British Army Medium Weight Capability

British Army Medium Weight Capability, a long story…

In the late Nineties, the British Army concluded it needed to develop and field a Medium Weight Capability that would enable it to arrive quicker than a heavy force, but have greater resilience and combat power than a light force.

The concept of what constituted this Medium Weight Capability has evolved through many iterations since then, chewing through a collection of programme acronyms, occupying many civil servants, industry and service personnel’s time, wasted hundreds of millions of Pounds of scarce defence funds, set the conditions for the decline of the British defence vehicle industry and yet, in 2017, is still some distance from delivery in any tangible form.

It is easy to be critical.

However, civil servants, military personnel, industry and politicians do not get up one morning and decide to intentionally create failure, no, they work in good faith and try to make good decisions with the information they have to hand.

Anyone can pontificate from the comfort of a keyboard whilst wearing the finest of 20/20 Hindsight Goggles but if there is to be an improvement, criticism must be taken where it is due.

To understand the story, one has to take a very broad view over a long period of time.

This document attempts to do just that.

As will be seen, the British Army arguably had a medium weight force in the Post-War era but as the Cold War progressed through the seventies and eighties, that need went away with a focus on NATO operations in Europe and conventional territorial defence against the Warsaw Pact threat.

With the end of the Cold War the need came back so whilst the story of the modern Medium Weight Force starts at that point, it is worth looking back further for reference.

If the general concept of a medium weight force is well established, different nations have implemented it in different ways. France has a different definition than the USA, Italy to the UK and Poland to South Africa, for example.

Each nation has evolved their own definition of ‘Medium Weight’ depending on their own industrial, defence and political needs.

As the UK has struggled to do likewise, it has seen programmes come and go; FRES, MRAV, FFLAV, TRACER, MIV or Scout as our understanding and requirements have changed. It is fair to say that our requirements have changed quicker than our acquisition process and this has caused many problems.

The current chosen form is embodied in the STRIKE BRIGADE concept, or perhaps more accurately, the emerging Land Joint Strike Force that is targeted to achieve initial operational capability in the early 2020’s. It must be said at this point that this is still work in progress, the Army (with Niteworks and many others) continues to experiment to refine the concept.

That said, the general concept is for a Brigade sized formation that can move at much greater speed and over much greater distances than a traditional armoured/armoured infantry formation, yet have much more combat power and sustainability than a light role formation. Using enhanced mobility and reduced logistic footprint, it will disperse and concentrate at key points in time and space to deliver a decisive effect.

Because of the pervasive power of modern surveillance and communication systems allied with precision munitions and old-fashioned artillery, the STRIKE Brigade concept must be able to exploit its mobility to compensate for its reduced protection.

Operational tempo, therefore, must be high.

Whilst this may sound like an extract from a manufacturers brochure, if we look at a crude means of defining the concept, its vehicles, it is in the red square (but with Ajax as well)

The inclusion of the 30 tonne plus tracked Ajax does make the Strike Brigade somewhat different to many other nations medium weight concepts and it remains to be seen whether its inclusion will allow the desired strategic and theatre mobility to be achieved.

The stated objective is to;

  • Enable Divisional manoeuvre
  • Deliver a medium limited intervention
  • Enable a small/niche operation.

To do this, a STRIKE Brigade will be different to many similar formations in that it will mix wheels and tracks, joining the yet to be obtained wheeled Multi Role Vehicle Protected (MRV-P) and the Mechanised Infantry Vehicle (MIV) will be the tracked vehicle family, Ajax.

Given Ajax is replacing CVR(T) and MIV will be replacing a number of legacy vehicles, a good starting point for the story is those vehicles and the ones that came before.

France has long maintained a medium weight force given her history of interventions in the Sahel region so an interesting comparison would be between their newest iteration and the British version from the fifties/sixties.

  Saracen Griffon
Dimensions (Length, Width, Height) 5m, 2.5m, 2.4m 7.2m, 2.6m, 2.6m
Engine 160 bhp 400 bhp
Range 390 km 800 km
Fuel Capacity 218 litres ?
Crew 3 plus 9 2 plus 10
Protection STANAG IIIa* STANAG IV (14.5mm)
Weight 10 tonnes 24 tonnes
Sensors Eyes and ears Long range day/night
Weapons .303 automatic 7.62mm/12.7mm/40mm HMG

* approximate

In the same way that Saracen and Griffon are separated by 70 years of armoured vehicle development, so too are Saladin and Jaguar.

  Saladin Jaguar
Dimensions (Length, Width, Height) 5.2m, 2.4m, 2m Approx. 6m,2.8m, 3m
Engine 160 bhp 490 bhp
Range 400 km 800 km
Fuel Capacity 241 litres  ?
Crew 3 3
Protection STANAG IIIa* STANAG IV (14.5mm)
Weight 11 tonnes 25 tonnes
Sensors Eyes and ears Long range day/night
Weapons 76mm, .303 automatic Stabilised 40mm CTA, 7.62mm, MMP

* approximate

We can debate whether the Jaguar/Griffon is on the light end of the ‘medium weight’ scale, or the heavy end of the ‘lightweight’ scale, but they do provide a good illustration of vehicle trends.

Their respective roles are very similar, the provision of either protected mobility or firepower/reconnaissance, but what has 70 years of combat vehicle development delivered?

Clearly, the new vehicles will have the latest in vehicle electronics, navigation, weapon stabilisation, fire control, NBC protection, IED protection and crew facilities; they are worlds apart in terms of firepower, protection and capabilities.

However, engine power has increased significantly, relative cost likewise. The new vehicles will require much more fuel to sustain over a given distance and much greater service support to maintain. They will be crewed by personnel in an Army much smaller than previously although the actual crew size remains constant.

The demand for greater protection and volume for carried systems has increased size, engine power and subsequent combat service support significantly.

Vehicles have supersized.

Another good indicator of this trend is the Australian LAND400 programme; a contender and vehicle to be replaced shown together below.

Smaller forces, decreasing risk appetites and more equipment to carry means only one thing, larger vehicles.

These are key trends to recognise although we must also recognise that terrain remains constant so there are mobility penalties for going large.

What used to medium, is no longer medium.

This series will examine the history of the British Army’s Medium Weight Capability concept by describing a timeline of relevant conflicts, vehicle programmes and military thinking from the post-war period to the latter half of 2017. Some are more relevant to the story than others but provide background to aid in understanding the broader history.

At the end, a number of observations on that timeline.

Document Structure, Assumptions and Sources

With such a broad timescale and subject matter, the document utilises two structural features. First, and for the most part, it follows a relatively linear timeline in which multiple parts of the story are described in order. The objective if this is the lay down a record of events.

Second, there are a number of thematic sections that look at a single subject is a less rigid timeline manner.

At the end of the document is a number of personal observations and opinions.

There is no general conclusion on whether Strike is a medium weight capability or something else, whether it is a valid direction, or not. I intend to keep this document as a ‘look back’, not a ‘look forward’. There will be a companion piece in the future that examines these themes more closely.

This document has roots in a number of blog posts dating back to 2008 and the following long-form content, which it now replaces.

http://www.thinkdefence.co.uk/from-scimitar-to-fres-to-ajax/

As such, it is an evolution, and it may well evolve again in the future.

This document has been completed without any official involvement and only using open source data. Much of that data is from sources such as Hansard, Manufacturers websites, printed materials, web forums and other websites like Plain Military. Where possible, it has been treated as a primary source or dual sourced where possible. Rather than footnotes, URL links are used.

It is therefore a reasonable assumption that some data points and observations may not be 100% accurate, complete or valid, this is not meant as an authoritative document and should be seen in the context of an attempt to produce an honest account, but no more.

Supporting the production effort have been a number of contributing editors and commenters, all providing valuable insight, information and error/spelling checking.

The list includes serving and retired military personnel, civil servants and industry employees, all with unique perspectives on the story. Some wish to be known by usernames (Challenger 2,  DejaVu, ArmchairCivvy, LostInTranslation, Frenchie, Ravenser, Chris, The Other Chris, Monty, Mr Fred), others their own names (Chris from the Defence with a C blog, Raymond Powell) and some others remain anonymous or named by title such as the Chief Designer from Anglo Engineering Concepts.

I thank them all although there does seem a lot of people named Chris!

Without their assistance, this document would have been much the poorer.


British Army Medium Weight Capability – Table of Contents

Introduction and Notes

What this document is, sources and acknowledgements, and what this document is not

The Fifties and Sixties

Saladin and Saracen enter service, early work on their replacement commences and completes. The FV432 enters service, and the BMP-1 does likewise, work on Warrior gains pace.

The Seventies

CVR(T) and CVR(W) enter service, and the rapid deployment concept cuts its teeth with the C-130

The Eighties

CVR(T) continues to be developed and sees action in in the Falkland Islands and Warrior enters service. Oh, and Saxon.

The Nineties

A decade of major change; the end of the Cold War, operations in the Gulf and the Balkans. The microprocessor and communications revolution. VERDI, FFLAV, WASAD and the rise of the acronym in defence. ASCOD, CV90 and others developed. Protected mobility becomes a requirement, again, and finally, interesting materials development make an appearance in the defence vehicle world.

TRACER, MRAV and Project Bushranger

Three vehicle development projects that would have importance to the ongoing story of developing a medium weight capability.

Turning Points in the Balkans

Important milestones in the development of medium weight capabilities, a trip across the Sava and WWIII averted at an airport.

Change Comes to US and UK Forces

The Future Combat System, the UK follows suit, FRES and being a force for good.

FRES Gets into Gear but Iraq Looms Large

2001 to 2004, TRACER and MRAV continue but the new kid on the block called FRES is starting to take over whilst the shadow of Iraq falls on the project.

Snatch and the Trials of Truth

Between 2005 and 2007 the Army experienced significant change. FRES picked up speed but operations in Iraq overshadowed the medium weight concept.

FRES Changes Names and Changes Lane

2008 to 2009, it becomes increasingly difficult to balance the needs of operations with the desire to transform and bring FRES to fruition at the same time.

FRES Scout to the End of FRES

2010 to 2011, putting the embarrassment of FRES UV behind it, the Army switches to FRES SV, a replacement for CVR(T)

Return to Contingency

2012 to 2014, as an end to the Afghanistan deployment drew near, Scout continued and attention turned to Warrior.

AJAX to MIV and the Emergence of Strike

2015 to 2017, a new medium weight capability vision emerges, and this requires a new vehicle, the Mechanised Infantry Vehicle (MIV), but before that, Multi Role Vehicle (MRV).

Observations

A few thoughts and opinions.

Appendix A – Ajax

Weights, measures, variants and roles

Appendix B – 40mm Cased Telescoped Weapon System

A revolution in medium calibre weapons, but can we afford it?

Appendix C – Generic Vehicle Architecture

The essential glue that binds the increasing quantity of vehicle electronics



 

 

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35 Comments on "British Army Medium Weight Capability"

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Ian

Firstly TD & co-authors thanks for the effort & energy – it’s a serious and very interesting piece of work.

Having read (most) of it, I keep coming back to the strategic issue for me which is – what is it for? I am of this opinion also about SDSR 2010 & 15 in general.

Are we buying for the Defence of the Realm (DotR) or to fight random foreign wars as partners in trouble spots round the world?

The latter is what we’ve been doing and the nature of them, the geography and terrain are all different.

As each one’s come along we’ve adapted to the changing requirement of that war. In a sense that’s as it should be because its a flexible, meets the needs of the day practical implementation of policy. The logical reverse of that is a lack of long term national strategy build / buy because, well, why would you?

——————————————————————————————————————————————————————————–

My start point for any SDSR and equipment acquisition strategy is what do we need to defend these islands. Everything stems from that. Every item of equipment, every system is joined up, works seamlessly together with no capability gaps and is in enough depth for us.

———————————————————————————————————————————————————————————-

Only then would I look at how we map that across to our international responsibilities. I would have a clear layered approach to meeting those on both a generic and case by case basis. Things we can do immediately which wholly translate from our domestic capability and holes which will take longer to fill. All this would be clear and communicated.

Any resources committed to our international obligations would be in addition to those committed to DotR. Where it was not core UK capability it would by definition be of a follow on, flexible and potentially single conflict use nature. The ‘cost of doing business’ in that particular theatre if you like.

Most countries are likewise under-resourced but for example Norway & Sweden drive their acquisition and development thinking of home first. They understand their unique terrain so build weapons systems and a military configured best suited to them, such as their Archer Artillery System.

So, I’d like to understand in the context of DotR where STRIKE capability fits. Is it joined up with the rest of the services to swim, drop or drive to remote UK shores in sufficient numbers to hold ground and repel when roads, rail and airfields are inaccessible.

I accept others will say ‘who’s going to invade’ and its a legitimate Q but even if the answer is ‘no one that we can see’ it wouldn’t alter my views one iota on what should be done. Doing DotR well keeps it that way.

Simon

Ian,

I couldn’t agree with you more. Furthermore if DotR were ring-fenced then we wouldn’t be in the stupid non-MPA situation we are now.

The problem I see is that when it comes to the land component of DotR it is quite difficult to define. Firstly, our shores must have been breached. If that were the case I’d imagine the force would be considerable. This makes me think that we no longer have air supremacy, which in turn means all our road and rail systems cannot be relied upon to transport troops and firepower due to enemy DAS/interdiction ops.

I end up with a requirement for tracks only.

I also end up with a requirement for SAMP/T or similar :-)

Ian

Hi Simon,

My working theory would be local air superiority including missile defence to protect the landing area so I’d want ability to swim, drop and drive to surrounding area as quickly and flexibly as possible.

mr.fred

I think that there is a certain logic in fighting your conflicts on someone-elses soil. If you wait until it gets to yours it’s going to be much, much more costly. If you can support your allies at a distance that precludes the possibility of someone attaining and maintaining air superiority over your coast long enough to sail landing craft over to it, then that is surely vastly preferable, no?

If you wait for the the fight to come to you, then you’ve lost.

Ian

Totally agree mr. fred Not in contradiction at all

Good day,

Just new to this site and have enjoyed reading the Blog which I have found to be most interesting, informative and yet slightly disturbing as being an ex Cav soldier for some 23yrs and retaining contacts with current serving personnel I believe that we still have the best personnel in the world doing a grand job but under difficult circumstances. I was also a MoD Civil Servant after my service career albeit for a short time [thankfully] and whilst the majority of staff perform well they are mislead by a money conscious Treasury who have no idea of the needs of the Services. My experience is that the ‘kit’ that we have is also good but is it good enough for the multiple roles and threats that the Service is being expected to perform is dubious therefore debates such as the document above and the Blogs below will continue unabated until such time as we have a PM and Government that have an understanding of the ‘real’ needs for the DofR and that eventually they will make decisions that will provide a credible force and deterrent for at least the next 30-50yrs!

GAB

Is this really a British “Medium Weight Capability” or should it be called a Rapid Reaction/Deployment Capability?

Personal disdain for the “Medium Weight” aside, the intent of this force structure seems to be poorly defined.

GAB

Red Trousers

@TD.

Radio check.

Am I still allowed to post pertinent if embarrassing comments about land recce? About how it’s best done in something really small and unarmoured, and preferably on a bike? Along with, of course, entertaining but completely irrelevant comments about European women and the sheer uselessness of the Andrew?

Although the sheer uselessness of the Andrew isn’t irrelevant. Gawks, they are spendy, replacing every bloody hull going, and they still can’t effect anything more than a couple of miles inshore. The Army and RAF are dying on their knees because of the spendiness of the Andrew.

Over.

Mark

Nice to see RT back posting.

I have a bucket of popcorn at the ready

Simon

“…they still can’t effect anything more than a couple of miles inshore”.

We really need to work on the importance of getting orders of magnitude estimates correct.

So as a short exercise let’s try the following:

“…they still can’t effect anything more than a couple of *hundred* miles inshore”.

And

“Six point two *billion* pounds without ANY useful aircraft”

Welcome back :-)

Hurrah for Red Trousers.

Now, RT, aside from ranting about the dark blue servics, can you give us your prescription for what to do about the Green. Both for force structure and equipment. For most of us simply don’t believe General Carter has a coherent plan for either. Would be interested to hear your views.

Also isn’t the RAF dying on its feet becuase in 2015 they decided to stand up 2 extra fast jet squadrons, retain Hercules, stand up 2 squadrons of P8, and never explained where the headcount was coming from to do any of it…?

Observer

Peter, my recommendation for a first step would be to tear up the Europe arms limitation treaty lol.
With a cap on your equipment, you’re not tailoring your equipment to suit your army, you’re tailoring your army to suit your (limited stock of) equipment.

But then the diplomatic and political cost of that might be more than the UK is willing to pay.
You got the capped numbers on the equipment you have, all you can do is figure out how to distribute it since you can’t increase it.

Mark

PE/Ob

I think the first step would be to take heed of the NAO report and realise the services and MoD are completely out of control. All mod procurement needs to stop and a realistic budget/defence priority assesment, full costed and agreed with nao needs to be put in place. The outcome will be as brutal as sdsr10 but a hefty dose of reality and leadership is needed.

mr.fred

Stop all MoD procurement?
Wait for a negotiated procurement plan?
How long do you think that will take and how much do you think that will cost? Not only in pure monetary cost, but opportunity forgone.

Mark

Mr Fred

Well what is currently passing as an equipment program/mod accounting process has the same level of financial rigour as a Bernie madoff pyramid scheme or carillion housing contract.

They already have a budget, remove the fantasy efficiency saving and delete anything the doesn’t fit within what left. Would be like calling in the receivers to a bankrupt company.

If you want it to be quick the simply answer would be put in place the force structure as agreed at sdsr2010. The last time the budget and force structure were harmonised. They argue about the rest after that.

Observer

Not to mention the fallout from potentially missing the NATO 2%.

I personally think the ‘opportunity cost’ isn’t as critical as it could be, there is still a lot of retention of old equipment and the biggest ticket item, the AJAX/FRES-SV, is already a done deal. With the FRES-UV/MIV 8×8, that’s the biggest paradigm change in recent years done. Unless something goes seriously wrong, I suspect these vehicles would serve for the next 40+ years, so there really isn’t much room for new ‘opportunities’ in the mid term future.

Still, a total stoppage is bad, both for the reputation of the MoD and the manpower cost losses involved. Even if the guy isn’t doing anything, you still got to pay him. The problem isn’t cost control, not directly. Like TD had demonstrated in the past with FRES, the problem is with projects that drag on and on and on with ‘trial’ after ‘trial’ and decisions continually get delayed, which drives the cost up for no gain. Some tight time management should solve this easily. I worked in an organization before, the desire to procrastinate until the last minute and not stick your head out with a decision until forced to is common. Just cut this out and the projects should run fine.

Unless you got a committee. lol.

mr.fred

Mark,
So what do you imagine the financial rigour of stopping all procurement would be?

Mark

As there currently not able to pay for what they’ve ordered. I would suggest it be more rigorous than the alternative.

mr.fred

I would disagree. I think you’d just wreck the programmes currently in progress and cost you a great deal immediately, in the short term and more in the long term.

But still, what do you imagine is “the alternative”? Why do you think that it is a singular?

ArmChairCivvy

Hi Obs, the treaty you are referring to
“The Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) Treaty is almost dead. Russia suspended its implementation of the treaty in December 2007. A CFE Treaty review conference on September 29, 2011, ended without a final declaration. In November 2011, NATO stopped the CFE Treaty-related data exchange with Russia.”

It is more than almost dead, as the NATO efforts to restart went nowhere (that was in 2010-11, so between Georgia and Ukraine, so to say).

Mark

MR Fred

The current plan is neither coherent or makes any sense for long term stability. If they don’t stop and think you simply continue head long into the abis which is exactly were the are now, with a raft of cuts that make little sense other than causing significant force structure damage now to pay for a future force structure that has little joined up thinking behind it.

mr.fred

Mark,
The current plan, flawed though it is, is still far better thought out than a punitive* “stop everything”, which seems to be what you are suggesting.

Thinking about something is good. Buying yourself thinking time by doing something akin to throwing a spanner between a pair of gears is less than sensible.

It might be more rational if you could identify what procurement you were planning to stop. The stated “all” means that you’ve got maybe a month or few before most of your personnel have quit and your ability to conduct operations is entirely impaired.

* punitive for who? who is going to be hurt by immediate cessation of all procurement activity?

Frenchie

I do not know if I can say that in a British blog.

You are missing an organization like the DGA.

The DGA imagines the possible futures, anticipates the threats and the risks, It works in close collaboration with the General Staff of the armies. From the needs of this one, it controls the realization of the military equipments, from the preliminary studies until the phase of use, passing by the tests, the putting into service and the successive evolutions throughout their use operational. It has an overview of weapons systems to ensure their overall coherence.

The problem of the MoD is not to have a global vision and a coherence in the equipment.

Strategic failure is the consequence of political decisions made by officials completely ignorant of the military realities and the fundamentals of the strategy, poorly advised and unable to coherently articulate a political objective and the means to achieve it, for lack of reflection about the nature of their interests. In the British case, the failure was to believe that his interest was to be as close as possible to the Americans without being able to align the military means necessary for this purpose.

Upgrading the Warrior is not a problem, but the Ajax program does not make sense, I still remember the MoD’s concern after the war in Afghanistan, which was how much should weigh the vehicles of the FRES SV program to survive an IED, which gave birth to a program that lacks many of its versions, which in fact makes it unusable, and is very expensive.

The 2010 white paper operates clear cuts. It plans to postpone the renewal of the British nuclear deterrent for budgetary reasons, and to decommission many heavy armoured vehicles. It ratifies the immediate withdrawal of Harrier fighters and Ark Royal, the only fully operational British aircraft carrier. It confirms the construction of two aircraft carriers, but only because the cancellation of the order would have cost more than to take delivery. It endorses a ten-year capacity vacancy in the aviation field, so the United Kingdom will not have, until 2020, an aircraft carrier capable of transporting fighter aircraft.

The economic constraint alone can not explain the volatility of British defense policy. It is impacted by too much sensitivity to the day’s political orientations and, as a result, lack of strategic vision and continuity.

In France it is the lack of money that is a problem, not the defense policy, we know where we are going but we do not have the money to get equipment, because since the end of the cold war, our successive governments believed that we no longer needed armed forces, but since the recent attacks we have been slowly raising our heads.

Mark

Mr Fred

Support to in service equipment unaffected. Stop/pause whatever the term that suits. All vehicle programs, ship building programs other than the 2 carriers, p8, Apache, protector pretty much anything changed or added to at sdsr2015. Problem is there maybe no gears to put the spanner in.

Observer

Mark, from your list of suggested exclusions, I would wonder if the stoppage you suggest would have any effect at all then. All you would be hitting is the small fry which don’t have much of an effect on the bigger picture.

ACC, I know it’s ‘almost’ dead but I never heard of the force caps being lifted, though I could be wrong and it passed under one of the subsections I did not see.

Mark

Observer

That wasn’t the list of exclusions. That was the list of what would be stopped

Frenchie

Thank you TD ;)

mr.fred

The trouble with stopping (or pausing, it’s pretty much the same thing) ongoing programmes is that it costs so much more to restart, since industry doesn’t have the sort of pockets to put everything on hold while you deliberate.

If you stop the programmes long enough that the workforce goes off to work elsewhere then that’s even more expensive to build it back up.

Hard stopping like this is punitive. Who are you punishing?

Observer

Come to think of it, India got hit with this sort of situation when they tried buying M-777s from BAE, they took so long in deliberating that the assembly line closed down and the unit price of the howitzers doubled. They ended up buying as ‘Government to government’ sales instead (i.e no manufacturer’s support only just the unit).

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/newsbysector/industry/10378092/200-BAE-staff-to-lose-jobs-if-India-misses-deal-deadline.html

Chris

I’d suggest Frenchie has hit the nail squarely on the head. While the Users might know what they need, it is the MOD that has to deliver (and pay for) the new kit – a level of management that has quite different priorities, as it worries more about cost and proof of compliance than it does about military utility. But MOD have a level of management above them. The Treasury constantly paws through their MOD project accounts looking for cash to withdraw or reclaim – part of the mythical efficiency savings – using reports generated by MOD to substantiate the budget constriction. And on top of the Treasury, Parliament assigns itself executive power to mandate equipment project redirection based upon Treasury reports and party-political advantage. For much of this decision-making management pyramid the User view is entirely irrelevant.

Whether the User community is the right group to decide what future equipment needs to be is arguable, as their perceived need has as its foundation the current concept of operation that has been honed and reinforced by rigorous training. The most likely response to the question “What do you really need?” is going to be “Something that has the same capability as the current kit, but with improved performance and all the bad bits engineered out.” Reference the Cavalry in 1916 being absolutely convinced the horse could never be replaced by a clanking steel box full of guns fumes and noise. But their view of what’s necessary is far more accurate than that of the non-military experts further up the budget chain.

In the past it was different, and more like the DGA structure Frenchie describes. There used to be departments of operational requirements, tasked with thinking outside the box (apologies for Americanism) and modelling effectiveness of radical changes. There used to be the Establishments running experiments and knocking out prototypes to see how close real technology came to the modelled capability. There used to be an MOD with enough budget and autonomy to see projects through without Westminster micromanagement. There used to be a defence budget broad enough to adequately fund both day-to-day operational costs and equipment programs. And of course there used to be a skilled manufacturing sector of more than adequate capacity covering all needs of defence production on home turf. All now a dim memory.

The Harrier was the last UK designed and built combat aircraft (all since being collaborative ventures) and that was from the stable of Tommy Sopwith and Harry Hawker. Its a close race between Stormer Warrior or Challenger as to which the last UK designed and built AFV was, but each of these started as Establishment (RARDE) FV projects. BAE does still design and build ships and submarines within the UK. On the Land side I would say the UK company with the largest volume of UK designed UK produced military vehicles is Supacat – as much as I like the company and admire their work, that a small outfit in a few sheds on a Devon airfield is the most productive UK-owned domestic manufacturer of military vehicles is a very sad indictment of the UK defence sector capacity. As for UK owned companies producing UK designs for armoured vehicles? Nothing for decades. Nor will there be while Westminster demands absolute control of every project – the mandate will remain ‘buy the cheapest you can stomach from anywhere in the world, and buy COTS’. What Westminster has never understood is that once a bit of COTS kit has been selected, MOD spends a fortune and an age forcing major redesign to make it ‘good enough’ for UK use. Ajax when it was selected – by the outgoing Labour government in its last weeks of power in what seemed at the time as a last chance effort to be seen to have finally fixed FRES – was declared by Quentin Davies as a COTS buy. Eight years down the line the Ajax design and its component parts are almost entirely different from ASCOD, apart from the outside shape. Not quite COTS then.

The UK has lost its way, and the decline has been entirely down to the policies and grand strategies of successive governments, all of which have sought only to reduce defence spending, while assuring the hapless voters – you & me – that they were fully committed to national defence and were working hard to make it brilliant. At the same time the manufacturing capacity of the nation was gutted rather than nurtured, mostly because governments decided banking and big finance was where the big profits (and therefore both big tax revenue and lucrative ex-politician jobs) were going to be found in future.

In truth, as much as all of us here want stronger UK Armed Forces with better equipment in greater numbers that would be capable and sustainable in war, I don’t honestly think the country’s up to it. I don’t think the politicians’ hearts are in it because they are only interested in vote-share, and education & health win far more votes than defence. I don’t think the MOD’s heart is in it – the status quo is too comfortable and careers are safe with normal jogging; why put in huge effort to change the way defence is run? And I don’t think UK PLC has a hope in hell of gearing up to match the manufacturing capacity of even our nearby EU neighbours (France Italy and Germany) let alone trying to reach US or Chinese capabilities. The Government won’t pay for it, the MOD won’t drive it, and the UK can’t build it. So we will buy from abroad, and remain hostage to fortune if war ever comes our way, hoping the spares and replenishments will be delivered from foreign sources in adequate volume and at adequate rate with short enough delay to keep the armed forces supplied.

paul g

I see there is quite a clamour (mainly in the US) for a medium tank with a few examples flying about including an ASCOD body with a 120mm light turret on top. I only raise this as the Japanese seem to have cracked with their type 10 tank, 120mm with 3 turret lengths (44,50 &52) a V12 engine, top speed 70Kph forwards and backwards! Plus an all up weight 0f 42 tones or the same as an AJAX

Geoffrey Hicking

“In truth, as much as all of us here want stronger UK Armed Forces with better equipment in greater numbers that would be capable and sustainable in war, I don’t honestly think the country’s up to it. I don’t think the politicians’ hearts are in it because they are only interested in vote-share, and education & health win far more votes than defence. I don’t think the MOD’s heart is in it – the status quo is too comfortable and careers are safe with normal jogging; why put in huge effort to change the way defence is run? And I don’t think UK PLC has a hope in hell of gearing up to match the manufacturing capacity of even our nearby EU neighbours (France Italy and Germany) let alone trying to reach US or Chinese capabilities. The Government won’t pay for it, the MOD won’t drive it, and the UK can’t build it. So we will buy from abroad, and remain hostage to fortune if war ever comes our way, hoping the spares and replenishments will be delivered from foreign sources in adequate volume and at adequate rate with short enough delay to keep the armed forces supplied.”

I think we may be due for a recovery of defence spending in the future. Russia really does seem to be posing a serious threat.

When it comes to procurement, I think we’re going to be cooperating with the Japanese a bit more, seeing as they seem to be attempting tank and jet design without joining some huge international effort. Bearing in mind that the navy will disappear in 50 years if the usual reduction of hull numbers every generation keeps occurring. We’ll need to either make procurement cheaper or increase spending. If we want to defend ourselves, we really won’t have a choice….

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