the same mission. The ability to ‘nip things in the bud’ by rapid intervention by forces that were more capable than traditional lightweight forces was  at the core of the concept. Although not using the same language as ‘too fat to fly, too light to fight’ it was the same argument as General Shinseki with FCS.

The essential ‘work in progress’ nature of the (Medium Weight Capability) MWCap was recognised by many, it is was about much more than a vehicle replacement programme. Much of the concept work during this period reinforced the criticism levelled at MWCap, a criticism that said it was oblivious of what was happening in the Middle East.

FRES sailed on.

The bizarre acquisition strategy with its complex structure would simply add to the ongoing confusion.

It is important to note again that Army transformation and doctrine development, and by extension, FRES, was managed not by the Army alone but by the Directorate of Equipment Capability in the MoD and the Joint Doctrine Development Centre (JDDC).

This is of great interest because there existed a divergence about what the shape and size of the FRES vehicles between the Army and JDDC/DEC.

Although General Dannat had been instrumental in getting MRAV and TRACER cancelled in favour of FRES in his autobiography he made the point about getting something into service quickly. It was already several years since FRES was started and the MoD were only just entering the initial assessment phase.

This sentiment was echoed by then Chief of the General Staff, General Michael Walker who was quoted in the book ‘Transforming Military Power Since the Cold War’ about what the requirement was;

A big armoured box, stick an engine in it, a set of tracks or wheels, and upgrade it as and when we needed

The Army, despite cancelling MRAV, itself a big armoured box, wanted a big armoured box

When you read those comments and realise that the Germans and Dutch were on the cusp of placing production orders for Boxer, a vehicle the UK had spent £57 million developing, it really is incredible, made even more when recent events are taken into consideration.

Despite this desire for simplicity, they (the Army) were over ruled by DEC(Ground Manoeuvre) who aligned FRES to FCS, the 17 tonne Main Battle Tank concept from the USA.

Again, the Army lost the concept battle.

For most commenters and observers of FRES this is often misunderstood or its effect under estimated.

This was reinforced by the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding between the UK and USA on Land Battlespace Systems. FRES started with a recognition that C130 transportability was useful but not critical it was now the exact opposite, just like the US FCS programme.

Reality and those inconvenient laws of physics eventually intervened and the requirement for C130 transportability dropped in favour of the A400M but not until a great deal of time and money had been expended on chasing the C130 goal for a vehicle with a high degree of protection, protection amply demonstrated as being a key requirement by operations in Iraq.

By 2005, as operations in Iraq bloodily continued, FRES had evolved, or more accurately, it was now a joint programme, the Joint Medium Weight Concept.

Some of this revised thinking included the rapid deployed by air element was now only at Battalion or Battlegroup level, not as many have subsequently claimed, whole brigades for which the UK simply does not possess the air transport fleet for.

FRES was still very much seen as being ‘significantly lighter’ than the current heavy forces and Challenger, Warrior and AS90

In service date was now 2010 with a cost of £14 billion

2006 saw FRES go back in time but perhaps forward in maturity, the transformational ninjas were losing ground.

C130 transportability was confirmed as being dropped and the Utility Variant was by now the top priority because of Iraq.

The Utility Variant was now envisaged as an 8 x 8 wheeled chassis, weighing between 25 and 30 tonnes. Joining the wheeled 8×8 would be two tracked platforms, one between 20 and 25 tonnes and the other between 30 and 40 tonnes.

Despite this the Joint Medium Weight Capability doctrinal underpinning still remained, the definition of medium weight now changed.

The convoluted acquisition strategy was also starting to show the cracks. The FRES Integrated Project Team (IPT) was operating with the assumption that the MoD Directorate of Equipment Capability, Ground Manoeuvre or DEC(GM) was actually called “Customer 1” and the Army “Customer 2”

Whatever the reasons for this, that the Army was designated Customer 2 was deeply symbolic of what FRES had become, a joint capability not a vehicle replacement.

In 1988 the FFLAV vision had a tracked vehicle between 20 and 25 tonnes, cancelled.

In 1992 VERDI-2 demonstrated a tracked recce vehicle in the 25 tonne bracket, no further work carried out.

In 2001/2 TRACER, a tracked vehicle between 20 and 25 tonnes had been cancelled, £131 million wasted.

Then we had a little wobble with FRES and here we were in 2006 aspiring to a tracked vehicle in the 20 to 25 tonne bracket.

On the utility vehicle variant, FFLAV resulted in MRAV, an 8×8 vehicle weighing between 25 and 30 tonnes, cancelled at a cost of £57 million and  almost by magic and the power of the force, we were back with the notion of an 8×8 wheeled vehicle between 25 and 30 tonnes.

So 6 years later, we were back in post FFLAV country of TRACER and MRAV, plus a really heavy variant.

Is it any wonder the Army and MoD were roundly condemned, the defence select committee in 2007 describing it as;

A sorry story of indecision, changing requirements and delay

FRES was still seen as the long term solution to Army requirements and the protected mobility fleet were for ‘over there’, certainly not how the Army saw it fighting in the future or how they would want to fight.

The Chief of Defence Procurement (Sir Peter Spencer) was emphatic that FRES and protected mobility vehicles were very different

These UORs have not impacted on the budget for FRES, full stop

A report also confirmed the Army’s stance that NO off the shelf vehicle available would meet the FRES requirement, for any variant, and the main reason was upgradeability over the expected 30 year lifecycle of the vehicles, specifically, 10-15% additional weight growth.

An interesting position given a) the age of the vehicles currently in service b) none of them were specifically designed to be massively upgradeable and c) the difference between in service weights and current weights of the same vehicles.

Warrior started out at 24 tonnes and will leave service (probably in and around 2040) at over 42 tonnes.

CVR(T) started out at 7 tonnes and will leave service (who knows when) at over 12 tonnes.

Without being specifically designed for huge weight increases, they have both, with good engineering and design, managed to accommodate significant weight growth.

Then, the Medium Weight Brigade gave way to the Mechanised Brigade terminology. In order to counteract the epic levels of confusion about what FRES and the medium weight capability actually was, the Joint Medium Weight Capability (JtMWCap) was developed and accepted, Joint being the important word. JtMWCap absolutely avoided the word FRES but it was clearly a cover story for it and attempted to get buy in from the other services, presenting it as a joint concept.

The new head of DE&S (Lord Drayson) had previously insisted on the 2012 In Service Date (despite what Atkins said) and had pushed hard to give the Utility Variant some momentum. The politics of Iraq, Snatch and protecting our boys combined with the MoD’s confusion about what FRES actually was led to him concluding that replacing CVR(T) was much less of a priority than protected mobility.

Instead of a completely bespoke vehicle which would not be in service by the new target date of 2012 the new position was a modified military off the shelf vehicle, an evolution of existing designs.

This was another change in position, only a year earlier the MoD had been insistent that no in production vehicle would be suitable but it was now in a big hurry to do something, anything.

The market was assessed, all the 8×8 vehicle manufacturers invited to provide information, initial assessments carried out (including the AMV and Freccia) and three vehicles would go forward to the so called ‘Trials of Truth’ in summer.

One of the Boxer prototypes in APC configuration would participate in the Trials of Truth, joined by Véhicule Blindé de Combat Infanterie (VBCI) from Nexter (previously Giat Industries) and the General Dynamics Piranha V

It was rumoured that the head of DE&S, Lord Drayson, wanted the VBCI because it would be quickest into service. It is probably true that the Snatch Land Rover controversy and the ongoing political dimension on fighting two wars on a shoestring budget whilst the other services were steadfastly refusing to see the strategic importance of current operations played into the ‘need for speed’

Both Boxer and VBCI were rejected by the Army, despite what Lord Drayson wanted.

We had a choice of two vehicles that would need minimal development and were already (or about to be very soon) in production and a PowerPoint design, the PowerPoint of course won the trials. The actual vehicle trialled was not Piranha V but Piranha Evolution, a surrogate for the final design.

This alone made a mockery of the very term, trials of truth.

Instead of a stand up knock down fight between in service vehicles with the winner taking all, it was, essentially, a sham

In hindsight, there absolutely no possibility of Boxer winning and it’s inclusion and subsequent rejection was obviously to prove the Army leadership right in their rejection of it years earlier. By demonstrating it lost, the earlier decision to cancel MRAV and waste £57 million would be vindicated.

Its inclusion was a smokescreen, the Army wanted the General Dynamics Piranha V.

After a series of reported ‘blazing rows’ with Bill Jeffries who sided with the Army, Lord Drayson wrote to the Secretary of State for Defence, Des Brown, laying out the impasse.

Des Brown backed Bill Jeffries, the Army and the Investment Approvals Board, Lord Drayson walked.

With Lord Drayson out of the way the MoD then sat on the decision and the end of 2007 would come without any formal news of FRES Utility.

There were various rumours about the delay, some said all three vehicles did not do well and others said it was to give the Treasury time to batter down the cost, but it was simply a lack of decisiveness on the part of the new team at DE&S and the MoD. Many news sources guessed correctly that Boxer was a fig leaf and the only version in service was supported by Lord Drayson, with him gone, the obvious winner would be Piranha.

FRES Specialist Vehicles Scout was quietly back on the agenda with assessments contract awards to BAE and General Dynamics.

Making the assumption that future operations would include more Afghanistan than Gulf War the MoD published the Defence Strategic Guidance document in June 2008. Although the full spectrum combined arms operations were still considered an important capability to retain the DSG focussed on enduring stabilisation of counter insurgency type operations.

The next war would be the same as the last.

Meanwhile, in the USA, a seismic shift was about to take place in the Future Combat System (FCS) programme. After being restructured in 2007 in response to the requirements of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, the new Defense Secretary (Robert Gates) marked the card of the FCS with a speech about next waritis and the need to prevail in Iraq.

FCS was dead man walking and remember, where FCS led, FRES followed.

The Future Land Operational Concept (FLOC) was published later in the year but it was still talking about the Joint Medium Weight Capability.

At the end of the year FRES UV was as dead as Disco, preferred bidder status was withdrawn from General Dynamics over the issue of intellectual property, but still, FRES SV Scout was back on the front burner.

In 2009 the MoD confirmed FRES Specialist Vehicles would be obtained in a single programme in 5 Blocks of vehicles with 16 variants, an estimated quantity of between 1,200 and 1,300 vehicles and In Service Date of 2015.

The Army had changed its mind again, UV was not the priority after all.

The MoD also confirmed that the aborted FRES UV work had cost £131 million and at about the same time, the US FCS was formally cancelled.

If the FCS/FRES concept of substituting protection derived from mass, for speed, electronic countermeasures and networked precision was effectively buried by Iraq and Afghanistan, this was official wake.

The difference between the all powerful network in the FCS vision and the Network Enabled FRES concept was bought into sharp focus by the creaky BOWMAN system, effectively failing to live up to pretty much most of the promises made of it.

Following the design rights and intellectual property issues exposed by FRES UV and subsequently ridiculed by the Defence Select Committee, the MoD announced a new approach to design rights and intellectual property in April, this was called the ‘cake and eat it’ approach.

2009 also saw the MoD’s DSTL embark on the frankly bizarre Future Protected Vehicle Capability vision, commonly referred to as the 30 Tonne Main Battle Tank. After the FRES and FCS vision of a 20 tonne tank, reality had entered the world of fantasy fleets and instead of C130 transportable armoured vehicles the MoD was now spending money on A400M transportable armoured vehicles.

Readers at this point may well have to go and have a lie down before progressing.

£700 million on protected mobility UOR’s, several hundred million on CVR(T), Saxon and Warrior upgrades, £133 million on FRES UV, £57 million on MRAV and £131 million on TRACER

And we are back looking at the tank of the future, with scarce MoD funds.

The MoD is nothing if not persistent!

The FRES SV Scout competition was between General Dynamics and BAE, using the ASCOD and CV90 as a start point respectively.

Outwardly there was little to distinguish them, both using  in service infantry fighting vehicle of nineties origins as the base platform and both were equipped with the mandated 40mm CTA cannon with a range of C4ISTAR, protection and automotive upgrades. The new Generic Vehicle Architecture would form the backbone of the sensor and electronic systems for both vehicles.

Neither featured a telescopic sensor mast as TRACER had and both were conventionally powered and protected, no hybrid powerpacks, electric armour, active hydrogas suspension or segmented band tracks.

This was a significant step back from both the TRACER and initial FRES visions because the MoD, smarting from relentless criticism, facing an impending budget crisis and continuing pressures of ongoing operations knew full well they would have to trade ambition for realism and getting something into service was critical for the credibility of the project and the department.

Therefore, FRES SV represented a paucity of ambition because it had to come into service.

On the flip side of this complain is the reality that new vehicles were needed and maybe something that was 80% was good enough. Many pointed to an inability to trade capability for time and cost led to the demise of TRACER.

It was and is a fair point.

Both BAE and GD solutions offered uplifts across the lethality and protection domains, would be equipped with the latest (albeit off the shelf) sensor systems and offered great potential of future upgrades through Generic Vehicle Architecture and automotive improvements.

Neither was a poor design, far from it, both being solid, well designed machines.

The main issue that most commentators remarked on was the sheer size and weight of both proposals. It is difficult to envisage a force comprising 30-40 tonne vehicles being rapid to deploy, mobile on the battlefield without significant manoeuvre support or being stealthy in support of the reconnaissance mission as defined by UK doctrine.

With the election out of the way the MoD and General Dynamics announced successful negotiations in June and the award of a £500 million contract for the Demonstration and Manufacture phase of FRES SV Recce Block 1. Seven prototypes would be built with first testing completed by the end of 2013.

Towards the end of January the Chilcot Iraq War Inquiry heard evidence of of a shocking lack of equipment in the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

The pressure on the MoD, on DE&S and on FRES was building.

Following the publication of the 2008 Defence Strategic Guidance and 2009 Future Army Structure (Next Steps) that recognised the most likely operation was not a large scale state on state operation but enduring medium scale interventions that would be complex, crowded and with ambiguous goals.

As Future Army Structures (Next Steps) matured in early 2010 the proposed light, medium and heavy structure gave way to the concept of six Ground Manoeuvre Brigades each with an identical modular structure. These brigades would be supported by three Support Brigades and a high readiness Air Assault Brigade.

Although FAS(Next Steps) made perfect sense it did not address the resource issue, indeed, when fully implemented it would have required a 10% uplift in personnel.

It was thus, utterly unrealistic.

This was recognised by March, FAS(Next Steps) was no more, General Richards instructed the Army to come up with a new plan that recognised financial reality and paid attention to the newly published Future Character of Conflict published by the Defence Doctrine and Development Centre.

And so was born ‘Transformational Army Structure’ or TAS

TAS bought the 6 plus 3 plus 1 Brigade model of FAS (Next Steps) down to 5 Multi Role Brigades and 1 Air Assault Brigade and instaed of 3 support brigades, a single Joint Theatre Enabling Command.

TAS was much more inline with the Future Character of Conflict that suggested that future operations would be more like Afghanistan than the Gulf War; congested, cluttered, contested and connected.

The Multi Role Brigade concept survived contact with SDSR 2010 but not unscathed, they would now be self supporting instead of using the Joint Theatre Enabling Command and force reductions across the board became the chosen position.

Although SDSR confirmed its commitment to FRES  the concept of the Medium Weight Capability, joint or otherwise, was dead in the water.

The FRES vision of a bulging middle joined by a smaller heavy and light capabilities was gone.

The future was modular, the future was enduring and the future was certainly not the quick in quick out medium weight concept.

The five Multi Role Brigades, plus 1 high readiness Brigade and a smaller number of deployable HQ’s pretty much killed off the medium weight intervention force model of which FRES was the poster child.

It is difficult to see how as a programme, it could continue, given the underpinning doctrinal sands had completely shifted.

But survive it did.

Despite this, the National Audit Office published a stinging rebuke to the MoD in the form of its 2011 report, the Cost Effective Delivery of an Armoured Vehicle Capability.

It reported the total spent to date on FRES UV, FRES SV, TRACER, MRAV, Terrier and Warrior CSP was £718 million, with not a single in service vehicle to show for it.

FRES SV, Warrior CSP and Terrier were predicted to require another £9.1 Billion to complete.

FRES UV would be on top of that figure.

In 2011, in preparation for deployment to Afghanistan the German armed forces did two things, first they upgraded existing vehicles to the ‘Afghanistan A1′ configuration and second, announced that all new vehicles would now come off the production line in this same configuration, starting from vehicle number 41. Most modifications were relatively minor, more storage space, an improved crew harness with integral airbag, fitting smoke dischargers and increasing the height of the remote weapon station to improve depression angles. A more significant upgrade was integration of an ECM system and improved belly armour.

VBCI was already in Afghanistan by this point, both vehicles rejected by the MoD in the FRES UV Trials of Truth

Throughout the year, the Army had been struggling with squaring the circle of trying to fit 5 Multi Role Brigades into the personnel reductions described by SDSR and the additional reduction announced in July.

In charge of these initial studies was Lt. General Nick Carter and it was becoming apparent that the Multi Role Brigade construct was likely to be changed.

In the early part of 2012 more and more on Agile Warrior and the studies being carried out by General Nick Carter were being released and discussed. These studies were looking at the shape and organisation of the army in a post Afghanistan world where the regular army would be in the region of 80,000 personnel.

In May 2012 the Army released Joint Concept Note 2/12, Future Land Operating Concept, an update of the 2008 version.

It was an important milestone because it laid the foundations for Army 2020 and from a FRES perspective, completely expunged the whole notion of medium weight intervention forces.

The document contains ZERO instances of the word ‘medium’ and scant mention of rapid intervention.

One cannot escape the conclusion that the troubled concept of the medium weight force that was so completely aligned to FRES (or perhaps the other way around) was now history.

All that study, all those joint concept notes, hundreds of thousands of words, tens of thousands PowerPoint presentations and god only knows how many millions.

All gone.

The underlying concept behind FRES was as dead a Monty Python parrot

In July 2012 Army 2020 was in the public domain and whilst the media generally focussed on the Reserves and cap badge bun fights, the Multi Role Brigade was no more, replaced with the Reaction Force, Adaptable Force and Force Troops.

Many believed that whilst the Multi Role Brigade was sensible it was simply unaffordable, even in the watered down concept presented in SDSR 2010.

Army 2020 would retain a heavy core with a lighter follow on force bolstered with an enlarged reserve component for enduring operations. There were (and are) many critics of Army 2020 seeing it as a return to the a Cold War comfort blanket, but in response to resource reality it was difficult to see other options and it cannot be said that it was without rigorous underpinning analysis .

Where did all of this turmoil leave FRES.

On the surface, completely unaffected.

FRES SV Scout work carried on throughout the year the odd news piece would highlight some element of the programme or another.

It also became apparent that final quantities would likely reduce and In Service Date slip. There was also some movement between the various blocks and a number of variants were quietly withdrawn from future plans. The Medium Armour element had already gone in 2011.

Towards the end of 2013 news emerged of problems with the Scout turret. Defense News reported that General Dynamics had agreed to pay Lockheed Martin several million pounds in compensation for failing to keep to a timetable on requirement delivery. It also reported problems with weight growth and a delayed ISD.

Testing continued in Spain

On the 20th June 2014 ARTEC handed the first production Netherland Boxer over to the medical company of the 13th NL Brigade.

And that is the story of FRES.

Despite the numerous missteps, wrong turns and what seems on face value to be procurement buffonery of epic proportions the current Scout development seems to be maturing, despite programme slippages and possible cost increases.

But the cost to get here has been significant to say the least, opportunities squandered and the British armoured vehicle industry greatly diminished.

The bill so far, not including medical and other welfare costs incurred as a result of the vehicles not being in service for current operations would be a matter for the National Audit Office to determine but from open source documents we can at least quantity, TRACER, MRAV, FRES UV and FRES SV costs to date.

£133 million on FRES UV, £57 million on MRAV, £131 million on TRACER and £500m on FRES SV to date

821 million of the Queens Pounds


We might like to reflect on the Finnish purchase of 60 CV90’s in 2004 for about £200 million or the £2.25 million unit production cost for German and Dutch Boxers a few years later.

Harder to quantify but still very much related is money (lots of) for development and production costs for the CTA 40mm weapon (shared between FRES and Warrior), UOR funding for protected mobility vehicles, various planned and UOR upgrades to the legacy fleet that would have not been needed if FRES was in service (accepting some of these might also have been needed for FRES), development contracts for related technologies such as VERDI and VTID, Generic Vehicle Architecture and a number of vetronics programmes, Future Protected Vehicle, Future Family of Light Armoured Vehicles (FFLAV) and the huge amount of time/money spent on development of the various flavours of FRES Medium Weight Capability doctrine.

On top of that £821 million and who know how much for the items in the paragraph above are future costs for production and through life support for FRES SV Recce Block 1, development, manufacture and through life support of Recce Block 2/3, and not forgetting, a complete restart of UV whilst spending money bringing the last chickens in the shop Protected Mobility fleet into core.

Where did it all go wrong?

An interesting question that is not really possible to answer properly without being in full possession of the facts, that I am not.

We should be very certain that the many people involved did not wake up one morning and say, let’s screw things up.

Failure has been the result of a myriad of mostly well intentioned decisions made with the information at hand.

All this is nothing but opinion based on open source material but if I was forced to lay the blame and with my finest hindsight goggles it would be in a series of bullet points;

  • Requirements that changed too rapidly for programmes that lasted too long, or an inability to stick to what was wanted
  • Being seduced by the easy allure of transformational technology whilst ignoring or downplaying risk, the infamous conspiracy of optimism
  • An inability to consistently articulate what the programme was meant to deliver in support of changing doctrine
  • An obsession with upgradeability and weight growth that consistently pushed the requirement beyond available vehicles whilst conveniently ignoring that pretty much every vehicle in service had experienced significant weight growth that had been accommodated with new technology
  • Organisational, personnel and programme management deficiencies with a bizarre acquisition strategy that was a self inflicted wound, a result of getting rid of in house expertise in the development establishments.
  • The sadly far too common revolving doors between industry and the MoD and the insidious influence it exerts
  • Tardiness in reacting to a predictable threat in Iraq and Afghanistan led to justified criticism that the Army was protecting the future at the expense of the today which led to political intervention on the ‘protecting our boys’ theme. This intervention resulted in yet more requirements change and a series poor, rushed decisions.
  • Differences of opinion and a general confusion around decision making and the influence of the MoD’s DEC and JDDC on an Army requirement.
  • A fundamental inability to fully grasp that the MoD has champagne tastes and brown ale budgets
  • A crowded equipment programme managed by an MoD unable to prioritise or control over ambition, especially for high cost maritime and air programmes

The net result was an enormous waste of money and time and much more importantly, you could make a reasonable argument that service personnel have suffered due to it.

If that is not a good reason to reflect soberly on what happened then nothing is.

But, that is all in the past, although we should not diminish the historic fact it is important to look forward to what the Army is getting.

First, the Army is not yet confirmed as getting anything.

The contract with General Dynamics is pretty much for development of Recce Block 1 only

Assuming the development contract finalises in good order (which it looks like it will) the MoD will probably place a production contract for a few hundred vehicles with them all being in service by the end of the decade(ish) whose programme cost will be astronomical.

The subsequent blocks remain in doubt and if I was a betting man I would be reluctant putting even 10p on the appearance of anything other than Block 1, who knows though.

If one thing is certain, it is that the original vision of FRES is long gone, what was claimed to be a transformational programme is now anything but, it is just a vehicle replacement.

FRES SV is now a simple replacement for CVR(T).

Gone is the medium weight intervention capability that would be built around FRES and form the bulk of the Army.

FRES Scout of course is certainly more than a modern CVR(T); significantly larger, heavier, better protected, armed and endowed with sensors and communications equipment not possible in the smaller CVR(T).

But the price for this ‘more of everything’ is a significant reduction in mobility and increase in visual signature.

The Army has traded the small and agile CVR(T) for the big beast that is Scout, a clear movement in the mobility, firepower, protection triangular scale towards protection.

All that is fair enough, and who are we to question but that a change has occurred needs to be noted.

If one looks at the deployment history of CVR(T) it is crystal clear that its agility and mobility has been a significant advantage, an advantage that will no longer be available.

Except of course, if CVR(T) Mk2 remains in service, the ultimate irony of the long search for CVR(T) is it may well be, for some users, CVR(T).

I think you could file that in the ‘you could not make it up’ section.

The requirement for a Saxon and FV432 replacement should not be overlooked in the concentration on SV either, there is still that circle to square.

The obvious answer is to pick one of the many 8×8’s on the market, take your pick, the field is open wide.

And yet in our rush to pick an off the shelf design, essentially for both UV and SV, we have lost the confidence in our ability to innovate.

CVR(T) was not an off the shelf design, neither was Warrior or FV432. TRACER, SEP and others showed that industry can still innovate and innovation does not always mean astronomical costs.

Good design is still possible, good designers exist, the skills are there even if the MoD’s confidence is not.

Perhaps the answer is to rediscover our ability to innovate.



Additional Note

One of the observations in the summary that drew some comment was the description of the interplay between the various tribes organisations within the MoD and their influence upon the overall FRES programme delivery.

As an additional note, the following is a short piece to explain in further detail.

Following the 1998 SDR and Smart Procurement initiative the MoD created a single Equipment Capability Customer (ECC) called Deputy Chief of Defence Staff (Equipment Capability), a 3* joint post. Underneath, were four capability portfolios, each with a single manager; strategic deployment, strike, manoeuvre and information superiority. Spread across these four portfolios were fifteen individual 1* Directors of Equipment Capability (DEC).

The Joint Capabilities Board was chaired by the Deputy Chief of Defence Staff (Equipment Capability) with the four Capability Managers, the Director General (Equipment) and Director General (Research and Development)

Director of Equipment Capability Ground  Manoeuvre (DEC(GM)) would normally take the lead on requirements setting after consulting with various stakeholders. Defence Equipment and Support (DE&S) then goes and delivers the requirement to the user.
The Deputy Chief of Defence Staff (Equipment Capability) was responsible for equipment capability but did not sit on the Defence Procurement Agency Equipment Approval Committee, a structure designed deliberately to reduce the influence of the services in procurement.

Dysfunctional, you decide?

FRES was no different to many other projects that had to deal with the constantly shifting sands of acquisition reform, smart procurement, IPT’s the move from the Defence Procurement Agency to Defence Equipment and Support and the removal of the development establishments.

The FRES series is not a commentary on the wider MoD ‘buying stuff’ transformation programmes that have come and gone in tune with the political tides but of course it is heavily influenced by it.

The FRES IPT was a largely civilian staffed team with representatives of DEC(GM) and the Army community.

As the Defence Acquisition Change Programme started in 2009 it started to move away from an individual project focus with formation of Programme Boards so FRES had to contend with all of this and with the latest Lord Levene defence reform, will have to contend with more.

This stuff is important because as we saw with TRACER, for the most part it was not in the DEC(GM) pillar, but ISTAR, and that might have been why it was so easy to cancel, stand fast those that think wasting £131m is easy.

An important pillar of Post Cold War British Defence thinking has been to be able to stand side by side with the USA. Nothing wrong with this of course but it does drive behaviours and for FRES, following US defence transformation was fundamental. Whilst the UK was keen on the US Network Connected Warfare concept it adopted a much more cautious approach, Network Enabled Capability (NEC), reflecting the British focus on technology as an enabler, not a replacement for speed, surprise and superior fighting capabilities.

In 2002, Air Marshall Sir Jock Stirrup was Deputy Chief of Defence Staff (Equipment Capability) and Major General Rob Fulton Director of Equipment Capability (Information Superiority), a Royal Marine . It was Major General Fulton that coined the phrase NEC and produced the NEC plan in 2002, it being endorsed by the Joint Capability Board the same year. The next year, after promotion, he was the new Deputy Chief of Defence Staff (Equipment Capability) and took the view that NEC would be embedded in more or less, every single programme, FRES being no different.

In the same period, the Effects Based Approach to Operations (EBAO) would also be a significant influence on FRES. EBO was another US theory (USAF more accurately and mainly focussed on targeting) that would be developed further for the UK, this time by the Joint Doctrine and Concepts Centre at Shrivenham, another result of the 1998 Strategic Defence Review.  In 2002, the Director General JDCC was Air Vice Marshal Ian McNicholl and between 2005 and 2007, it was Rear Admiral Chris Parry.

EBO and NEC would bookend FRES

The original Army concept for FRES was relatively simple, first emerging in 2001 but a few years later it was to grow into a monster under the DEC. This divergence was clearly influenced by the US FCS concept and the developing NEC and EBO movements with the Directors Equipment Capability and Joint Doctrine and Concepts Centre, both ‘joint’ organisations.

Many of the FRES requirements were simply walked over from FCS, driven by the NEC and EBO activity.

The Army clearly had an eye of risk and operational experience but as FRES evolved in its early phase would it be unfair to point out that Deputy Chief of Defence Staff (Equipment Capability) was a Royal Marine and the driving force behind NEC followed by a REME officer and the Director’s General of the Joint Doctrine and Concepts Centre (JDCC) during this period was an Air Vice Marshal and Rear Admiral ? In 2004 Major General Dick Applegate was appointed Senior Responsible Owner Capability Manager for Battlefield Manoeuvre, Major General Applegate was a Royal Artillery Officer. Another Gunner, Brigadier Bill Moore was DEC(GM) between 2004 and 2007. The Director of Battlefield Manoeuvre in 2006, another Gunner. DEC(GM) from 2007 was 2 RTR, for completeness

This is not a finger pointing exercise but worthy of note.

My point is that during the formative phases of FRES between 2001 and 2007, it was influenced by a significant number of other projects, programmes and development organisations, many of them Joint in nature.

Joint infers all three services so this is not a statement saying the RAF or RN ganged up on the Army, clearly that is not the case, but there was a divergence between the initial Army thinking and subsequent requirements as defined by DEC(GM) and heavily influenced by the Joint thinking on NEC, EBO and the increasing importance of ISTAR in doctrinal development. Many observed that the Joint Doctrine and Concepts Centre had significant effect on the Medium Weight concept and its close alignment to FCS, and by extension, FRES.

In a number of sources, it was clear the actual Army users of FRES felt some disconnect between what it wanted and what it was getting.

At yet it was clear that the UK never bought in completely to the US vision of a Network Controlled Warfare and FCS, this seemingly contradictory position of close alignment with FCS but divergence from its underpinning NCW approach is probably worthy of further study.

Perhaps there was a general confusion on the interplay between them all, there certainly was a great deal of confusion at the time about the Medium Weight Capability.

So that is an expansion of my comments in the summary about the influence on FRES from Joint organisations that did not perhaps possess the background and skillsets to fully understand the implications on  vehicle design of the concept?




The rest of the series

The Story of FRES – Introduction

The Story of FRES – The Sixties

The Story of FRES – The Seventies

The Story of FRES – The Eighties

The Story of FRES – The Nineties

The Story of FRES – US Experience in the Balkans

The Story of FRES – 2000 to 2003

The Story of FRES – 2004

The Story of FRES – 2005

The Story of FRES – 2006

The Story of FRES – 2007 and the Trials of Truth

The Story of FRES – 2008

The Story of FRES – 2009 and a Return to FRES

The Story of FRES – 2010 Scout Contract Award

The Story of FRES – 2011

The Story of FRES – 2012 to 2014

The Story of FRES – A Summary


As one might imagine, this series has taken an enormous amount of research, taking into account many sources but I must give special mention to our Chris and Challenger2 from Plain Military, without their expansive knowledge and most helpful insight and support, this would have been much the poorer.

Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
August 10, 2014 1:24 am

What a truly excellent piece of defence journalism this history of FRES series has been !

Also thoroughly franking depressing…. :(

Let’s hope it gets used as a case study in MoD, staff courses and even MBA’s. !!

Pete Arundel
Pete Arundel
August 10, 2014 7:29 am

“Perhaps the answer is to rediscover our ability to innovate.”

Please excuse my ironic laughter but I really doubt that is possible. The entire country is geared for short-term gain. Politicians look no further forward than the next election and will compromise their Party’s principles in order to gain power and there are few large companies left that have the ability to invest for the future. The small businesses so beloved of the Conservative party are at the mercy of the banks who aren’t interested in long term investment and certainly won’t speculate on untried, innovative projects. As long as the UK economy is powered by The City and makes a living by moving money around until the next financial scandal hits then, basically, there is no chance of any form of industrial innovation in the UK*

*Obviously I’m ignoring JCB but equally obviously I’m not going to let reality interfere with my prejudices. If I did they wouldn’t be proper prejudices . . .

Pete Arundel
Pete Arundel
August 10, 2014 7:32 am

Oh, and after my minor rant I should also like to congratulate TD on the excellence of the FRES story.

August 10, 2014 10:27 am

Pete Arundel – innovation is quite possible. Turning innovation into desirable product is the hard part. For my part I have done some of that innovation stuff and I quite like the results (I might be biased) but I have not approached the banks nor any other lender; its all savings funded. The reason was not that the banks are unreasonable profit driven vampires and vultures but that they would be quite sensible to refuse finance on the grounds that the very limited number of budget holding customers have shown no support. Even the most ardent anti-banker couldn’t accuse them of being anything other than sensible…

The few Users that have been briefed have shown a degree of interest, which suggests the concepts would have utility in the future Army vehicle fleets were they to be bought. Shame those Users hadn’t their own equipment budgets to spend…

August 10, 2014 10:42 am

As an illustration of your comments HSBC’s chairman Douglas Flint regarding lending to SME’s 7 days ago.
“It is in the nature of banking that some degree of risk is involved in lending.
One would not want to see loan officers[HSBC’s] discouraging entrepreneurship because of fear of ‘zero tolerance of error’ and future ‘censure.’ ”
He is the Chairman (quite important) of one of the most important lenders to SME’s in the UK , rather than giving a view on lending policy maybe he should be setting it and giving firm reassurances to these Commercial loan officers that come a F**K UP , they will not Hung ,Drawn and Quartered.

August 10, 2014 10:49 am

Future Raped Effects System?
You got it ! The UK taxpayer has been.
From a post on the Open Thread re the new Textron Scorpion design process
Basically from concept to flying prototype meeting a perceived need , and therefore sales , in 23 months. This is a military specification compliant twin jet ground attack aircraft not a green/brown steel box on wheels/tracks. Yes it will have to integrate various end users weapon systems but its ‘open software architecture’ should trim that cost down.

August 10, 2014 11:14 am

Monkey I agree with you there. He’s moaning about an internal Bank process not one related to the regulatory environment.

The other “slight” flaw in HSBC Chairmen’s (poor) argument is that HSBC and other European banks has been knee deep in criminality or very poor business conduct. The recent list is quite long – Libor rate fixing issue, Exchange rate fixing, Money Laundering (HSBC Mexico), Sanctions busting (Iran), Insurance mis-selling. All of which are either Illegal (the border line between mis-selling and Fraud is a fine one it appears to me) or breach of contract just about everywhere in the world.

One might argue that the real problem is that no one in any European Bank Board has paid any legal price for failure to perform their fiduciary duties. I would suggest this is quite a big difference loan officers making poor lending decisions. In any case, I don’t recall seeing a long list of Western bankers being carted off to jail or having their assets seized for 2007/08 financial crisis caused by very poor US mortgage lending decisions and the knock-on effects either.

August 10, 2014 11:45 am

There is more to come from the US , during the great Sub-Prime Mortgage Selling Glory Days many lenders locked in the borrowers into their Property insurance , no insurance with us , no lending from us. Many US banks have already made very large, $billions , out of court settlements as test cases have been ruled as this was an ‘un-fair’ practice and if like for like insurance could have been found the difference is owing.
One very large provider HFC , Household Finance Company (or Household International) has yet to settle and as one of the biggest Sub-Prime players their figure could be very large. I’ll let you look up which UK bank who bought them in 2003. Household International were also a very large issuer of credit cards and PPI has reared it head in the US too.

August 10, 2014 12:12 pm

Senior officers have explained in what context will be used the Scout, it does not have enough fire power for being a vehicle of contact as may be the Italian Centauro, and it seems to me too big to be used as the German Fennek .
Moreover, do you know if the variants of FRES UV vehicles will be used by the Adaptable Force ?

A Different Gareth
A Different Gareth
August 10, 2014 2:02 pm

“With one eye on politics and one eye on trying to get through the MoD’s confusion about FRES actually was he understood full well that replacing CVR(T) was much less of a priority than protected mobility.”

Am I bad for laughing at this knowing he is blind in one eye? It became a problem when he was trying to get a racing licence to be able to do Le Mans. He did eventually get one and has competed twice I think. He has since turned his hand to electric vehicle racing.

For example: Driving the Drayson B12/69EV. 14 minutes of motoring journalist Chris Harris at Elvington looking at and driving Drayson’s electric racing car. Lots of talking. Drving action begins 6 minutes in.

I think the MoD have a suitable CVR(T) replacement in the shape of the Warthog platform, they just haven’t realised it.

“TRACER, SEP and others showed that industry can still innovate and innovation does not always mean astronomical costs.

Good design is still possible, good designers exist, the skills are there even if the MoD’s confidence is not.

Perhaps the answer is to rediscover our ability to innovate.”

Chasing innovation risks buyer’s remorse and I think seeking to avoid that risk has damaged the MoD in terms of procurement. Too many projects abandoned, late, expensive, not up to the job, etc. The longer a project takes the more vulnerable it is to mid-term changes which adds more delays and more costs.

The MoD seemingly doesn’t know what it wants half the time and gets little useful direction from our politicians. A period of reflection might help. Modest proposals and appropriate kit delivered in a timely fashion in suitable numbers to be effective. That would be an innovation in itself.

Pete Arundel
Pete Arundel
August 10, 2014 2:15 pm

– I wasn’t actually having a go at the banks. I was just pointing out that small businesses have no real alternative to the banks. There’s no government investment as such because that is what the government believes the private sector is for.

August 10, 2014 3:06 pm

Pete A – I think I might have mentioned it before but in my opinion the biggest act of stupidity verging on government vandalism to befall the MOD was the disbanding of the research establishments. They were where the ideas concepts and structures were invented modelled tested and refined so that the right sort of stuff was developed by industry. And the contracts that were let once the establishments had sorted out the need were not subject to the unhelpful (being polite and restrained) decade-long competitive procurement lark. What Governments choose to ignore is that industry investment only happens when there is a reasonable probability of return on investment; MOD is such a small player now very little cash will be invested in new stuff to meet their champagne tastes.

ADG – ‘risk’ was the root cause of the closure of the establishments. In the monetarist view that was all-powerful at the time, risk equalled an unknown future cost; a nightmare in budgeting terms, so responsibility for design had to go away. By not designing anything the Gov’t now absolves itself from all risk, which now sits on industry shoulders.

The result of these is that compared to the first 70 years of the last century, military equipment development in this country has stagnated. We buy in from countries that do still invest in defence (and have exports because of that investment) and wash a very thin, very expensive film of UK Customisation over the top. ASCOD is an extreme example of this. I have no doubt if MOD (or politicians) decide to buy off-the-shelf 8x8s “for the sake of expediency”, a decade-long upgrade programme will be applied before the vehicles would be considered good enough for UK use. No quicker than starting from scratch. Possibly no cheaper. At the end of which some non-UK corporation will have an upgraded product ready to export. Hey ho.

August 10, 2014 5:04 pm

SuperAV 6×6, equipped with a turret with two LMM missiles, and a mast ISTAR, the MoD saves millions and you have a wonderful vehicle from my point of view, which is more or less equivalent that the future EBRC.

Well, this works perhaps not so easy for an engineer, but it would be a good idea.

Peter Arundel
Peter Arundel
August 10, 2014 10:00 pm

” the biggest act of stupidity verging on government vandalism to befall the MOD was the disbanding of the research establishments.”

No argument from me there. I decided that after reading “Cold war; Hot Science”

Of course we still have QinetiQ (stupid fucking name . . .)

August 11, 2014 8:51 am

“What FRES is remains a puzzle, wrapped in an enigma, an enigma that wears clown shoes.”

Brilliant. Just brilliant!

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed reading this series TD, keep them coming!

A Different Gareth
A Different Gareth
August 11, 2014 10:36 am

Chris said: ” I have no doubt if MOD (or politicians) decide to buy off-the-shelf 8x8s “for the sake of expediency”, a decade-long upgrade programme will be applied before the vehicles would be considered good enough for UK use. ”

How can the fannying about with specs and exquisite solutions be discouraged? They are going to keep doing it and politicians will generally shy away from taking responsibility for the final decision. The only way I can think of is promising that unmolested off the shelf kit would be purchased in relatively big numbers.

August 11, 2014 12:22 pm

ADG – I see two relatively focused approaches to procurement and one nightmare.

1) Nightmare: I won’t bother detailing the nightmare in too much depth because that’s the one MOD uses; that is to pretend to have an open competition but with stupidly complicated specs – the result is the competitors bid the nearest they have on the shelf and promise major modifications to reach compliance. Result: a bespoke design based on ageing platforms. And a lot of time wasted in the la-la-land competitions followed by a mod programme that lasts as long as new development but which is stacked with all the undesirable constraints imposed by use of an existing design as the start point.

2) Buy stuff & use it: This is evidently an impossibility for MOD. An example – we bought Sincgars radios as part of Bowman but invested in UK specific encryption devices to fit in place of the US standards. This is a tactical radio system dealing in immediate orders reports & returns which presumably has the encryption key changed regularly – had the UK used the US crypto system, what risk that in the time the key is active that either hostile forces or NSA would break the code and learn secrets of value? How much did the UK specific change cost over the years? Second example – UK WAH-64 is almost an Apache as the US use except for a major redesign to fit RTM engines, like the ones in Merlin. Except the installation in Apache is different and so the positioning of ancillaries and mounting hardware is different. So after all that cash to get the aircraft engine commonality with Merlin, the result is there are two different versions of RTM engines to keep in the logistics trail rather than one RTM and one GE engine. Final example – MRAPS. UK had Snatch and Vector in Afghanistan and clearly needed tougher vehicles. The US Cougar MRAP was bought but instead of going to Afghanistan they went to Warwickshire for a complete revision of the armour solution. The resulting vehicle I have no doubt has better protection, but it took months to design/manufacture/test/qualify/sign off the new design when the original as used by US forces would probably have done much the same job. Not only was entry into service delayed by this but the cost of the upgraded truck is eyewatering compared to the vehicle its based on. Nothing off the shelf is ever good enough for MOD.

3) Rapid custom design: An attempt to recreate the disbanded establishments on a project by project basis; it requires MOD to pick a core design team with which to work in a cooperative embedded manner, a team which would grow as specialist knowledge of different aspects of the design/manufacture need addressing. The intent being a) to get rid of ‘us & them’ politics, 2) to provide full visibility to the customer (because they are working members of the team) rather than quarterly audits, 3) to get the design bang on what the User needs first time round with immediate design input when required, 4) to deliver the right equipment in the shortest time. What it does not require is monstrously complex overweight requirements (technical or commercial) because there would be cooperation. Could you imagine a situation in your own company where every interdepartmental request had to be via technical and commercial requirements against which the other departments would bid for the task? “Type a letter Miss Jones” would become a three month competition not a three second request. Why shouldn’t it be equally sensible to organise project teams as if all are working for the same organisation?

Personally I favour the last option – the User gets what they need and as quickly as industry can make it, the vaguely collegiate structure of the team would suit both huge corporations and small enterprises alike meaning the best organisations could be engaged no matter how big or small, timescales would be slashed (years cut out just by abandoning the competition dog & pony show), costs would be transparent throughout, and some cracking products would spring up ready for export to the benefit of UK PLC.

August 11, 2014 1:09 pm

Having lived through much of this debacle and lamented frequently the UK’s inability to procure armoured vehicles, it is good to see the full sorry story written up so comprehensively. The only correction I would note is that there is one missing link in the story. FFLAV died principally because of the collapse of the Soviet Union and the consequent rethinking of defence policy and downsizing which resulted in the Options For Change programme. The result of this was that obsolete, obsolescent and less effective vehicles such as Saladin, Saracen, Ferret and CVR(W) Fox were removed from service and surplus vehicles were available for redeployment. This in turn led to the LAV Rationalisation exercise, which redistributed the assets available, and the LAV Strategy, which proposed a phased replacement and upgrade plan to the whole of the LAV fleet.

From memory, the proposed plan, which was approved by APRC, foresaw the following ISDs:

CVR(T) LEP – 1995-7
Saxon MLI – 1998
TRACER – 2004
MBAV/MRAV – 2005 (replacing FV430 and Saxon)
Warrior MLI – 2007
ABSV – 2008 (foresaw use of reroled Warrior)
FCLV – 2012

As can be seen from this excellent narrative, the majority of these remain key elements of the programme, albeit under a variety of different names. It is, however, sad to see once again how awry the whole timetable has gone.

Not a Boffin
Not a Boffin
August 11, 2014 3:07 pm

“The convoluted acquisition strategy was also starting to show the cracks. The FRES Integrated Project Team (IPT) was operating with the assumption that the MoD Directorate of Equipment Capability, Ground Manoeuvre or DEC(GM) was actually called “Customer 1” and the Army “Customer 2”

That the Army was designated Customer 2 was deeply symbolic of what FRES had become.”

Just to clarify – DEC(GM) was an Army post (held by an Army 2*) – not sure what it’s become post-Levene. The requirements were drawn up by serving army officers and “supported” by Operational Analysis from Dstl among others. Exactly the same applied to the Navy where the equivalent 2* was (IIRC) DEC (Precision Strike), a navy rear-admiral with a large naval staff working for him. Same went for the Crabs, although I can’t remember the tally – DEC(Kevin) is probably wrong – DEC(Air Manoeuvre) or somesuch?

Your text appears to suggest that the Army were in some way remote from this process, which is untrue. The “Customer 2” designation was (at the time) to distinguish between the operational commands (HQ Land), CINCFLEET and HQ(Strike Command) whose responsibility was the day to day delivery of trained people and materially ready kit. It was the days of centrally managed budgets where Whitehall-based service personnel (Customer 1) ran the acquisition budget and Command-based service personnel ran the operations budget. I’m sure RT has the full gamut of horror stories. Mostly gone now thanks to Levene – hopefully for the better, time will tell.

However, the point is that contrary to the impression given – that some none-Army organisation was given priority on the programme – it was an Army show all along. In exactly the same way the FE/FSC/T26 saga has been a Navy show over a similar timeframe.

Not a Boffin
Not a Boffin
August 11, 2014 3:37 pm

Can’t speak for the army, but my experience in town with the Navy was that your Customer 1 desk officer who was writing the requirement, had usually just finished a drive before a quick trip to a course at Shrivenham, thence to MoD MB, so by definition, a recent actual user. Said officer would always include “Customer 2” representation from Fleet at most if not all meetings, so the current “actual user” was always wound in.

“Transformation Evangelists or Ninjas” they weren’t – although one DEC(PS) two-star did catch LCS-disease and we were perilously close to a 40kt requirement for FSC at one point.

There is always a sense of alienation when one does not control the project, so I can understand any perceived frustration at Land, you did get bits of that at Fleet. Hopefully Levene will fix the issue, but it’s “wait out” atm.

Red Trousers
Red Trousers
August 11, 2014 3:56 pm

I mostly side with NaB.

Minor factual detail, the DECs were all one stars, less DEC SP who oddly was a full Col.

The thing with FRES was that it was too big. Everyone had a finger in the pie. FRES was a whole system that in theory included A400 M and those green painted ships we have on PFI (can’t recall their name). So everyone got involved. The pointy heads in the Joint Doctrine Centre at Shrivenham were especially dangerous, all mouth and no responsibility.

The other point about FRES was that the IPT was massively poorly run. I worked alongside half a dozen IPTs in 3 years, and FRES was a standout clusterfuck run by a civvy.

The Other Chris
August 11, 2014 4:17 pm

@RT: Point-class

Rocket Banana
August 11, 2014 4:30 pm

“The thing with FRES was that it was too big. Everyone had a finger in the pie. FRES was a whole system that in theory included A400 M and those green painted ships we have on PFI (can’t recall their name)”

Interesting. If someone simply defined: large, medium and small (or heavy, medium and light) then there would be no problem. Even I’ve inherently done it whilst reading stuff on this site over the last few years.

So I therefore conclude that there is a lack of top-down thinking. This means an utter lack of overall strategy. Which would explain a thing or two.

August 11, 2014 5:22 pm

The problem is that the MoD has asked the question, what weight should have a vehicle to withstand to an anti-tank mine, not that must be the mission of the vehicle.

August 11, 2014 5:42 pm

An excellent series TD, it seems we have just come full circle and still can’t decide what we want.

Red Trousers
Red Trousers
August 11, 2014 5:46 pm


It really wasn’t about the wagons, it was about global reach and velocity. FRES was born in the Petersberg Declarations of 1992 after we wellied Saddam in 1991. Tony Blair was messianic about FRES as a concept before 2003. If he had not have been, there’d have been no Sierra Leone intervention.

What shafted FRES was when Iraq started getting nasty. Protection became the mantra. And with protection comes weight.

Somewhere on the shelves or more probably digital archives are some extremely good pieces about forward basing, pre-loading, and even pre-funding dual use ports and railways in various bits of Africa. That was always the best bit of FRES. Prevention, and prophylactic preparation. Not spastically heavy behemoths.

August 11, 2014 6:04 pm

Simon and Frencie, I think your taking RT’s comment too literally: “The thing with FRES was that it was too big” – as in the programme got too big, not the vehicle !

Chris – adding own nation crypto to a radio system is actually not a good example. Everyone uses their own crytpo, however to your point the integration of it into the basic radio system was possibly over complicated !

TD and Andrew – I think Andrew’s comments absolutely back up TD’s assertion that it was senior green uniforms who kept changing stuff and frakking it up, not MOD procurement grey pin stripes. – Can you keep changing doctrine and thus vehicle procurement / fleet strategy to keep up with the Jonses ? If your strategic framework, CONOPS and doctrine are flexible enough you might not have to, and for blips that you dont see coming (which lets face it, there will always be) then a flexible UOR process is the right answer. It keeps on coming back to the Army changing its mind, but perhaps in the context of a government which was unable to layout a strategic framework rather than a series of “re-examinations” of defence which were always budget led and based around cuts. Labour at least had the right idea with SDSR, even if it too was never going to be fully funded.

only generals and potentially treasury penny pinchers can be blamed for:

Scenario: Post Balkans, with considerable experience of working in a high mine threat and IED threat what do we deciede:
1. Keep and buy more Alvis 8 and / or similar vehicles due to the good service and survivability given in the Balkans, or
2. Decided we will never need this kind of capability again in the future, and thus can rely on Snatch Landrovers as used in Northern Ireland for any peace keeping / peace enforcement activity……..

Bottom line, reading all of TD’s excellent journalism, it appears “FRES, it was the Army’s fault” might be the headline.

Gloomy Northern Boy
Gloomy Northern Boy
August 11, 2014 6:10 pm

@RT – “Some extremely good pieces about forward basing…” Any of them published, or publicly available? I ask because a good way back one of our number proposed a strategy for using intense DfID investment to build very strong partnerships with small and potentially friendly States like Sierra Leone that could provide operating bases and safe havens in dangerous corners of the world…seemed like a good idea when I first read it, and getting better all the time (my list now includes British Somaliland and Kurdistan)…be interested to know just how far ideas about this aspect of the FRES concept went…


Rocket Banana
August 11, 2014 6:36 pm

RT (and Jed),

Yep, it looks like I thought “big” meant large. I didn’t. I understood the statement to mean the size of the program/project… and then used size as an example. Bad choice. Sorry.

My point is that without top-down analysis of what “medium” or “rapid” means then there will only be scope creep.

In my tiny little mind FRES meant no more than 35 tonnes.

If this defined “medium” then it would define “medium” for all three services. Similarly if “medium” also implied a maximum physical size then those that were tasked with procuring airlift or sealift could just go about their business regardless of what the army decided to actually fill the “medium” space with. The same is also true for sizing what “medium” (or “rapid”) logistics might imply.

You have to set the bounds.

Red Trousers
Red Trousers
August 11, 2014 6:53 pm

GNB, re publishing, I very much doubt it. In those days, Restricted was the default template, as it kept things out of FOI. From memory, most of the discussion was at Red.

But don’t be disappointed. It’s an enormously fun game of Fantasy Forward Basing, which is much more fun than fantasy fleets. The globe is not secret, so the geography open source. I still retain odd facts in my head about transit times from port to port, linear metres of half Brigades when embarked, and the fact that the Sea Crusader had to pay a surcharge to dock at Ploce because she needed a tug escort, and then her ramp did not fit the quayside (ruddy loggies, they should have seen that one coming. Big boat, small port. Who would have guessed it?)

August 11, 2014 7:12 pm


Ploce death camp! I remember it well, we got pulled back from TSG to help build the airstrip for Grapple Surge.

Red Trousers
Red Trousers
August 11, 2014 7:35 pm


I heard about that name, but I was only ever once in Ploce, when the French reinforced UNPF with an extra Battalion as part of the reaction to the Zepa and Gorazde crises in May 95 (we did the same with the D and Ds coming out of role on Igman and getting fighty). I was bag carrying for the Boss who in addition to being the Force Commander was also Colonel of the Legion, and the new Battalion coming in were 3eme REI, who had shipped from Toulon on a ferry.

They docked and were unloaded in about 20 minutes. They drove past the Boss, every wagon Commander saluting crisply, and the CO watched it all critically. After the last wagon passed, the CO’s driver produced a bottle of champagne and we had a toast “to blood, and the Legion”.

Bit odd really, but a good day out.

August 11, 2014 7:52 pm


I think it was about June 95, 24 Airmobile were sent out when we started to get a bit more robust and began bombing Serb positions. We pulled back to build a runway for the RAF Chinooks and Pumas and a few Lynx’s. The French were there with a flight of their Puma’s and their equivalent to the RAF regt. Spent about a month and a half there then went back up to TSG.

August 11, 2014 10:07 pm

I find the idea of FRES being too big (as a programme) curious- it needn’t have been and frankly wasn’t. Unlike FCS in the US* the core of FRES was always the armoured vehicles and after TRACER there was nothing too revolutionary about them. It should not have been beyond the whit of the MoD to acquire a family of AFV’s- in fact they were then winding up doing just that with Warrior at the time and had done it several times prior to that. Having to get them on certain transport types was hardly new either.

What is interesting though is looking at the fundamentals; FFLAV was so unambitious that it would have been pointless, then TRACER marched in the other direction producing something far too ambitious that involved spending hundreds of millions for a single role vehicle that pushed the bounds of technology. We finally found a good balance with MRAV/UV but that got killed in a manner that looks deliberate and then finally with SV which at least seems to be coming right.

*This is key, FCS was far broader in scope than FRES ever was, it included a whole host of other bits that were as, if not far more, important than the platforms. FCS was the equivalent of combining Watchkeeper, Bowman/ComBAT and FRES (and a whole host of other bits) into a single project but all with the technological ambition of TRACER and then sitting back to watch the inevitable fireworks. Trying to compare FRES to FCS seemed at the time like delusion and since like excuse making.

August 11, 2014 10:30 pm


The transformational stuff was there but despite what the Army and MoD would have you believe it simply wasn’t anything like FCS. FCS was a network that happened to include vehicles, vehicles that were bleeding edge technologically like everything else in the programme, alongside UAS, sensors etc. FRES, TRACER aside, was a not especially ambitious vehicle programme- despite all the sound and fury it was not that challenging or interesting aside from the numbers being bandied about (which always suggested to me that nobody had really thought about how much modern AFVs cost).

And truth be told, if one looks at what was happening more widely at the time its clear that other things were playing out:

FFLAV was too soon and too unambitious, especially for the late 80s
TRACER answered this but was essentially a late Cold War project in its conception- a highly ambitious and expensive single role platform (it reminds me of Comanche in the US) designed as a straight replacement in the Cold War recce role
MRAV was sensible though the Boxer pod configuration is a waste of engineering effort but thats neither here nor there- it would have done the job
FRES-UV/SV finally got the balance right

August 11, 2014 10:51 pm


I am honoured you would ask my opinion! I have to say though they I think you hit the nail on the head with the fashion remark, at least until MRAV. For MRAV and beyond something uglier seems to have been in play, withdrawing from Boxer in 2003 was silly, scuppering contract negotiations with GD for Piranha V seems like wilful vandalism.

The programme always raised one niggle in the back of my mind- the number of platforms being discussed seemed out of proportion with the amount of money that was realistically likely to be available. That is not a specific answer because I don’t have one and couldn’t without full access to the meeting minutes and studies of the time.

August 11, 2014 11:24 pm

You’ll have to ask RT, he did mention he was “in” the FRES project at one time.

One factor I think has to be considered is “perceived need”. With the huge stock of CVR(T)s and Warriors still available as well as the post Cold War drawdown, there really is no urgency to getting a new vehicle and the timeframe and urgency (lack of) tends to breed procrastination in a time of tight budgets which allows the changing winds of “military fashion” to blow. It’s something like the US’s M2 HMG replacement though not to that extent. Large existing stock, low requirement for change = programs that get nowhere and takes forever.

Face it, right about now, can we really say FRES is desperately needed with all the CVR(T) and Warrior/Bulldog upgrading? You can terminate the whole project and not much will change.

Ed Zeppelin
Ed Zeppelin
August 12, 2014 7:46 am


“TRACER answered this but was essentially a late Cold War project in its conception- a highly ambitious and expensive single role platform (it reminds me of Comanche in the US) designed as a straight replacement in the Cold War recce role”

Comanche cost $7billion dollars, not less than £200million!
I don’t think that TRACER was that ambitious or that expensive, just a good little hop forward in technology and capability.
I genuinely find the FRES debacle so depressing that I am just happy for any new vehicle, regardless of how good or suitable it is. CVR(T) is on it’s last legs, and the prospect of going to war against anyone with any clout is frankly terrifying. We always used to laugh at the thought of the PM being briefed that our Armoured vehicles were CBRN proof, so we could go into Syria/Iraq etc without worrying about that. Well, given that every CVR(T) I’ve ever been in has let rain water come gushing in from somewhere, I’m not so sure!

August 12, 2014 7:59 am

Hohum – its all back in the mists of time now but I thought fleet numbers were reasonably stable through the first 15 years of studies – wasn’t it something like 3500 total for FFLAV (all variants) 1700 for TRACER (being just the recce part with 1400 MRAV covering other roles), and 3700 for FRES (all variants)? This looking like one for one (ish) replacement of 1,863 CVR(T)s and 2,536 FV430s. Even in the early years before the reduction of Army size (absolutely capability led and nothing to do with budget restrictions) the numbers looked high.

I think your criticism of FFLAV ambition is a bit harsh; it was after all supposed to be a family of vehicles; platforms only, not high tech systems. As such the requirement was to get something a bit better than CVR(T) and FV430 made from modern and more supportable components with better protection and to use a modern term better growth capability. A new set of rugged mobile boxes that high tech stuff could be fitted into. This seems to me a perfectly sound strategy – get vehicles designed/built by people that understand vehicles and the high tech wizardry designed/built by experts in that domain. Far better than making vehicle makers do high tech system design or getting Gucci system geeks to design vehicles.

TRACER was ambitious. Far more than a vehicle programme. It started while I was still at Alvis; the company saw the breadth of requirement and very quickly teamed with RO/BAE (BAE assigned some very bright engineers in the Kingston team; RO had equally smart engineers at Blackburn who if memory is right were the official leads). As with some of the US programmes trying to develop several very different streams of technology concurrently under the same contract with the idea they would each remain entirely compatible with the other streams of development at all times was a pipe dream.

FRES? Its really hard to offer sound critique at the technical level because the amorphous blob of requirements never stayed the same shape long enough. I thought the early requirements could have generated some interesting products, but after a couple of years it became clear the requirement was changing faster than the designers could track – the final nail in its coffin in my opinion was when MOD essentially admitted it was uncontrollable and Atkins were shovelled in to make something of it – what was it? Ten completely stovepiped competitive studies into specific design areas (electric armour, drivetrain, electronic architecture etc etc) that had no requirement to be compatible with each other – how was that ever going to make a coherent vehicle at studies’ end?

As for numbers, I don’t see huge fleets of FRES in the inventory. Some. Not lots. Interesting to note FV430 was replaced in the 80s – by Warrior (or MICV80 as it was) which was deliberately designed to fix the MOD’s issues with 432 and family – not adequately mobile, not armed, should be better protected, needs growth capability etc. ( refers.) Result – a bigger heavier vehicle that really filled a different role. And FV430 remained in service because it wasn’t really replaced. Here we are 30 years on still talking about replacing FV430 with bigger armed more mobile vehicles. Similarly the deficiencies of CVR(T) have now been sorted by a better protected better armed more powerful ASCOD/FRES-SV, ending up with a vehicle that really doesn’t fit the role of CVR(T) capability. For the foreseeable future then I expect CVR(T) in some form or other coexisting with ASCOD/FRES-SV doing different tasks that the bigger vehicle doesn’t suit.

August 12, 2014 8:21 am

Can any one really fathom how FRES turned into a disaster?

How can a simple concept get so royally confused, was it because they were seeing the vehicle as part of a system rather than a means of carrying a system? I thought it would have been simple, find a vehicle to replace CVRT, which they did with TRACER and canned, and find a medium weight vehicle to replace 432 and Saxon which we did with helping to design Boxer.

I don’t buy into the Iraq and Afghan muddying the waters argument from the Army either, both Saxon and Warrior were designed to take a hit from an AT mine, it was nothing new as the purchase of Panther (which was a requirement from our experience in the Balkans) shows.

August 12, 2014 8:42 am

If I am reading this correctly from the military aspect of control over FRES not one officer in overall charge had a background in Armour? Obviously officers junior to them may of been from an Armoured warfare background (RT for one ) and they would obviously be very intelligent capable leaders in their own right but never have served in such a mission specific role for what they trying to aquire I would think limit their depth of understanding. By all means bringing in an outside perspective could bring something to the party but an Admiral , an Air Vice Marshall? I suspect FRES was being used as a career vehicle not a Fighting vehicle.

August 12, 2014 9:11 am

This starts to look like the kind of big IT project failure that led to the adoption of things like agile and test-driven development. Lots of stakeholders arguing over requirements, a serious lack of feedback from engineering to customer or user to engineering, and a minimum scale so huge it’s very hard to tell if any particular sub-project is on track because it won’t deliver for years. There is a lot here that is familiar from parallel disasters like the NHS National Programme for IT, or indeed the Universal Credit hellfuck, or any number of private sector ones that didn’t make the headlines.

The IT-world solution has basically been to prototype, prototype, and prototype again – the really religious types argue that the FIRST thing you should do is build a minimal prototype, the so-called minimum viable product or MVP, and see how it works. I’m not sure about that – in this case the problem would have been “build which product?” – but I do think much more prototyping early on would have helped keep the thinking grounded in reality, while also perhaps giving the customer more insight into what could be achieved technologically. The point isn’t just to debug and handle user requests faster, it’s also to refine the requirement itself.

This would have meant spending money, but you can’t say the way they did it was cheap! So, yes, bring back the research establishments. Or rather, development establishments. (Actually, Chertsey’s title was the MVEE, first E for experimental, right?)

A Different Gareth
A Different Gareth
August 12, 2014 9:19 am

DavidNiven said: “I don’t buy into the Iraq and Afghan muddying the waters argument from the Army either, both Saxon and Warrior were designed to take a hit from an AT mine, it was nothing new as the purchase of Panther (which was a requirement from our experience in the Balkans) shows.”

I think it is the IED threat rather than anti-tank mines that could explain the water muddying.

A bit of speculation on my part: Wikipedia describes FRES UV as “The Utility Variant comprises protected mobility, command and control, light armoured support, repair and recovery and medical;”. With the benefit of hindsight the thing that is noticeable by its absence is protected patrol – as in going down the same route day after day and surviving as you might need to do in peacekeeping/occupation duties.

When SNATCH Landrovers and Pinzgauers were being blown up the MoD were keen to stress that mobility is a form of protection itself. The vehicles kept being blown up. Had the benefits of mobility been negated by the way they were being operated? As a result the candidates for FRES UV have got heavier despite this impacting the mobility and rapid deployability aspects of the programme.

It seems to me that the leaders of the FRES project would prefer to make the vehicles less mobile but better protected so they can do that extra job. It would be better imo to accept that the protection against IEDs will be best served in a vehicle specifically designed for it. If IEDs have become a major threat you are in an insurgency situation and patrolling regular routes not roaming across the countryside against a peer enemy.

August 12, 2014 9:20 am

From the RAeS piece on that little jet:

Engineers, fabricators and final assembly people – we were all in the same boat. So, if something didn’t work, it wasn’t a case of sending an email, it was a case of getting up and walking across to the factory floor to find out what was wrong – See more at:

August 12, 2014 9:33 am

TD – did you reference the 2011 NAO report for costs of FRES and associated lack-of-FRES UORs? It has a higher cost assigned to the UORs than I heard from the Army at about the same time. My “CVR(T) Replacement” total costs mount up as:

£650m* for FFLAV, MRAV & TRACER (Peter Flach, RUSI paper “Lessons from the Procurement of Armoured Fighting Vehicles”, July 2010)
£133m for FRES-UV (NAO)
£142m sunk costs in FRES-SV studies (NAO)
£500m development contract to get off-the-shelf ASCOD closer to MOD FRES-SV spec

That’s £1.425bn without inflation – adding an average 2% p.a. inflation rate over half the 30 year period since it all started (half the period because the spend is distributed over time – OK its a crude estimate) gets that nearer £1.9bn at today’s values.

But NAO also detail consequential UOR costs – removing C2 and Warrior from the table on p.26/27 of the report gives:

£572m for upgrades to in-service vehicles
£2.128bn for new UOR vehicles

That makes a round £2.7bn for UORs just in the armoured vehicle domain since 2002.

If as NAO suggest the UORs should have been at least partially unnecessary had FRES delivered to its original ISD – pick a proportion; 70%? (The biggest chunks of budget went on Mastiff Ridgeback Wolfhound & Husky which ought to have been dealt with by APC/Cargo utility wagons.) 70% of £2.7bn is very nearly £1.9bn – spooky.

Total cost of getting this far then give or take a few hundred million: £3.8bn. That’s quite a lot.

*The £650m figure includes MRAV & TRACER costs, but these too are hard to pin down. The official costs are £131m for TRACER and £57m for MRAV, but Peter Flach notes in his RUSI paper that responses to questions in Parliament defined the spends to be £188m for TRACER and £132m for FRES-UV. Why the difference? Blowed if I know. The £650m figure also included industry R&D money which has to be covered by overheads hence is indirectly paid by HMG through other projects…

August 12, 2014 9:37 am


TRACER was a revolution in AFV design, not a little hop. And it was single role and pricey for AFVs of the day. It may not have absorbed as much money as Comanche (I never said it did) but it was very similar in being technologically ambitious and designed for specific Cold War role.


Yes FFLAV was unambitious from a vehicle design perspective, as you outlined excellently in your post. The FRES numbers were stable, that was actually my point, the numbers looked out of proportion with the amount of money realistically likely to be available. At a very rough estimate, for instance, an MRAV or VBCI order around 2006-2010 for 1400 vehicles was likely to come in at £3.5-4 billion. That still leaves the SV element to be paid for- it is not hard to see the entire thing surging past £10 billion in value and ending up at twice the cost of the carrier programme.

August 12, 2014 9:42 am

ADG – agreed; IEDs are a bit of a special case that would be expected in COIN but probably not in peer-peer conflict. Different tools for different jobs makes good sense to me – ever seen what the abomination called the Adjustable Spanner does to hex-headed bolts & nuts? One tool for everything is not the way to go.

Ed Zeppelin
Ed Zeppelin
August 12, 2014 9:45 am

I think it could have been a good vehicle but hardly a ‘revolution in AFV design’! Some good new technology and ideas on it, but Comanche was packed with untried, cutting edge tech, including stealth elements.

A lot of people get misty eyed about vehicles that could have been, but I would suggest that unless someone worked on it, or was at Bovington for the trials we will never know much about the practicalities. I have worked with a lot of equipment that sounded good on paper but ended up being complete garbage.

August 12, 2014 9:54 am


You are putting far too much of the UOR spend under the FRES mess. Husky, Wolfhound, Jackal, Warthog, and Foxhound would all have still been necessary- as mostly likely would a lot of the in-service vehicle mods. Costs down to not buying FRES may be as low £1 billion- all of which came out of money the MoD would never have had anyway.

August 12, 2014 10:05 am


So was TRACER. Unless you can name another AFV platform now or then in service that uses hybrid propulsion, band-tracks and a CTA cannon alongside a host of advanced sensors and low observability features?

John Hartley
John Hartley
August 12, 2014 10:07 am

I still think the A400M weight limit should apply (32 tons if you want reasonable range) as it not only applies to air transport, but also the bridges, mountain tracks & tight urban streets you are likely to find in theatre. You should be able to get reasonable protection on a 32 ton vehicle.

August 12, 2014 10:09 am

From every bodies favourite wiki
“More modern anti-tank mines are usually more advanced than simple containers full of explosives detonated by remote or the vehicles pressure. The biggest advances were made in the following areas:
Power of the explosives (explosives such as RDX).
Shaped charges to increase the armour piercing effect.
Advanced dispersal systems.
More advanced or specific detonation triggers”
Excuse my ignorance on this subject but how than possiblly by size ( I believe the IRA were happy to use 100’s of kilos of fertiliser and diesel buried in a culvert to get the ‘effect’ they wanted ) is an IED more effective than a modern AT mine? I would have thought from the beginning AT mine blast protection would have been incorperated using the latest concepts and known threat sizes. With the experience of the actual combat in Balkans ,GW 1 & 2 , Iraq ‘stabilisation’ and Afghanistan may have shown areas for improvements in existing designs at some point in terms of blast protection redesign a line has to be drawn under it . When you start to run out of alphabet on drawing issue numbers you have to say enough is enough. TD stated in an earlier post that Warrior grew by 60% in weight over its life so designing for future weight increases you would have thought been already be part of the initial concept. The weight and power consumption of the internal electrical systems would be pretty constant based on a Bowman fit , CRT displays ( v later LCD’s ) , Video cameras ( v later CCD ) , internal/external lighting ( v later LED ) , GEN I Night Vision ( v later GEN 4 ) etc.
How much has kinetic threats developed over this period ? Is a 14.5×114mm become that much more effective. RPG’s have moved on somewhat but slatted/Tarian types armour still stands up well.
All I can think of is that FRES is a gravy train with sharp sales people pitching the latest concept and technologies bamboozling the chaps working for you and I into the next ‘dream machine’ (also with an eye for dragging this out or being given the credit and accompanying promotion/payrise associated with deliver the ‘best for our boys in green’.)

August 12, 2014 10:18 am

‘I think it is the IED threat rather than anti-tank mines that could explain the water muddying.’

If you can take a hit from a 10kg AT mine that has a charge designed to penetrate armour you can take a fairly robust blast from an IED as they are mainly blast weapons and rely on size to do the damage.

August 12, 2014 10:27 am


Increasingly no they are not. The learning curve for IED manufacturers turned out to be quite swift and EFPs soon made an appearance- they have now spread to Syria.

Blast also has a whole host of other effects that require space and thus weight to solve if you want to keep your dismounts alive.

August 12, 2014 10:33 am

Hohum – ref UOR proportioning – you seem to suggest here that FRES-UV would not offer adequate protection to perform the sorts of patrols that were the norm in Op Herrick? If FRES hasn’t the protection of Mastiff or Warthog, or the protected cargo capability of Husky or Wolfhound, or the mobility and situational awareness of Jackal, then what does it have? Its vastly expensive and yet already it seems its capabilities will be a step back from the current fairly basic UOR vehicles in the Army inventory. Now that is a bombshell.

Monkey – the answer here I suspect is that each sort of warhead presents different physical effects, or at least a set of similar effects in very different proportions, such that protection optimised against one threat may be fairly poor against another. Staying away from modern weapon effects, you might consider the ideal armour against APFSDS to be uber-hard material that disrupts the dart and contains the energy without permitting penetration, but against HESH such hard material would spall like supersonic confetti, where a softer more ductile material might stretch and bow under the impact and not spall nearly as much. Like everything else, armour design is an exercise in finding the best compromise for the stated problem. Note here I am not an expert in the field, so if my examples are poor that’s why.

August 12, 2014 10:42 am


The EFP’s are a stand off weapon a kin to an off route mine, with the technology given to the Shia’s in Iraq from the Iranian’s. they will no doubt spread but they require some skill in placing to get the correct stand off distance which did’nt really matter when you are hitting Snatch’s and Humvee’s. The majority of IED’s in Afghan were simple blast weapons. The Afghans began trying to tip our vehicles into the irrigation ditches using IED’s to cause casualties because they had trouble penetrating them.

August 12, 2014 10:43 am

DN/monkey, not necessarily for AT mines. The job of the AT mine is simply to channel vehicles, delay them or take them out of the fight temporarily. This means that the AT mine does not necessarily use EFP as just using blast is enough to cause the vehicle to lose its tracks/wheels or flip over. IEDs on the other hand are designed to kill the people inside rather than the vehicle, which means that EFP would be more likely to be incorporated into the design, though how effective is it is open to debate as pressure detonated mines/IEDs tend to blow beneath wheels/tracks, not below the center of mass.

OTOH, lots of IEDs still seem to rely on pure blasting power still.

August 12, 2014 10:51 am


Only Mastiff/Ridgeback really fell under the scope of UV. Jackal and Foxhound are light patrol/recce vehicles outside the cope of FRES (and any core programme I can think of) whilst Husky fell under what is now MRV-P, Wolfhound is a niche heavy protected logistics vehicle/armoured gun tractor and Warthog is a niche very high mobility platform similar to BvS-10.

If UV is now done right it will provide a vehicle with Ridgeback/Mastiff protection but with 8×8 mobility which the current MRAP platforms can not hope to match.

August 12, 2014 10:55 am


EFPs are spreading very nicely. As I said, blast, especially large blast, opens up whole host of other design issues which require space and weight- which is why the MRAPs look the way they do.

August 12, 2014 10:59 am

“Warthog is a niche very high mobility platform”

Slight correction, the original Warthog was conceptually purely a cargo hauler, it was never meant to be used the way you guys are using your Bv-206s in amphibious assaults or as a mobile gun platform. You guys are nuts. :) Oh well, if it’s crazy but it works, it ain’t crazy.

Just don’t try this in a really hot war, you’re more likely to get trashed ATTCs.

August 12, 2014 11:13 am

It seems to me, not being in the army etc, that there’s two specifications wanted. One is a simple, lighweight transport with some protection against whatever is flying about on the battlefield, and the other being a heavyweight IED surviving vehicle. So why not just settle down and buy both, because by the time you’ve faffed about with different specs and tried to make one ring to rule them all, sorry, one vehicle that can do all jobs, you’ve wasted enough money and time to make and buy two types of vehicle. Sure, you end up wtih a lot in storage, but that’s a political problem. Corporations like to minimise inventory to save money, but war fighting is not amenable to that sort of idea.

August 12, 2014 11:13 am


‘EFPs are spreading very nicely’

Then we need to add reactive armour or buy Namers.

August 12, 2014 11:18 am


That is not a correction. Warthog is the UK in-service name and it was procured by the UK to perform that role, what somebody else originally designed it to do is neither here nor there. And even as a cargo hauler it is still a niche high mobility platform.

August 12, 2014 11:36 am

Some of the existing AT mines were already extremely powerful .
Russian TM-83 mine in service in 1993, wiki again “Armour penetration is claimed to be 100–400 mm at a range of 50 meters.”
The early FRES variants were I suspect unable to withstand a hit from this monster , an attitude of acceptable casualties vs overall vehicle performance with performance leading.
Today with the shadow of all those coffins passing through Wotton Bassett or ex- serviceman suffering from their injuries ,be they physical or mental , has driven the way the protection levels have increased.

Not a Boffin
Not a Boffin
August 12, 2014 11:37 am

Interesting update and of course reminds me that DEC(Kevin) was in fact DEC (Precision Attack), whereas DEC(Dark Blue) was Strategic Deployment, although ISTR the earlier Capability Management strcuture was less readily service identifiable.

Not sure EBO or NEC are particular drivers in this. The Effects-based element was already firmly embedded – the clue is in the name – and the NEC element was largely in response to the blue on blue incidents on Granby and Telic. The US (as often happens) had just got on and done it with IVIS in most of their armoured vehciles to provide SA. We hadn’t. Are either of them real technical drivers to a vehicle design, or even cost considering much would be provided via DII/ Bowman (snigger)?

I still think you’re making a bit much of the “joint” influence in the gestation of FRES (or rather how it went wrong). DCDS(EC) is not a specialist – he doesn’t have to be, that’s what his one star capability managers are for and it is they that staff the requirement and the associated approvals submissions. So DEC(Ground manoeuvre) would be a army officer with an armoured or mech background – occasionally light inf – who would be supported by his desk officers who would be recent users and the capability working groups which include officers from the army (armoured, recce or mech units from HQ land) supported by dstl. they derive the requirement, brief it upwards through the approvals chain – it doesn’t tend to get re-written by someone else.

Similarly, the EAC is not a DPA organisation, it was a MoD centre organsiation (later called the IAB). DCDS EC didn’t get to sit on it, because his boss (VCDS) did, in the same way DG Equipment from the DPA didn’t sit on it because his boss (CDP and CDL – now CDM) sat on it. the otehr members were 2PUS and the Chief Scientific Adviser. Interestingly, VCDS over the period of interest (2005-2013) were respectively a Gunner and the current CDS, Gen Houghton and in fact since 2003, only one CDS has not been an army general, so not without influence.

I think the real reason FRES has been so difficult is as follows :

1. Post cold war (and certainly post Granby) all thinking was based on rapid early-entry with an economical force rather than deliberate staging/build up and forcible entry over longer periods.
2. The Balkans ops had shown that light and/or air-mobile infantry in stabilisation roles tended to need armour.
3. That led directly to the airportability (C130,later A400M) requirement and the associated vehicle designs to do that. Doctrine and technical risk containable within the requirement, no problem.
4. Trouble is we then began to take IED hits on Telic and Herrick, which drove a significant protection requirement into all vehicles, exacerbated by the images of Snatch LRs in bits (actually a different requirement). At this point efficient airmobility becomes technically difficult and the scrutiny community will probably have started asking why Warrior can’t meet this latest threat and why a new vehicle is required. You now have a situation where doctrine and technical risk are not in balance with the requirement, which sends the whole system into meltdown, because the acquisition process is not sufficiently agile to cope with this – hence UORs, which fix the immediate need, but complicate the overall picture. The acquisition process has to have some form of scientific rigour applied to it, because of the sums of money involved, but that does mean an inherent inertia is added to the process to deliver it. Incidentally, that technical rigour is usually supplied by the successor organsiations to “The Research Establishments” (Dstl and QuinetiQ) – they’re not a panacea by any means.
5. Given a requirement that either doesn’t support doctrine or could be delivered by existing kit, you’re going to struggle to get that through the approvals committees, which is I suspect exactly what’s happened. Which funnily enough is why a CVS-sized carrier or a light CAS jet would not get through requirements scrutiny either because they don’t meet the overall requirement or would be inefficient in doing so.

As long as the requirement looks like a big mobile armoured box, when we already have lots of big mobile armoured boxes (Warrior and some of the into-Core UOR), you’re going to struggle to justify a new armoured box unless there is a compelling safety (it’s going to fall out of the sky, roll over in a storm) or support cost (we have to dismantle and rebuild it after every two sorties/we have to replate sections of the hull every two weeks) argument.

It may just be that the current requirement doesn’t look sufficiently different from the existing (assumed supportable) systems to justify the expense.

No-one in the joint arena really had anything against FRES. Doesn’t significantly affect the Navy (the Points aren’t considered navy assets), the RAF get another strategic AT requirement – what’s not to like?

August 12, 2014 11:45 am

@guthrie: how true :-)

Given that the IED capability is not required for General War and the like, buy a brigades’s worth and call it done

Rocket Banana
August 12, 2014 12:00 pm

Can I just add a conclusion of conclusions to this. It is of course only my conclusion…

You’re too slow.

The procurement “machine” cannot adapt quickly enough to changing situations and requirements. This has the effect of the “solution” never leaving the drawing board. Hence the introduction of UOR.

It’s akin to buying the best PC on the market. Tomorrow there will be a better one. It’s sometimes best to simply have something rather than nothing and as many have said Warrior, CVR(T) and the like are still filling the “something” void.

It also has the effect of the procurement teams having to mitigate (or hedge) against unexpected futures which generates the need for multi-role or adaptable solutions that have no clearly defined spec.

All of course great if it works. The trouble is it doesn’t.

August 12, 2014 12:07 pm

wf, Guthrie – entirely agree – like I said up-thread, different tools for different jobs.

Simon – entirely agree – I am no fan (evidently) of the ‘all things to all men’ requirement. That’s not to say there should be cast-iron fixed requirements from day one on any given project; I much prefer the pragmatism of a Cardinal Points Spec and User involvement to get to the finished item.

August 12, 2014 12:10 pm


Excellent post, I can’t really argue with that. Most of the people who think of FRES in terms of FCS either don’t understand what FCS was or are making excuses for FRES- it really wasn’t and now isn’t that complicated.

Something worth remembering; when we withdrew from Boxer in 2003 it then went into a near 5 year period of re-design and was, ironically, only just about ready by the time FRES-UV trials of truth began, first units weren’t delivered until 2009 following a production start in 2008. VBCI only began being delivered in mid-2008 too.

August 12, 2014 12:31 pm


FRES was never anything like FCS, either in ambition (with the exception of TRACER in the early days) and especially in scope. If people inside the FRES procurement process thought it was aligned with FCS then they were deluded beyond help. FRES-UV was no more or less complicated than Boxer or VBCI, certainly the former had its issues but was far from impossible and will now be completely delivered before the UK even properly restarts UV.

There was a real issue with British Army digitalisation which really evolved from the Army being way behind a whole host of countries yet trying to leap-frog them but I fail to see what impact that had on FRES.

Red Trousers
Red Trousers
August 12, 2014 12:42 pm

Mostly agree with NaB, fits my recollection of the early Noughties.

TD, correct on DEC(GM), but you need to cut a bit of slack. There were only about 10 officers in the DEC (one star, pair of Colonels, a bunch of SO1s and SO2s), and from late 2001 onwards they were completely consumed with UORs. The Mounted Close Combat team was I think 4 in total. They were working literally for 12 hours a day most of the time. FRES was basically put on the back burner.

That’s not to say the Army were not at fault, they could have argued with DCDS(EC) to up the establishment in DEC(GM), which was a joint organisation. Maybe they did, but it was also the time of lean procurement, and the in vogue thought was that procurement could be done with fewer people.

I personally think that too much influence was vested in Shrivenham, and that too many people at the western end of the M4 tried to be too precise/clever about choosing a vehicle. Many in green, but also many not.

August 12, 2014 12:52 pm


FCS was star wars for the US Army, FRES was a 1990s/early 2000s AFV programme. The NEC element really had no impact on the FRES requirements as far as I can see. What was important was the deployability side but that was nothing new- all new AFV designs had considered just that- will it fit through most railway tunnels, will it crush a bridge, even will it go in a plane with answer depending on the role.

There are two precise questions that need to be answered to get to bottom of it:

1) Why specifically did we withdraw from Boxer?
2) Why did we really scupper the Piranha V contract negotiations with GD and then suddenly decide we didn’t need it after-all?

Not a Boffin
Not a Boffin
August 12, 2014 12:59 pm


You sure you’re not mixing up the Capability Mgr (Battlefield Manouevre) who is a 2*, with the DEC(Ground Manouevre) who is a 1*? The equivalent gunners 1* would be DEC(Indirect Battlefield Engagement).

If DRAC is the Director RAC then they would have been part of the Capability Wkg Groups, including reps from the JDCC, that worked for DEC(GM) and prepared the requirement. There is a difference between being ignored and losing the argument in a working group and they can get properly argumentative.

This quote is illustrative :

“What is crystal clear is the initial FRES requirement from the Army was overruled by DEC(GM) and FRES closely aligned to FCS”.

“The Army” by which I assume you mean DRAC and the armoured community simply did not and never has written the requirement. It was and is owned and written by DEC(GM), supported by their CWG. From scratch. In the same way that “the Navy” did not get to write the requirement for FE/FSC/T26 – it was owned and written from scratch by DEC(Above Water Effects) or “the Air Force” did not get to write the requirement for JCA – it was written by DEC (Deep Target Attack). I know it seems arcane and all down to wiring diagrams, but it is important to understand. The requirement owner is DEC(GM) who is an Army officer who should have an armoured/mech background (subject to clarifying the 2*/1* issue above). The “requirement” has always been written outside the service HQ, even predating the Capability Mgmt organisation which stood up in 99 and going back to the Directorates of Operational Requirements, Sea, Land, Air.

What you appear to be describing is a situation where DRAC wanted a pure CVR(T)/FV432 replacement purely because those vehicles were ageing and would have written a paper saying “please give me more of the same”. When that was examined against the Defence Planning Scenarios, it was in all probability difficult to justify, in exactly the same way you couldn’t justify a CVS or a Tornado F3 now. Those scenarios are created by a mixture of joint service staff and civil servants and are endorsed across the services. I’m not personally convinced they’re the right tools, but they’re what is used and have been used for the last twenty-plus years.

Red Trousers
Red Trousers
August 12, 2014 1:20 pm

DEC(GM) in the early Noughties was a Gunner, not sure of whether from a tracked or light background. His SO1 Mounted Close Combat was a Life Guard, and at least 2 of the SO2s were RAC. The RM in the IPT at one point was QDG, another time KRH. No shortage of relevant experience there, but I remain firmly of the opinion that the sheer scale of UORs overwhelmed the DEC and allowed people elsewhere to insert their agendas.


The NEC requirements for FRES SV were significant. A whole lever arch file. But that had to fit into the wider context of Digitisation which was ongoing. It was not solely FRES, but AFAIK FRES was going to be the first fully digitally driven platform that the Army was going to procure. Right down to the Electronic Architecture, which was a whole study by itself. HUMS, auto-reporting, etc.

August 12, 2014 1:27 pm


Unlikely. Everything back then included some discussion of NEC irrespective of it’s relevance to the topic at hand. FRES was a particular victim of this. But when one really looks closely at the project it really was just a vehicle programme. Sure there was to be some space and power for a BMS and some radios but it wasn’t anything like FCS with its network, UGVs, UAVs , unattended ground sensors etc, etc. And they were not pushing the vehicle technology anywhere near as far as the FCS MGVs were either (except for TRACER which was of course joint with the US anyway). Ironically, FRES was a far more sensible programme than FCS.

FRES was driven by an ill-founded desire for rapid deploy-ability and a misplaced belief in DAS- at least that explains the withdrawal from Boxer (supposedly)- in which case, why the 2008 sudden shift from Piranha V to SV?

And the real question- the FRES procurement spend was put as high as £16 billion at one point, did that money ever really exist? The answer, I suspect, is no.

Red Trousers
Red Trousers
August 12, 2014 1:34 pm

All, there’s a further angle. Lord Drayson’s industrial strategy, which required all IP to be vested with the MoD. That killed off FRES UV, when GD failed to roll over. I was not close to that decision (was out by then), but you could see a train wreck coming. Personally, I think that it was entirely unrealistic of the MoD, but other senior people (one and two stars or civilian equivalents) were sure that it was achievable, and they were the decision makers.

The IPT in the mid-Noughties also came up with a mentally stupid procurement policy, with Vehicle Integrators and cross cutting Systems Integrator, and Atkins as the Systems House, nobody in industry knew who the hell was responsible for anything.

August 12, 2014 1:37 pm


All evolutionary and increasingly starting to appear commercially even then. But it was not NEC in the sense that FCS was doing it. FRES, Bowman and ComBAT was closer to Stryker, SINCGARS and FBCB2 than to FCS.

Not a Boffin
Not a Boffin
August 12, 2014 1:42 pm

I don’t think you’re trying to finger dark/light blue, I just think there’s a bit of a misconception as to who does what.

RT was involved so will defer to him on the UOR load on the various DEC desks.

What I am trying to get across though is that “the Army” didn’t write a requirement that was subsequently rejected or hijacked by a bunch of transformational ninja turtles from Shrivers. “The Army” collectively wrote the FRES requirement including airportability and NEC and actually, the logic behind airportability stands up if you assume use of existing host-nation logistics and NEC is a no-brainer for combat ID. It’s just that the CONOPS and threat took a rather unexpected turn that invalidated the extensively staffed requirement.

I suppose if anything, what did for FRES was the failure to equate stabilisation ops with the threat of huge IED (as opposed to AT mines), leading to unpopular casualty levels. I suspect this wasn’t in any of the extensively developed SAG scenarios, which does make you wonder why we bother with them to the level of detail we do. At this stage you’ve got to a point where the answer is several different vehicle types, some of which don’t need to be new. If your requirement logic and procurement strategy wasn’t set up to deal with that, do not pass go, do not collect £200.

Peter Elliott
August 12, 2014 1:43 pm

Very fair point. I am assuming that at some point we will procure a wheeled armoured box to fit in the newly calibrated ‘Medium’ weight category of A400 Portable. This will eventully replace the remaining Bulldogs and MRAPs in the Adaptable Force.

But the eventual tracked Warrrior Replacement needs to be able to go where the MBTs go and survive in the hottest battle spaces. As such a combined order for heavy tracked MBT and IFV on a common chassis will have a lot to recommend it.

“Then we need to add reactive armour or buy Namers.”

Not a Boffin
Not a Boffin
August 12, 2014 1:44 pm

Oh and btw excellent and comprehensive series, even if I query a small part of it.

August 12, 2014 1:44 pm


The IP thing is interesting but looked very much like it was being used as an excuse. My recollection (quite possibly wrong) was that not only were MoD demanding the IP but they were demanding it on a very small initial vehicle order. The threat as GD saw it was that MoD would order a hundred or so vehicles from them then contract out all further production to the lowest bidder through a competition without GD even getting license payments as they had handed over the IP. The thing, again my possibly incorrect recollection, looked as if it could have been solved by just upping the number of contracted vehicles and extending the contract. An impression that was further reinforced by the sudden declaration that UV wasn’t that urgent after-all and what was needed was SV.

Peter Elliott
August 12, 2014 1:50 pm

I have noticed before that the Army seems to generate a surplus of Artillary officers that tend to get used to ‘fill in’ all sorts of non Artillary roles.

It was explained to me once that this is becuase of having to generate large numbers of Captains to populate the various tactical fire control parties that are needed forward of the guns. But this makes a bulge in the career pipline and there are never enough CO jobs for the more talented of these FOO Captains to progress into. So they tend to get farmed out to all sorts of other roles: which their excellence as gunners doesn’t necesssarily leave them equipped to do well.

Red Trousers
Red Trousers
August 12, 2014 1:56 pm


The one thing missing from the FRES CONOPS was having a political plan for the cessation of hostilities. FRES was never envisioned as a occupying force, it was meant to go home.

We saw that in GW2. All well and good at kicking in the door, but sod all the Army and Northwood could do about no political plan. That’s when the Iraqi insurgents were given space to come up with inventive IEDs, and by then we were stuck there.

There wouldn’t have been anything wrong with any of the UVs trialled, but none of them originally had any requirement for massive IED protection. The CONOPS was to enter fast, stabilise a situation, hopefully snuff it out and then either hand over to a heavier UK or NATO force or a UN/AU type of organisation for peace enforcement/keeping.

That’s what the pointy heads should have been doing, working alongside the Cabinet Office, DFID etc and the UN DPKO to define various force postures for post-kinetic effects. Not getting all involved in trade offs between firepower and protection or manoeuvre.

Red Trousers
Red Trousers
August 12, 2014 2:01 pm


You may well be correct as a general observation, but the individual you refer to is not here to defend himself. He was no slouch at all: highly respected.

Not a Boffin
Not a Boffin
August 12, 2014 2:03 pm

Would also endorse RT comment on IP and mentally stupid procurement processes. It’s what happens when systems engineers are allowed out of their nerd box and into positions with authority.

Exactly the same happended with QEC, where the systems engineers were writing interminable URDs and SRDs all beautifully devoid of “solutioneering”, which was a capital offence in those days. Only trouble was, the systems engineers then had to deal with the shipbuilders, who took one look at the SRD and said “WTF is this nonsense?”

The SRD was subsequently rewritten as a “Shipbuild Technical Specification” with a lot of the SE nonsense excised and sensible terms like “cooling system” replacing “heat balancing and storage system”.

Red Trousers
Red Trousers
August 12, 2014 2:04 pm

TD, could have been. I was interested in the national level aspects, and tactical stuff, but tended to zone out on anything coming out of Shrivenham or even Upavon at the time. It was all mostly bollocks.

August 12, 2014 2:06 pm


I would put it simply- FRES looked at stabilisation/UN peace keeping with preliminary fast door kicking, not protracted COIN operations.

Peter Elliott
August 12, 2014 2:08 pm


No slight to any individual intended.

August 12, 2014 2:10 pm

In terms of IP how much of a quantum leap forward was the moving metal box part of the FRES programme for the MoD to demand its handover as the British tax payer had ‘paid’for it. Surely GD would develop the aspect of coordinating the Piranha V with the various systems suppliers to ensure they perform as required by the MoD and are protected by the moving metal box but the moving metal box is all they GD could lay claim too. The Gucci UK systems fit would almost certainly not suit another country so be irrelevant. Sounds like , as someone pointed out on a earlier FRES post we, didn’t have the budget at that point of time and we were backing out of the contract by insisting GD handed over the rights to years of development of the MOWAG/GD designers , the moving metal box.

August 12, 2014 2:20 pm


Interesting question. The IP issue was not necessarily about GD doing anything clever but about who controlled the end product. For instance, there is one ex-metal box manufacturer in the UK who thinks it didn’t get to upgrade the metal boxes its predecessor companies had built because it didn’t hold enough of the IP. You also see in the US where the DoD holds the IP it will contract manufacture out to the lowest bidder- irrespective of who designed it.

To your second point, yes the specific negotiation with GD for Piranha V did look like it had been deliberately scuppered due to the small number of vehicles included in the initial contract (my recollection). Not to mention the sudden shift to SV.

August 12, 2014 2:23 pm

RT – ref your comment here pointing out the FRES basic concept was to scream in, deal with an emerging threat by neutralising it or by containment until the heavy brigade arrived to take over, thereafter to withdraw/move on. It should have had a name including the terms Rapid and Effect. Funnily enough I thought this was what the requirement was supposed to deliver (even sent a missive to TD stating such). I still struggle with 35-42t ASCOD fitting this role, so much so I can’t help thinking the Rapid Effect capability gap that started all the FRES nightmare in the first place will be a gap still.

Not a Boffin
Not a Boffin
August 12, 2014 2:26 pm

“The one thing missing from the FRES CONOPS was having a political plan for the cessation of hostilities. FRES was never envisioned as a occupying force, it was meant to go home.

We saw that in GW2. All well and good at kicking in the door, but sod all the Army and Northwood could do about no political plan. That’s when the Iraqi insurgents were given space to come up with inventive IEDs, and by then we were stuck there.

There wouldn’t have been anything wrong with any of the UVs trialled, but none of them originally had any requirement for massive IED protection. The CONOPS was to enter fast, stabilise a situation, hopefully snuff it out and then either hand over to a heavier UK or NATO force or a UN/AU type of organisation for peace enforcement/keeping.”

Absolutely, although tbh I don’t recall FRES being scaled for something as large (or hot) as Telic or Herrick. It was much more your Balkans / SL / small to medium-scale intervention than knocking over entire nations.

As you say, as soon as we were pinned in place and started taking casualties, particularly with the Snatch poster-boy, the nearest armoured vehicle programme was always going to be favurite for a requirement change / uparmouring. No-one’s going to listen when you say “the FRES CONOPS / requirement isn’t for that”. Trouble is, if you’ve already got someting that meets the heavier requirement (warrior or UOR) you’re not going to get to spend money on another system either.

Caught between two stools.

Red Trousers
Red Trousers
August 12, 2014 2:47 pm


The really good thing about FRES is that it has been spectacularly successful at being in the future. I recall the first SV URD aiming for an ISD of 2011 (back in 2001), and thinking to myself “that’s not very ambitious”. I think the UV was meant to be 2008 but that never crossed my desk, someone else was dealing with that.

Basic problem: the Rapid Effects bit got mixed up with “we need to replace all of these thousands of nadgered old wagons left over from the Cold War, and we’re not (1999) fighting anyone anymore so now is a good time to do it”.

Frankly, if we had bought two Brigade’s worth of ANY 8×8 wagon, a quarter of them with a 105mm smoothbore, and forward dumped them on Gib or Ascension and in the Oman, with rotating maintenance parties, we’d probably have got a Rapid Effects System for less than a billion, even including enablers such as shipping and training.

Next more minor problem was requiring the CVR(T) recce replacement to have a common chassis with things like the 432 or Saxon replacement. Should have split that off. Now we’re going to get a 40 tonne recce wagon which is going to be cock all use for actual recce.

August 12, 2014 2:56 pm


I love diagrams/slides like that:

Presenter: This is how the world is and why will do what we are proposing
Questioner: But how do you know the world is like that?
Presenter: Because the diagram says so

August 12, 2014 3:09 pm

RT – as I noted before the chassis (your term) hull (my term) is but one component of the vehicle and in my world families of vehicles have many different sized/shaped hulls, whatever suits the role best.

On the subject of bigger is better, this:*+in+mus_current_location_building+index+mus_text_location=.&%24+with+mus_catalogue+and+%28B*+in+mus_current_location_building+index+mus_text_location%29=.&_IXtext=tog&bov_main_utility_type= Apologies for the length of link; nothing shorter worked. The vehicle has composite armour (steel & concrete I believe), hybrid drive, a similar gun to Centurion’s original fit (75mm/17pdr), 600hp diesel engine… And was no use at all. The closing statement sums it up just fine: “[the] ideas were wrong; tanks needed to be smaller, agile and more mobile.”

Red Trousers
Red Trousers
August 12, 2014 3:29 pm

Chris, I’ll bow to your better judgement, but I find it difficult to conceive of something like a Chenowth or WMIK sharing too much in common with a CET replacement or a CV.

To pick up on NaB’s comment up thread, “solutioneering” was always a mortal crime, but frankly a Chenowth or WMIK WAS the solution. Times pass, perhaps both are overtaken by something similar, but at about £100k a pop, you can update the wagons every decade and still be cheaper.

Was thinking earlier, I made an observation about the 3eme REI somewhere upthread deploying off a ferry at Ploce having sailed from Toulon. Bog standard French ferry, drove on drive off, get 100 miles up country on wheels in about 3 hours. Had their ROE sorted, first rounds into the Serbs in Dobrinja before the Boss and I even got back to the office in Zagreb. Less than 3 days had elapsed since the UN in New York had authorised a change in mission. That’s what FRES should have been about. Rough, ready, rapid, good enough.

August 12, 2014 3:56 pm

RT – well yes, there are limits to the stretch between smallest and largest in the family. Thus far in the stuff I’ve done the ones sharing the greatest commonality are between 7 & 17t, with one sort of related that might get over 30t but that’s a logs vehicle not a combat vehicle. Not really RT Beach Buggy to full-on MBT, but outside some of the wackier studies you wouldn’t expect the same base vehicle to cover that breadth of roles.

August 12, 2014 4:11 pm

@RT & Chris
re “rough,ready,rapid,good enough”
In the invasion of France the Panzer mk I,II and III were used in May 1940 , they were under armoured against the Matilda mk I (there attack at Arras had Rommel on the defensive) and under gunned against the Char B , 75mm QFG . But the fast sweep of the attack overwhelmed the Allies lines . Using possibly inferior equipment ( ie against a better armoured/armed opponent) the right way can still get the job done.

August 12, 2014 4:23 pm

monkey – I’ve met Matilda 1 and I’m not too sure that would have held back any form of Blitzkrieg; Matilda 2 though was quite a different beast; a fine machine in its day. I have no doubt the use of sound manoeuvre warfare methods can enable mundanely average equipment to have an impact well beyond its theoretical performance.

Red Trousers
Red Trousers
August 12, 2014 4:28 pm

Am not going to spill any secrets, you can all do your own open-source searching of what your own favoured OPFOR might have in the way of kit.

Given the whole intention of FRES as a RAPID intervention system, the Petersberg Declarations and the sort of places it might have gone, you’d be hard pushed to come up with more than technicals among most possible opponents, BMP-1s or BTRs in a few cases. T-55/59s or 62s rarely, but both are out ranged by ATGW and neither can fire on the move.

So we should have cut our cloth accordingly.