Friday, May 20, 2011

Midway between absurd and real

Today's big news is the NAO report that announces that the Army will be short on armor in the coming years, and i've read a good lot of articles on the matter, since the news has quickly started bouncing all over the net. However, the news contain a lot of absurdity, a lot of hidden truths, and just a bit of reality.

Reality is that savings of 5.6 billion pounds had been taken from armored vehicle projects in the period 2005-2010, with another estimated 1.8 billion pounds savings expected as a result of decisions made in last year's government strategic defense and security review. I would, however, call things with their name and say cuts. We do not yet know the exact extent of the damage that hides behind that 1.8 billion figure.
The SDSR contained the infamous 40% of Challenger II fleet and 35% of the AS90 fleet as the most detailed figures about armor... and 40% or 35% calculated on an unknown figure is a data that means nothing. This is particularly true for the Challenger II: the Army officially has two Type 58 regiments and three Type 44 regiments, with the rest of the tanks being in storage. However, the 58 and 44 figures are very virtual. Each regiment has probably no more than 30 tanks active on average, so much so that in 2003, to deploy the Scots Dragoons with their full mandated Type 58 regimental structure another tank squadron had to be taken from a different regiment. As i've analyzed in detail in my Army section of the blog, that "40%" can assume very different shades of black depending on the holding figure on which it is calculated.

It remains an enormous chunk that gets chopped off the Army, though. In the best case, the 5 Armoured Regiments will be able to field 38 tanks each. In the BEST case. The MOD 2011 Business Plan reported the cuts in Chally and AS90 numbers as "complete". What has it been of the regiments and batteries? What's their strength now? What's their future? What about the two Challenger II Territorial Army formations? No answers.
I hope we have not sunk beneath the level of Type 38 tank regiments and 18-guns batteries, because any figure beneath that would, in short, represent the new smallest armor formation in Europe (and probably in the whole part of the world that fields heavy armor).
However, these vehicles ARE THERE. If they are cut then of course they are not there anymore, but that's not something we need the NAO in order to know.

The watchdog said that in "absolute terms, this means the armored vehicle sector has had the largest amount of funding removed of any individual sector in the five planning rounds conducted between 2005 and 2010."

The poorest in a party of people starving to death, indeed.

The worst part is that "hundreds" of Warrior IFVs will also go, along with 4 of the 9 Armoured Infantry battalions. According to rumors that want at least 6 battalions at risk of closure, the four Warrior formations that lose the armor might lose their existence entirely. And still be joined by two more.

But at least 2000 other vehicles will be retired in the next 18 months, and the only one we will not miss is the Vector, that unfortunately makes up for not even 180 vehicles of that great total.
The Stormer HVM is being retired from as far back as 2009, the whole recently-upgraded Bulldog fleet (900 to 1000 vehicles) is reportedly on the firing line and might vanish (which would mean turning the last 3 Mechanized battalions of infantry of the army into Light Infantry as they would not have anything to ride) and a massive chunk of CVR(T) vehicles of all types will also be retired, so much that the Formation Recce regiments might also end up on their sole feet as well.

But this is about cuts, not about shortages of "new" vehicles. Had new vehicles been there, they would have been retired as well: it would have only been far worse and more embarrassing. This is about bloody, absurd cuts that go further and further on, slashing away whole capabilities and chunks of the three services, without no real certainty that the wounds will ever be healed. But this, this that is the real issue, the report cheeerfully ignores.

But then comes the other bit of reality: the report into the cost-effective delivery of armored vehicle capability here said that in addition to the 321 million pounds wasted on abandoned or suspended programs like Tracer, the Multi-Role Armoured Vehicle (Boxer) and the Future Rapid Effects System (FRES) Utility vehicle (Piranha V) , a further 397 million pounds has been invested in projects now delayed. The NAO named the FRES Specialist Vehicle being developed by General Dynamics UK, BAE's Terrier engineer vehicle and the Warrior capability sustainment program as all being delayed. The Terrier, at least is a great system, which will undoubtedly prove extremely useful when it comes online fully, in 2013.

But spending on canceled, delayed or in-service armored vehicles since 1998 totaled 1.12 billion pounds, says the report, and that is horrible because that amount could finance the Warrior upgrade easily. 
Now, instead, time a few months and the amount of money spent on cancelled procurement efforts could grow to as much as 1.72 billion or more, if FRES SV and Warrior CSP are cancelled, while the Army will have even less platforms by far. 

The FRES SV might just vanish, instead, as it appears to be one potential victim of the infamous new study for the sustainability of Planning Round 2012. It will report in July, and risks being a tremendous shock.
It is all to be seen what could be recovered of the 607 millions committed for the development of the 7 prototypes of the FRES SV family of vehicles that will have to be ready for trial in 2013. For sure, was the programme to be cut, an enormous question mark would fill countless slots all over the list of the Army's equipment, from Scimitar replacement to mortar carriers, Bulldog replacement to all sorts of other roles.

The Warrior update itself is at risk, too. Almost certainly, it has been further delayed. According to the NAO report, the upgraded Warrior and the specialist vehicle will not be in service until 2017, even if they survive. Until now, the target was to have FRES SV in production by 2015, and the Warrior upgrade had to start this year. The 2017 date suggests that both have been delayed by at least one to two years, with the Warrior particularly penalized.

An additional 9.1 billion pounds remains to be spent on the delayed Warrior and specialist vehicles programs, said the NAO. Those figures will likely change, though, as the MoD takes further actions to balance its books in the face of ongoing defense spending problems.
The Warrior upgrade was to cost one billion for over 600 vehicles upgraded, of which 449 would have been the basic IFV variant, thus getting the new turret, the main source of costs. Now both the total and the turret-figure have been sized down considerably by the reduction in battalions mounted on the trusty Warrior, so the CSP should cost south of that amount.
That leaves a shocking 8 billions figure for FRES SV. Removed the 607 millions development cost of the contract in place with General Dynamics, that makes 7400 millions still. The original plan was for 1300 FRES SV vehicles, of which 270 Scouts. Up to 5.68 million pounds each. More than a tad expensive, considering that the General Dynamics bid was said to have been chosen because it was cheaper.

It felt like a lie from the very beginning, but this kind of strengthens the feeling in me. After all, it was hard to imagine a FRES SV less expensive than the CV90, considering that the FRES Scout was and still is mostly a paper tiger which needed development and testing, while the BAE CV90 was substantially production-ready.

GD's FRES SV exists only in concept art so far, and 607 millions are being spent on 7 prototypes that are to be trialed in 2013, if the programme survives. The CV90 Scout was very solid, instead, and production ready. Was it really necessary/cheaper to start developing the ASCOD SV? Or was it gold-plating? Even admitting that the FRES SV comes out as a better vehicle, will it be affordable?

The ASCOD SV "british to its bootstraps" and "cheaper than the BAE bid" features a german engine, german transmission, german turret, american turret drive and spanish/austrian basic hull design, notoriously. So certain industry hype has always been ridiculous. Now even the claim of being "cheaper" sounds arguable at the very least.

Anyway, 1300 vehicles now are a lot more than those that the shrunken Army needs, anyway. The Scout numbers remain unchanged, however, as the Formation Recce Regiments did all (luckily) survive the Review. We only have to hope that the project survives.

Because if it does not, the army won't be dealing with just "a shortage". It'll be on foot.

Bring back the redcoats at least, at that point!

Gotta love the Lobsters and the endless row-row-row of the British Grenadiers. It won't be exactly cutting edge technology for our age, but it'll still be the coolest thing ever.

Humor and adorable video aside, seriously. The situation is completely scary.

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