Wednesday, November 16, 2011

NAO: MOD Major Projects Report 2011

The report of the NAO contains interesting information. It is available for everyone to see, here.

The usual sorry story of rising costs, delays, and political decisions costing more than they save in the short term. The SDSR "cost saving" has actually caused a 500 millions cost increase, and a mismatch in the Astute-Trafalgar replacement, which means that the UK will go down to as few as 6 operational submarines before the last Astute, HMS Ajax, is delivered in 2024. This, of course, unless the newest Trafalgars are kept in service longer than planned.

But i'm sure that plenty of people will bitch about the economic aspects. I want to focus on the news that emerge from the report about the decisions taken during planning round 2011, to see what impact they are going to have on equipment and capability.

Nimrod MRA4

The savings from the destruction of the Nimrods are estimated in 1.9 billion out to 2020, little more than 200 million per year: the cost of supporting and using the planes in service.

Worse, the banter about “mitigating the gap” with other assets is bullshit, and now i'm not alone in screaming it, but have the backing of the NAO as well.
They note:

Using other existing assets would provide a reduced capability compared with Nimrod, and diverting resources from existing tasks would have wider implications for defence. The Sentry surveillance aircraft is already at minimum crew and aircraft numbers to cover NATO commitments. Using helicopters, such as the Merlin or Lynx, would affect national commitments or training of crews for other tasks. Other alternatives are fully committed to current operations.

The MOD is aware of the very serious need for a proper replacement, and there's the confirmation that, while the budget is worked at to try and fit a MPA somewhere within its tight constraints, the crews are being sent abroad to keep expertise alive:

In the short term, the Department has deployed a small number of trained service personnel to operate alongside Canadian forces to preserve the United Kingdom’s maritime patrol skill sets. The Department also has plans to deploy other personnel to the United States, New Zealand and Australia. Although this is currently being funded through money committed within the Defence budget, in the longer term further investment would be required to maintain this training investment.

The assessment of risk and gap mitigation measures made by the NAO. Frankly, it did not take great study, nor a genius. It was clear from the beginning that "gap mitigation" was actually possible only in the mind of politicians. The effective possibility of covering, even in minimum part, the role of Nimrod, is tiny, and bites away ferociously at assets much needed elsewhere for their own specific tasks.

This sends us all the way back to rumors, already out from months, about the UK's interest in the P8 Poseidon, of which 5 or 6 could be acquired, at a cost of 800 millions / one billion. I covered the story here

Wildcat Lynx helicopter

Holy hell! 
Here there was the biggest of all surprises. And the shocking bit is that it is a good surprise.

Until now, the Wildcat programme seemed set in stone, with:

34 Battlefield Reconnaissance Helicopters for the Army, but with 6 actually going to 847 NAS for supporting 3rd Commando brigade as part of Commando Helicopter Force 

28 Surface Combatant Maritime Rotorcraft for the Navy

Planning Round 2011, according to the MOD, introduces a big change

“Based on the current assumptions within the Rotary Wing Strategy the quantity of Wildcat aircraft to be procured comprises 34 Battlefield Reconnaissance Helicopters with a further eight Light Assault Helicopter role variants of the Battlefield Reconnaissance Helicopter, together with 28 Surface Combatant Maritime Rotorcraft. The Light Assault Helicopter role requirement will be subject to appropriate requirement approvals. Planning Round 2011 Options introduce funding for the Light Assault Helicopter role equipment [weapons, such as LMM, or even Hellfire?] as well as de‑scoping the Battlefield Reconnaisance Helicopter requirement by four aircraft, resulting in a total fleet of 66 aircraft [up from 62]. A further Planning Round 2011 Option was run to revise the profile of the resources available for the Wildcat project between financial year 2014-15 and financial year 2015-16.”

I’m guessing that the plan is to trade 4 Wildcats, in order to obtain 8 “Light Assault” helicopters (armed with LMM? Perhaps even Hellfire?) for 847 NAS: 4 would be Battlefield scout fitted with additional kit and weaponry, with four more new-built airframes in addition.
So far, it was planned that 847 would get 6 Wildcats from the Army total.
So, effectively, the Army would have lost six helicopters, while now it would only lose 4, with 4 additional Wildcats being built, for a total of 8 weapon-capable ones, and total of Wildcats growing to 66 instead of 62.
The Army and Marines would both benefit from this change, a true win-win solution. 

A very interesting development. I had heard nothing at all about this before, so it was a total surprise.
Consequence of experience with attack helicopters in Libya, perhaps…? Having read the reports about the issues of Apache being not quite naval enough for operating for long periods from HMS Ocean, and having seen the list of requirements the AAC compiled to make the AH64 fully naval capable, i'm tempted to guess that giving more power to the Marines's Wildcats was seen as a less expensive alternative.

It would be interesting to know exactly what the "Light Assault" Wildcat will be capable of doing and carrying. The Thales LMM, i'm guessing, but CRV7 rockets, gunpods and even Hellfire are also offered, and could be used if integration was funded.
In exchange, the Army will avoid spending any money on additional navalization measures for the Apache AH1. But again, i'm guessing, since there are no details for the moment.

There are are still, in the Army, some 50 Lynx MK7 in addition to 22 updated Lynx MK9A. The 9A might be in service until 2018/19, while the MK7 will be retiring as the Wildcat army comes in service, from 2014.
However, in particular when the Lynx 9A will retire, there won't be enough Wildcats to equip all squadrons of the AAC, unless more Wildcats are acquired later on in the decade.
A total of 80 Wildcats has been approved when the programme started, but only 62, now to grow to 66, have been funded for the moment. Unitary production cost is 13 million, Unitary cost including all expenses is 26 million.

The Light Assault Helicopter should provide much needed additional attack helicopter capability, particularly for amphibious operations and on-ship usage.
It will bite a bit into a gap in capability that is recognized from years: it is worth remembering that there are 48 frontline Apaches in service, and some 60 crews, but the Army had planned for 72 active Apaches, in 9 squadrons, one of which would have been 847 NAS.

There are also some problems, however: the Data Link 22 integration on Wildcat has not yet been funded, nor has the Bowman software release 6.0, and both these issues will affect networkcentric capability of the recce helicopter.
Besides, the Future Future Air-to-Surface Guided Weapons (Heavy) risks to incur in a delay and not be available in 2015 when the Wildcat enters service with the Navy.

Puma HC2

It is now confirmed that the updated helicopter will be 24, not 28, and their planned out of service date is 2025. The Initial Operating Capability is set at six helicopters ready for operations, and should be reached in November 2013.
Full operational capability is set as a Forward Available Fleet of 22 airframes, 22 crews and trained ground personnel, all delivered by October 2014.
Currently, cost is set at 326 million pounds.

The Puma HC2 is seen as indispensable to provide helicopter lift while the Merlin HC3 fleet is navalized and the Sea Kings retired.

A400 Atlas

A majorly worrisome detail emerges, in the form of a 238 million savings which will see only 9 out of 22 cargo airplanes fitted, at delivery, with the Defensive Aids Sub-system. 23 millions will also be saved by not acquiring one of (N) planned simulators for training. The cargo hold will also NOT be configured for civilian pallets, but only NATO pallets, saving 5 million.

Unit cost expected 141 million. Payload requirement to be met.

Meteor Air to Air missile

Will be in service in 2015. Unit cost is 2.1 million per missile, but number of missiles acquired is classified and not disclosed. Some 715 million pounds have been expended, over a planned cost of 1115 million for the Demonstration and Manufacture phase. Upped boundary for the approved cost is set at 1249 million pounds.
The missile will be ready for delivery and integration in August 2012, and it is expected to be in service on the Typhoon in July 2015. Integration will clear carriage of 6 missiles, and full use of the two-ways data link.


Confirmation that, at least "for the few years" there won't be an Operational Conversion Unit (OCU) in the UK, but instead reliance on US Navy training system for initial throughput and training of early instructor pilots and squadron pilots.

"Initial" force element at readiness is set at 10 airplanes, with Initial Operating Capability to be declared when 6 planes will be available for embarkation on the Strike Carrier at readiness Level 2 (2 to 5 days notice).

Full operating capability target not disclosed. Until at least 2009, full operational capability was indicated with the reaching of a Force at Readiness of 36 airplanes available for embarked operations.
The new target has yet to be set.


There has been no change to the requirement for the Queen Elizabeth of being able to conduct deployments away from port facilities for operations lasting 9 months continuously and support air operations for up to 70 days.
However, the NAO, assuming that one carrier is to be mothballed, now projects the Availability of the carrier as to not meet the stated RN requirement.
No surprise. The carriers are two for a reason.


Future Rapid Effects System Specialist Vehicles entered its Assessment Phase (Assessment Phase 2) in June 2008. The approval covered the anticipated Specialist Vehicles fleet scope, with high priority afforded to Scout (Recce Block 1), given the pressing need to replace Combat Vehicle Reconnaissance (Tracked). Specialist Vehicles was assumed to consist of three Recce Blocks plus Medium Armour and Manoeuvre Support components, all mounted on a common base platform. In broad terms the Assessment Phase Studies confirmed that the Common Base Platform concept was viable for all platforms and also set the time, cost performance and risk envelope for Recce Block 1. In accordance with the endorsed acquisition strategy, the Common Base Platform design will be used for Recce Block 2 and 3 with the addition of role specific sub-systems for each variant. Assessment studies will be used to determine the scope of each subsystem
fit for each specific role.

The Strategic Defence and Security Review and the Department's 2011 Planning Round removed the Medium Armour and Manoeuvre Support elements and reset the total vehicle fleet numbers to up to ***, with the delivery profile recast to aspire to the emerging Army restructuring under Strategic Defence and Security Review (Five Multi-Role Brigades). Final size and shape of the Specialist Vehicles fleet will not be set until Main Gate 2, in 20**, when the first major production investment decision will be taken. The Recce Block 1 Planned Assumption for Service Entry was also deferred by nine months from *** to ***.
It should be noted that Specialist Vehicles does not have a single Main Gate Approval. The size of the programme, together with previous lessons learned in other programmes, determined that a two-stage Main Gate approach should be used; Main Gate 1 for entry into Demonstration only, with a second Main Gate (2) for entry into the manufacture phase, the latter being the major investment decision. Further approvals (in effect sub-Main Gates) will approve Demonstration and Manufacture of later vehicle blocks (e.g. Recce Block 2) covering later
variants. Main Gate 1 did not set Initial Operating Capability, Full Operating Capability or total fleet requirements, but merely noted the planning assumptions associated with these for service entry at the time of demonstration launch for Recce Block 1. There was also recognition that the then forthcoming Defence Review would change total fleet requirements and assumptions and these should not therefore be set at Main Gate 1.

The information, as you can see, is not disclosed. Current working numbers and dates are not revealed.

The cancellation of the Medium Armour segment is likely to be a definitive end for any ambition of fielding Medium Tanks.
However, perhaps a number of Direct Fire platforms will appear as part of Block 2 or 3.

The deletion of Maneuver Support seems to open wide the door for the Warrior bridgelayer/engineer vehicle, which BAE has self-developed and already showcased at DSEI this year. The MOD is following this new Warrior variant closely.

Indirect Fire Precision Attack

This programme continues to be the favorite in the never ending chase for cuts, and the RA is regularly prevented from continuing its modernization.

A contract for the Demonstration and Manufacture of the first component, Ballistic Sensor Fuzed Munition (SMART 155 mm round, with two sensor-fuzed ammunitions inside), was placed with Gesellschaft für Intelligente Wirksysteme GmbH in September 2007 and terminated in February 2010. This, coupled with retirement of the old submunitions shell for the AS90 (despite 2000 rounds having been fired in Iraq in 2003, not that long ago...) and added to the retirement and destruction of even the still new GMLRS - submunitions (ordered in 2007 and promptly cancelled, folly!) means that the RA is without an area-attack weapon and anti-tank weapon both.

The Loitering Ammunition, Fire Shadow, is still alive and will start operating in Afghanistan next year. 25 ammunitions will be delivered in March 2012 for use.

Guided Shell - the Excalibur 155 mm GPS guided round - has had its funding deleted in Planning Round 2011; however, the planned capability requirement remains. The RA is still hoping to be able to finally put it in service by 2018.

The Large Long Range Rocket capability (ATACMS missile) was deleted in Planning Round 2011; it is not clear if the RA will ever have a chance to resurrect it.

Maritime Afloat Reach and Sustainability - Fleet Tanker

In 2010 there was the latest, hundredth invitation for bids for the building of the new, much needed double-hulled tankers for the Royal Navy. The bidders were six:

A&P Group Limited (UK),
Daewoo Shipbuilding and Marine Engineering (Republic of Korea),
Fincantieri (Italy),
Hyundai Heavy Industries (Republic of Korea)
Knutsen OAS(UK) Limited.
Flensburger Schiffbau-Gesellschaft (Germany)

Flensburger Schiffbau-Gesellschaft (Germany) dropped out of the competition already in 2010. This year, two more withdrew: Knutsen OAS Ltd in June 2011 and A&P Group Ltd in August 2011.
The final bid will be selected (hopefully) as part of PR 2012 from the three remaining bidders.

While "up to 6" tankers remains quoted, it is much more likely that the contract, at most, will aim for four ships, with acquisition programme shaped in a 2 + 1 + 1 fashion.
The cost of the Fleet Tanker element should be of around 800 million per six ships, and between 500 and 600 for four.

India last year paid Finmeccanica just 159.326.000 euro for the Deepak (21 millions of which are for spare parts), a military resupply ship capable of carrying 15250 tons in fuels and oils, 510 tonnes of ammo and stores, 8 refrigerated containers. She is fast (20 knots) and has full helicopter support for a Merlin-sized machine, at 175 meters of lenght, 25 beam. 

500 million pounds should suffice for procuring 4 very good ships.

Operational Utility Vehicle System

The requirement for Operational Utility Vehicle System was reviewed in 2007 by the Army, as lead user,
when the need for vehicles with enhanced protection, capacity and mobility was identified. The Single
Statement of User Need stated that ‘Operational Utility Vehicle System would provide a robust, easily
supported system, comprising operational utility vehicles that are able to carry light cargo (up to six tonnes)
or small groups of personnel, integrate as many special-to-role systems as possible and which can operate
in diverse climatic and topographical conditions worldwide, in order to support and contribute to land
(including land air) and littoral manoeuvre operations’. This capability would be a key supporting enabler for
offensive combat operations providing the following roles; unit level logistic cargo vehicle, systems carrier,
mobile command, liaison and personnel transport.

Mainly aimed at replacing Pinzgauers and Land Rovers in their many variants, OUVS was suspended and was, prior to PR11, expected to be resurrected in 2012.

The Operational Utility Vehicle System project has now been removed from the programme. In other words, cancelled.
The requirement will be re-scoped, and the outcome of the work so far done on OUVS will form the basis for the Multi Role Vehicle- Protected Programme. It is currently planned for Multi Role Vehicle- Protected to commence Concept stage during Financial Year 2015/2016.
Multi Role Vehicle-Protected will have its own Initial Gate and Main Gate approvals.

Type 26 Global Combat Ship

Approval for the Type 26 prosecution will be split into two parts. Approval (Main Gate 1) will seek endorsement of the requirements to be delivered by Type 26 GCS, with Main Gate 2, the main investment decision following in Quarter 4 2013. Main Gate 1 is imminent, as this month the final options should be confirmed, and detailed design activity should be started.
This will allow detailed costing and design work to proceed against a defined requirement so that the project
will be ready for approval at Main Gate 2 and subsequent contract signing.

There are no other changes. The first unit of 13 is still expected "as early as possible" in the 2020s.

Cooperative Engagement Capability

The Co-operative Engagement Capability is a United States Naval System fitted to an increasing number of
United States assets including ships, aircraft, and Army and Marine Corps land systems. Co-operative
Engagement Capability does not replace any single system; rather it optimises war-fighting capabilities
inherent in existing and future combat systems.
UK Co-operative Engagement Capability is a UK Network-Enabled Capability project which provides an
advanced air and missile defence capability by sharing and fusing engagement quality data from suitably
equipped platforms to deliver a single, coherent, stable air picture. It will fill the capability gap originally
identified in Commander-in-Chief Fleet’s Military Capability reports and re-affirmed in the Above Water Effects capability audit in 2007, updated in 2009, to detect, monitor, and counter Air-Warfare threats. It will also reduce a gap in interoperability with the United States.

UK Co-operative Engagement Capability enhances the ability of fitted platforms to work together in detection, tracking and engagement of air targets. This capability represents a major advance in both air and missile defence.

Over simplifying in an inelegant way, the CEC ensures that all targets are engaged in the best possible ways, to avoid sending all missiles against the same "Vampire" while another incoming missile is ignored! It fuses together the informations from sensors of various ships and even air platforms (for the US, the Hawkeye, for the UK hopefully the AEW platform emerging from MASC/Crow's Nest).

It was planned to be fitted to the Type 23 and Type 45 both.
For the Type 45, the date indicated was 2014, but the latest NAO report has all dates obscured:

The Planning Round in 2010 delayed the planned In-Service Date to ***, extending the Assessment Phase.
Planning Round 2011 has changed the platform fit from Type 23 Frigates to Type 26 Global Combat Ships and brought forward the In-Service Date to ***. The outputs from the extended Assessment Phase activities will support the main investment decision currently forecast for ***. Further Operational Analysis, a review of technology assumptions since the Initial Gate approval in 2000, and a revised Investment Appraisal have also been commissioned.

The Type 23 won't get CEC, while the Type 26 should have it at build, i'm guessing. This, though, still means we are looking at a date past 2020.
Hopefully, at least the Type 45s will get this much needed enhancement earlier than that.


  1. Hi Gabriele,
    Well, for the most part good news.
    I was surprised about the cancellation of the FRES fire support variant.
    But does that fit in with the news of the reduction of the RAC? (Which I notice the MoD didn't deny)
    Looks like the multi role brigades are going to be lighter than first planned, with warriors being the heaviest vehicles able to be deployed in any numbers?

  2. I wish i could say the same thing, but i admittedly expected Medium Armour to die at some point.

    However, note that Medium Armour was really intended to be a medium tank, issued to at least 3 RAC squadrons, within Challenger II regiments!

    I'm daring to hope, personally, that we can have a less ambitious Direct Fire variant still, with less MBT ambition and more of Stryker Mobile Gun System phylosophy: 3 FRES Direct Fire in each Armoured Infantry Company would, i think, make a lot of sense.

    Maneuver Support also is not a surprise: the Warrior Bridgelayer is undoubtedly a cheaper solution, and more than good enough.
    Provided that it is acquired for real, though.

    Also, as i said i am full of doubts about the rumor of RAC regiment cuts, unless there's a new big cull in Challenger numbers and policy.

    For now, there's no real change in the MRB structure. But we will have to wait a bit more before we can say "for sure".

    Personally, i'm very curious about the Wildcat Light Assault.
    I hope some info comes out soon about that!

  3. Gabriele

    I think you have missunderstood British Army terminology ref the Wildcat.

    An "assualt" helicopter is one that carries people, not weapons. So this is not about 8 "armed" Wildcat variants, it is about 8 new Wildcats to supplement (or replace ?) Lynx AH9A in the "battle taxi" role. I suppose the Wildcat's may have stuff removed to cram perhaps 4 to 6 equipped squaddies in the back.


  4. To assign to 657 AAC, Special Forces Support, then, i'm guessing...?

    Still, the Wildcat is supposed to have, as it is, 7 passenger seats.
    So, where is the difference...?

    The Navy variant has a console in the back for the radar operator, but the Army variant has no radar, and i'm guessing no console either.

    I kind of struggle to see the point. This turns it from a good news to a bad news, as it might mean the Lynx 9A going out of service earlier than expected, along with a big reduction in squadrons of AAC light helicopters.

    If only they could provide some detail once in a while XD


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