If you have got this far and expected a conclusion to be nothing but pointing fingers and harsh punctuation, am afraid you might be disappointed.

To quote myself from the introduction…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. It is far too easy to 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.

What I hope to do here is put forward a few personal observations that I hope are reasonable and balanced, but please, do read the whole thing and make your own mind up.

You have read the whole thing, haven’t you? :)

If we look back, the decades have rolled by, replacement programmes have come and gone, wars have been fought, money spent and the UK armoured vehicle industry decimated, but the British Army’s aspiration for a medium weight capability remain unfulfilled.

FFLAV, MRAV, TRACER and FRES promised much but in the end delivered nothing but large invoices and ‘lessons learned’ reports. Meanwhile, the legacy fleet of vehicles, hand built by blokes in brown coats, have soldiered on through multiple conflicts whilst the British Army tried to decide what actually constituted a medium weight force and what form replacement vehicles would take (given those vehicles would serve in both medium weight and heavier forces)

Whilst indecision became the norm, those same vehicles are still being used by soldiers whose grandfathers may well have used them. In the same timeframe, the major equipment in service with the Royal Air Force and Royal Navy has been transformed.

Some of these observations are medium weight capability related, some more general in nature.

In no particular order…

Accountability, Transparency and Scrutiny

How much has this indecision cost?

If one is to compare and summarise costs, it is important to establish a common start point and arguably, FFLAV is that. It marked the point at which the British Army recognised the need to replace CVR(T) and others in the ‘legacy fleet’.

Since that point…

  • TRACER, £131
  • MRAV, £57
  • FRES, £192

£380 million, and not a single vehicle delivered to Tommy Atkins.

Not included in that are the numerous upgrades to the legacy fleet after TRACER and MRAV failed. Despite these being significant, one could argue that some of these costs would also have been incurred if TRACER and MRAV entered service. Neither do they include the UOR fleet of protected mobility vehicles or the cost of bringing them into core because MRAV/FRES UV failed to deliver. Again, one could argue that some of these would have been needed in addition to MRAV/FRES UV in any case.

It does not include the cost to industry either, another not inconsiderable sum.

Harder to quantify but still very much related is money (lots of) for development and production costs for the CTA 40mm weapon (shared between Ajax and Warrior) and the huge amount of time/money spent on development of the various flavours of medium weight capability doctrines.

Writing in the RUSI Journal in 2010, Peter Flach said;

According to some respected commentators, this brings the total expenditure on FFLAV, TRACER and MRAV to something in the region of £650m, a remarkable sum when you consider that we do not have a single vehicle to show for it. Of course the real cost has been left in the field.

This was in 2010 and does not include FRES. Suffice it to say, whatever the final figure was, it is a lot.

Surely failure on such scale has consequences?

The House of Commons Defence Select Committee thought as much a few years ago:

Mr Bacon: It is on page 6, paragraph 4: “The list of armoured vehicles projects cancelled, suspended or delayed in Figure 1 suggests that…the Department’s standard acquisition process for armoured vehicles has not been working.”

Ursula Brennan: We have acknowledged that there were failings in our procurement of armoured fighting vehicles. Yes, we do acknowledge this.

Q24 Mr Bacon: Who has paid the price for that? Who has paid the penalty for that scale of error? Because for most of this decade—although we have had an enormous financial crunch since 2008 or late 2007—it was a period of rising Government spending. It is a huge failure. Who is paying the penalty for that? Is anyone?

Ursula Brennan: The reasons—

Q25 Mr Bacon: Apart from the soldiers on the ground, obviously, who has paid the penalty for this failure in the Ministry of Defence?

Ursula Brennan: The reasons—

Q26 Mr Bacon: No, no, my question is who? The answer must be a person or no person.

Ursula Brennan: The reason why I wanted to say the reasons is because the reasons why certain programmes were stopped or cancelled were to do with decisions that were taken, in some cases about the procurement routes, between Ministers and officials at the time about the way it was chosen to procure—

Q27 Mr Bacon: You are answering a question that is not the question I asked. You are giving me an explanation of how we reached this position through decisions having been taken. Plainly, some decisions must have been taken for us to end up in a particular position. There must have been bad decisions for us to end up in a particularly bad position such as this one. My question is who has paid the penalty for this in the Ministry of Defence? It’s a simple question. Who?

Ursula Brennan: I can’t point the finger at one person, because there isn’t one person who was responsible for the different sets of decisions that were taken about individual vehicles.

Mr Bacon: Is there anybody who has paid the penalty for this?

Vice-Admiral Lambert: If I can—

Mr Bacon: No, no, no. I am looking at Ms Brennan. I am asking her a question. She is the accounting officer. She is the permanent secretary. My question stands; I’ve asked it three or four times now. It is very simple and very clear. Is there anybody in the Ministry of Defence who has paid a penalty for this?

Ursula Brennan: No. I don’t think I can point the finger at anybody.

This exchange must surely elicit some measure of sympathy for the hapless Ursula Brennan. She took the justified tongue lashing from Mr Bacon despite the fact that the overwhelming responsibility for the failure of FRES, and its predecessors, to deliver anything tangible resting firmly with others.

Who those others are, that would perhaps be a matter for a Defence Select Committee report, but I suspect it was many.

And that is the point.

It is almost impossible to point a finger at individuals because the system is just not built like that, even with recent reforms that see Senior Responsible Owners in post for longer than before, that time is still much less than modern defence acquisition projects.

One might argue that getting a pound of flesh is exactly the opposite of what is needed. The time and money expended are not going to come back and the MoD should now focus on the future.

The trite mantra ‘Lessons must be Learned’ is easy to say but very difficult to do. Complex organisations staffed with people inevitably make mistakes, but FFLAV to TRACER to MRAV to FRES to AJAX to MIV is a case study in exactly how not to obtain equipment and maintain a defence industrial capability, and should therefore, provide ample material to learn from.

That said, there comes a point when you have to be blunt and ask demanding questions of the people that made the decisions because in no possible manner can the whole story be considered a success.

Parliament should conduct an enquiry into how the MoD spent so much money yet achieved so very little.

A trick by which the MoD often avoids scrutiny is to rename a programme which wipes the reporting slate clean.

For an under-resourced Defence Select Committee this can be an effective counter to too much inconvenient scrutiny and with recent decisions on the National Audit Office changes to its reporting of MoD major projects and changes to the commercial structure of DE&S, one has to be concerned about future programmes.

The first suggestion would be that for major programmes there needs to be less continuity in delivery but more continuity in external scrutiny.

If it is difficult to maintain Senior Responsible Owners in post because of career progression, it must be possible to appoint a Senior Governance Officer whose sole responsibility is the external scrutiny of that programme and its relations.

This person would need to be external to the MoD and ideally, within the select committee structure.

Too often the Defence Select Committee failed to hold the MoD to account, not because of intent, but because of a lack of knowledge, with better research, they may have landed more effective blows.

There is also a danger in having former military personnel in the Select Committee, watching evidence sessions there is often some familiarity between the Committee and witnesses, as one might imagine. Coming to the committee to give evidence and then starting the session by talking about what they both had for dinner the night (as can be observed) before brings into doubt the rigour of questioning.

The select committee is often afforded little respect from witnesses, one gets the impression they are seen as an inconvenience to be tolerated rather than an essential component of scrutiny on behalf of the taxpayer.

Holding the MoD to account on behalf of Parliament must be strengthened, the select committee needs more resources, and much sharper teeth.

There is Nothing Wrong with Interim Solutions

There is always a danger of the interim solution becoming the permanent solution but one wonders if we missed several opportunities to implement an interim solution as a hedge against technology risk whilst still having a nod to industry benefits and capability improvements.

One of the contenders for the FFLAV reconnaissance was indeed, a CV90. Even then, the British Army had concluded that CVR(T) did not have the space and power for modern electronic systems that would be increasingly used for the primary task.

Yet there was Warrior, British to its bootstraps to coin a phrase, reliable, well protected and with an obvious upgrade path. It certainly could have been obtained as a CVR(T) replacement then and it if a standard Warrior chassis was used, it could certainly have done the job.

We could have ended up with a single vehicle family, achieved some economy of scale and even achieved enough mass to allow the venerable FV432 to have been replaced.

GKN then took this concept and developed Warrior 2000, another opportunity missed.

Because FFLAV was more of a study that a specific programme with a specific set of requirements but the observation here is a simple one, with hindsight, we missed an opportunity.

However, the 1997 Warrior Reconnaissance was offered for the TRACER requirement, perhaps it might have been a useful interim purchase until TRACER requirements could have caught up with technology readiness?

How different is the above to Ajax, at least in conceptual terms; a modified IFV with extra sensors.

Repurposing Challenger hulls was also proposed, another interesting concept to mull over given the difference in philosophy between the UK and others in the means of obtaining information, by stealth or fighting for it.

The simple fact is we missed an opportunity to maximise commonality and deliver a useful capability whilst supporting the UK defence vehicle industry as an interim step.

The same argument could be made for FRES UV.

One of the reasons we practically ditched all the TDP’s and FRES ambition was because of pressure to do something for Iraq. FRES UV went from something that envisaged a bespoke design to simply choosing from something already available. If the Army recognised that the protected mobility UOR’s were an interim capability, the original FRES UV concepts could have matured.

The MoD should consider opportunities for interim solutions that balance technology risk with other benefits whilst avoiding sinking ever more money into ever older vehicles.

Beware the Revolutionaries

Beware the peddler of revolutions, for revolutions rarely fulfil their promises.

TRACER was the result of a staggering amount of analysis and to say that the requirement was ambitious would be a large understatement. Despite this ambition, the project delivered trials vehicles that were reportedly very good indeed. But this ambition was probably a step too far for the technology maturity of the day and without trading requirements out for quicker and cheaper it is difficult to see how it would have entered service. With some compromise, however, it is easy to see how they could be in service now, perhaps having been through a mid-life upgrade after implementing Warrior Reconnaissance as an interim solution.

MRAV also had some challenging requirements with a focus on protection. It befitted from significant operational analysis from the original partner nations and once the politics were resolved, went on to deliver a combat proven vehicle with some unique features. It is equally easy to see how they could also be in service now, especially given the vehicle that came from the UK’s not inconsiderable investment on MRAV was Boxer.

We dropped both TRACER and MRAV like hot potatoes in favour of the shiny new baubles promised by FCS, thus was born FRES.

The latest in military thinking at the time thought existing vehicles had too great a focus on protection, protection that mean weight, weight that meant strategic deployability problems, and the new black, after all, was deployability and rapid response.

FCS and FRES were both designed to fight a better Gulf War, not the Iraq War that eventually saw them off.

Military transformation is a nebulous concept but it manifested itself into something more tangible following the 1991 Gulf War. Starting in the USA in the early nineties it progressed through a number of iterations until arriving at the Future Combat System or FCS in the late nineties.

There is no more powerful force in the universe than the latest shiny idea and FCS with its resultant 75-page acronym glossary became an unstoppable force, dissenters were side-lined regardless of the sartorial status of the new emperor.

One of the main planks on which UK defence rests is the desire to stand side by side with US forces, maintaining parity in organisation and capability, if not size. There is nothing wrong with this, as a principle, it has served us well so there was no way we were going to sit on the transformational side-lines.

In broad terms, where the USA goes, we follow. The details may be different, the emphasis and approach different, but the broad brush strokes were the same. And so we came to FRES after the USA came to FCS. The US were unable to resist, and neither were we.

One could also be forgiven for thinking the French intervention in Mali and the wider Sahel is being looked upon with dewy eyed wonderment.

The problem with this is that procurement is usually one war behind the latest thinking.

FCS/FRES was designed to fight a better Gulf War but by the time the next war came around, it looked very different. In fact, this next war would have found the programme before FCS rather useful i.e. MRAV and TRACER.

Then we binned off FRES because of Iraq and Afghanistan, not so conveniently in time for the end of those wars. MIV and AJAX are designed for much improved protection because of Iraq and Afghanistan when in reality FRES might be a better solution.

Can you see the problem?

We are so slow at procuring equipment it is often out of date by the time it comes into service and so back on the hamster wheel we go.

So, we have to try and resist the siren song of military fashion where we can.

Especially if they are Manufacturers

There are three particular points in the story where I think the MoD suffered from the well-known phrase that is a ‘conspiracy of optimism’

Or put another way, believing the promises of manufacturers.

  • The Trials of Truth and FRES UV
  • Specialist Vehicle Scout Decision
  • Warrior Turret

Instead of a stand-up knock-down fight between in-service vehicles with the winner taking all, it is hard to conclude the Trial of Truth were anything other than a sham. VBCI was very recently in service, Boxer at the very end of its development programme and short of being in service by a whisker. Piranha V, however, not likely to be in service for some years but instead, General Dynamics submitted a proxy vehicle and a promise.

If the whole point of FRES UV Trials of Truth was to get something in service quickly, accepting the cost and time of the FRES TDP’s as a write-off, one might have thought speed into service would have been the primary deciding factor.

Lord Drayson thought so, and so reportedly favoured VBCI, with Boxer as a close second. Technically, many commented that Boxer would have been the better choice as it unsurprisingly mirrored UK design philosophy the closest. But the Army wanted the General Dynamics Piranha V, despite it not actually being available to trial, truth or otherwise.

This cued up an internal conflict.

Lord Drayson lost, and walked.

To compound this, the MoD failed to reach a commercial agreement on intellectual property with General Dynamics despite knowing full well at the beginning of process that it might be unlikely to do so. With preferred bidder status withdrawn from General Dynamics, FRES UV was as dead as corduroy flares.

The MoD went into a competition predicated on time into service and chose the vehicle with the longest time into service and a dodgy starting commercial position.

Skip forward a few years and again, the MoD chose a manufacturers promise.

Having thrown aside TRACER and the FRES TDP’s, the chosen solution for Specialist Vehicles after the fiasco that what FRES UV was going to be lower risk. Yes, it would have ambitious sensor and protection requirements but it wasn’t going to be a new vehicle, instead, one based on infantry fighting vehicles whose designs were only marginally younger than Warrior.

BAE is often unfairly portrayed as the villain of the piece by the media (sometimes for fair reasons) but for Specialist Vehicle Scout they demonstrated a real vehicle with a real turret, the result of considerable investment and based on a vehicle in service with a large and active user base. Was that real vehicle short of the MoD requirement set, a fair question, but how far, and how far in comparison with the General Dynamics offering, an even more interesting question.

General Dynamics, again, demonstrated a graphic and a surrogate, just like the Utility Variant trials of truth. A surrogate based on a vehicle in service with Spain and Austria with zero operational deployments between them.

Both times, the MoD selected General Dynamics based on a General Dynamics promise, as opposed to tangible vehicles from BAE or others.

Finally, BAE insisted that to meet the MoD’s requirement for Warrior CSP, a new turret was needed, their MTIP-2. This had been developed partially with their own money and would have offered some commonality with the CV90 Scout.

Yet again, the MoD went with a promise, this time from Lockheed Martin, not a company with any great reputation for making turrets. BAE were proven to be correct, an upgraded Warrior turret did not meet the MoD’s requirements and the trouble with those Lockheed Martin turrets over the last few years perhaps provides some vindication.

Three examples where the MoD chose the riskier solution despite the requirement being rooted in lower risk.

Another area we have to be sceptical of manufacturer’s claims is that of industrial benefit.

No one ever seems to question manufacturers and the MoD’s claims on industrial benefits but going back to the first claim by General Dynamics for Scout, it said;

The ASCOD SV programme is British to its bootstraps, delivering a Military off the Shelf vehicle with British design by British engineers to the British Army while safeguarding or creating 10,600 jobs for British workers

Then a few years later in 2014, following the production order, General Dynamics said;

This contract directly safeguards or creates up to 1,300 jobs across the programme’s UK supply chain, with 300 of these at General Dynamics UK’s Oakdale site.

10,600 to 1,300 is a large difference, regardless in the difference between expected production quantity and actual production quantity.

Roll on a few years and we even less precise claims from the MoD;

The AJAX programme is sustaining hundreds of jobs in Wales, as well as thousands right across the UK

We should hold the MoD and manufacturers to account and demand rigour and consistency in reporting industrial benefits, especially when they often form key elements of a business case.

Not So Creative Purple Tension

The need for inter-service cooperation was laid bare by the Falklands Conflict in 1982, reinforced by the Gulf in 1991 and hammered home by operations in the Balkans throughout the nineties.

Policy, doctrine development and resultant equipment strategies became an increasingly joint function. The Army no longer wholly decided their own equipment needs and neither did the other services. A number of organisations were created outside of the service structures in the MoD, equipment capability and doctrine development were, by then, joint functions, for example.

But as this developed, the Army may have lost control of FRES because of it.

To say that the Army (or other services) had no control is plainly ridiculous but during the initial stages of FRES in the early 2000’s it is clear that there was creative tension, organisational friction or downright disagreement between some in the Army and some of those new joint organisations that were influential in decision-making.

That those joint organisations had Army representation is not in dispute but looking at the post holders in Director Equipment Capability (Ground Manoeuvre), the Integrated Project Team and the Joint Doctrine and Concepts Centre it is hard to see many RAC or Cavalry cap badges

Plenty of Gunners, Sappers, Royal Marines, Admirals and Air Vice Marshals though.

I don’t want to over-egg this one but equally, there was a period where ‘what FRES was’ meant different things to different people.

If one needed more evidence, look at the terms of reference for the background work completed before Army 2020, emphasising in several places that it was an Army-led activity, not something done to the Army, a veiled reference to previous times I think.

There seems to have been a tangible sense that whilst the initial FRES concepts were green, as the project progressed, it became increasingly purple and some measure of control was lost.

During this period, FRES simply drifted, stuck in a tug of war between traditionalists and transformationists. The initial FRES concept looked more like FFLAV with a few extras than anything revolutionary. The Army wanted something relatively quickly but as the project progressed it got closer to FCS and developed a level of complexity and demanding specification that led to problems.

Conceptual Confusion Leads to Funding Confusion

FFLAV was a simple vehicle replacement study, TRACER and MRAV, similarly straight forward.

FRES was far from simple (regardless of how it started out). This meant confusion and differing ideas of wat ‘it’ was were common. No doubt many people understood what FRES was but equally, without doubt, was the widespread confusion inside and outside the Army on the subject of what FRES actually was. Was it a vehicle replacement programme, was it a new way of waging war, how about a means by which to organise the Army or deliver that dreaded word, effect?

The simple answer was it was all of them, but not many people understood it.

This inability to articulate many problems and it still probably does. Those providing scrutiny of public spending and departmental outputs on behalf of Parliament, the National Audit Office and Defence Select Committee, must be able to understand.

Time and time again one gets the impression that the MoD and British Army simply failed to adequately articulate what the FRES concept.

Perhaps this was because FRES was a big idea, a revolution, but as this confusion grew a number of urban myths developed that endure to this day.

One of those myths was about the rapid part of FRES and that this meant multiple brigades worth of armoured vehicles arriving by air. Nothing could be further from the truth, first, rapidity was assessed to be possible of achievement by forward positioning equipment and second, whilst there was an air delivery component, it was only ever at modest scale, certainly not at the brigade level.

However, this may have been confused as the specification converged with FCS, which did have a significant air delivery requirement.

Despite the subsequent reams of criticism laid at the door of RMA, FCS and transformation in general, its underlying concept of early intervention with sufficient force, enabled by modern communications, sensors and precision weapons, was, and is, sound.

It makes perfect sense.

The problem was, in seeking to increase force agility and responsiveness it concentrated on the payload (i.e. vehicles), not the aircraft and ships carrying that payload. Getting an armoured Brigade anywhere in no time at all is child’s play, if you have enough C-17’s.

A silly statement perhaps, but FCS decided to stick with the decades-old C-130 as its means of air delivery instead of thinking outside the C-130 cargo box. In another irony, whilst the transformation advocates were redesigning the US Army from the top down the logisticians were quietly but significantly improving their ability to rapidly deploy both heavy forces.

The tension described above ended with DEC(GM) aligning FRES with the technologically risk FCS specification, particularly C-130 carriage. To achieve C-130 carriage whilst achieving a range of demanding survivability, logistics, sensor, communications and lethality specification points meant adding a significant element of technology risk.

Why the UK aligned FRES so closely with FCS during its early years, despite the intentions of the initial concept, the different UK approach to the centrality of the ‘network’, the likely in service UK airlift fleet and available budgets is not clear, but it happened.

The MoD sought to de-risk some of the technology issues with the ten TDP’s and the influential C-130 carriage restriction did change later but introduced unwanted delay and wasted a lot of money.

This is also what they mean by ‘a conspiracy of optimism’, risks downplayed whilst benefits emphasised.

C-130 carriage was always optimistic, as our experience of TRACER and MRAV would well have shown. Again, those highlighting this because, transformation. Confidence in technology beat hard-won realistic experience and technical advice from those that knew.

What makes this even more interesting is that by 2003, the A400M development contract had been signed so how C-130 carriage requirement persisted, even as a stretch target, is difficult to comprehend. It wasn’t until 2005 when this changed to A400M.

Again, indecision on basic requirements simply wasted more time and money.

There also seemed to be a focus on vehicle weight, not vehicle dimensions, which are equally important.

One of the reasons for the failure of FRES was this lack of understanding by decision makers and those exercising external scrutiny (including the media).

Confusion and a lack of understanding leads to scepticism, scepticism leads to people asking unwanted questions about how much things are costing.

If Strike is to be a success, it must learn from FRES and ensure that the concept is well understand both within the Army and also outside of it. Too much blue sky froth was a defining characteristic of what FRES grew into, the British Army cannot let Strike go the same way.

It cannot afford to do so.

The Effects of Defence Acquisition Reform

Acquisition reform was delivered on the back of two simple principles; contractual risk would be held by industry and competition would be the means by which costs are reduced.

When the establishments were active they held government risk, design authority and a willingness to experiment, and if necessary, fail. Competitions could then be held to develop prototypes and if successful, production.

With a thriving and active industry supported by a regular project pipeline the compete everything model would work well. Genuine competition would encourage cost reduce costs. The problem is that with so few projects, lifecycles measured in decades and increasingly process heavy and burdensome rules, the barriers to competition increased to such an extent that true competition was available as a concept in name only.

Bid costs increased, projects became win all or lose all and because the MoD insisted industry had to shoulder all the risk, only those very large companies could compete. Smaller companies became larger companies and choice in the market decreased.

The MoD, in my opinion, foolishly believed that simply saying industry must carry all the risk meant that industry would not find some way to make the MoD pay for it.

So the effects of defence acquisition reform, whilst beneficial in many areas, may have also resulted in negative outcomes, particularly those related to risk, cost and a reduction in competition.

Which leads me on to…

Design Skills Need to Get Closer to the User

The design and development work that was previously done by the establishments was now to be done by industry, often with the same people in the same places. Efficiency in the private sector would then drive costs down so even accounting for industry profit, the net cost to the MoD was reduced.

Or so the theory went.

With the loss of the research establishments and a continual haemorrhaging of engineering integration skills, the MoD found itself in the position where it simply did not have the technology integration skills to deliver a complex programme like FRES. Organisational, personnel and programme management deficiencies combined with this lack of engineering capability lead to the FRES acquisition structure, a more complex and wasteful structure it would be hard to imagine.

And yet what other options were there for a MoD devoid of engineering skill?

A result of this was the FRES TDP’s were competed by the MoD separately, in isolation from each other. Without a single coordinating engineering design capability, a role that would have been performed by RARDE Chertsey, they were useful but uncoordinated.

Herding cats to try and make a coherent vehicle design was never likely to be a success.

The user was not only separated by conceptual barriers, but they were now also separated by commercial barriers. This again contributed to delay and confusion as requirements and feedback were washed through multiple channels.

That said, on the flip side, we might also like to ponder on the disagreement with Atkins who has been proven to be absolutely correct in their estimation of in-service dates, at least on current plans.

When the DPA and DE&S are just commissioning managers with the real skills sitting in industry every request will have a project code attached for billing later, every change is chargeable and everyone reverts to arse covering mode instead of partnership and pulling in the same direction.

This is not some rose-tinted view of the good old days of men in brown coats and flat caps but FRES/Strike is a clear argument for improving or re-insourcing complex engineering integration skills in the MoD.

Getting designers closer to users in an environment devoid of commercial barriers may allow compromises and trade-offs to be established much sooner in the CADMID cycle.

Incidentally, competing everything and does seem to reduce opportunities for commonality across vehicles, increasing the logistics and support burden at a time when we need to be reducing logistics and support burdens.

Emphasis on Growth Potential

An emphasis on upgradeability and weight growth that consistently pushed the requirement beyond available vehicles whilst conveniently ignoring that pretty much every vehicle in service had experienced significant weight growth that had been accommodated with new technology meant in service vehicle options were consistently rejected.

This stems from a fear of 50-year old vehicle fleets, the feeling seemed to be that the Army was only going to get one shot at delivering FRES (stop laughing) and so it had to be 100% perfect now AND 100% possible to be upgraded to ‘perfect’ for the next 50 years.

It became a circular self-defeating argument, adding growth potential added weight.

Warrior and CVR(T) have grown in weight by significant margins, they were not specified with loads of growth potential and it was certainly not central to the requirement but technology insertion over their lifetime has kept them mostly viable although the term mostly is open for discussion.

The irony is that FRES continually grew in weight and Ajax now sits near its top end weight so before it comes into service, much of that growth potential has been absorbed.

This is a tough dilemma, we know vehicles grow in weight but there are implications of designing too much of that in from the very start, especially given the longevity of vehicle fleets we are now planning for.

Is the answer shorter lifecycles with more frequent vehicle replacement?

Under Fire from Snatch and Forced to Change?

The FRES project came under fire from politics, fire which it could not withstand, but it did seem to put up some resistance.

This was a classic example of the ‘this war or a war’ dilemma, whilst the British Army was engaged in operations in Iraq, FRES carried on regardless. I get the impression that the latter stages of Iraq were seen as an inconvenient aberration from the desire to shape the British Army for the type of conflict we foresaw as being the future.

FRES as a concept was the future and nothing was going to get in the way.

But things did get in the way.

It is here that two stories emerge

One is the British Army making the best of its legacy vehicle fleet in Iraq, struggling to adapt the changing threats of EFP’s and remote control IED’s,  pushing through UOR’s as fast as it can and being slammed on a weekly basis by the media, commenters and MP’s and coping with a convoluted and process heavy funding mechanism.

Whilst the UOR process is often hailed as a great success, read the Iraq Enquiry evidence and it is obvious that it did not start out that way. Multiple processes and authorisation steps between the MoD and Treasury, some measure of distrust from the Treasury that the MoD was trying to pull a fast one and the requirement for a business case to describe the implications of ‘doing nothing’ for an urgent request from theatre meant the whole process was bureaucratic and slow.

It changed dramatically as the years progressed but in the initial years it simply added to the toxic political atmosphere that saw the MoD accused of not caring about Tom driving a Snatch.

The second story emerges is one of a continuing commitment to FRES regardless of what was happening in Iraq.

Now I actually have some sympathy with this and it could be argued that bailing on FRES after investing big sums in the Technology Development Programmes was exactly the wrong thing to do.

We see evidence of this twin track approach in multiple sessions to the Select Committee.

Although the Iraq War Enquiry concluded that there was little evidence to suggest FRES funding was maintained at the expense of dealing with protected mobility vehicle for Iraq I think the sentiment was there, there was some desire to maintain funding for FRES as a strategic change programme, not just some vehicles.

Continuing public and media pressure accelerated the MoD’s fielding of a range of protected mobility vehicles, even including the very poor Vector.

This eventually had a significant impact on FRES.

Whilst it is easy to be critical of the Army over Snatch and protected mobility in Iraq, I think we should try and understand the various pressures and systemic complexity it was trying to deal with inside the MoD and treasury.

The Pendulum Swings to Protection

FCS was intended to fight a better Gulf War, the vast majority of scenarios for FCS were based on rapid action against state-level adversaries. Extended insurgencies were not considered for FCS. If the British Army, steeped in counter-insurgency and possessing of world-leading expertise in route clearance and IED neutralisation, took this same approach, one could be forgiven for being somewhat surprised.

But when the next war came, it confirmed the enduring value of unfashionable heavy combined arms manoeuvre. The follow-on phase from this next war was a protracted counter insurgency that made the majority of the outer protection onion skin layers irrelevant, so again, old-fashioned protection, the kind that weighs, was back in demand.

So Iraq had an impact in FRES in three ways.

First was a fundamental realisation that the swift in swift out operation was much less likely than a grinding counter-insurgency operation that would see the British Army operating in the same area and using the same routes. Rapid effects were now seen as less likely than enduring stability operations, the fundamentals of FRES were crumbling.

Second, this meant protection against RPG and mines/IED’s became a much higher priority and started to move into the FRES requirement, introducing yet more delay.

Finally, it meant any chance of a new design were gone and due to time pressures, the FRES UV requirement would be met with an off the shelf design, a complete change in the acquisition strategy.

Lord Drayson pushed for a change in FRES.

But he needed some help.

Like a supertanker, the MoD takes a long time to change course, it is a complex organisation filled with governance systems run by humans, it was not going to change without the application of some external influence. This influence came from Robert Gates in the US with his comments about ‘nextwaritis’ and the eventual cancellation of FCS.

Where FCS went, FRES followed.

The end result of this was the desire for a wheeled vehicle in the 25 tonne range, what the British Army wanted from the MRAV programme.

The acute embarrassment of going back to MRAV after rejecting it must have stung, it made the MoD and British Army look foolish but to their credit, they included it in the Trials of Truth

In the ultimate of ironies, it has been reported that Boxer is one of the favourites for MIV.

MRAV, FRES UV and MIV, the same vehicle?

The same trends are evident with Ajax.

CVR(T) had a very low level of protection because mobility and size were emphasised.

Different times, different priorities.

Anyone but BAE anyone?

Without seeing the actual business case and proposals it is hard to comment definitively but it certainly looked like an ‘anyone but BAE’ strategy was in place.

An over reliance on certain vendors is not good, but when the MoD presided over the consolidation of the UK defence vehicle industry it can hardly complain about a lack of competition. The MoD has to be careful to avoid replacing one problem with another, two sides of the same coin.

Maintaining the UK defence vehicle industry in UK hands seemed to be not a concern, the legacy of Alvis, GKN and Vickers, all now, effectively gone.

Whilst we have a complex weapons portfolio approach or a naval vessel industrial strategy that concerns itself with sovereign capabilities, for vehicles, it seems not.

What is the net result of this, the UK is now an assembler of other nations designs.

Sharing Costs with Others

For Scout, the MoD could choose CV90 or ASCOD as the base platform. Both were of the same era, both would have seen manufacturing and integration split between the UK and Europe, and both were in service with others.

It is this last point that is intriguing, if the MoD had selected CV90, it would share a vehicle that was in service with half a dozen allies that tended to get involved with the same types of conflicts as us and tend to keep their capabilities modern. ASCOD on the other hand, would be shared with Spain and Austria. Will leave it to you make the comparison.

This is important because development can be shared with like-minded nations, a good example of the advantage of this with CV90 was the CV90 user group contracting for a research project in 2012 to investigate track technologies to reduce costs.

All nations chipped in and all nations shared the results of the research.

It seems rather unlikely that the UK will be able to enter into similar arrangements with Spain and Austria.

Unless someone else buys Ajax, future developments, therefore, are all on us.

Champagne Tastes Brown Ale Budgets

A charge not specific to FRES but if FRES was aligned to FCS and the well-trousered DoD could not afford to realise FCS what chance did we have with FRES?

Defence commenters often get accused of playing fantasy fleets but is the MoD the ultimate player of that game.

We seem to have wholly unrealistic views of what is affordable, repeatedly shooting for the moon, getting battered in the face with harsh financial reality and then having to cut our cloth.

This results in poor value for the scarce defence Pound as quantities reduced, variants reduced and specifications reduced.

Many of the original FRES variants for example, never made it into the Ajax family, what happened to the operational analysis that put them on the list?

To Conclude

There are no simple conclusions from this story, it should be obvious that complex systems often interact at key points and with decisions made by key individuals/groups that turn a Good IdeaTM into series of cascading failures.

If there are any conclusions, they are complex and difficult, but let’s face it, the MoD and British Army’s performance in this area has hardly been stellar, which brings me on to my penultimate point.

It is far too easy to place the weight of blame on the shoulders of industry, politicians and civil servants whilst giving those in uniform a free pass. When it comes to blame for this story, the Army must take its fair share, because to be honest, it is the biggest share.

What also seems to come through loud and clear is that many decisions were logical if taken in the context of a short term outcome.

My final point, longer term strategically coherent decisions have seemingly eluded the British Army and Ministry of Defence for a long time, having been replaced with perfectly sensible and perfectly understandable short term decisions.

Whether the STRIKE BRIGADE concept can beat this trend, time will tell.

To Look Forward

There is a temptation here to get involved in discussion and speculation about whether Strike is a good concept (I think it is), whether it is affordable to implement in full (not sure), whether mixing tracks and wheels is a good idea (again, note sure, especially if we want to operate Strike over large distances) and whether the British Army will miss CVR(T) (in some cases, I think it will)?

We could also discuss whether we have too many Ajax on order, if Warrior CSP is a good idea, will CTAS be a technological and financial dead end, how we can start reducing logistic burdens through ruthless commonality, if reconnaissance by stealth is as dead as disco and whether old fashioned armoured heavy metal capabilities are strategically and politically more valuable in a post Brexit Global Britain world than a medium weight force?

All these are fascinating and interesting questions.

But the 115,268 words of this document are about looking at the story, not thinking about concepts and futures.

The future, that is for another story

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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This Post Has 18 Comments

  1. DavidNiven

    Well done TD, this is an excellent piece. Rarely will you find a well rounded series (book?) that covers the history, operational experience and requirements that have driven the FRES programme and the Army’s requirement for a medium capability within the defence blogging sphere.

    What in your opinion does a lack of institutional memory serve within the process of the ever changing FRES programme?

    When you consider that in the late 90’s we were world beating in route clearance and had operational experience of using MRAP type vehicles on an operation that mimicked the FRES philosophy in the Balkans nearly a decade before Op Telic.

    Or was FRES going to be that revolutionary that they believed a clean slate was required?

  2. DavidNiven

    Of course I would be remiss not to thank all who contributed to the effort of this series.
    Is this perhaps the first of many? :-)

  3. Think Defence

    DN, thanks, yes, I think I quite like the collaborative editing and development process, the end result is always better. Am currently scoping out a follow up to this that looks forward. Have some great content from Frenchie, Chris, Jed and Monty that will be rolled in to it.

    On the forgetting thing, you make an excellent point.

    We do seem to make learning expensive lessons then forgetting them a regular activity

  4. JohnHartley

    Well done to all who produced this.
    I think it a great shame, the UK did not order small, but useful numbers of Warrior 2000 & Stormer, to keep these production lines going & leave open the chance for more advanced versions to evolve.
    As per usual, we have leapt from one extreme to the other. Our vehicles, such as Snatch, lacked protection & were rightly criticised for it, so now we are going for 42 ton well protected elephants, that will be hard to get to theatre & may be limited by the narrow roads & weak bridges when (if) they get there.
    I think you were also right to mention, that it is not just the armoured vehicle, but also the aircraft & ships to get them where they are needed. Plus the back up of artillery , attack helicopters & bridging.

  5. mr.fred

    One of my favourite “what ifs”. Warrior 2000 for the armoured infantry while Warrior Mk1 was kept for support and/or as the basis for a battlegroup support vehicle to replace the FV432.
    Stormer to replace CVR(T)

    At this point you’d still be looking to upgrade them, but the upgrades would be common between the two vehicles with the Delco turrets – Super 40-ise the guns and replace the sights and electronics.

    But we are where we are, which I think translates as “the last guys messed this up and we’ve got to deal with it, so stop pining over missed opportunities and make something out of what we have”. In either wording, I always feel that we miss learning why the last guys got it wrong and how we could avoid that next time.

  6. DavidNiven

    So in 2005 this statement was made,

    ‘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’

    Previously we had withdrawn from MRAV due to the requirement to be C130 capable, and yet when we change the air portability to within the limits of the A400 we still continue on as if nothing meets the requirement.

    What was going on? we were well aware of the ‘Boxer’ because we helped to design it and yet when we change the strategic mobility requirement (to a more sensible one) that renders the vehicle viable once we more we just checked our nails for dirt as if nothing was happening.

    We did not need the ‘Trials of truth’ in 2007 someone should have just picked up the phone in 2005 and said we are back in the Boxer programme.

    Of all the FRES decisions this one is the least defensible.


    The real missed opportunity after the above ridiculous decision was not going with SEP. If we wanted a medium weight capability with a less logistical burden than a heavy formation this was vehicle we should have thrown our effort behind.

  7. mr.fred

    Agreed. SEP is probably my number 2 favourite “what if”, probably in conjunction with number 1 described earlier.

    Though harking back to “we are where we are”, I do wonder how “anything but BAE”, if that was a thing, came about? Though this was about the time that BAE had turned £4bn into tinfoil. Maybe related?

  8. JohnHartley

    I know BAE is hard to love, but I wonder if the “anything but BAE” was actually a diversion away from the failings of the MoD/HM Treasury.
    How can any company build to time & budget, if the customer (HMG) launches a project without knowing 100% what it wants, then endlessly changes Specs & numbers, then cancels the whole thing, just when it is finally coming right?

  9. Mark

    An excellent series haven’t read it all yet. I would like to pick up on one of TDs conclusions conceptual confusion. I think this has been a problem across defence and a number of programs.

    For a generation or more it was easy to say what the armed forces had to do it was institutional, destroy the soviet hoards. So we knew how to equip to counter it. With the end of the Cold War you could argue there is strategic confusion within mod what really is a force for good? who are we trying to combat and how are we going to do it. Not sure we’ve answered that.

    So we’ve had a scatter gun approach with a number of programs that all appear to be going off in different directions. You could however see with some tweaks a joined up land/sea/air plan but with the usual squabbling and budget issues it’s slipping away.

  10. Rocket Banana


    I’m going to have to commend you on a fine article. I thought I was half way though at 10am this morning. Turned out that was rather more like 25% as the latter sections/chapters are ma-hoo-sive!

    An astonishing wealth of information is currently being processed (I typed three pages of notes).

    As ever I have some ideas born out of conclusions you probably don’t want to get involved in drawing :-)

    I’m sure I will annoy everyone with them in due course.

  11. Rocket Banana

    So here goes…

    Conclusion 1: CVR(T) should still be replaced with a sub ten-tonne Advanced Composites Armoured Recce Platform (ACARP).

    Rationale? Six on a Globemaster, three on an Atlas, one under a Chinook. The latter being what history seems to see as a game changer.

  12. Rocket Banana

    Conclusion 2: 40-44 tonnes is the correct upper bound to work to for mobility (not necessarily deployability).

    Rationale? Proven Leopard 1, and up-armoured Warrior mobility. It is also common sense in that many of the world’s roads and bridges will be designed to move [brownie point alert] a 40 foot container. The tractor/cab unit will be around 8 tonnes, the unladed trailer another 6 tonnes, and the container up to 30 tonnes. 44 tonnes total!

  13. mr.fred

    I’m not sure that I follow that rationale. Warrior was originally designed to keep up with the MBT (Chieftain then Challenger). Which weighed in at 55t then 62t. When uparmoured (and then to somewhere in the low 30t bracket) it had to scale back for use in Afghanistan.

  14. Rocket Banana

    Mr Fred,

    Sorry, you’re right. Scratch the “up-armoured” bit. I was getting ahead of myself because the basic Warrior doesn’t really reinforce the 40 tonne limit. I was only really trying to indicate that anything greater struggles. The remainder of the statement is what I really wanted to say, which is [I suggest] linked to road and bridge design.

  15. Rocket Banana

    Conclusion 3: The FV432 with 30mm from the Fox armoured car shown at DSEi shows what can be done to a simple armoured box. Surely, surely, surely this is a lesson we have learned positively? Start with an armoured box.

    >>> The MoD do not learn from either their successes or failures!

  16. mr.fred

    Isn’t the ASCOD chassis an armoured box?

    Also, the 26 tonne Warrior was developed to be able to keep up with 55 tonne MBTs.
    The 44 tonne limit is an interesting one, but wouldn’t it make more sense to go somewhat below that limit so you can fit it on civilian transport vehicles? But then that’s deployability not mobility

    Also the weight class of most civilian bridges and roads has to account for two way traffic and potentially multiple vehicles at a time. It’s pretty easy to get around those limitations with a heavier vehicle and a bit of forethought.

  17. Rocket Banana

    Mr Fred,

    You’re getting ahead of me :-) you’ll be wanting Conclusion 4: The base weight should be no greater than that which can be reasonably and efficiently carried by A400M Atlas [our go forward tactical airlifter]. This is going to be around the 37 tonne mark if we want to be able to continue to deploy our APC to 1800nm [assumed range of Hercules with Bulldog].

    A base weight of 24 tonnes would allow a >3000nm deployment by A400M so there are benefits from being able to take the thing apart and reassembling it in theatre.

    There is also a huge logistical advantage in NOT having to do this.

    In answer to your questions about ASCOD2 being an armoured box. Well, yes, I suppose it is. The point I’m making however is that all we /needed/ to do was design and build an armoured box rather than making sure that all the various modules and systems had already been designed. The fact that we have spent so long achieving nothing means that actually the “armoured box plus modules” DO happen to already exist in the form of just about every 8×8 in service.

    It goes back to a point I’ve been making for the last few years. Buy platforms and build systems to fit in/on them. There are some obvious limits we can put in the spec from experience and tech in the pipeline but generally everything gets smaller and lighter as materials technology advances.

    Lastly, have you ever noticed how small bridges only allow a single direction of HGV traffic with cars sometimes squeezing through both ways? There are a lot of these in my neck of the woods… unfortunately ;-)

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