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.

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).


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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