Afghanistan's Army will, in 2015, likely receive a big gift from a Santa Claus wearing british MTP uniform, as the British Army apparently plans to leave them most of the UOR-acquired vehicles used in the long operation in Helmand.
Reports on the press have been saying that this is because "bringing them home would cost too much", which is of course not true, at least not entirely. While returning them to the UK undoubtedly would cost money and represent a sizeable challenge, it is evident that the cost would never realistically overcome that of vehicles that definitely are expensive, and relatively young, even if often extremely hard worked.
The real issue is cost, but not that of bringing them home: the problem is bringing the vehicles into the Core defence budget. What now is paid from Treasury Reserve money under UOR contracts would have to be financed and supported with money coming from the MOD budget, which notoriously struggles to make ends meet as it is.
UOR vehicles have been acquired with very lacking and limited provisions for their long-term sustainment, which means that spares already now are a nightmare, mainteinance is done at the minimum indispensable levels and training, as good as it has gotten, is a temporary solution. Part of the reason why Mastiff came in service so cheaply is that very little has been invested for future-proofing it by establishing a support line, an adequate logistical base and a long term training solution.
There's also many versions of the same vehicle (Mastiff being the most evident case), which would have to be rationalized.
It is easy to see how challenging it would be to bring everything into a core budget already badly strained.
Nor is that of the UORs a purely-Army problem. The Reaper fleet is a UOR as well, with a "best before date" of 2015.
The RAF is, however, thankfully already active on planning for money to use to bring Reaper into Core budget as a gap-filler in the wait for Mantis/Telemos, planned for 2018 at the earlier.
Even so, not all 10 drones, of course (5 still to be delivered) will survive: the older ones have already flown thousands of hours, and their airframes will be dead by then.
For the Army, press now reports (actually, it had been suggested also in the past already) that "up to 1800" vehicles could reportedly be left in Helmand, and among the names quoted, there's Warthog, and even Wolfhound, but also the Mastiff and even Jackal.
British Forces News brings some common sense in the debate, noting that this might be a bit of an extreme option, especially since the MOD has not yet taken a firm decision, and also because some vehicles actually have the eye of the army for a future role.
Foxhound, for example, is going to be a long term addition to the Army inventory, and not just a UOR, so that its future appears safe.
Jackal might have a role to play as well. In the race for scrapping, all remaining WMIK Land Rovers should come first due to their lower protection and performances. While the Army probably hopes to order the Fire Support variant of the Foxhound for the same role, i fear that it would be very unwise to throw away Jackals (which are overall effective bits of kit) before knowing if the "ham" of tomorrow is going to come, and how far away tomorrow actually is! After all, a second batch of 200 Foxhounds (in which variants?) are "planned", but a date for ordering them is absolutely not known yet.
I'd expect at least a part of the Jackals and Coyote to make it back home, if only the vehicles in the best conditions by 2015, to "future-proof" the Army in the wait for the Foxhound.
After all, what if further orders of Foxhounds fail to materialize for lack of funding...? Very possible, to say the least. It would have nasty consequences.
Mastiff, which the Sunday Times condemns to abandonment as well, might actually have a future as interim solution for the lack of FRES UV vehicles (which, admitting it is not cancelled, is not planned for introduction before 2022 at the earliest!) according to Forces News (Listen to the audio file). Of course, the earlier variants will be scrapped, also due to them being worn out anyway, and by 2015 the MK3 might have been overcome by yet another variant... so it is hard to make plans, and the vehicles surviving the Afghan adventure would only make for a fraction of the totals needed. Ridgback, which is essentially a Mastiff on 4 wheels, would then be retained too? Hard to say, if not impossible.
But if Mastiff survives, the Wolfhound also almost certainly will, to support it, and perhaps to tow L118 Light Guns too, also because the RB44 vehicle was retired in March last year.
The Mastiff retention is perhaps the most likely, due to FF2020 containing mention of Mechanized Infantry in all of the five MRBs.
As of now, three infantry battalions are listed as Mechanized, notionally kitted with the Bulldog FV430 MK3. Numbers of Bulldog are obviously not going up in the future, but down, so, if a further two battalions have to be mechanized by 2022, and with FRES UV nowhere in sight, Mastiff is the easier solution.
At the times of the Warthog order, the Royal Marines were looking for a vehicle like it to replace old BV206s alongside Vikings. The requirement was killed to fund Warthog, but you can bet that the Commandos could and would gladly use the Thogs' in the role, especially if the Viking that come back from Afghanistan are few and worn out. And this is only one of the possible roles that a vehicle so versatile could cover. I personally think that this is a vehicle that really should be retained, because it is very useful and very capable.
Springer and Husky might well be abandoned, with the Army looking forwards to the Assisted Carriage System (a small drone [perhaps optionally manned] capable to carry bergens and kit for a Section of 8 men) and Operation Utility Vehicle System (a Land Rover replacement programme which should come back to life in 2012, after it was delayed in PR10). Few will miss the Springer anyway, i'd dare saying.
Indeed, this is a complex issue, but also a monumental case of "Jam Tomorrow".
It is basically about scrapping kit available because of difficulties funding its full transit in long term service, while at the same time hoping to have money "tomorrow" to order, in their place, more Foxhounds, the OUVS, FRES SV, one day FRES UV, and others.
Risky in more than one way.
There's still time (in theory) until 2015.
There's also a credit of quite a lot of money that the Treasury still has not paid back to the MOD for the costs of 8 years of Iraqi ops (those expenses that had to be met from the Core defence budget and which are effectively the cause and beginning of the worst part of the MOD's financial doom). Will this money, promised but never made available, ever come?
I'd suggest the Army, if they already haven't thought about it, that they should be very careful in what they say they'll scrap.
See what is effectively ordered and delivered first. And if there are hopes more solid than dreams, scrap what needs scrapping.
But if UORs by 2015 finance more Mastiff MK3s, generals might want to find ways to put spares provision and other wise measures into the bill somehow, to have a parachute to open when shit eventually (probably?) hits the fan.