The Multi-Role Vehicle – Protected (MRV-P) is a large project to bring into service two protected wheeled vehicles to replace many; to bring commonality to the fleet and reduce the logistics footprint for utility vehicles. It is fair to say, the programme has been struggling to come to fruition and was intended to be in service by last year but as of early March 2021, no orders have been placed. MRV-P is to be obtained in two packages, with the current preferred options being the Oshkosh Joint Light Tactical Vehicle (JLTV) for the smaller variant (package 1), and either the General Dynamics Eagle or Thales Bushmaster (Package 2) for the larger variant.
The history and candidate vehicles are described in a previous long read (click here) but in this article, I will propose we take (yet) another pause on MRV-P and look again. Whilst all three are fine vehicles, two of them are nearly two decades old and none have any significant UK content. It is unlikely that whatever comes after Challenger 2 will be British, if the news reports are true, Warrior will be cancelled; and whilst Ajax and Boxer will have UK content, neither is fully sovereign. MAN SV and Oshkosh trucks are not British either, leaving just FV430, Foxhound, Terrier, Land Rover, and the Jackal/Coyote family as the only vehicles with British heritage.
Does this matter, I wouldn’t be writing this article if I thought not.
The Royal Air Force and Royal Navy have coherent equipment strategies strongly anchored in British research, design, and manufacturing; Team Complex Weapons, Team Tempest, and the National Shipbuilding Strategy. This provides some element of insulation from budgetary predation. In my recent article on the Integrated Review I wrote the following about establishing a Land Equipment Industrial Strategy;
If COVID has taught us anything it has taught us the value of onshore research and manufacturing capacity. Again, much of this might not be wholly in the gift of the Army but it should implement a Land Equipment Industrial Strategy that recognises the value of onshore research, design, and manufacturing. This might include portfolio or category approaches like the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force do with their complex weapons. These portfolios might include utility vehicles, weapons, sensors, computing or infantry equipment, or anything else. One of the reasons for the comparative success of the MBDA led complex weapons portfolio is an assured pipeline and long-term view, see my point on stability above. Does this mean I am proposing the UK go its own way on everything, of course not, it simply a suggestion that the British Army needs to anchor its equipment plan on British industry as much as it can. It should absolutely recognise the value of having equipment that exists within a large international user base but balance this with a sensible industrial strategy.
The UK aerospace industry has a turnover of £35billion, the shipping industry; £3billion, both lobby for the RAF and RN, respectively. The hugely innovative UK automotive industry has a turnover more than double that combined but is hardly troubled by the British Army, who needs to find again its industrial roots to exploit this embarrassment of riches it, for whatever reasons, has been recently unable to.
A Guiding Light from the Integrated Operating Concept.
The introduction document to the Integrated Operating Concept provides some cues for MRV-P;
- Have smaller and faster capabilities to avoid detection
- Trade reduced physical protection for increased mobility
- Rely more heavily on low-observable and stealth technologies
- Depend increasingly on electronic warfare and passive deception measures to gain and maintain information advantage
- Include a mix of crewed, uncrewed and autonomous platforms
- Be integrated into ever more sophisticated networks of systems through a combat cloud that makes best use of data
- Have an open systems architecture that enables the rapid incorporation of new capability
- Be markedly less dependent on fossil fuels
- Employ non-line-of-sight fires to exploit the advantages we gain from information advantage
- Emphasise the non-lethal disabling of enemy capabilities, thereby increasing the range of political and strategic options
Not all of these are relevant to MRV-P but clearly, some are, and whilst the IOpC is still relatively new, any new programme cannot afford to ignore these obvious signposts, especially that of fossil fuel dependence.
Leveling Up and the UK Prosperity Agenda
Levelling Up is a whole of government initiative to improve the economic fortunes and wellbeing of all parts of the UK, especially the English Regions and devolved nations. Like many such initiatives it can mean different things to different people but there is no doubt about the seriousness which this government places on it, and the financial backing it is providing.
The Government has also committed to double research and development investment with a target of spending 2.4% of GDP on public and private R&D by 2027. Some of this R&D will go towards contributing to the now legally enshrined ‘Net Zero by 2050’ objective. Government supported initiatives include the National Productivity Investment Fund, Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund and the Strength in Places Fund. A recent example is the £80 million UK Automotive Battery Industrialisation Centre in Coventry, as part of the wider Faraday Battery Challenge. A recent defence oriented example of research funding is the Thundercat programme for the British Army’s light cavalry. This was a collaboration between the Armour Trials and Development Unit (ATDU), the Light Dragoons and a number of industry partners, funded by the UK Research Institute CLF Innovation Fund. Industry partners included Thales, Safran, Vitavox, Intracom, Spectra Group, Supacat, Drone Evolution and others.
Towards a Land Equipment Industrial Strategy
This article is not about a Land Equipment Strategy specifically, but a recast MRV-P programme could be a key part of it, providing benefits to both defence and UK research and industry. If those technology areas align with the Integrated Operating Concept then the synergies become self-evident.
Forming an equivalent to Team Complex Weapons or Team Tempest for land equipment would provide a range of operational benefits and provide industry with a predictable pipeline of business on which they could base capital and human resource investments such as apprentice schemes, robotic manufacturing equipment and test facilities. Commonality across multiple vehicle families, modularity where it makes sense and a flexible production facility would all be key features of ‘Team Land’. Whether a national champion or more loose amalgamation of industry and academia is beyond the scope of this article but there are plenty of organisations that could play a meaningful part.
Industry is not a charity; without a design contract or a winnable competition there will be no design effort in industry. If we look back at the British Army’s vehicles of late, all of them bar Terrier and Foxhound have been adaptations of previous designs. Design authority should therefore rest with the MoD, forming a core design team inside the MoD, almost a return to the Establishments.
Although mention of the Establishments was somewhat tongue in cheek, one aspect of their design approach does need to be central to this proposal, ‘systems thinking’. One example I always come back to when describing this is the Antar tank transporter had the same engine as the tanks it was designed to transport. Casting this concept forward means the MRV vehicles family would all use common engines and drive systems, air filtration systems, instrumentation and controls, suspension, steering, wheels and tyres. This is about more than administrative neatness, commonality provides benefits in maintenance training, spares inventory, diagnostic aids, even maintainer currency. Many of those common subsystems are made right here in the UK and so is the design and integration expertise, just take a look at some of the links below;
And this is by no means an exhaustive list.
Being realistic, if the future of British Army armoured vehicles is onshore integration and selective manufacture of other nation’s designs, protected vehicles should eschew this trend and aim for something wholly sovereign.
Finding a Headline Concept
The capstone for this new vision of light to medium protected vehicles should be aligned with the Integrated Operating Concept and national objectives, and for me at least, this means…
Be markedly less dependent on fossil fuels
The MoD has funded research into hybrid vehicles for at least two decades.
TRACER was equipped with a hybrid electric drive system, FRES Chassis Concept Technology Demonstration Programme with both AHED and SEP had elements of hybrid electric technology, QinetiQ HED likewise, and the £63million Protected Mobility Engineering & Technical Support (PMETS) contract will demonstrate the latest hybrid technology on a Foxhound and Jackal.
The three videos below each have UK engineering content and UK taxpayer money in them.
MRV-P must include this technology as a fundamental design choice.
The original strapline for MRV-P was ‘medium protection and medium mobility’ and I think this still stands. There also seems to be a growing realisation that Boxer and Ajax are not medium and what might be more applicable to many situations is a lighter family of protected vehicles, but not just utility vehicles. I would tend to leave Foxhound and Mastiff out of this as they represent specialised light and heavy protected vehicles for use in specific scenarios.
MRV-P would therefore replace Jackal/Coyote, some Land Rover and Pinzgauer variants, Fuchs, Panther and Husky. It would also be an opportunity to develop Light Cavalry vehicles within MRV-P. Light Cavalry of late has tended to be equipped with what is available, RWMIK and Jackal/Coyote, not as part of systematic evaluation of need. We should also consider the Oshkosh MTVR articulated tractor units as part of the revised MRV-P programme.
A few examples of this kind of ‘systems thinking’ spring to mind; the BAE RG-35 (now Nimr JAIS) and Anglo Engineering Concepts vehicle designs. There is an older article on Think Defence extolling the virtues of the RG-35, and another from the same author but using the Supacat HMT at UK Landpower. All three promote the value of commonality across a number of variants and drivelines, the key being system commonality, not necessarily vehicle commonality.
The former was developed to service with others and the latter, still at the design stage only. Am not suggesting we go all in either, but the concept and thinking of both these examples do provide a useful roadmap and in the case of Anglo Engineering, a well-thought-through series of vehicle designs that maximise commonality, they absolutely deserve more consideration.
ONE – Fast Scout and Liaison
To replace land Rover WMIK, Jackal and Panther, a light armoured car, 4×4, equipped with a lightweight turret or RWS equipped with combinations of GPMG, HMG, GMG, ATGW or a lightweight medium calibre automatic cannon (20-30mm). With a crew of between 2 and 4 and a high degree of road mobility, AEC Raðe and Panhard Crab are examples of what it might look like.
With a maximum weight of 9 tonnes it would also be highly air portable, a single sling load by Chinook or three in an A400M for example. It would not be heavily armoured but by virtue of using a crew capsule, central driver position, low profile and fully enclosed against the environment and CBRN contaminants; improved survivability over open-topped vehicles like RWMIK and Jackal. At the upper end of this type of vehicle would be the Textron TAPV entering service with Canada, although recognising the very long lineage of this particular vehicle. The Otokar Akrep IIe is another design with a long history but one that is looking to the future with alternative propulsion. The Arquus Scarabee is one of the more recent realisations of the concept.
The rear-engine configuration allows the vehicle to have a low profile and central protected citadel whilst providing ease of access to the engine and associated electrical equipment. However, whilst ideal for cavalry and liaison roles, this rear-engine configuration produces a sub-optimal design for general utility, command and control and light logistics use.
TWO – Multi Role Utility
The second category of vehicle is where I depart from conventional wisdom as described in the image below, the notional requirement visualisation for the existing MRV-P requirement;
Design ONE would cover the far left role, and for the second (Command and Control), I think we cannot now accept the concept of a static lean-to shelter in an age of pervasive surveillance, more mobility and space is needed. For the logistics role, the ‘QM’s runaround’, again, I think we should go for more space.
There is also another argument for a larger vehicle.
By the time we have added driver vision aids, situational awareness cameras, ECM, communications equipment, modern diagnostics, GVA compliant displays and environmental protection equipment the cost to payload ratio becomes difficult to sustain for a 4×4 vehicle like JLTV (the current favourite for the left three in the diagram above. Increase the size to those on the right, generally, in a 6×6 configuration, the cost to payload ratio becomes much more favourable. It does this because the really expensive stuff is about the same cost for a 4×4 and it is for a 6×6. Where size is a factor, like with Foxhound and its demanding turning circle specification, this ratio can be carried. For something like JLTV, the payload can be increased with the use of a trailer but this reduces mobility significantly, so I come back to the question, what is the point of a 4×4 protected vehicle when a 6×6 offers so much more payload for a similar cost? Although the ‘air is free steel is cheap’ analogy might be stretching it somewhat for the land environment, it must have some relevance if air portability is not a significant concern?
It is clear that the current MRV-P is not intended to be a fighting vehicle but perhaps it should be, something better protected than envisaged and with applicability across a wider set of operational environments?
With this in mind, I propose that we develop a 6×6 or 8×8 vehicle based on a continuous v-shaped hull with maximum systems commonality with design ONE.
Old and new vehicle concepts are useful for inspiration; the AEC Ox, Protolab PMPV, Arquus/Nexter Griffon, Pandur Evo or Patria 6×6 for example. It would certainly be interesting to resurrect the Splitterskyddad Enhetsplattform (SEP), at least in its first 6×6 iteration with Magtec drive systems as in the video above, but that would be far too close to Boxer for comfort, and would inevitably lead to fewer Boxer. More realistic is something more akin to the 14 tonnes, 10-tonne payload amphibious Protolab PMPV MiSu. The vehicle configuration places the crew compartment behind the engine, similar to a modern-day Saracen, although it does have the unequal axle spacing of more modern truck-based vehicles. Speaking of Saracen, something visually similar (but very different in things that matter) can be found in the AEC Ox , in multiple axle configurations, but again, perhaps a bit too close visually to Boxer, however ridiculous that worry might be. The AEC Rival is more akin to a conventional truck layout.
The 6×6 Multidrive/QinetiQ Hybrid Electric Demonstrator (HED), based on a Multidrive chassis design, had all the electrical and power generation equipment in a central spine (or skid). These variations on engine placement would be examined as part of the design process and the outcome might depend on whether mechanical transmissions or hub motors are used. I don’t want to say we need a specific configuration or design, but there are plenty of options to consider and examples to draw upon.
What I am more bullish on is the usefulness of this type of vehicle alongside Boxer. Many of the module variants and roles being proposed for Boxer beyond the initial set could equally be delivered by this type of vehicle, reducing the demand for the very expensive (but very good) Boxer.
This would create a large volume at the rear of the vehicle that could be adapted for many different roles; basic logistics with a Marshal loadbed, with a HIAB jib, as a fuel or water tanker, anti-aircraft with systems from the Stormer based HVM, a recovery crane and winch, infantry carrier, ambulance, command and control, C-UAS or mortar carrier; the possibilities are endless.
THREE – Light Tractor
This is the final proposal, a variant of the Multi Role Utility design that would ultimately replace the Oshkosh MTVR tanker tractors. Whilst these are excellent vehicles, they are not protected yet are obvious high profile targets. They are also unique in UK service and if we want to simplify we need to think about this kind of vehicle. Both AEC and the BAE proposed protected tractor units for trailers as part of their concept, adding a fifth wheel for a trailer unit.
Another possibility that would avoid the need for a fifth wheel (and therefore a dedicated variant) would be to implement a powered trailer. A good example of a powered trailer is the Multidrive flex frame that used an articulated and hydraulically actuated trailer with a power take-off propshaft to maintain powered contact with the ground over undulating terrain, with 50 degrees up/down and 50 degree side to side movement.
Instead of mechanical power for the trailer, using power generated by the tractor vehicle might enable the use of electrical hub motors on the trailer, like this from Joskin
This proposal is rested on a number of points;
- Back British research and industry, and in doing so, contribute to the prosperity and levelling up agenda
- Pick a capstone concept aligned with the Integrated Operating Concept, in this case the desire for significant fossil fuel reduction
- Be ruthless in our pursuit of commonality across the vehicle fleet, at least at the system and component layer
You will notice I have been somewhat light on specific design specifications, arguments about weights and measures, GPMG or 20mm cannons, or series or parallel hybrid; they are for another time.
I fully realise this is ‘fantasy fleets’ and requires much to happen that is not in the gift of the British Army.
With some vision, support and buy-in though, this fantasy can be realised.
See you in the comments…