The Boxer armoured vehicle will enter service in the British Army, this is its history
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The ARTEC Boxer 8×8 armoured vehicle will meet the British Army’s Mechanised Infantry Vehicle (MIV) requirement that will equip the new Strike Brigades. Boxer and the British Army go back much further than widely known, this will be the third time lucky for the British Army and Boxer.
There are three broad stages of the UK’s involvement with Boxer, starting in the late eighties/early nineties and this is how I am going to structure this article, a separate article (linked at the end) will cover the vehicle details and variants.
Boxer Round 1 – The Multi-Role Armoured Vehicle (MRAV) Era
The international programme that delivered Boxer was called MRAV, but informing the UK’s element of this was another programme, FFLAV.
In the early eighties, Daimler Benz had carried out a number of trials with heavy wheeled vehicles. The Daimler Benz (EXperimental Fahrzeug) EXF was eventually developed into the 32 tonnes 8×8 Radkampfwagen 90. The Radkampfwagen 90 was fitted with a Leopard turret and proved many of the concepts that would go on to be used in MRAV and Boxer.
Towards the end of the eighties, the British Army initiated a number of studies to examine requirements for its future non MBT vehicle fleet. The Family of Light Armoured Vehicles (FLAV) study became the Future Family of Light Armoured Vehicles (FFLAV) study. The 1991 Gulf War had demonstrated a number of shortcomings in the legacy fleet, especially the reduced mobility, capability and survivability of the ageing FV432 and CVR(T) vehicle families. Although there was a recognition before the Gulf War that replacements were needed, operations in Kuwait and Iraq simply hammered the point home. FFLAV looked across the Army’s vehicle fleet and rightly concluded that there were too many types with overlapping roles, and the equipment in service should be consolidated by taking a more coherent approach. As a result, FFLAV was thought to have the potential for over 7,000 vehicles. To say the market was excited would be rather an understatement and so, in the late eighties and early nineties, a series of partnerships and consortia emerged to offer the MoD a single prime contractor for the entire programme.
Alvis, in conjunction with the Swedish Hägglunds AB, French Panhard and Spanish ENASA proposed a range of wheeled and tracked vehicles ranging from 3.5 tonnes to 24 tonnes. Stormer and CVR(T) would be further developed, filling the 8-10 tonnes and 9-13 tonnes weight classifications. Hägglunds would provide the 20-24 tonnes CV90 for the Armoured Personnel Carrier (APC), Reconnaissance, Observation, Recovery, Repair, Self-Propelled Mortar, Infantry Fighting Vehicle and Engineer Tractor requirement.
In addition to the Panhard Véhicule Blindé Léger (VBL), for the Armoured Personnel Carrier (APC), Ambulance, Recovery, Repair, Command and Control, and Medium Calibre Weapon Carrier role, Alvis proposed the 14-19 tonne ENASA (Empresa Nacional de Autocamiones S.A.) BMR-600. The BMR-600 (Blindado Medio Ruedas) came from a late seventies Spanish army requirement for an armoured vehicle in a number of variants including a 2+10 APC, ambulance, weapon carrier and repair/recovery vehicle. Like the VBL, BMR has been produced in quantity and exported widely, upgraded in service and more variants developed and fielded. The US Special Operations Command also purchased a number of Pandur I (based on the BMR) vehicles under the Armoured Ground Mobility System and they have been recently deployed to Iraq and Syria in support of combat operations against ISIS.
GKN partnered with Mowag of Switzerland to create the GKN Piranha, and the proposed Warrior 2000 would be used for the heavier variants. GKN managed to sell the Piranha to non-UK customers like Saudi Arabia and Oman, for example.
Royal Ordnance PLC, the BAE owned successor to the Royal Ordnance Factory (ROF) also suggested they would propose their RO2000 range of vehicles that were available in light SPG, IFV, self-propelled mortar and light tank variants. The RO2000, somewhat akin to the 4×4 GKN Simba, was a simple vehicle designed for overseas manufacture.
Whilst FFLAV was only a study it would inform TRACER and MRAV, FRES, and then eventually to SV Ajax and MIV Boxer. After the cancellation of the Future Family of Light Armoured Vehicles (FFLAV) programme, GKN proposed a merger with Vickers Defence but this was rebuffed and, eventually, GKN and Alvis merged instead.
In 1992 GIAT privately funded the Vextra technology demonstrator to explore the potential for heavy wheeled combat vehicles. It weighed 27 tonnes, was powered by a Scania diesel engine and could carry nine dismounted personnel or 6 tonnes of cargo. The initial GIAT Vextra models were also fitted with a one-man 25mm cannon-armed DRAGAR turret.
In parallel to FFLAV in 1992, both Germany and France had wheeled armoured vehicle programmes in their early stages. France had Véhicule Blindé Modulaire (VBM) and Germany, Gepaanzerten Transport Kraft-fahrzeug (GTK). The two nations subsequently agreed that a jointly designed vehicle would be able to satisfy both nation’s requirements. It would replace the French AMX-10RC, VAB and ERC-90 Sagaie and the German Spahpanzer Luchs, TPz1 Fuchs and M113. With an eye on politics, both France and Germany were also set on the idea that the vehicle would equip the future Euro Corps. At a meeting held in Bonn in December 1993 between the French Defence Minister, Francois Leotard and his German counterpart, Volker Ruhe, the establishment of a joint armaments agency was agreed. This was not a European agency but a French/German organisation to manage a specific number of joint programmes. From this would eventually spring forth OJAC or, as it was known in the French, Organisation conjointe de coopération en matière d’armement. One of these projects was the VBM/GTK. OJAC is now known as OCCAR, the Organisation for Joint Armament Co-operation.
Panhard partnered with Mercedes Benz, Krauss Maffei Wehrtechnik and Giat Industries to produce a joint concept study for the VBM/GTK requirement. The vehicle concept was designed to be available in a number of 6×6 and 8×8 variants.
These included an infantry carrier
and fire support variant.
At Eurosatory 94, the French Giat Vextra and German Daimler Benz EXF were on show and described as potential designs for the VBM/GTK programme. Quantities for the new design were thought to be in excess of 50,000 vehicles, perhaps optimistically. The baseline requirement called for a 25-tonne wheeled vehicle that could carry nine dismounted personnel and be capable of a road speed of 120kph (about 75mph). Centralised tire pressure would provide equivalent mobility to tracked vehicles.
Also on display at Eurosatory 94 (on the GIAT stand) was a 6×6 mock-up referred to as the European Vehicle Armoured (EVA), also intended to showcase what the end product might look like and a realisation of the concepts shown above. EVA combined elements from both the EXF and Vextra. It had a 500hp engine and Renk automatic transmission, could accommodate 9 passengers and 2 crew and weighed 22 tonnes in the 6×6 mock-up configuration.
After FFLAV and any suggestion of BMR or Piranha had been dismissed, the UK enters the story in mid-1995, when, after several preliminary discussions it was offered membership of OJAC. The UK also by then had a new emergent requirement for a medium weight wheeled armoured personnel carrier, developing the concept from the earlier FFLAV project. In 1996, all three nations agreed to a joint project to develop a vehicle family called the Multi-Role Armoured Vehicle (MRAV). MRAV comprised two requirements; M1P1 and M1P2. M1P1 was to be a tracked vehicle and referred to as the Armoured Battlegroup Support Vehicle (ABSV), essentially, a replacement for FV432. M1P2 was for a tracked vehicle obtained the following quantities;
- Armoured Personnel Carrier (470)
- Command Vehicle (180)
- Communication Vehicle (110)
- Armoured Treatment and Evacuation Vehicle (185)
- Armoured Repair and Recovery Vehicle
- Armoured Mortar Vehicle
- Mortar Fire Control Vehicle
M1P2 was required to operate out of the direct fire zone but have comparable protection to Warrior.
GIAT entered into an agreement with ARGE GTK, who had earlier also entered into an agreement with GKN. The Organisation conjointe de coopération en matière d’armement (OJAC) then became Organisation for Joint Armament Co-operation, or OCCAR, with the UK, France, Italy and Germany as founding members.
It was the original British and German intent that OCCAR would manage the MRAV programme through open competition but the French did not agree. A compromise solution was proposed by the German government, multi-national consortia with assured workshare in the manufacturing phase. At the end of the discussion, it was decided OCCAR would not manage the MRAV competition as it wanted and so it was managed by the German defence procurement organisation, Bundesamt fur Wehrtechnik und Beschaffung (BWB) with the proviso that GIAT could join whichever consortia won, regardless of the original membership. The industrial landscape was quite diverse at the time but, understanding the implications of losing, all the European manufacturers formed consortia. These would eventually coalesce into two competing teams, each submitting their concepts for consideration by the three partner nations.
The requirement called for a family of vehicles that could be used for multiple roles, high levels of protection and mobility were specified and an internal usable volume of 11m3, much higher than contemporary vehicles like the FV432, Fuchs or VAB.
ARGE-GTK (Eurokonsortium) comprised GKN, Krauss Maffei, MaK/Rheinmetall, Wegman and GIAT, their entry was a 6×6 design, an early mockup shown below, based on work completed before the GTK requirement.
The design quickly matured and the prototype featured the now-familiar demountable payload modules.
The ARGE GTK approach to meeting different national requirements was to employ modules.
TEAM (Technology for Armoured Mobility) International comprised Vickers Defence Systems, Alvis, Henschel, Kuka and Panhard & Levassor. Their entry was a more conventional design with different national requirements being met from the same basic design but modified to suit.
Unbeknown to Team International, ARGE-GTK Eurokonsortium also submitted a proposal for an 8×8 variant.
The Netherlands was appointed as Observer on the programme in 1997.
April 1998 saw the competition winner announced; Eurokonsortium.
A House of Lord’s announcement described the decision:
Lord Gilbert: I am pleased to announce that, together with Germany and France, we intend to develop and produce a family of armoured utility vehicles to meet the requirements of all three nations. The UK needs these vehicles to replace FV430, Saxon and Combat Vehicle Reconnaissance (Tracked) utility vehicles. We plan to sign a Memorandum of Understanding for the joint programme, known in the UK as the Multi-Role Armoured Vehicle, MRAV, covering development and initial production of a total of 600 vehicles. Subject to the completion of the national approvals processes in Germany and France and the negotiation of satisfactory contract terms and conditions, it is intended to place a contract with Eurokonsortium, a consortium including GKN Defence Ltd from the UK, Krauss-Maffei/Wegmann and MAK from Germany, and GIAT from France. This programme will be managed within the quadrilateral Organisation for Joint Armament Co-operation, known as OCCAR, and represents a major collaboration with our European allies. Collaboration will bring a number of benefits, including improved interoperability and financial savings, through sharing of development costs and economies of scale in production. The project also offers UK industry the opportunity to strengthen its links with the leading companies in the European armoured vehicles industry
Team International threatened legal action because the original requirement called for a 6×6 design, and Eurokonsortium had submitted their winning 8×8 at a late stage. Team International eventually submitted their own 8×8 proposal but 5 months after the official closing date and their protest went nowhere.
A July 1998 Parliamentary Question elicited this response from the Government:
Mr. Key: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence (1) if he will make a statement on the progress of the MRAV project; (2) how many multi-role armoured vehicles he intends to purchase.
Mr. Spellar: Following the joint announcement with France and Germany on 22 April of our intention to proceed with collaborative development and initial production of the Multi-Role Armoured Vehicle, MRAV, and of the selection of the trilateral consortium “Eurokonsortium” as the preferred bidder, we have set work on hand to prepare a Memorandum of Understanding between the three nations. Detailed contract negotiations with the consortium are also proceeding. The initial production order will include 200 vehicles for each nation. No decisions have been taken on the final numbers required.
The conclusion of the competition saw the losers rapidly converge, Alvis acquired the GKN Defence business in September 1998.
The 1998 Strategic Defence Review (SDR) committed the UK to an interventionist foreign policy, recognising a change in the security environment.
The British are, by instinct, an internationalist people. We believe that as well as defending our rights, we should discharge our responsibilities in the world. We do not want to stand idly by and watch humanitarian disasters or the aggression of dictators go unchecked. We want to give a lead, we want to be a force for good. On the positive side, the collapse of Communism and the emergence of democratic states throughout Eastern Europe and in Russia means that there is today no direct military threat to the United Kingdom or Western Europe…The end of the Cold War has transformed our security environment. The world does not live in the shadow of World War. There is no longer a direct threat to Western Europe or the United Kingdom as we used to know it, and we face no significant military threat to any of our Overseas Territories
And that forces would need to be more joint, exploit technology and more be expeditionary. Although it is well accepted that the 1998 SDR was a foreign policy led document that failed to win the backing of the Treasury, it set in train a series of projects and programmes that would include FRES, the Future Rapid Effect System. The Strategic Defence Review also made clear there would be a European element to future defence acquisition. It also described the intent with MRAV.
Wherever possible, European governments should harmonise the requirements of their Armed Forces and pursue co-operative solutions. This not only avoids unnecessary duplication of development and production costs but makes sound operational sense. As part of their initiative, the Defence Ministers announced on 20 April that they would give high priority to resolving a number of governmental issues – for example relating to security and intellectual property rights – which could hinder restructuring and would sign a Letter of Intent setting out a timetable for this on 6 July. The creation of a multinational organisation, OCCAR (Organisme Conjointe de Co-operation en matière d’Armament), involving Britain, France, Germany and Italy to undertake common procurement also has an important part to play.
The outcome of the Strategic Defence Review fully reflects the importance that the Government attaches to maintaining a strong and healthy British and European defence industry combined with a continuing commitment to competitive procurement. The Review’s forward equipment plans include a range of major European collaborative projects including Eurofighter, Horizon frigate, and the Multi-Role Armoured Vehicle (MRAV). We will be seeking to ensure that there are realistic European options to be considered for our longer term-requirements such as the replacement for the Tornado bomber and improved strategic air transport
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 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 year after the MRAV winner was announced, a lead nation had yet to be appointed and there is no doubt the devil made work for idle hands. Differences emerged, with Germany aligning with the UK while France increasingly moved away from MRAV. They began to favour a wheeled Infantry Fighting Vehicle that would work closely with the LeClerc Main Battle Tank, armed with a medium calibre weapon, a role fulfilled by Warrior and the new Puma vehicle in German service. France was also still smarting from the UK/German decision to insist that GIAT could only be part of one of the competing consortia despite agreements on manufacturing. Before MRAV, GIAT was not in a good place commercially and the French Government was keen on retaining its sovereign production capability. France left the programme in 1999 to create the VBCI.
US operations in the Balkans during the early nineties, particularly the Sava River crossing and Task Force Hawk had created an increasing impetus for change with the US Army’s vehicles. It was further underlined by the 1999 Operation AGRICOLA. Operation AGRICOLA was the name given to the UK contribution to KFOR. KFOR entered Kosovo on the 11th of June 1999, two days after the adoption of UN Security Council Resolution 1244.
KFOR were to advance into Kosovo via a number of routes. UK forces were responsible for securing a route to Pristina from Macedonia. This route included the crucial Kacanik Defile, a narrow gorge with a series of bridges and tunnels. During the rapidly changing time in the lead up to the ceasefire and deployment into Kosovo, as a show of strength and to gain greater influence, 250 Russian personnel in 30 wheeled armoured vehicles moved overnight and took up positions in Pristina Airport, blocking access and presenting KFOR with a very delicate situation.
Despite some rather aggressive and misplaced orders from General Wes Clarke, the situation was resolved without shots being fired.
It is a fascinating incident to study. Click here for a good rundown, but what really sent shockwaves around the world was the fact that the Russians had completed a long road march right under the noses of NATO. This one incident would be used as an example many times in forthcoming arguments about medium-weight wheeled forces.
The Organisation for Joint Armament Co-operation (OCCAR) gained legal status in 2001 that allowed it to enter into contracts on behalf of member nations and it was decided that OCCAR should ‘inherit’ MRAV and manage it from there. A joint venture company called ARTEC GmbH was formed, replacing Eurokonsortium, comprised of Alvis Vehicles Ltd, Rheinmetall Landsysteme GmbH and Krauss-Maffei Wegmann GmbH. On the 5th of November 1999, Alvis released details of the contract:
Alvis plc is pleased to announce that a contract was signed on 5 November between the German and UK MOD, and ARTEC GmbH for the development of the Multi-Role Armoured Vehicle (MRAV. Alvis is a shareholder in ARTEC, which is a joint venture company established to manage the MRAV programme. The value of the development contract is approximately £70m, and it contains a production option for an initial procurement of 600 vehicles. The Alvis share of the development phase will be approximately £35m and its share of the initial production phase is expected to exceed £200m. The launch of MRAV is an event of major importance for Alvis. MRAV is the largest European Armoured Vehicle programme for the next 10 years and beyond, and it will secure and enhance the interests of our employees and shareholders into the long term. The collaboration with Krauss-Maffei and MaK, the leading land systems companies in Germany, provides an axis for further business development in Europe
The contract covered the full development and a production option for the first 600 vehicles at a value of approximately €750m. Baroness Symons, the defence procurement minister, described the announcement:
The MRAV programme strengthens the links between our nations and will provide a springboard for the development of a more cohesive and competitive European defence industry in this sector. The MRAV programme will provide the British army with a modern and flexible family of armoured utility vehicles that can operate in both high-intensity conflict and in rapid reaction peace support and humanitarian operations world-wide
The base vehicle would use common components with national specific variants produced and assembled locally. Discussions also started with the Netherlands about joining the programme. In February 2001, the Dutch company Stork PWV joined ARTEC to meet the Pantser Wiel Voertuig requirement (replacing the venerable DAF YP408), increasing the overall order value.
FRES first emerged in 2001 with the MoD requesting information from suppliers on how they could contribute to a medium weight force, BAE, Alvis Hägglunds and Vickers responded.
In 2002, Air Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup was Deputy Chief of Defence Staff (Equipment Capability) and Royal Marine Major General Rob Fulton, Director of Equipment Capability (Information Superiority). It was Major General Fulton that coined the phrase NEC and produced the NEC plan in 2002, it is endorsed by the Joint Capability Board the same year. 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 focused on targeting) that would be developed further in 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 McNichol. Would it be fair to say that joint effects based transformation were being solely driven by the RAF and RN, probably not, but they were very influential and this overall theme would, in turn, influence the Army and its vehicle choices?
Whilst recognising the similarities between FCS and FRES it is equally important to take note of the differences. FCS envisaged the network at the heart of the system, FRES seeing it as an enabler. FCS was looking at replacing the concept of the main battle tank, FRES recognised the role of heavy forces. Similar problems often drive different people to find similar solutions. The fundamental changes were the same for both the US Army and British Army and although the ambition of the two desired end states was different, FCS and FRES were very much in the same ballpark.
Recognising the geopolitical change as a result of the 9/11 attacks, the New Labour government initiated discussions and consultations on a ‘new chapter’ for the 1998 Strategic Defence Review in February 2002.
Following the appalling events of 11 September, the Secretary of State for Defence announced that the Ministry of Defence would look again at how we organise our defence. This will not be a new Strategic Defence Review, but a “New Chapter” building on the review. We need to ensure we have the right concepts, forces and capabilities to meet the additional challenges we might face from international terrorism.
In July 2002, the MoD requested a new joint approach for FRES from BAE and Alvis, with BAE providing the systems engineering and Alvis the vehicle domain expertise. A few months later, the MoD awarded a non-competitive contract to Alvis to develop plans for the Assessment Phase of a future FRES programme. The target in-service date was to be 2009, 7 years away. If both the Generals commenting above were hoping for a simple solution they were going to be very disappointed now that the Network Enabled Capability team was on the case.
The Strategic Defence Review – New Chapter was also published in July 2002.
Rapidly deployability at distance was re-emphasised:
We must retain the ability rapidly to deploy significant, credible forces overseas. It is much better to engage our enemies in their backyard than in ours, at a time and place of our choosing and not theirs. But opportunities to engage terrorist groups may be only fleeting, so we need the kind of rapidly deployable intervention forces which were the key feature of the SDR.
But it also requires the ability to deploy and redeploy rapidly, and it has potential implications for the mix of forces that are used. For instance, some theatres and scenarios, like Afghanistan, may point towards the use of rapidly deployable light forces rather than armoured or mechanised forces and artillery: and we are examining ways of providing such forces with improved mobility and firepower. Operations in Afghanistan have again demonstrated the key role played by support helicopters. And, as part of our move towards more rapidly deployable forces, we are also pursuing the concept of a Future Rapid Effect System, a family of air-transportable medium-weight armoured vehicles. We will also be accelerating the introduction of additional temporary deployed accommodation for our troops, and further improving its hot weather capability
As ARTEC matured the design, both 6×6 and 8×8 variants were still envisaged to be part of the approach.
UK planning assumptions were for a number of variants; armoured personnel carrier, command vehicle, communications vehicle (CommV), mortar carrier (ATV), Anti-Tank Platoon (ATPV) and two configurations of Armoured Treatment and Evacuation Vehicle (ATEV) across a total order of 775 vehicles, replacing FV432, some CVR(T) and Saxon. The initial ISD was defined as 54 Armoured Personnel Carriers and 21 Command Vehicles fully operational in a Mechanised Infantry Battalion and Brigade Headquarters. MRAV was to be transportable by C-17 and the Future Large Aircraft (A400M), but not C-130. A great deal of British design expertise went into MRAV and equally, the concept of operations. The 6×6 and 8×8 mix would eventually give way to an 8×8 configuration only.
In 2002, Alvis acquired Vickers Defence Systems from Rolls Royce and the MRAV vehicle was named Boxer. Alvis also produced the first 13 trials vehicle at its plant in Telford together with the design and build of the UK Ambulance and Personnel Carrier modules.
A June 2003 evidence session at the House of Commons for the Defence Select Committee provided some revealing information on FRES.
Lord Bach: Well, as to the question of whether it is a long way off or not, this is a new generation of capability that we hope to bring in. We are well equipped, we think, at the heavy end and at the light end too, but it is the medium-weight area where FRES fits in and we are moving as fast as we feel we can to initial gate approval and we hope to be able to tell you pretty soon and I will be able to make an announcement soon as to when we will. There will be some pretty cutting-edge technology with FRES when we decide exactly what it is we want out of this process and with that cutting-edge technology it is absolutely crucial that the design, the technology reaches a certain stage of maturity before we try and apply it to what will be a very expensive and a very important programme which will last for many, many years. I think it is more important that we get it right than that we rush it in, but we hope there will not be any capability gap. The General will be able to tell you whether there is a risk of a capability gap or not, but we think we have got this about right. General?
And later in questions;
Lieutenant General Fulton: You cannot go out into the world anywhere and buy FRES. The requirement for FRES is very demanding. What we are seeking to do is to put a medium-weight capability into the field which means getting many of the vehicles down to a C-130 load. We are talking of the order of 17 tonnes. This is not going to be a main battle tank in 17 tonnes because the laws of physics do not allow that. This is a medium-weight force, but the technology to which the Minister has referred is very demanding and, frankly, I do not know whether it will work because in order to get down there we are dependent, for example, on electric drive, so will that work? We are dependent on some pretty interesting technologies for protection and survivability where in order to get a level of survivability that is acceptable on the battlefield, there will be some interesting questions on situation awareness, manned and unmanned turrets, for example. What gives me confidence that we are not dragging our feet is the very, very close link that we have with the American FCS programme which is asking precisely the same questions at precisely the same time, and there are other countries doing the same, for example, Sweden’s SEP programme is also looking at that, so we, in conjunction with the American and the Swedes, clearly have an interest in producing something that is very, very similar.
Some interesting points to pick out of that;
- The scale of the technical challenge and uncertainty in achieving technology goals,
- Close alignment with US and Swedish programmes,
- Confirmation that FRES was not a 70 tonne Main Battle Tank in a 20-tonne format, but…
- C-130 carriage as a minimum, not Future Large Aircraft as originally
Development of the ARTEC Boxer continued, PT11 shown below, as built by Alvis in Telford.
A month later, the UK withdrew from MRAV to pursue FRES, announcing the MRAV decision on the 17th July 2003, Adam Ingram said;
Mr Adam Ingram (Minister of State (Armed Forces), Ministry of Defence; East Kilbride, Labour). We regularly re-visit existing plans for capability enhancements to ensure they remain tailored to the security environment in which we need to operate. As such, we judge that the Multi-Role Armoured Vehicle (MRAV) is not ideally suited to the type of operations envisaged under the Strategic Defence Review New Chapter and other developing policy work. This, coupled with recent operational experience in the Balkans, Sierra Leone, East Timor, Afghanistan and latterly Iraq, has demonstrated the need for rapid deployability in expeditionary operations. MRAV is not considered able to meet this capability requirement which will be pursued through the Future Rapid Effect System (FRES). FRES will be a very significant component of the long-term transformation of the land battle through its contribution to network-enabled capability. We have written to the German and Dutch Governments to inform them of our decision to withdraw from the MRAV collaborative project.
Lord Bach, the Defence Procurement Minister, said;
The SDR (Strategic Defence Review) New Chapter, and our experience on recent overseas operations, have shown the need for lighter armoured vehicles that can be quickly sent by air to a trouble spot when a crisis breaks
By the late summer of 2003, the initial FRES contract with Alvis had been terminated after the Investment Approvals Board decided to not approve the investment strategy. The Investment Approvals Board replaced the Equipment Approvals Committee in early 2002, perhaps they were still getting their feet under the table. Major General Rob Fulton was appointed to the new post of 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.
Against this backdrop was Iraq, and an emerging requirement for increasing levels of protection.
Germany and the Netherlands were left as the ‘none too chuffed’ partners in the MRAV programme but they stayed the course and the first production-ready prototype was delivered in December 2003, shown below.
As the first Boxer production-ready model was being unveiled, the UK published the Delivering Security in a Changing World – Defence White Paper. It repeated many of the same arguments found in the SDR new Chapter but included more information on medium-weight forces:
UK land forces currently consist of a mix of heavy and light capabilities. The former offer firepower, integral tactical mobility and protection necessary to carry out ground manoeuvre warfare but require a considerable effort to deploy and support on operations. Light forces in contrast can deploy rapidly anywhere in the world but lack much of the firepower, mobility and protection to conduct decisive operations against an enemy equipped with armour and mechanised forces. To increase our flexibility in responding to crises, a new set of medium weight forces will be developed, offering a high level of deployability (including by air), together with much greater levels of mobility and protection than are currently available to light forces.
The cost of the UK participation in MRAV was reported as £48 million in 2003 although this would rise in subsequent reporting, as it often does.
And that was the end of MRAV, at least for the UK.
Boxer Round 2 – The FRES Era
The nineties had ushered in huge political, societal and technological changes that influenced the military theory and these would all converge for the UK and US armed forces, in no particular order…
- Geopolitics; a change in the post-Cold War political landscape raised expectations of having to intervene in regional crisis as communism collapsed, reinforced by the 1998 Strategic Defence Review and the ‘Force for Good’ foreign policy of the Tony Blair Labour Government. Reductions in the defence vote, from between 5% and 5.5% of GDP in the early eighties to around 3% by the mid-nineties, with further reductions envisaged, legacy heavy forces were rapidly going out of fashion.
- Technology; the revolution in microelectronics had provided military planners with a tantalising glimpse into the future. Precision engagement capabilities in the Balkans and Gulf War demonstrated how precision could in many cases replace heavy massed forces. 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.
- Deployability; in a political environment where operations would be conducted at arms-length from the USA and Europe, intervention forces could not afford 6 months build-up times like in 1991 in the Gulf. The US experience in the Balkans in the nineties simply underscored this. The conclusions drawn were, if you want to have an effect, you have to be there. The Sava River crossing, Task Force Hawk and the ‘Pristina Dash’ just added weight to the argument that rapid deployment capabilities were essential.
- Inter-Service Politics; Despite the Gulf War and UNPROFOR showing the continued relevance of traditional heavyweight armoured forces, the US experience, first with IFOR and the Sava River crossing and second, Task Force Hawk, made them look flat-footed, flabby and lacking in any kind of strategic or logistical agility. This only added fuel to the USAF v US Army fire that had been simmering since the Gulf War. Meanwhile, the USAF and USN were getting into their precision effects stride, the US Army knew it had to do better or get left behind in the battle for relevance, and with that relevance, funding The US Army knew it had to do something or face a rout in the post-Cold War era peace dividend, ‘transformation’ was the US Army’s chosen weapon.
Against this backdrop, MRAV had progressed from FFLAV, linked up with a number of European programmes, got wrapped around the politics of European Union industrial rationalisation, moved close to an agreement, and then cancelled because it did not meet the emergent FRES requirement. Although MRAV and FRES overlap by a few years, this second attempt at purchasing Boxer comes toward the end of FRES, after FRES had experienced a combination of failure and being overtaken by events in the Middle East. FRES was a response to the then perceived need for a more mobile force that could intervene quickly by reducing logistics footprint and for the UK specifically, this was all about ‘jointery’. Despite the creation of Permanent Joint Force Headquarters in 1994, operations in the Balkans showed yet again, difficulties with coordination across the services. Joint, expeditionary and the 1998 SDR went hand in hand.
By the beginning of 2004, a number of important elements to the FRES story were coming together.
- First; the British Armed forces had firmly embraced the emerging military transformational thinking, Effects Based Operations, Network Centric Warfare, Agile Forces and Directed Logistics. Implementation was still yet to be fully realised though. Network Enabled Capability emerged as the British version of Network Centric Warfare, clearly emphasising that the network would be an enabler of the other three concepts. In essence, NEC is a tactical internet, the glue that binds the others. Effects Based Operations, after a shaky start, was renamed Effects Based Approach to Operations in 2006.
- Second; with a deteriorating security situation in Iraq, the Snatch controversy was about to break
- Third; budget pressures within the MoD would influence choices on FRES and vehicles for Iraq.
- Fourth; continued confusion about what FRES actually was would surface and the Directorate of Equipment Capability (Ground Manoeuvre) effectively ignoring the Army, who wanted a simple and fast solution for FRES would lead to yet more problems.
The wider concept of FRES was subject to much discussion during the early programme stages, Lord Atlee posed a question in the House of Lords in January 2004
My noble friend Lord Vivian referred to FRES—future rapid effect system. Our AFV programme seems to be subject to constant revision. Is FRES a platform or a concept? If it is a platform—a vehicle on the drawing board—is it tracked or wheeled? Is it conventionally driven or electrically driven?
The confusion continued:
Mr Andrew Robathan (Blaby, Conservative). To ask the Secretary of State for Defence
(1) whether his Department classifies the Future Rapid Effects System programme as (a) a system and (b) a vehicle;
(2) whether the winner of the Future Rapid Effects System Systems House competition will be disqualified from playing a major role on the industrial side of the programme;
(3) whether the proposed Systems House approach is the preferred way forward for the Future Rapid Effects System programme.
Mr Adam Ingram (Minister of State (Armed Forces), Ministry of Defence; East Kilbride, Labour)
The Future Rapid Effect System (FRES) will provide a family of network-capable armoured vehicles that will form a key part of network-enabled capability. We expect to make an announcement on the assessment phase for the FRES programme shortly
On 5th May 2004, the Minister for the Armed Forces announced a two-year Initial Assessment Phase (IAP) contract for the FRES Utility vehicle programme. The Systems House was to be Atkins, confirmed in August 2004, with the MoD stating that an external and independent project management team would provide significant benefits in understanding the programme risks and recommending an appropriate acquisition strategy. Essentially, Atkins would be the middleman between the MoD and industry and for the IAP, the MoD expected a bill for £120 million. Atkins was also tasked to let the competitive Technology Demonstrator Programme contracts to the industry as part of a FRES Integrated Technology Acquisition Plan (ITAP).
Responding to the general confusion about FRES, General Sir Mike Jackson authored the RUSI paper to explain the Medium Weight Capability (MWCap). He started by explaining there was an increasing requirement to intervene quickly to achieve the early political and military effect and that the key element of MWCap would be FRES but that whilst there would be a resource shift to the medium-weight force, It would not entirely replace light and heavy forces. This last part is often lost in discussions about FRES. Much in the article was made of the contemporary operating environment characterised by a diversity of operational requirements in the same theatre. 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 that General Shinseki was making for The Future Combat System (FCS) in the USA. It is also fair to say that he recognised the essential ‘work in progress nature of the MWCap and that it is was about much more than a vehicle replacement programme. The paper also mentioned Iraq, twice, but not in the context of enduring operations, reinforcing the criticism levelled at MWCap that it was oblivious to what was happening in the Middle East.
In response to a Written Question, the Governments confirmed the acquisition costs of FRES would be £6 billion, with through-life costs estimated at £49 billion. In subsequent evidence to the Defence Select Committee Nick Prest, the then Chairman of Alvis, made somewhat of a large understatement;
in the armoured vehicle area I think it is fair to say that the MoD has had particular difficulty in formulating its requirements, launching procurement programmes and then sticking to them
By mid-2004, the projected In-Service Date for FRES was 2009. Geoff Hoon announced the creation of the ‘Future Army Structure’ on December 16th, 2004. The announcement started with all the usual fluff about being ready for the challenges of today and tomorrow, being seen as the best in the world and, God forbid, the term warfighting crept into the official lexicon. The major changes described were the cessation of the Arms Plot, a reduction of 4 infantry battalions to 36 and a number of mergers and disbandments. The Army was to have a structure based on two Heavy Brigades (CR2 and Warrior), 3 Medium Brigades (FRES) and 1 Light Brigade (Boot Combat High) plus Air Assault and Naval Service Commando Brigades.
In MRAV related news, OCCAR placed a contract with ARTEC in 2004 for the continuing development of Boxer MRAV
Between the issues of the Technology Demonstration Programme contracts at the end of 2004 to the infamous Trials of Truth in 2007, the MoD and Army were trying to deliver the transformation workstream whilst maintaining operations in Iraq and Afghanistan and dealing with an increasing number of Urgent Operational Requirements. The workload became increasingly unsustainable. Whilst this was happening, despite the best intentions of the Army, the entire concept of medium weight rapid intervention came under sustained questioning as Iraq and Afghanistan stagnated, and with it, arguably, the whole reason for FRES.
At the 5th Annual Future Combat Vehicle Conference at RUSI on June 8th, Brigadier Bill Moore, Director Equipment Capability (Ground Manoeuvre) provided a description of the various UOR’s and capability enhancement in progress and an update on the Medium Weight Capability and FRES. He confirmed that thinking on C-130 transportability had changed:
A400M and C-17 will dictate the weight and size limits for FRES. We estimate only seven to seventeen C130’s will be in service by the in-service date for FRES
The General Dynamics 8 x 8 Advanced Hybrid Electric Drive (AHED) test vehicle was also demonstrated in the UK in June. AHED used a hybrid electric power system and hub motors. A month later, General Dynamics were awarded an 18-month Wheeled Chassis Technology Demonstrator Programme contract by Atkins, the Systems House. AHED had a 500hp diesel engine and a large battery system that powered in-hub electric motors.
BAE established a Future Rapid Effect System (FRES) capture team at Farnborough in the summer to ensure all elements of the BAE organisation could be bought into proposals for future FRES Technology Demonstrator Programme (TDP) contracts. Thales and BAE teamed up for the Electronic Architecture TDP. General Dynamics UK had been awarded a chassis TDP earlier in the year and BAE was hoping for the same. BAE then proposed the Swedish SEP (Splitterskyddad Enhets Plattform) or Modular Armoured Tactical System) the programme might be exploited for FRES. At this point, the tracked and 6×6 platforms were being tested after being funded by the Swedish Defence Materiel Administration (FMV). With BAE by now in the ownership of Hägglunds, the synergies seemed obvious. Tracked SEP weighed 17 tonnes, had a payload of 6.5 tonnes and a maximum speed of 85 km/h. It also featured an advanced hybrid electric drive and a modular payload system that was common to both the tracked and wheeled chassis.
During a parliamentary debate on the 28th of June 2005, Don Touhig (Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Veterans), Ministry of Defence; Islwyn, Labour) revealed a number of interesting facts about FRES in response to a question from Ann Winterton MP, reproduced in full below;
It might be helpful if I clarify what FRES is. I shall outline the drivers for the requirement, and give details of the progress that we have made in an immensely complex and demanding programme. The underlying requirement for FRES stems from two strategic requirements. First, we need to replace some of our current armoured vehicles, such as the Saxon, the FV 430 and the CVR(T), and, secondly, we need to develop a medium-weight capability so that we have a balanced force of heavy, medium and light brigades.
FRES will also be rapidly deployable by air at battle group level—in other words, a battalion or regiment-sized force. The strategic defence review and its new chapter identified the need to enhance our expeditionary capability, but since then our thinking has developed further. The 2003 and 2004 defence White Papers clearly explain our vision to develop a highly effective medium-weight capability. As a result of the review, the Army will be rebalanced, reducing the emphasis on heavy armoured forces and increasing the emphasis on light and medium forces.
By ensuring that each deployable brigade is fully manned and has its own integral enablers and logistics, the Army will be better equipped and structured to conduct all types of operations. FRES is at the heart of the Army’s equipment programme and it will have wide uses, not only in the medium forces, but also as a key support role for our heavy forces.
Whether for short intervention operations or enduring peace support, we often need forces with greater firepower, protection and mobility than that of light forces, but with deployability and agility that cannot be achieved by heavy forces. By providing this capability, FRES will underpin the rebalancing of the Army and the development of a truly effective medium-weight force.
In a nutshell, FRES will be a family of medium-weight armoured vehicles of around 20 tonnes, enabled by communications, information and surveillance systems, with the growth potential to develop over time. It will be the central pillar of the Army’s capable and deployable balanced force, which will have a wide operational role, from warfighting to peacekeeping.
To help the hon. Lady, I can say that the issue of whether the vehicle is wheeled or tracked is under consideration as part of the assessment phase we are going through at this time.
FRES will fill a wide range of combat and support roles. Those roles will range from a vehicle to provide protected mobility for infantry, through command and control vehicles, to a new scout vehicle for reconnaissance tasks. These medium-weight armoured vehicles will mean that FRES will be significantly lighter than our current heavy armoured forces based on the Challenger 2 and the Warrior armoured infantry fighting vehicle, but I should make it clear that FRES will not replace Challenger 2, Warrior or the AS 90 guns in our heavy forces.
FRES will take full advantage of investment in our communications and information systems network. We intend that it should be network capable; it will not provide the network, but it will contribute to it. It will make full use of network-enabled capability. By this I mean that it will provide the coherent integration of sensors, decision makers and weapons systems through communications and information systems. That will enable FRES to perform roles such as command and control, dissemination of intelligence and situational awareness and control of firepower.
FRES is a complex and demanding programme. The requirement is broad and covers a wide range of military capability. We will need to take a pragmatic view of how to balance some of the individual requirements, such as combining high levels of protection and low weight, or large capacity and small size. The programme will need to interface with a range of existing and planned equipment if we are to deliver the full benefits.
Beyond the equipment programme, the Army will also need to consider the programme’s wider implications, such as the impact it will have on doctrine and how the Army trains. Given this complexity, we are approaching the programme with a careful, rigorous and objective assessment of the technical options. We will consider industrial issues and the acquisition strategy, as well as the broader implications for the Army of bringing FRES into service and, of course, the risk.
As part of the current assessment phase, which began last year, the FRES integrated project team assisted by Atkins, an independent systems house, is investigating those and other issues to ensure that FRES is cost-effective, value for money and successfully delivered. Until we make the main investment decision, time, cost and performance parameters will not be set. We will take that decision only when we are confident that the programme is mature enough to provide accurate answers to the issues that I have outlined.
The hon. Lady asked whether the 2010 date for the introduction of FRES was purely a coincidence, and from the Government’s point of view, it is. She also asked whether FRES is affordable. Affordability is a key factor in the assessment phase. Costs will not be formally approved until the main investment decision point. We currently expect FRES to have an approximate total procurement cost of £14 billion. The hon. Lady also made some important points about the use of FRES in urban areas, and the lessons that we have learned in recent conflicts will be taken into account throughout the assessment and planning stage.
To take the project forward, we have identified a series of planning assumptions that provide a basis for the planning of FRES and for interacting programmes. As new information emerges from the assessment phase, those assumptions may evolve, but under our current assumptions, we expect FRES to deliver about 3,500 vehicles, with the first variants entering service early in the next decade.
The assessment phase is now well under way, with technology risks being addressed through rigorous systems engineering work and a number of technology demonstrator programmes. So far two such programmes have been placed: a contract for capacity and stowage has been placed with the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory and a contract for defensive aid suites is with Akers Krutbruk. Another five contracts—two for the chassis concept, two for the electronic architecture and one for electric armour are currently being negotiated.
In parallel, the systems engineering work has developed a number of fleet options, which are now being assessed in more depth. The acquisition strategy will be critical to the successful delivery of FRES. Industrial capacity for armoured vehicle design, integration, manufacture and assembly is clearly key to the programme.
In the context of defence industrial policy, we will need to consider a wide range of issues, including employment. We must also assess the importance of retaining a UK industrial capacity and capability which, at a minimum, allows us to maintain and upgrade current and future equipment. The Defence Procurement Agency is currently considering how we can achieve that while delivering value for money.
As the hon. Lady suggested, another issue to consider is the scope for co-operation with other nations, including in the context of the European Defence Agency’s initiatives. We are clear, however, that current FRES timelines must be maintained. No decisions on co-operation between FRES and other nations’ armoured vehicle programmes have yet been made, nor do we expect to make any before the main investment decision point. I should also reassure the hon. Lady that FRES will not be dependent on the European satellite navigation system, Galileo, which is a civil programme under civil control.
FRES is a key programme for the Army and for defence and it is vital to fully achieving our vision of a rapidly deployable medium-weight capability. Its complexity means that we would be rash to rush into decisions before we have fully investigated all the issues. By following best practice, which is enshrined in the smart acquisition initiative, the programme is moving forward and it has considerable momentum. It remains a cornerstone of our future equipment programme.
Since the assessment phase started last year, a huge amount has been achieved. Atkins, the systems house, has been appointed and integrated into the FRES team. The system’s engineering process has begun to narrow down the options, and the development of an acquisition strategy has begun. The technology demonstrator programmes are under way and more will start soon. A wide range of firms were informally engaged through a highly successful industry day in January.
FRES will be an important enhancement to our defence capability, and I hope that, as debate continues, we will be able to share our plans and ideas with people such as the hon. Lady. She has taken a considerable interest in the matter, and, again, I thank her for raising the issue today.
Some important points from that;
- The rapid deployed by air element was 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,
- Confirmed of the bulging out of the medium weight capability at the expense of light and heavy forces,
- FRES would be ‘significantly lighter than the current heavy forces and Challenger, Warrior and AS90, which was taken to mean sub 20 tonnes
- An in-service date of 2010 at a cost of £14 billion.
- 3,500 vehicles, taken together with the projected costs, a programme of significant international and industry interest
By the end of 2005, BAE had been awarded the second Future Rapid Effect System (FRES) chassis concept Technology Demonstrator Programme (TDP) contract to investigate the potential for SEP to increase in weight to 28 tonnes, despite the earlier confirmation that FRES would be around 20 tonnes. The Integrated Survivability Technology Demonstrator Programme (TDP) contract was awarded to Thales and an Electric Armour TDP to Lockheed Martin. BAE also won the Gap Crossing and Electronic Architecture TDP’s. A FRES fleet review took place in January 2006 that concluded no off the shelf vehicle would meet the FRES requirement and that the earliest in-service date would be 2015 to 2018 if the Army’s survivability and growth requirements were to be realised. It also concluded that whilst the US Stryker could be obtained for the Utility Variant, it offered insufficient protection, lacked growth potential and the UK would be unable to make any modifications.
Also in In March 2006, Janes reported a conversation with Brigadier Lamont Kirkland (Director Land Warfare) that described how the experience of US and British forces in Iraq had led to a major shift in thinking on FRES.
The MoD and industry alike were talking 17 to 22 tonnes for FRES for four years, only in the last four months had those involved with the programme taken a collective leap in sitting levels of protection
The new baseline weight was 25-30 tonnes, beyond the capability of the C-130 but well within that of the FLA/A400M.
General Dynamics and BAE, who were both in the middle of their FRES Chassis Technology Demonstrator contracts, also recognised the new reality. The General Dynamics AHED 8×8 had completed the second phase of its Chassis Technology Demonstrator programme at 18 tonnes and was preparing for the final stage at an increased weight of 20 tonnes.
Janes went on to confirm;
Before the invasion of Iraq – and more specifically the coalition stabilisation mission that followed and which continues today – the future of the UK’s armoured capability was expected to centre around a medium-weight force of rapidly deployable vehicles. Now, however, the reality of operations in a largely urban environment against an asymmetric threat has forced a complete re-evaluation of the degree of acceptable risk to an armoured vehicle’s survivability.
The vehicles had shifted up several tonnes but doctrinally, it seemed there was little change except for a change to the 17 variant proposal, it was now 16, having dropped the air defence version.
The Medium Weight Capability strategic intent was defined as:
MWCap is an effects-based military capability made up of Joint Force Elements and optimised for Focused Intervention, Power Projection and Peace Support Operations.
MWCap will be air portable at small scale for rapid deployment within 7 days to the core regions. At Medium Scale, MWCap may act as the first echelon of a larger force.
MWCap will deliver greater lethality, protected mobility and endurance than Lighter Forces, without the deployment, logistic and support limitations of Heavy Forces.
It is important to understand that despite many claiming FRES was about delivering Brigades by air, it was not.
Air portability rapid reaction was only at ‘Small Scale’
The Medium Weight Capability would also provide manoeuvre support to armoured brigades and the whole would be delivered over four steps that included a whole raft of joint capabilities, C-17, BCIP, Watchkeeper and the Future Strategic Tanker Aircraft. This was joined-up thinking across the whole of defence. The FRES requirement was now likely to be met by up to three vehicle families with commonality at the subsystem level.
The air deployability requirement was now A400M transport for the smaller variants at a range of 2,000nm and a target of carriage of the larger variants over the same distance. The variants roles for the FRES concept continued to evolve but initial thinking was based on the following assumptions;
Utility Variant (wheeled 8×8, 25-30 tonnes)
- Protect Mobility Close Support
- Command and Control Close Support
- Light Armoured Support Infantry
- Indirect Fire Control Forward Observation Officer Mechanised Infantry
- Falcon Wide Area Service Provision (WASP)
- Falcon Command Post Support (CPS)
- Falcon Management Installation (MI)
- Communication Reacher
- Communications Battle Group Enhanced
- Command and Control
- Electronic Warfare Sensor
- Electronic Warfare Workstation
- Medical Close Support
- CBRN Reconnaissance and Survey
- Equipment Support Utility
- Route Denial Mine System
Scout Variant (tracked, 20-25 tonnes)
- Ground-Based Surveillance
- Indirect Fire Control and Formation Reconnaissance Forward Observation Officer
- Equipment Support Formation Reconnaissance
- Formation Reconnaissance Medical
- Formation Reconnaissance ATGW (Overwatch)
- Formation Reconnaissance Command and Control
- Engineer Reconnaissance
- Protected Mobility Formation Reconnaissance Support Troop
- Formation Reconnaissance Light Armoured Support (Cargo)
Heavy Variant (tracked, 30-40 tonnes)
- Direct Fire
- Equipment Support Direct Fire Repair and Recovery
- Manoeuvre Support Armoured Engineer Tractor
- Manoeuvre Support Armoured Vehicle Royal Engineers
- Manoeuvre Support Armoured Vehicle Launched Bridgelayer
The total vehicle count was to be 3,775 over 16 roles with an estimated price tag of £14.2 Billion.
At Eurosatory in July 2006, BAE showcased SEP, progress was being made on the three 6×6 wheeled and one tracked test rigs with additional FRES funding as part of the Chassis Technology Demonstrator Programme. Writing in a RUSI paper, a Frost and Sullivan analyst argued that the FRES increase in ‘weight’ to increase protection was incorrect and instead, information superiority would provide greater protection;
The US-derived idea that ‘heavier is better’ for stabilisation missions is based on a false premise: it is not that heavier forces are indispensable, but rather that adaptable armour kits and better ISTAR capability to locate and track the enemy will allow for lighter, more easily deployable and adaptable systems without significantly raising the risk profile of a deployed force. Leveraging such information superiority will provide greater force protection as battlefield commanders will be better positioned to dictate terms of engagement to opposing forces, mitigating the effects of lighter armour configurations. This reinforces the view that MoD should look to developing its communications and new ISTAR concept instead of investing in costly bespoke AFVs in the 25–30 tonne range
Another RUSI paper, this time from Atkins, argued, unsurprisingly, for the MoD’s vision of greater protection;
The programme to procure and deliver FRES is about ‘the art of the possible’ and ‘coherence at pace’. There is now real and demonstrable momentum behind this critical programme. The UK MoD is investing today in driving a challenging FRES programme of emerging technology that will give the Army the operational edge needed to confront tomorrow’s threat – ultimately, our servicemen and women deserve no less
General Dynamics opened a FRES UK Joint Programme Office, David Gould and Dr Sandy Wilson presiding.
This period was intensely political, the Government was being accused of neglect and plain old lies by a number of MP’s and commentators, parts of the media were simply repeating MoD media ‘lines to take’, all whilst personnel in Iraq were struggling with an evolving threat and vehicles unsuited to it. Back in the UK, FRES was chasing moving goalposts. November 2006 saw another big FRES announcement and further information from the National Audit Office. The acquisition strategy for FRES would be built around three tiers, a Systems of Systems Integrator, Platform Designer, and a Vehicle Integrator or Manufacturer, each one is subject to open competition.
When questioned by the House of Commons Defence Select Committee in December 2006, Sir Peter Spencer responded to a question about the value of TRACER and MRAV;
Because the project teams that were available at Abbey Wood would have drawn on the documents and the information which was learned from that work and used it as part of the foundation evidence as they built up their fund of knowledge as to what the requirement was and what sort of technologies were going to be needed to meet it.
One might have reasonably thought that £200m would buy a lot of information and documentation but as things would pan out, evidently that was nonsense. In fact, in the MoD’s official response to the select committee, it fessed up;
At this stage, specific pull-through from TRACER and MRAV has been limited
This response also included the immortal line;
Lessons have been learned
Meanwhile, Stork PWV (part of the ARTEC consortium) submitted their best and final offer to the Dutch defence ministry for the supply of 200 Boxer 8×8 armoured vehicles in five variants to start delivery in 2010. Janes reported the VAT inclusive ceiling figure was 503 million Euros. The ARTEC consortium comprised Krauss Maffei Wegmann (36%), Rheinmetall Landsysteme (14%) and Stork (50%). As part of a wider series of changes and equipment orders, the German and Dutch governments placed a production order for their Boxer vehicles.
The 872 million Euro order covered 472 vehicles, roughly £1.5m each.
Early in 2007, BAE showed their new 8×8 Integrated Demonstrator, a development of the 6×6 SEP.
The vehicle has a conventional mechanical driveline but used two diesel engines in the left and right sponsons to provide direct drive to the wheels. This arrangement allowed the driver and commander to sit side by side and provided 13 m³ for the payload. Also at the start of the year, a number of companies were lining up to respond to the FRES System of systems integrator (SOSI) requirement; BAE, Boeing, Lockheed Martin, SAIC and Thales. The contract request for the Utility Vehicle integrator was issued in January 2007 with both the System of systems integrator (SOSI) and vehicle designer contracts planned to be awarded later in the year.
Janes reported on the acquisition strategy;
These competitions will result in the selection of one or more UV designs and one or two UV integrators. These selections will inform the generation of one or two UV Provider Teams to bid for the UV Demonstration Phase. There will not be a separate manufacturer competition for the UV programme. The winning party of the UV integrator competition will lead the provider teams and generate “robust” propositions for the demonstration phase while the winning UV designs will conduct ‘trials of truth’ due to take place by the end of the second quarter of 2007
It was envisaged that the initial order would comprise 120 vehicles with a total of 2,000 vehicles required in total, down from over 3,700 only a few months before. On the 6th of February 2007, the House of Commons Defence Select Committee released their report on FRES; The Army’s requirement for armoured vehicles: the FRES programme
Between 2001 and 2003 the MoD commissioned Alvis Vickers to carry out ‘concept work’ on a new programme: the Future Rapid Effect System (FRES). There appears to be little tangible output from this concept work which cost the MoD a combined total of £192 million.
It didn’t improve from there.
A sorry story of indecision, changing requirements and delay
The report detailed much of the FRES background and this interesting statement from Lieutenant General Andrew Figgures CBE, Deputy Chief of Staff (Equipment Capability).
The impression that the Army’s current armoured vehicle fleet lacks sufficient capability for expeditionary operations was reinforced by General Figgures who told us that recent operational experience in Iraq and Afghanistan had demonstrated that the Army needs a medium force “in order that we can fight as we would wish to fight. General Figgures confirmed that Mastiff and Vector were not considered long-term solutions.
…are not armoured fighting vehicles, they are a means of conveying people from A to B [with reduced risk] so they would not do what we require from FRES. They would not be able to carry out offensive action in the way that we would anticipate.
FRES was still seen as the long-term solution to Army requirements and the protected mobility fleet was 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 the Protected Mobility vehicles were very different;
These UORs have not impacted on the budget for FRES, full stop.
The four key requirements for FRES were described as:
- Survivability: through the integration of “passive and active armour and other vehicle protection technologies”;
- Deployability: it must be able to be transported by an A400M;
- Networked enabled capability: it must incorporate Bowman and ISTAR and other advanced digital communication systems (both data and voice) to allow full integration of the vehicles into the wider military network; and
- Through-life upgrade potential: It must be capable of being developed and throughout its expected battlefield life of 30 years
Finally, the report reconfirmed the Army’s stance that no off the shelf vehicle available would meet the FRES requirement, for any variant. The main reason cited 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 was specifically designed to be massively upgradeable and c) the difference between in-service weights and current weights of the same vehicles. As an example of the latter point, Warrior had grown 28% in weight since its introduction and CVR(T), 42%. There was still a great hope that FRES would be a significant export success, despite the preponderance of other similar vehicles on the market. Intellectual Property issues were of great concern because of this and the MoD was insisting that all IP would be retained by the UK.
There was a great deal of confusion over the In-Service Date and it is here that the Systems House actually demonstrated the value of having some measure of independence from the MoD. Atkins submitted evidence to the committee that was crystal clear, FRES could be in service by 2018 but the assertion by the Army and others that 2012 would be a more realistic date was not supported by evidence. The Chief of Defence Procurement went on record as stating the committee should not be taking Atkins view at face value. In evidence to the committee, the professional head of defence procurement did not know about the Alvis pre-assessment contract;
hat predates my involvement. I have no recollection of an assessment phase contract being given to Alvis Vickers but I will certainly go away and look up the detail and if I am wrong I will send you a note
It is surprising that the man in charge could only draw from such a narrow knowledge base, the committee also thought the same;
Q52 Mr Jones: Can I say, Sir Peter, I find it absolutely remarkable that you can come here today in charge of this programme and say that you did not know about a non-competitive contract let to Alvis Vickers. I know about it; industry knows well about it.
Sir Peter Spencer: You called it an assessment phase contract and I challenged the fact it was an assessment phase contract.
Q53 Mr Jones: That is changing it. Are you aware of any non-competitive work given to Alvis Vickers in 2002?
Sir Peter Spencer: I am aware there was non-competitive work done before the initial gate.
Q54 Mr Jones: What was that?
Sir Peter Spencer: It was simply pre initial gate phase work.
Q55 Mr Jones: What was involved in that?
Sir Peter Spencer: To set out what the options would be.
Q56 Mr Jones: A minute ago you told us you did not know about it. Now you are trying to describe what went on.
Sir Peter Spencer: I am sorry, I do not mean to be pedantic but you asked me about an assessment phase contract; it was not an assessment phase contract.
Q57 Mr Hancock: What was it then?
Sir Peter Spencer: For the third time, it was a pre initial gate concept phase contract.
Q58 Mr Hancock: What did you get out of that?
Sir Peter Spencer: You get a broad understanding as to the sort of capability, the sort of aspirations that the customer has, the sort of technology which needs to be matured in order to move towards a solution. It is a perfectly normal part of the cycle. It is unexceptional.
Q59 Mr Jones: Sir Peter, that is not true, I am sorry. If you are sitting here today and telling us that that was just part of this entire process, that is not the case. Alvis Vickers were livid when you severed that contract because they were under the impression that FRES was going to be a non-competitive process and that work was part of what they thought was the start of the actual process. I understand and they can supply the information to us if you want that something like £14 to £20 million was spent in that phase. What happened to that work? It is no good coming here trying to wriggle out of it and say to this Committee firstly that you did not know what was going on and the next thing trying to explain what went on.
Sir Peter Spencer: Chairman, do I have to be on the receiving end of quite so much provocation? We could have quite a sensible and illuminating discussion.
Q60 Mr Jones: We could if you answered the questions but you do not.
Sir Peter Spencer: It is the way they are framed, I am afraid, which is extremely provocative.
Q61 Mr Jones: I am sorry, but you cannot come to this Committee if I ask you a question and say to me firstly it did not exist and then in the next breath, when you start trying to wriggle out of it, try to say to me that you were completely aware of this.
Sir Peter Spencer: I am not trying to wriggle out of anything.
Of course, Sir Peter was correct, technically. The contract to Alvis was for a Concept Phase activity, not an Assessment Phase activity. However, it is hard not to sympathise with the Committee’s view that this was an evasive answer that showed them little respect. It also seemed that the underpinning FRES requirement had changed, from General Figgures;
I am in danger of repeating what he said but FRES is required as a replacement armoured vehicle in the armoured brigades and to equip the medium weight brigades, now known as the three mechanised brigades. It is required to enable the armoured brigades to fight conventional wars, rather as we saw in Telic 1, and it is required to enable the mechanised brigades to both support the armoured brigades with what we in the Army would say a manoeuvre support brigade, and also to be deployed in peace-keeping and peace enforcement operations. So there is a balance of capability between those two and the tactics, techniques and procedures which are used in those instances are subtly different because of the rules of engagement and so on and so forth.
By May 2007, ARTEC was nearing delivery of the first Boxer vehicles for the German Army. Confirmed orders at this point were;
- Germany; total 272 vehicles in three variants. 135 armoured personnel carriers (APCs), 65 command post (CP) variants and 72 armoured ambulances.
- The Netherlands; total 200 vehicles in five variants; 55 Command Post CP, 58 ambulance, 27 cargo vehicles, 19 cargo/command and control vehicles and 41 engineer group vehicles
2007 marked the end of the FRES Technology Demonstration Programmes.
- Hard kill defensive aids system TDP (May 2005 to December 2006) Akers Krutbruk Protection AB
- Electric armour TDP (January 2006 to June 2007) Lockheed Martin INSYS
- Integrated survivability TDP (January to December 2006) Thales
- Chassis concept TDP (August 2005 to March 2007). General Dynamics AHED (Advanced Hybrid Electric Drive)
- Chassis concept TDP (August 2005 to March 2007) BAE SEP
- Gap crossing TDP (January 2007 to September 2007) BAE
- Stowage and capacity TDP (February 2005 to May 2006) Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL)
- Electronic Architecture TDP (August 2005 to March 2006) Lockheed Martin UK
- Electronic Architecture TDP (August 2005 to March 2006) Thales
Lord Drayson had insisted that the MoD stick to the FRES(UV) 2012 In-Service Date, despite what Atkins said, and pushed hard to give the Utility Variant some momentum. Given the political situation regarding protected mobility, the desire for an off the shelf vehicle was pushed to the front. Instead of a completely bespoke vehicle that 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 a marked change from the fleet review conclusions that only a bespoke vehicle would meet the requirement as described in evidence to the Select Committee. The market was assessed, all 8×8 vehicle manufacturers invited to provide information and three vehicles were selected to go forward to the so-called ‘Trials of Truth’ in summer. The Patria AMV and Iveco Freccia were assessed but not selected to go forward to the trials.
One of the Boxer prototypes in APC configuration would participate in the Trials of Truth, joined by a Véhicule Blindé de Combat Infanterie (VBCI) from Nexter (previously Giat Industries) and the General Dynamics Piranha V.
The Ministry of Defence (MoD) has selected the vehicles that will participate in trials for the utility variant of the Army’s Future Rapid Effect System (FRES) later this summer. The selected designs are BOXER (ARTEC), Piranha (GD UK) and VBCI (Nexter). The outcome of the trials will be announced by the end of November when one or more utility vehicle design will go forward for detailed assessment.
The FRES family of vehicles is vital for the Army of the future. They will have high levels of protection and will also be air-transportable, allowing troops to deploy rapidly across the globe at short notice.
Defence Minister Lord Drayson said:
“My highest priority is to ensure that our Forces have the equipment they need to achieve success on operations today, tomorrow and in the future. FRES has a vital part to play in the future of the British Army. I signalled my commitment to the FRES programme last year and this announcement provides tangible evidence of progress. The selection of these designs for inclusion in the utility vehicle trials is a part of the competitive acquisition strategy developed to ensure that we deliver the best solution for the Army.”
General Sir Richard Dannatt, Chief of the General Staff, said:
“FRES is my highest equipment priority and I am determined that we will make this programme a timely success – it is at the heart of the future Army. I am therefore very encouraged by the significant progress that has been made in identifying the three best candidate vehicles for us to trial this summer and I look forward to maintaining this momentum in the programme to the next decision point by November this year. We need to take this exciting project forward, together with our industrial partners as soon as possible.”
In addition to the utility vehicle design competition, the Ministry of Defence is also running competitions to select a company which will work with the designer to integrate key systems onto the vehicles, and a company that will have strategic oversight of the entire FRES programme and its links to the existing fleet, known as the system of systems integrator. In a clear sign of the MoD’s commitment to drive the FRES programme forward, contracts for this work will be awarded within 12 months.
The FRES programme will equip the Army with a range of new vehicle types over and above the utility variant. This includes reconnaissance, direct fire, and engineer support vehicles. These will also be open to competition from industry
The Chassis TDP’s had cost the MoD considerable sums and both General Dynamics and BAE had also invested their own funds in AHED and SEP respectively. Because of the timeliness pressure from Lord Drayson, time into service was to be a significant driver for FRES.
Instead of developing a vehicle, the MoD would now simply buy one off the shelf and modify it to suit.
The Trials of Truth took part at the Armoured Trials and Development Unit at Bovington in late summer 2007. Shown below are the Boxer, Piranha and VBCI. It should be noted that the General Dynamics vehicle was a Piranha Evolution, an interim design, not the Piranha V, and Boxer was one of the early prototypes.
With the trials complete, the industry waited on the MoD’s decision. After a series of reported ‘blazing rows,’ Lord Drayson resigned in November 2007. The press speculated that he had been prevented from applying his considerable commercial experience to the government environment, in effect, the Civil Service had seen him off. Lord Drayson had previously prevailed over the Permanent Under-Secretary, Bill Jeffries, on the selection of the Thales/Boeing team as preferred bidder for the prized FRES System of Systems Integrator without a formal competition. This was another blow for BAE. Bill Jeffries sided with the Army, Lord Drayson wrote to Des Brown (Secretary of State for Defence), laying out the impasse. Des Brown backed Bill Jeffries and the Army, Lord Drayson walked. Baroness Taylor of Bolton succeeded him.
On the FRES Utility Vehicle (UV) requirement;
- 1988, FFLAV, a wheeled utility vehicle between 14 and 19 tonnes, was cancelled.
- 2003, MRAV, a wheeled utility vehicle between 25 and 30 tonnes, was cancelled because it was too heavy, cost £57 million
- 2006, FRES aspiring to a wheeled utility vehicle between 25 and 30 tonnes.
- 2006, the Germans and Dutch placed a production order for MRAV Boxer, a wheeled utility vehicle between 25 and 30 tonnes
The cost to get to these conclusions, roughly £200m, or about 130 Boxers if anyone is counting. This figure does not include money spent on FRES, either.
The Defence Select Committee published their Defence Equipment 2008 report on March 11th, in evidence to the committee the MoD made this statement on FRES;
Real progress has been made on FRES. Implementation of the FRES competitive Acquisition Strategy is being driven hard to ensure we deliver, as early as possible, a FRES capability that meets the Army’s needs through life
Further evidence to the committee raised the same issues of upgradeability through life that had been emphasised in previous submissions;
Mr Holloway: Notwithstanding your comments about adapting it through its life, you are buying something now against a range of threats as yet unknown which tries to do absolutely everything. Surely, given the gigantic cost of this I still do not understand why you would not be better getting the best available thing at the time in speciﬁc numbers?
Lieutenant General Applegate: What we have done is to identify what we believe is the best available developmental vehicle in the market place that has a future. The alternative is to buy something that is basically a cul-de-sac and goes nowhere; it cannot be upgraded and cannot meet the threats over time. We believe that we have now identiﬁed that particular preferred design for the utility vehicle and we are conﬁdent that in conducting what is an aggressive programme to deal with some of the technological risks to produce something as early as we know the Army wishes which will provide a level of capability that is far in excess of what we have today in order to meet those threats and, importantly, that it would have growth. If we bought something now literally off the shelf effectively we would have to shoe-horn in, as we do on UORs at the moment, a series of subcomponents in a very poor fashion and it would have very limited life, so it would be a bad decision. The Army is quite convinced about that, and there is a decision as to whether you literally buy off the shelf, assuming there is the ability to ramp up production, or have something that gives the Army conﬁdence will grow through life. We must have that conﬁdence if we are to grow. One of the things we have noted with the current range of vehicles is that we tend to have them for a long time and increase their capability over time. We also have tended to increase their weight, their demand for power, the levels of protection and the other elements we put on them. To try to do that with an off-the-shelf system at the moment would be a recipe for disaster
Given that both VBCI and Boxer were practically off the shelf and Piranha V was ‘developmental’ the writing was on the wall for VBCI and Boxer. Many commenters asked why to bother with testing VBCI and Boxer if the Army was set on a development vehicle.
Following BAE’s continued investment in SEP, a demonstration in April 2008 showed off one fitted with active protection from ADS GmbH. The trial demonstrated a successful defence against two RPG-7 warheads.
In early May 2008 came the announcement everyone had been anticipating, the General Dynamics Piranha V was selected as preferred bidder for the FRES Utility Vehicle.
General Dynamics United Kingdom Limited, a wholly owned subsidiary of General Dynamics (NYSE: GD), has been selected by the UK Ministry of Defence as the provisionally preferred bidder for the Utility Vehicle Design (UVD) for the Future Rapid Effect System (FRES). Subject to satisfactory completion of the package of work on risk reduction and confirmation of preferred bidder status the team, led by General Dynamics UK Limited, will develop the PIRANHA V as the FRES Utility Vehicle for the British Army. The company will now enter negotiations with the MoD to determine the scope of development work required.
Dr Sandy Wilson, president and managing director, said: “We are delighted that PIRANHA V is the British Army’s choice for the FRES Utility Vehicle. With over 9,000 PIRANHAs already in service, the family’s pedigree speaks for itself. We have continued development work at our own initiative, and we will work closely with the Ministry of Defence to de-risk the programme. At the same time, we will be continuing our strong bids for the Utility Vehicle Integrator (UVI) role and for the follow-on FRES Specialist Vehicles (SV).”
PIRANHA V will deliver an extremely reliable platform with superb protection and mobility to meet the Army’s FRES requirement, together with the necessary growth potential to meet future challenges. General Dynamics’ comprehensive experience of delivering wheeled armoured fighting vehicle (AFV) programmes to tight timelines reduces potential risk considerably and will be invaluable in delivering PIRANHA V to the MoD. The vehicle offers a cost-effective and robust solution that complies fully with the Defence Industrial Strategy.
General Dynamics released two images of the proposed Pirahna V design that showed a number of differences from the vehicle that participated in the Trials of Truth; different side armour, a more angular nose, remote weapons station and active protection equipment.
A preferred bidder was not a contract award though, the MoD and General Dynamics then entered into a period of negotiation covering many issues but especially, intellectual property. Also of note, the fact that the scope of development work had yet to be determined.
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) was about to mark the card of the FCS. Delivering a speech in Colorado in May, Robert Gates vented his frustration with the US military:
I have noticed too much of a tendency toward what might be called ‘next-war-itis’ — the propensity of much of the defense establishment to be in favor of what might be needed in a future conflict. It is true that we would be hard-pressed to launch a major conventional ground operation elsewhere in the world at this time — but where would we sensibly do that?
Smaller, irregular forces — insurgents, guerrillas, terrorists — will find ways, as they always have, to frustrate and neutralize the advantages of larger, regular militaries, and even nation-states will try to exploit our perceived vulnerabilities in an asymmetric way, rather than play to our inherent strengths. There have been 150-plus attacks so far on MRAPs and all but six soldiers have survived,” Gates, these vehicles are saving lives.
That is the war we are in. That is the war we must win.
FCS was no longer the flavour of the month. Although FCS and FRES had diverged, this and continued accusations that the Army was not funding protected mobility vehicles because they were preserving funding for the next war and FRES meant the implications were again, obvious. The accusations were made by many, putting shiny new vehicles over ‘protecting our boys’ was a common media theme.
FRES was in trouble.
Making the assumption that future operations would include more Afghanistan than Gulf War the MoD published the Defence Strategic Guidance document in June. Although the full spectrum combined arms operations were still considered an important capability to retain, the DSG focussed on enduring stabilisation of counterinsurgency type operations. Preferred bidder status was withdrawn from General Dynamics in December with the MoD citing an inability to come to an agreement with General Dynamics on commercial and intellectual property issues. In a series of wider changes, the System of Systems Integrator was also removed from the programme.
In a December 11th 2008 statement to the House of Commons, John Hutton, the new Secretary of State for Defence, said;
We undertook to inform Parliament about the major decisions emerging from our examination of the equipment programme as soon as we were able to do so. The following are the key conclusions.
In May 2008 we announced the provisional selection of Piranha V, offered by General Dynamics (UK) Ltd, as the preferred design for the FRES utility vehicle. Following a period of intensive negotiations with General Dynamics to address a number of commercial issues, it became clear to both parties that it would not be possible to reach agreement on the commercial conditions required to enable further progress on the basis of the current procurement strategy. I have therefore decided that we should withdraw General Dynamics (UK)’s provisional preferred bidder status.
Our examination of the equipment programme has, separately, considered the balance of investment and priority in the army’s armoured vehicle programme. We have concluded that, in the context of current operations, and bearing in mind the considerable recent investment in protected mobility, the highest priority should now be accorded to delivering the warrior capability sustainment programme and the FRES scout vehicle as quickly as possible. Against that background, we have decided to restructure the FRES programme, giving priority to FRES scout over the FRES utility vehicle. Whilst this will mean a delay to the programme, we recognise the importance of the utility vehicle and are now looking at the best way to take this procurement forward. General Dynamics (UK) will have an opportunity to compete in any future utility vehicle competition.
The National Audit published their annual tale of woe on the 18th of December, otherwise known as the Major Projects Report. The cost of the FRES Assessment Phase had risen by £206 million to £319 million, due to the Specialist roles now being included in the Assessment Phase.
This document also noted that FRES would now meet 16 roles and comprise five families of vehicles:
- Medium Armour
- Manoeuvre Support
- Basic Capability Utility
No mention of the major decision on the Utility variant though, but for Boxer, its second association with the British Army was finished.
The 2009 FRES programme got off to cracking (not) start as the Defence Select Committee published its Defence Equipment 2009 report in February.
The FRES programme has been a fiasco.
In February 2007 we concluded that the MoD’s attempts to meet its medium-weight vehicle requirement had been a sorry story of indecision, changing requirements and delay. Two years later the story is, incredibly, even worse. We find it extraordinary that, some seven months after announcing General Dynamics UK as the provisional preferred bidder for the FRES Utility Vehicle, the MoD has announced that priority is now to be given to the FRES Scout Vehicle. Whilst we recognise that the MoD’s equipment requirements need to reflect changing threats, that is no excuse for the MoD’s behaviour in this programme; they have wasted their and industry’s time and money. The FRES Utility Vehicle programme was, from the outset, poorly conceived and managed. The MoD must work out what its requirements are for medium-weight armoured vehicles and identify lessons from the saga of the FRES Utility Vehicle programme.
In March, it was announced that FRES Specialist Vehicles would be obtained in a single programme, this would go to become Ajax.
The MoD responded to the Defence Select Committee’s scathing Equipment Report in May.
On the accusation that the MoD could not hit water if it fell out of a boat, it said this:
We do not accept this conclusion
And went on to state:
Defence has invested significantly in Protected Mobility (PM) in the recent past, however the PM package has never been designed as a substitute for the Utility Vehicle (UV) programme; indeed, it has been designed to cater for the specific operational requirements of Iraq and Afghanistan, and the capability delivered falls significantly short of the stated UV requirement to deliver the medium component of the Balanced Force through the FRES programme.
In May 2008 we announced the provisional selection of Piranha V, offered by General Dynamics (UK) Ltd, as the preferred design for the FRES UV. Following a period of intensive negotiations with General Dynamics to address a number of commercial issues, it became clear to both parties that it would not be possible to reach agreement on the commercial conditions required to enable further progress on the basis of the current procurement strategy. It was therefore decided that we should withdraw General Dynamics (UK)’s provisional preferred bidder status.
Our examination of the Equipment Programme, in 2008, separately considered the balance of investment and priority in the Army’s armoured vehicle programme. We have concluded that, in the context of current operations, and bearing in mind the considerable recent investment in Protected Mobility, the highest priority should now be accorded to delivering the Warrior Capability Sustainment Programme and the FRES Scout vehicle as quickly as possible. Against that background, we have decided to restructure the FRES programme, giving priority to FRES Scout.
We are now considering how best to take forward the procurement of the Utility Vehicle, but General Dynamics (UK) will have an opportunity to compete in any future Utility Vehicle competition.
The cost of the FRES UV programme until the end of February 2009 was £133m. This investment in the UV programme will serve to progress and de-risk the early stages of the SV programme. The Department can confirm that we have identified lessons that will be applied to all elements of the FRES programme as it moves forward. We are now considering how and when to reset the competition
This was the first time the £133 million figure was released but it wasn’t the first time that the MoD and the phrase ‘lessons’ was mentioned in the same paragraph as FRES.
Money spent so far; £133 million on FRES UV and £57 million on MRAV
Total = £191 million
A Telegraph article on the 9th of October 2010 quoted the eponymous ‘Senior MoD Official’;
FRES is dead in the water. It’s a dead duck. It is the definition of everything that is wrong with the MoD’s procurement process
Interestingly, FRES as a term had been less and less seen in news releases and in Transformational Army Structure (TAS) there were references to the Early Effects Force as part of the Multi-Role Brigade structure. This was followed by ‘The Annual Kick the MoD in the Teeth Report” from the National Audit Office, published on the 10th of October. For FRES, it revealed that the actual/forecast cost for FRES UV had risen to £162 million with no explanation of why. More significantly, it described how FRES had been recast as three separate projects:
The Future Rapid Effect System has been recast from a single programme into three constituent programmes; Specialist Vehicle, Utility Vehicle and Manoeuvre Support. The Future Rapid Effect System funding lines have now been split across the three programmes and in future will be reported separately in the MPR
Meanwhile, the pre SDSR silly season was by now in full swing; leaks, counter-leaks and inter-service backstabbing plumbed new depths, sadly.
The Strategic Defence and Security Review was published on the 19th of October 2010. Multi-Role Brigades survived contact with SDSR 2010 but not unscathed, they would now be self-supporting instead of using the Joint Theatre Enabling Command, and also force reductions across the board became the chosen position. Although SDSR confirmed its commitment to FRES the concept of the Medium Weight Capability seemed to be dead in the water. The original FRES vision of a bulging medium joined by a smaller heavy and light capability was gone.
Dissenters on both sides of the Atlantic pointed out several realities about the future (rapid effects system or combat system). UK and US legacy vehicles had performed superbly in a range of operations from the Gulf to Kosovo and technology risk for the bold and ambitious new programmes was very high. As FRES progressed during the initial stages (whilst MRAV was still running or only recently closed), these conflicts between the transformationists and traditionalists would play out in a number of different ways that ultimately, crippled the programme. Although General Dannatt 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.
We were not aiming for a highly technical solution, merely something that could meet most of our requirements in a timely fashion.
This sentiment was echoed by the 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
External and internal factors meant FRES could not be sustained.
By early 2011, FRES as a concept was dead, there was no wake, no funeral, it was just shuffled out the back door in the hope that no one would notice, and for the second time, Boxer in the British Army went with it.
Boxer Round 3 – The MIV Era
In July 2011, the Future Reserves Commission published its first report. This was followed by the announcement most people had foreseen, a further reduction in Army personnel numbers. Army 2020 would consist of 82,000 regular personnel and 30,000 Army Reserve. The previous terms of reference for Army 2020 were;
To develop and recommend options, starting from first principles, for the design, structure, capabilities and capacities of an integrated Army of 2020 – that importantly – would be designed to cost and deliver the 20 percent saving required
In charge of the study to decide how to get from A to B was Lt General Nick Carter, Director-General Land Warfare. Its relevance to FRES was mainly related to final numbers, a smaller force overall would simply need fewer vehicles, a smaller production number would mean those development costs being spread thicker than over a large number, i.e. the final unit cost would rise. As the Army started to think about what would come after Afghanistan, the issue of mobility was at the fore.
At the RUSI Land Warfare Conference, General Sir Peter Wall, the Chief of the General Staff, commented:
We have got far too used to a post-expeditionary psyche, where we have hard-wired bandwidth and quite sophisticated facilities in places like Camp Bastion. We need to transition our thinking to a more expeditionary psyche, where in the early days of a new campaign, we will be forced to operate without the sophistication we have managed to grow in the Afghan landscape. Like a number of other armies, we have over this period been forced to put some aspect of our war-fighting capability temporarily on hold as we got completely absorbed by the challenges of success in Afghanistan. Combined arms maneuver remain a part of our repertoire, but it has to modernized and coupled with the ability to handle asymmetric threats and irregular threats and also take account of additional dimensions in battlespace, for example cyber. The Army has an excellent suite of equipment at the moment, but it is specific to the Afghanistan challenge, if we look at our forward equipment program, it’s rather a different story. We face a budget which is reducing considerably over the early years of the current decade, after which we will certainly require real-term growth over the latter part of the decade if we are to resource [our plans] for Future Force 2020
At the same conference, Major General Bill Moore, the MoD’s director of battlespace manoeuvre and master general of the Ordnance said:
While support for operations [in Afghanistan] is the main effort, we need to deliver a coherent Future Force 2020. If we don’t get this right and don’t get the Warrior [capability sustainment program] funded and maintain the other things in our program, the Army will be walking to war from 2015.
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, and 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 the 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 2011, 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 reductions announced in July. After SDSR 2010, the Three Month Exercise and a planned exit from Afghanistan on the horizon, It was becoming apparent that the Multi-Role Brigade construct was not sustainable. By July 2012, Army 2020 was in the public domain and whilst the media generally focussed on the Reserves and cap badge bunfights, the Multi-Role Brigade was deleted, replaced with the Reaction Force, Adaptable Force and Force Troops. There was also a strong sense that the Army needed to break out of the ‘Afghanistan envelope’, as Sir Peter Wall put it.
Following the Lancaster House agreement on defence cooperation, the UK announced it would be trialling VBCI in an 8-month programme with Phillip Dunne commenting in Janes that;
VBCI had fallen down on three elements in the original competition: accessibility to the vehicle’s powerpack, the vehicle’s armour protection levels, and its growth potential. VBCI has undergone a significant upgrade, the new export variant of the VBCI includes the ability to remove the vehicle’s powerpack in the field and an improved suspension and transmission to increase the VBCI’s maximum weight from 29 tonnes to 32 tonnes. Other improvements include fourth-axle steering, a repositioned fuel tank, upgraded cooling and engine performance, and small hull reconfigurations to increase the vehicle’s internal volume
In November 2015, the National Security Strategy and Strategic Defence and Security Review was published and focussed on three key themes; Protect our People, Project our Global Influence and Promote our Prosperity.
The Future Force 2025, for the Army, built on the adaptable force/reactive force model and specifically of relevance to the medium-weight force, would comprise:
A war-fighting division optimised for high intensity combat operations. The division will draw on two armoured infantry brigades and two new Strike Brigades to deliver a deployed division of three brigades. We will establish these two Strike Brigades to be able to deploy rapidly over long distances using the new Ajax armoured vehicles and new mechanised infantry vehicles. They will double the number of brigades ready for operations. With these, and 16 Air Assault Brigade’s very high readiness forces, we will improve our ability to respond to all likely threats
David Cameron also described the new structure:
We will create 2 new ‘strike brigades’ by 2025 to be rapidly deployable, able to self-deploy thousands of kilometres, and with a much lower logistic footprint. They will use the new Ajax family (previously known as Scout) range of vehicles, comprising 6 variants and almost 600 armoured vehicles.
The two STRIKE Brigades were to be created by re-rolling one Infantry Brigade and one Armoured Infantry Brigade.
In 2016, the Bundeswehr announced all its Boxers would be upgraded to the A2 standard, a package of improvements in all areas of the vehicle’s design, from repositioning the towing cable to common displays. In October 2016, a number of news outlets reported that The MoD intended to purchase the Rheinmetall Boxer to meet the Mechanised Infantry Vehicle (MIV) requirement without competition. Quantities were reportedly up to 800 at a cost of £4 million each. Lithuania joined the Boxer programme in August 2016.
In December, Janes reported that as part of Army 2020 Refine, main battle tank numbers would be reduced from three Regiments to two. The unit would re-role to Ajax as part of the Strike Experimentation Group.
An extract of the full statement is reproduced below:
The Army is refining its force structure to deliver the capabilities set out in the Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) 2015 and modernise the Army’s ability to fight at the divisional level. The SDSR 2015 significantly increased the readiness levels required of the Army, underpinned by investment in new capability and a war-fighting division as part of Joint Force 2025. It introduced the innovative Strike brigades, based on the new AJAX vehicle family and the development of Specialised Infantry battalions, reconfigured to provide an increased contribution to countering terrorism and building stability overseas.
I am today setting out refinements to the Army which will take place during the life of this Parliament. These have been aligned with the “Better Defence Estate” strategy announced in early November. As we previously committed, we will continue to sustain a regular Army of 82,000, a whole force of 112,000 regular and reserve troops and the Army’s footprint in the devolved nations. All existing regimental cap badges will be retained. Large parts of the Army will be unaffected but it will involve some units changing their role, equipment or location.
A modernised division will be centred on the 3rd (UK) Division, organised with four brigades of two Armoured infantry and two Strike, rather than three Armoured infantry as now. A significant uplift in capability, it will hold one of each at high readiness, rather than the current single armoured infantry brigade. From this, in times of crisis, the Army will be able to deploy a credible division of three brigades. To develop and transition to this new posture, in 2017 the Army will launch a Strike Experimentation Group in Warminster. This will ensure that the first new Strike Brigade will be formed by the end of the decade.
Summary of changes proposed under Army 2020 Refine
The first Strike Brigade will operate from Catterick and Salisbury Plain and will be composed of the Household Cavalry Regiment, The King’s Royal Hussars, the 1st Battalion Scots Guards and The Highlanders, 4th Battalion The Royal Regiment of Scotland. A number of Royal Logistic Corps (RLC) and Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineer (REME) units will be allocated to provide close support logistic support, beginning with 1 Regiment RLC and 1 Close Support Battalion REME.
The changes announced will require adjustments in some supporting and enabling elements of the Army. HQ 102 Logistic Brigade, 32nd Regiment Royal Artillery, 35 Engineer Regiment, Headquarters 64 Works Group Royal Engineers, 2 Medical Regiment, Headquarters 4th Regiment Royal Military Police, 33 Field Hospital and 104,105 and 106 Battalions of the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers reserve will be rationalised, with all manpower in those units being redeployed to other areas of the Army in its refined structure.
The basic organisation of a Strike Brigade would, therefore, consist of;
- 1 Regiment of Ajax in the reconnaissance role
- 1 Regiment of Ajax in the ‘medium armour’ role
- 2 Battalions of mechanised infantry in the yet to be purchased Mechanised Infantry Vehicle (MIV)
- Supporting CS/CSS
At the end of 2016, Patria showed an AMV fitted with a modified Lockheed Martin Warrior two-man turret. Experimentation with the Strike Brigade continued throughout the year and in 2017, despite earlier indications that Rheinmetall would not offer Boxer for the MIV requirement, Rheinmetall started to build a UK industrial team for the bid, the aim was to produce 60% of the vehicle by value in the UK. The 400th Boxer was delivered in February 2017. The total Boxer programme now stood at 696 with the vehicle in service or planned to be in service, with Germany, the Netherlands and Lithuania. Future Force Concept (JCN 1/17) was released with little fanfare but was a significant document in that it looked across the range of future challenges and described the means in which they might be met. For the Land Domain, and of particular relevance to STRIKE, it described the need for dispersion and concentration. It also noted that dispersed forces are more difficult to sustain and that logistics reduction efforts must be sustained to enable this.
Although the General Dynamics Piranha V, Patria AMV and Nexter VBCI were on show, from the media output, one could be forgiven for thinking that only the Rheinmetall Boxer mattered. General Dynamics emphasised the speed of delivery for Piranha V with a comment that initial vehicles could be delivered from existing productions before transferring manufacturing to their South Wales factory.
A number of manufacturers returned information to the MoD in response to enquiries; ARTEC, BAES, FNSS, General Dynamics, Nexter, Patria, ST Engineering, and Thales. Speculation continued throughout 2017 regarding the MoD’s desired acquisition strategy, whether an open competition or direct selection and purchase. In January 2018, Harriet Baldwin (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State and Minister for Defence Procurement responded to a letter from Julian Lewis MP (Chair of the Defence Select Committee) regarding the Mechanised Infantry vehicle.
In February 2018, a Rheinmetall press release described the industrial partnership arrangements should they be selected.
Leading British companies in the defence sector BAE Systems, Pearson Engineering and Thales UK have signed agreements with the ARTEC consortium as partners for the production of BOXER. Should the armoured wheeled vehicle be selected as the British Army’s next generation Mechanised Infantry Vehicle (MIV), at least 60% of BOXER’s value creation and 100% of final assembly will take place in Britain. To ensure the best value to the British tax payer, ARTEC has defined a competitive process for the main partners and their supply chains to follow.
ARTEC’s investment in the UK value chain is estimated to secure or create at least 1,000 jobs all across the country. The UK partnership approach will ensure that British companies are fully embedded in the MIV supply chain. Rolls Royce, Parker-Hannifin, WFEL and British subsidiaries of the ARTEC parent companies will also supply British content.
Further, Rheinmetall intends to establish a modern production and integration centre for armoured vehicles in the UK as part of the programme. This represents a significant commitment from Rheinmetall which will lead to long-lasting armoured vehicle capability in the UK.Further, Rheinmetall intends to establish a modern production and integration centre for armoured vehicles in the UK as part of the programme. This represents a significant commitment from Rheinmetall which will lead to long-lasting armoured vehicle capability in the UK
Also in February 2018, Slovenia selected Boxer and plans to purchase 48 of them. After a competitive evaluation, Australia Rheinmetall Defence Australia (RDA) was selected as the preferred tenderer for Land 400 Phase 2 with Boxer. The Phase 2 programme is defined as; Mounted Combat Reconnaissance Capability, primarily enabled by the Combat Reconnaissance Vehicle (CRV) mission system (the ASLAV replacement). The $5 billion projects will provide Army with 211 new vehicles, plus 12 additional modules.
The Australian Department of Defence provide three useful documents for reference;
This brings the user nations to Germany, the Netherlands, Australia, Slovenia and Lithuania.
A handful of interesting videos from early 2018 that provide more information.
This is an interesting video as it shows the early 6×6 MRAV on a test track.
A March 27th 2018 article in the Telegraph claimed the MoD was getting closer to order for Boxer.
Britain’s military is closing in on a multi-billion pound deal to equip the army with eight-wheeled armoured vehicles that will form a key part of the country’s future combat strategy. Defence sources say the Ministry of Defence is requesting information about pricing ahead of a potential purchase of hundreds of Mechanised Infantry Vehicles (MIV). Although not an order, the request for information – due to be made any day – will help military planners cost up the deal ahead of a so-called “main gate” decision on whether to go ahead. It is thought the MoD could ultimately order as many as 500 MIVs at a cost of up to £2bn.
This was yet another media article that contributed to the speculation regarding MIV and its acquisition strategy, especially in balancing speed into service and the degree by which the UK supply chain can be established.
The Governments confirmed their chosen position on the 31st of March 2018 with the following statement;
The British Army has taken a step towards exploring a deal for a fleet of new armoured vehicles, potentially supporting at least 1,000 British jobs, by announcing it is re-joining the Boxer programme today. The UK will re-join the Boxer programme and explore options to equip the Army with the 8×8 troop carriers to modernise its vehicle fleet and meet the Army’s Mechanised Infantry Vehicle requirement.
The UK played a major role in the original design, development and testing of the Boxer, and would reassume the rights it had as a project partner if a deal was to go through – allowing the option for the vehicle to be built and exported from the UK. The deal could see the Boxer fully assembled in the UK with at least 60% of the manufacturing with British industry, sustaining and developing UK industrial capabilities, facilities and skills.
Artec, the consortium who manufacture the Boxer vehicle, have already made commitments to British industry by signing partnership agreements with BAE Systems, Pearson Engineering and Thales UK, in anticipation of a deal being struck. It is expected that British companies would compete for the manufacture and supply of many of the vehicle sub-systems, as well as for a full production and assembly line in the UK. Estimates suggest Artec’s planned investment in the UK could secure or create at least 1,000 jobs, based across the country including locations such as Glasgow, Newcastle, Sheffield, Stockport, Telford and Wales.
With the likes of Rolls Royce already powering Boxers with engines and Parker-Hannifin, William Cook Engineering and other British companies also supplying sub-systems for the vehicle, this deal could secure a broader industrial UK partnership. The MOD is now taking forward negotiations with the Organisation for Joint Armament Cooperation (OCCAR) and Artec. Looking forward to the Assessment Phase, concluding in 2019, this will consider the comparable benefits of manufacturing locations and different supply chains for Boxer, as well as value-for-money. Any deal will be subject to commercial negotiation and assessment in 2019 and the aim is to have the first vehicles in service with the Army in 2023.
OCCAR is a European intergovernmental organisation which facilitates and manages collaborative armament programmes through their lifecycle between the UK and European allies. The organisation manages the Boxer programme and, as an OCCAR member state, the UK has the necessary Intellectual Property Rights to the Boxer and greater control over ensuring Britain benefits from supply chain work.
The MOD conducted a comprehensive market analysis of Mechanised Infantry Vehicles in-service, entering service and in development. The analysis was guided by the British Army’s requirements and how best to deliver them. The Boxer delivered on protected mobility, capacity, flexibility, utility and agility. As part of the proposed deal, the UK is also expected to see substantial inward investment from Rheinmetall, one of Artec’s parent companies, who signalled their intention to launch a production and integration centre for armoured vehicles in the UK as part of the programme. This would represent a significant commitment which would lead to long-lasting armoured vehicle capability in the UK.
The other of Artec’s parent companies, Krauss-MaffeiWegmann (KMW), already has a substantial UK manufacturing facility in Stockport, from where it designs, manufactures and supports complex military equipment as far afield as the US and Australia, as well as parts of Europe.
Further details emerged on 18/07/2018 with a Transparency Notice
The UK MOD intends to purchase, via the Organisation for Joint Armament Cooperation (OCCAR), an initial procurement of batched quantity 400-600 protected 8×8 BOXER vehicles in 4 variants plus driver training vehicles, reference vehicles and support. The batched quantity may be revised if the demands of any UK strategic direction impacts on MIV. Support covers spares, consumables, technical publications, tools, test equipment, training systems and support; project, safety, quality, security, configuration, obsolescence management services (throughout design, development, manufacture and in-service); repair and maintenance activity; and Post Design Services (e.g. future development of different vehicle variants), upgrades and new capabilities or requirements determined by any new defence priorities (e.g. security threat based); requirement based (e.g. medium calibre cannon); changes to legislation; introduction of new systems; emergent safety / environmental issues; and standardisation.
Value excluding VAT: 11 500 000 000.00 GBP
In February 2019, the 500th production Boxer was delivered.
On the 4th of November 2019, the OCCAR-EA Director and the ARTEC Chief Executive Officers signed a contract for the procurement of more than 500 Boxer vehicles on behalf of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (UK).
The contract includes the delivery of 5 prototypes in four specific Build Configurations (Infantry Carrier, Specialist Carrier, Command Post and Ambulance) and 523 series vehicles, initial In-Service Support Packages and Special to Role Kits. The vehicles will be equipped with a remote controlled weapon system with a 12.7mm L1A2 Heavy Machine Gun or a 7.62mm L7A2 General Purpose Machine Gun, depending on the mission. They will also have missile, blast as well as Rocket Propelled Grenades (RPG) protection.
The UK vehicles have the ability to change within the variants (Build Configurations) by changing the interior, introducing different kits and assemblies depending on the mission.
The production of the UK fleet will be shared between Germany and the UK. As a first step, the prototypes will be manufactured in Germany by the main-subcontractors of ARTEC, the companies Krauss-Maffei Wegmann and Rheinmetall. The first phase of series production will be conducted on the German production lines of both companies. Workers from the UK will be trained on how to assemble the vehicles and after the necessary knowledge transfer, the production will be transferred to new facilities in the UK. The plan says to have the first trials in June 2022 and the delivery of the first series vehicle to the British customer by November 2022.
The order value was reported to be €2.6 billion (£2.3 billion)
As can be seen from the above press release, each of the Artec consortium members will receive 50% of the order, and each of these conducting the majority of their share in the UK through two subsidiaries; Rheinmetall BAE Systems Land (RBSL) and KMW’s subsidiary WFEL. RBSL is a joint venture between BAE Systems (45%) and Rheinmetall (65%).
Defence Equipment and Support released the following video in November 2019
Both RBSl and WFEL continued to develop their respective supply chains throughout 2019 and 2020, with additional development and trials, work being conducted in conjunction with the Armoured Trials and Development Unit (ATDU). The first subcontract was awarded to WFEL in July 2020. Pearson Engineering, Rolls Royce, Thales, William Cook and Parker have also joined the supply chain.
Supply chain contracts continued to be reported as the supply chain was established
On June 1st 2021, the British Army announced the first UK Boxer pre-production vehicle had entered construction.
Rheinmetall will develop and fabricate first prototypes at its plant in Kassel, Germany where the first series vehicles will also be produced. Workers at the German plant will share technical knowledge, particularly their specialist welding expertise, with British colleagues at RBSL.
A few days later, WFEL followed this with an announcement echoing the UK production start.
June 24th, 2021, saw ARTEC officially hand over the last of 131 BOXER APCs of the 2nd batch in the version GTFz A2 to representatives of the German MoD, Bundeswehr and the Federal procurement agency.
Third time lucky, Boxer will enter service with the British Army in 2023, two decades after the UK left the MRAV programme
The image below shows Boxer at the Alvis Vickers, BAE Systems and RBSL plant in Telford
Same place (see white drain pipe and yellow bollards), separated by about 20 years, illustrative of the whole saga perhaps?
The second part of this article covers Boxer characteristics and variants, click HERE to open.
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|Change Date||Change Record|
|25/09/2020||Update to reflect more information available|
|23/07/2021||Update and format refresh|