The Story of the British Army’s Medium Weight Capability – Crowdsourcing

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The last of the long form content articles on Think Defence to get a makeover is the story of ‘Scimitar to FRES to Ajax’

Have decided to broaden the scope to the struggle of the British Army to deliver a medium weight capability, normally, I would just get on with researching and writing, and publish when I think it is ready.

But this time, have also decided to embark on an experiment.

I want to crowdsource, or produce the finished article by collaborative writing with a team, and that team is you.

In the comments, let me know if you are interested, if you have any familiarity with the subject, expertise, experience with any of the vehicles of the British Army since the sixties, or even interesting anecdotes to add.

This will allow me to form a virtual team, a virtual team that will be involved with everything from the table of contents to the imagery.

The introduction is written.


Where do you start with the story of the British Army’s numerous attempts to deliver a medium weight capability?

Should the start point be FRES, the Future Rapid Effect System, perhaps earlier with FFLAV, TRACER and MRAV, or maybe Ajax and the yet to be introduced MIV?

The simple fact is you have to look at them all, you have to look at the roots of the numerous programmes that have come and gone without bearing fruit, and you certainly have to look at the histories of those vehicles still soldering on.

We could also argue that a medium weight capability was discarded, when the Saladin and Saracen were withdrawn from service in the seventies, although the Saracen would continue in service in Hong Kong until the nineties.

Neither can one ignore the operational context, politics, industrial landscape and external history that have shaped decisions that mean today, in June 2017, the fifties and sixties legacy CVR(T), Warrior and the FV432 are still in service, facing down Russia in Poland and Baltics, potentially crewed by the grandchildren of soldiers that knew CVR(T) as a new vehicle.

Not only that, the time-frame over which the British Army has prevaricated over its vehicles has coincided with both the decimation of the British defence vehicle industry, and our key allies getting on with introducing the kind of vehicles we are now looking at, in one case, a vehicle that was developed with British taxpayers money, perhaps the most damning indictment of the whole story.

This document will explore them all.

Are you in?


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39 Comments on "The Story of the British Army’s Medium Weight Capability – Crowdsourcing"

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Fantastic idea only with I had more to comment upon. Got to drive Samson around the square at Combermere awesome.

Stuart Crawford

I’m in.


Okay, I’m in TD

Alastair Cameron



I’ll help out where I can


My hat ;)

TD, I’m in.

Nicholas Drummond

TD I’m intrigued by this approach.

My interest is small arms and it might appear that there are distinct parallels between the history of armour development and our small arms development. In both cases our industrial and technological base appears to have; ‘withered on the vine.’

You recently mentioned the forthcoming talk by Dr Mathew Ford; ‘Is it Gucci’ and I wondered if it was possible that the root cause of our national development malaise is our inability to filter; ‘argument.’

My own limited experience, in talking to and listening to; ‘argument,’ is that, we listen attentively to the military, but we often don’t get balanced input. They give us either their last experience, or what they believe is Gucci, or ally. They are users, who should have the best view, however; it often turns out to be a biased view.

The project administrators are there to administer and ‘often’ have little real background experience, or interest in the specific item. The engineers are interested to achieve the set specification, whatever that might be, in the shortest possible time, with the minimum of discussion.
This is the perfect storm that leads invariably to mediocrity and failure.

The commercial world has, probably, filtered ‘argument’ better, or more rigorously, because failure is often a career ending event. Conversely, in the Civil Service, failure might be a stepping stone up the ladder.

My own experience, in the commercial world of scientific instruments (before retirement), was filtering ‘the noise.’ Scientists had their own pet theories and hobby horses regarding future trends, innovations and developments. Salesmen were often fixated by their last lost order and were happy to postulate any reason for failure. Managers and administrators were invariably outraged about everything.
Out of all this ‘noise’ there was, often, a clear and well-reasoned path of progression. If you could not be sure of the path you redoubled your efforts, checked your facts and dug deeper, in the knowledge that failure was almost certainly a; ‘world of hurt.’

Do we have the infrastructure to ‘filter’ the soldier and MOD ‘noise,’ and the engineers input, to enable any well thought out progression?

Until we have a Cadre that can ‘filter’ and lead, is it not inevitable that we will produce the ‘lowest common denominator? ‘

Appreciation of history is a significant part of the path to future success. I hope that your proposed ‘interaction’ might have a small chance of reversing the recent sad trends.

Trevor Long

Because I am in the antipodes and only have a limited experience with current AFVs I can’t contribute to the debate but am very interested in comments, especially as we are currently in the process of renewing much of our AFV fleet and the options look heavy?

Ian Nicholson

I will help where I can


Hi TD, a jolly good idea to expand. It also takes the topic closer to my interests (as I have very little technical knowledge):
– defence economics; and in the UK case, the driving forces, the key misconceptions and (within the applicable economic constraints) the lost opportunities
– force mix: how the inability to decide (at times because of the prevarication about what political means were most likely to need some sharper support; at times the sheer inertia that is typical of many other militaries as well) has left us with unbalanced forces after a drawn out quest for a “full spectrum” capability
– folklore/ military anthropology: The British trait of searching for complex solutions to simple problems

As you can see, I am not applying for the post of the Head Chef, but can surely add some salt and pepper.

Cheers, ACC


I’m just waiting for the final Army 2020 Refine structure–if it is ever out

Matt Cavanagh

I was a special adviser to ministers from 2003-2010, and worked on defence issues (not always exclusively) throughout the 2005-2010 parliament, first at the Treasury, then at the MOD (for Des Browne), and then in Downing Street for the duration of Gordon Brown’s premiership. I spent more time on the issues around vehicles on operations, which was a continuous priority throughout this period, than on FRES, which I engaged with more sporadically, but I would be happy to offer some observations on how these issues looked from where I sat.

What a good idea. My experience in this field is sadly lacking. I found the original series both fascinating to read and a sad catalogue of missed opportunities.


Ok I’ll give it a go!


Very happy to do so.


If I can say a word, I followed the story about the FRES program,

How a family of 17-ton vehicles became a family of 38-ton vehicles after the war in Afghanistan.

I would like to throw my two pennies worth in if it helps

Lord Jim

I’m in.


I have said before, that it was a shame that the UK, did not keep evolving new versions of its Stormer/Warrior/Challenger armoured vehicles.
My flight of fancy, is a Stormer with improved armour & the CT 40 mm turret, BAE developed in 2009, for the Warrior Capability Sustainment Programme.
If we must buy off the shelf, then I think the USMC version of the LAV-25, would be useful for highly mobile units like the Royal Marines & Paras. Fully amphibious +25mm bushmaster. USMC to keep updating it until 2035.
Both of these options will come in well under 20 tons & be deployable by C-130J & A400M. Plus local roads & bridges should be able to cope with them, as will urban streets.
No point having some 30-40 ton monster, stuck in Britain, as it is too hard to deploy & could not get round local roads in theatre, even if you somehow got it there.


An interesting idea but very easy to miss the wood for the trees.

My suggestion would be to give a summary of the situation as it existed circa 1990- essentially how medium weight vehicles fitted into late Cold War UK Army doctrine and CONOPS. Then move forward not on a programme basis but on topic themes, at least:

1) Doctrine/op requirement: how various operation have shaped and changed views of medium weight AFVs

2) Budget: how less money impacts the vehicle programme

3) Technology: how it has driven certain programmes but also what its limitations are

the programmes are the product of the above, not the driver. If you get it right you will notice some things that haven’t been caught in much of the previous outside work on this topic.


Well, perhaps it is easier to talk concepts rather than specific vehicles.
If something is going to have a reasonable amount of protection & firepower, then it is unlikely to be under 14 or 15 tons. If it goes over 20 tons, then it is hard to deploy or move around theatre.
So something in the 14 to 20 ton range, gets my vote.


I’d like to help, if only to advocate for the correct use of “decimation” and keep a weather eye out for any “paradigm shifts” sneaking in there.


TD this could be a very interesting experiment.

A crowd sourced defence select committee report! ;-)

It would be very interesting to know why some of the decisions were made at various timelines. I would be very interested to know why we didn’t jump on board with the Swede’s and the SEP system when they just needed an international partner to get over the last hurdle. Especially after we withdrew from the Boxer programme due to weight requirements.

I thing I could have been more helpful so my offer is to go through the documents and produce a glossary of abbreviations/Vehicle names. Let me know if this would be helpful and timescales. Could make a start with existing long form articles.


I’d love to have been given this brief (the title).

First, I’d ask the British Army what they mean by “medium weight” and “capability”.

I’d charge a couple of days to do the interviews and a single day to produce a few sides of A4 on the analysis of the brief and existing solutions… just like kids are taught when they do a technical project at school.

paul g

I’m can be your you tube researcher that’s what I used to do on here!
French scorpion, German weseil cockerill turret (any flavour size 30/90/105/120mm) and a choice of platforms. All videos I have put on here and on ARRSE where they is a topic on MIV(wheeled)


I answered TD, I wrote an article about Operation Serval, the current and future vehicles of French Army, the doctrine of the use of forces and to say that the FRES program is inoperative for operations of this type.


defensenews is reporting that the US State Department has cleared the UK to buy 2747 Oshkosh JLTV (joint light tactical vehicle) for $1.04 billion. If true, I doubt there will be much money for any other armour for a while.


I would like to be involved- in particular form the infantry carrier angle how the increasing size of the British soldier and his kit has driven up the size of what is often the basic vehicle regardless of the armour considerations….

David E

Happy to contribute, quite involved at times, esp on Tracer, MRAV, WR MLI (now CSP). Served on CVR(T) for 10 years!


The French were showing off the prototype Griffon multirole troop carrier on the 14 July parade.


UKdefencejournal has an article on the new armour the Chinese were showing off.
The VT-5 light tank, 36 tons, 105mm gun. Designed for soft ground where heavier tanks cannot go.


The Chinese don’t build light tanks for soft soils, but for mountaineous regions. Look at their Southern geography…

On the increasing size of soldiers , my youngest at 13 years old is now 6’2″ and 16 stone already. God help his crew mates in the back of an MIV when it’s his turn to enlist.


Popped over to see if the story is still getting new elements to it: interactive time line, pop-ups for short “take home” messages to support relating the longish and mainly time ordered text chapters?
– there may have been other things that were considered, but these spring to mind