A new 400 million pounds investment in C-IED technology has been announced by the MOD, and this includes an order (still being negotiated with Force Protection, now a branch of General Dynamics) for making "around 100" more Foxhound vehicles available to the british army.
200 million pounds are going into C-IED technology, but the MOD is not announcing what this package will include: it could be new jammers, possibly body-worn, but it could also include drones with ground-penetrating radars and perhaps even portable, backpack-sized mine-clearance kits. These last are a soldier portable, miniaturized variant of the Pythoon of the Royal Engineers, so to speak, and include a rocket dragging a line charge through a mine field to detonate any weapon and create a safe path across the field. All of these devices are being used by US forces, and have been evaluated, at different times, by the MOD.
400 millions - 200 millions gives 200 millions, though, and unless the Foxhound just got more expensive (the order already in place, for 180 millions is acquiring 200 vehicles), something does not fit in. Where is the rest of the money going...? In fact, 100 Foxhound should cost around 90 million pounds, and ideally less, since the rule should be that the more vehicles are ordered and built, the less they should cost.
It remains a good item of news, even though it would really help to know more about what kind of C-IED kit is being acquired, and it would be interesting to learn which Foxhound variants are being acquired: the current order for 200 should entirely be about the Patrol variant, a fully enclosed vehicle with a crew of 2 and seats for 4 dismounts seating face to face in the back. The Foxhound, however, has since demonstrated the Utility module, with a pick-up cargo bed at the back, and also the Fire Support module, which turns the vehicle in a much more protected and potentially even better armed Jackal (the FS Foxhound module offers two more weapon mounts compared to the Jackal or Land Rovers WMIK).
It was hoped that the first order for 200 Foxhounds would be followed by a second batch order, again of 200 vehicles, but i honestly had grown worried about the effective likelyhood of it ever coming, so that even 100 would be better than i expected.
DefenseNews reports that the 100 new Foxhounds are being funded from the core defence budget, and not anymore from UOR money, and it also specifies that the requirement for a third tranche of Foxhounds is being assessed.
It is likely, i dare guessing, that this third tranche will be evaluated as part, or in relation to, the effort that was, until Planning Round 2011, known as Operational Utility Vehicle System and has now been renamed the Multirole vehicle protected.
The Australian army, which trialed the Foxhound for its LAND 1300 requirement, recently chose to pursue a national solution by continuing development of the Hawkei instead: this has been a bitter blow to the Foxhound, since the contract is worth 1300 vehicles in Australian planning, and a win would have been a massive boost.
The 1300 figure also gives an idea of the numbers that the British Army would actually need for the future (Foxhound has always been a "core" programme procured with UOR methods, not an Afghan-specific programme with a 2015 best-before date) to equip the infantry properly. But at 900.000 pounds each, the Foxhound is very expensive for thinking of buying thousands, especially if export orders do not come to help make the programme economically viable: for comparison, a Panther CLV comes at 450.000 pounds inclusive of Theatre Entry modifications and Remote Weapon Station on top, and around 300.000 pounds for a more basic configuration.
I know that the British Army has not been very happy with the Panther, and i honestly struggle to understand the reasons. Inside it is cramped due to the Bowman installation, but can it really be THAT bad as it is suggested on the internet, when the rest of the world loves the vehicle so much? The Panther is built on the Iveco Lince jeep, which offers NATO standard protection levels from 3 to 4 depending on configuration, and it has saved countless lives in Afghanistan, in particular with the italian contingent. The Lince is heavily used and has been hit by IEDs and attacks very frequently, but save for extreme cases (last October a Lince was destroyed and another heavily damaged with the death of 6 of the 10 Italian soldiers that had been aboard of the two jeeps, when a Toyota used as bomb and filled with an estimate 150 kg of explosives hit the convoy), it has protected the men inside very well. And better it would have done had the Italian army provided protected turrets and RWSs earlier: the gunners, horribly exposed to man machine guns without much of even a gunshield, have been injured frequently, but only in 2010 an order for 80 RWSs and enclosed turrets was finally placed.
The Lince has been produced in the thousands for Italy and has also been widely exported (401 to the UK, several hundreds to Belgium, Austria, Norwey and other european countries, and even 1755 to be produced on licence in Russia).
The Panther CLV was procured not as a patrol protected vehicle, originally, but as a command and scout vehicle. Contract was for 401 vehicles with options for a further 400. Of the 401 vehicles purchased (for 166 million pounds), 326 vehicles are fitted with a BAE Systems ENFORCER Overhead Weapon Station (OWS) (Group 2 Panther) and 75 are fitted for but not with the OWS (Group 3). Panther was the first British Army front line vehicle to feature a health and usage monitoring system (HUMS). The data gathered will help to increase vehicle availability and reduce support costs.
In April 2008 the MoD awarded BAE Systems Global Combat Systems a £28 million contract to guarantee spares availability and reduce cost of ownership to the UK MoD for a five-year period. Under it, BAE Systems is required to provide 90 per cent availability of spare parts plus technical support to field units.
In May 2009, the Panther CLV was pressed into service in Afghanistan after successful hot weather trials in Oman and in Afghanistan itself. These Panthers were given a Theatre Entry Standard update by BAE system, including larger roof hatches, a rear view camera for enhanced situational awareness, protected engine compartment, new rear cargo pod and electronic devices to counter improvised explosive devices, under a 20 million pounds contract. A standard Lince comes with seats for 5, but on the Panther this goes down to 4, and the Bowman takes away a lot of space making even these four seats quite cramped.
The upgrade began with the delivery of 73 TES kits, each made up by some 39 components. It is unclear if only those 73 vehicles were modified; some internet sources say that the upgrade was extended to "most" of the fleet, even though 67 vehicles received TES treatment in the first batch. The cost of TES kits would bring the total unit cost of fight-ready Panther vehicles with RWS, IED jammers etc at a total of around 700.000 pounds each (for 73 vehicles, long-term support cost excluded. That works out at around 14.000 pounds per year per each of the 401 Panthers).
Panther originally was to be used in the following main roles:
Manoeuvre Support Battlegroup Close Reconnaissance
Manoeuvre Support Battlegroup Mortar Fire Controller and Forward Observation Officer
Battery Reconnaissance Officer
Liaison Officers for Armoured, Armoured Recce and Armoured Infantry Units
Commander’s vehicle for Engineer Troops, Anti-Tank, Mortar and supporting fire platoons
Rebroadcast on BattleGroup nets and Regimental Signal Officers
Route proving for Close and General Support Engineer units
Some 13 to 15 roles within the army are covered by Panther, and some vehicles went to the RAF Regiment as well. Indeed, when in 2009 it was first deployed to Afghanistan, the RAF Regiment and the Army's Close Support Logistics Regiment were the first users.
The fuel consumption of a fully kitted-up Panther vehicle when used on a surfaced road is estimated to be 6 km/ltr when travelling at a constant speed of 80 km/h. The off-road consumption is estimated to be 2 km/ltr.
During acceptation trials, the Panther was trialed against 6 kg AT mines, and it was verified that the crew would survive the hit. The requirement for Panther was to carry a crew of 1+3 plus kit.
The Iveco Lince in its standard variant carries 1+4. The Lince Light Multirole Vehicle is marketed in two main versions: the standard 3.2-metre-wheelbase variant that carries a 2.3-tonne payload and a new 3.5-metre, 2.5-tonne version. The latter can be fitted with either the standard four-door cab, with an extended rear stowage pod, or a short two-door cab that allows various modules to be fitted on the rear, such as Ambulance module, as ordered by the italian army.
Depending on the threat the LMV can be deployed as a soft-skinned vehicle or with one of three - light, medium or heavy - protection kits fitted to the crew cell or citadel. The modular armour system uses an innovative suite of applique panels, supplied by Germany's IBD Deisenroth Engineering, that are placed between the vehicle's inner and outer skins. The Light kit provides Stanag 4569 Level 1 (5.56 mm and 7.62 mm ball ammunition) protection while the Heavy kit boosts protection to Level 4 (14.5 mm AP ammunition). A multi-layered undercarriage structure beneath the crew citadel provides protection against mine blasts, and this can be enhanced by fitting a blast shield to protect against anti-tank mines. Iveco is working to further enhance protection against buried bombs. Trials have also been conducted with IBD's AMAP Active Defence System to defeat attacks from rocket-propelled grenades and similar threats.
The Iveco LMV in the trials was brought to Ballistic protection STANAG 4569 Level 4 (STANAG 4569 Level 3+ for the windows and windshield), with Blast protection STANAG 4569 Level 2b/3b underbelly and Level 3a/4a for the wheel house. At 140 kg, the AMAP-ADS installation includes sensor-countermeasure modules arranged all around the vehicle. A processor determines the type and the trajectory of the approaching target. Subsequently a countermeasure module close to the calculated impact point is activated. This countermeasure ejects "directed energy" destroying or disrupting the approaching threat so that it cannot penetrate the vehicle. The overlapping sectors of the sensor-countermeasure modules enable the system to defeat multiple-attacks (in the trials multiple RPGs were successfully countered) and its incredibly fast reaction time makes it possible to react to threats as close as 10 meters.
For the Panther, Universal Engineering created a new high mobility trailer as well, the XM Panther, which uses the same wheels and tires. It is designed to provide a stable and safe high mobility base for use with a wide range of demountable bodies tailored for specific roles and payloads.
|Mobility trials for a Panther with its trailer|
The Foxhound, hopefully, will in time gain a share of the market and deliver even greater performance, but it is imperative that its price drops. It will be interesting, in this sense, to see the terms of the new contract for this second british batch. It will also have to live up to its promises: as it stands, the Foxhound is not yet in action, and all its awesomeness exists only on paper.
Another reason why i honestly didn't expect a follow-on order so soon.
A welcome news, but much remains to be known, verified, and there's much more work to do.