Friday, December 9, 2011

5.5 billions, 10 years, many programmes

We are still waiting for a lot of things that were supposed to happen and come but are all late (10-years Equipment Programme, White Paper on industrial strategy - this might arrive next week, it has been suggested -, Type 26 Capabilities Decision Point, announcement on the start of actual work for the Telemos with France - again expected in the next week now - and others), but it seems we have a first item of data:

From now to 2021, following cuts, delays, wasting, fidgeting, battling and messing, the Army has a 5.5 billions budget allocation for armoured vehicles procurement. Almost certainly, 4.5, as 1 billion is committed to the Warrior CSP (first deliveries in 2018, ISD 2020). Which become as few as 3160 millions or so if we consider that the NAO Major Reports 2011 indicates a budget allocation of 1394 million pounds (ceiling put at 1433) for the demonstration and manufacture of the FRES SV RECCE Block 1 programme, of which we don't yet posses any firm indication in terms of numbers to be procured. Nor is it clear what the 1394 million would exactly cover: the report (the figures appear in the Volume II document, containing the project summary sheets) seems to suggest that this might only cover demonstration and manufacture of prototypes and development vehicles. Hard to think that this could be the case, as it is an ungodly amount, and a frankly unaffordable one. One has to hope that the 1394 millions include manufacture costs for the vehicles, despite being listed under "demonstration" in one of the tables.

Of some relief is noticing that the "demonstration and manufacture" voice of expense, used in the project summary of other main items of equipment in the same document (for example, the Astute submarines 1 - 3) clearly include cost of production (again, in the case of Astute 1 - 3, the report in fact lists the 3480 millions figure, which definitely includes costs of acquisition).

In addition, we have all heard the 500 millions figure used for the contract for development and demonstration of FRES SV (which is already quite a big sum). From the words used at the time of contract signature, the 500 millions specifically cover development and demonstration phase all the way to 2013, and, if no cost overruns occurs, that should be it, as after that it'll be a matter of hitting Main Gate, placing the order, and start producing. That could leave around 894 millions for acquisition of the Block 1 vehicles. As of 31 March 2011, the NAO reported that expenditure to date was 188 million pounds, 118 for the Demonstration phase, expended in 2011, and 70 for the Assessment Phase, which were spent in previous years.

According to the NAO, FRES SV is currently planned to enter service in 2017, following a 9-months delay to ISD target decided in Planning Round 2011. The demonstration phase is doing well, at least, and is 5 months ahead of schedule.

The report, unfortunately, is far from clear in other areas: for example, it seems that RECCE Block 2 and Block 3 were unified in a single RECCE Block 2 main title, separated into Block 2A and 2B.
What the advantage is, only the sky knows!

In any case, assuming that we have 3160 millions left, as we said, we would have to cover, mainly:

- RECCE Block 2 and 3 (2a and 2b now?)

- FRES UV (specifically mentioned in the SDSR, it appears that the Army plans to take a decision on it in 2018 or even 2016, with the aim of getting it in service by 2022)

- Multi-Role Vehicle Protected (ex Operational  Utility Vehicle System, which was killed in Planning Round 11)

- Challenger II CSP – From NAO written evidence, it would appear that a CSP Chally won’t be in service anytime before 2023. The programme has officially been descoped. Options will be discussed again as part of PR12, but Government written answers have already made clear that they don’t expect assessment phase before around 2015/2016 at the earliest.

- Retention of Afghan UOR vehicles to complement existing capability / fill some requirements without buying new vehicles / provide an interim solution in some fields.

Starting from the last two voices of the list: retention of UORs is an important factor for the Army. It is expected that Jackal will be brought into core budget, used to replace as many Land Rovers as possible, but probably also used to equip one of 3 Squadrons into the Brigade Recce Regiments (2 Sqns will be based on FRES SV Scout, one on a wheeled platform described as more open, light, mobile, and more adequate to interact with the local population. It is a description that very much points towards Jackal).

The NAO major project report, under the OUVS/Multi-Role Vehicle Protected title, contains indication that the MOD plans to continue using the UOR-procured Tactical Support Vehicles, which include Wolfhound, Husky, Coyote and Springer. So, some or all of these should be brought into the core budget, and this will mean that the MOD will have to make provision for funding their support and related training.

Foxhound is not a UOR, and the first batch of 200, while procured in UOR-style, is already destined to core. More Foxhound vehicles, unless the Afghan experience was to prove them disappointing, will come, probably as part of  Multi-Role Vehicle Protected. The cargo-bed Utility variant of Foxhound could certainly supplement and then replace the Husky in the longer term, and perhaps even the Coyote. But replacing the Coyote only makes real sense if the Foxhound fire-support variant replaces Jackal as well: until the Jackal remains in service, the Coyote, due to the extremely high level of commonality, is the best choice of vehicle to support it on ops.

The Multi-Role Vehicle Protected might have a lot to do with Foxhound, but it will also have to include different kind of platforms (as it is to replace Pinzgauers as well), possibly less protected, and inevitably less expensive: Foxhound costs a lot, far too much for the MOD to be able to cover the whole MRVP requirement with it.

Wolfhound and Mastiff 2/3 make another great couple that could be taken into core, with Mastiff representing a good interim solution to equip the 5 expected Mechanized Infantry Battalions within the MRBs. However, they are both huge vehicles, and the British Army must consider this, and the issues that it causes in terms of road mobility in the UK.
Even more relevantly, the Army is clear that Mastiff cannot meet the target set for the FRES UV. It is helpful in this sense to read what Lieutenant-General Coward, Chief of Materiel (Land), told the House of Commons Committee of Public Accounts:

Chair: […] Can I take you to paragraph 4.5 on page 28, where there is a discussion about Mastiff? The end of that paragraph states: "The Department has stated that ‘…a vehicle such as Mastiff, does not come close to meeting the Future Rapid Effect System requirement,’ which is designed to operate across all". Is that true?

Lieutenant-General Coward: Yes, I agree.

Q95 Chair: If that is true, is there money in the budget to ensure that you would do the necessary changes? Is the money there?

Lieutenant-General Coward: I do not think you could convert Mastiff sufficiently to make it deliver to within about 80% or 85% of the utility vehicle requirement.

Q96 Chair: So we are going to dump it, are we?

Lieutenant-General Coward: No. My own view is that we should retain, pro tem, the Mastiffs, and adapt them to a small extent. We don’t have very much money. There is a limit to what you can use them for, but they will provide protected mobility-not manoeuvre, which is what the Army desperately wishes to have, but we will make do with them.

Q97 Chair: What won’t it do? Just explain to a little layperson like me, who doesn’t really get these things, what it won’t do.

Lieutenant-General Coward: With the utility vehicle or with MRAV [Boxer], we were seeking to be able to manoeuvre across country and in all terrains with a full vehicle load. Mastiff, even in version 3, doesn’t have that level of mobility. It is also not a properly integrated platform.

There is not, at the moment, an allocated budget or a firm decision on retaining Mastiff and bring it into Core, as the hearing makes clear in the following questions: the MOD has left the choice to the Army, giving them indications of what money is available for covering armour requirements. The Army itself will have to find a way around the money, and make the choices, but it would appear that the Mastiff option is quite likely to be taken.

Warthog might also be considered for use, due to its excellent performances in Afghanistan, but it is possibly the hardest vehicle to collocate in the post-Afghanistan army. What would be its role? In which units? Who would man it?
No matter how good it is as a vehicle, there will have to be a very convincing plan in place before some of the (very scarce) money is given to it.

My own suggestion is that Warthog could be retained in the Army to equip 5 “Protected Mobility Squadrons”, one in each of the Challenger 2 regiments, as replacement for the current, Scimitar-equipped, Interim Medium Armour Squadrons, as mitigation for the reduction in the number of tanks, and to continue to provide the under-armour mobility service they provide, with RAC crews, in Afghanistan every day.

The Warthog squadron could also assume the role of Regimental Recce Platoon as well, solving another problem: the lack of FRES Scout vehicles, which won’t enough to equip the BRRs and also all the recce platoons in armour regiments and armored infantry battalions. Thanks to its incredible mobility, the Warthog is, under certain points of view, more suited than FRES Scout itself to the recce mission. Fitted with a RWS with a powerful thermal imaging sensor, it would be an excellent, low-cost solution.
In addition, thanks to its capacity to carry infantry, the Warthog would be readily available to work, Afghan-style, in any tomorrow’s operation to provide protection and battlefield mobility to Light Role Infantry.

This would be coherent with the MOD’s own assessment of the current operational reality:

But one of the other things that we have learned during the operations in Iraq and Afghanistan is that we can no longer put our soldiers-that’s the infantrymen-in unprotected vehicles. We never had a programme for that9, so across the piece we have to look at protection for everybody, from the light infantrymen all the way through to the Mechanised Brigade. We are doing the work at the moment to see whether the urgent operational requirements that we procured are worth bringing into core, because the cost of supporting some of them may be extortionate.

Vice-Admiral Lambert, Deputy Chief of Defence Staff (Capability)

The Challenger II CSP has been moved to the right year after year, and it is to be considered again "around the middle of the decade". Unless a shocking decision comes and Challengers are withdrawn, a CSP will have to happen. It will be, of course, much less ambitious than once imagined and probably there will never be the adoption of the NATO smoothbore gun and related ammunition due to the difficulties and cost of such a move. A new round will probably be designed instead, and the CSP reduced to a minimum intervention of obsolescence removal, perhaps inclusive of installation of a modular kit, like on Warrior CSP, for the rapid application of different standard kits of additional protection.

Even so, it is clear that 3 billions are a very small amount of money. Very, very small. The Army will be very hard pressed, and acquiring the platforms needed for the future will be very complex. Retaining UOR-procured vehicles is a solution that works only so far, and FRES SV, alone, will require most of the available funding, in order to replace the CVR(T) family and some of the FV430 MK3.

Done the math, it is easily confirmed that, as it is being said from everywhere, 5.5 billions are not enough.
There will be vehicles serving many, many more years before seeing a replacement, that's for sure.
FRES UV appears particularly at risk, with the Army possibly ready to accept a long-term Mastiff solution as good enough for the Mechanized Infantry. But this, that wouldn’t be that bad, might still not be enough.

In addition, as part of NAO written evidence, we also learn that Future Force 2020 is actually… Future Force 2025, since 2025 is the date at which the armed forces are expected to deliver against the SDSR mandated targets. 

Interesting summary graphic from the NAO evidence, submitted to the Committee

And as a side note, the MOD’s own Written Evidence, in answer to a question of the committee, puts the cost of the 14 Chinooks MK6 on order at 841 million pounds, unitary cost 34 million. 
Money well spent, at least. 


  1. Hi Gabriele,
    Thanks for that post, very interesting.
    On another topic, did you see this question;

    Jim Murphy (East Renfrewshire, Labour)

    To ask the Secretary of State for Defence

    (1) to which local authorities service personnel currently stationed in Cyprus will return; and how many such personnel will return to each such local authority;
    (2) how many service personnel currently stationed in Cyprus will return to the UK; and when any such return will take place.
    I got that from think defence.

  2. Saw the question and answer, but it wasn't a very striking one.
    2 Battalions returning home, and 2 battalions taking their place. I think they are rotated every two years, or perhaps three years, like with 1 and 2 Royal Gurkha Rifles.

    The Cyprus resident force is a long term standing commitment.
    It might go down to a single battalion after Afghanistan is over, though.

    As to this article, i'm glad you found it interesting. I'm about to update it, though, as i've been reading the report from the House of Commons and the oral and written evidence annexed, and there's some interesting stuff in there.

    I also take the freedom to recommend you to read my post "FF2020, the 84.000 regulars and France's 2008 White Paper". You should find it interesting too.

    For now, thanks a lot, Phil, for always coming up here and dropping me a line!

  3. Gabriele,
    I always enjoy your posts, and find them very interesting.
    As you know, I have a very keen interest in the UK military.
    It's great to meet someone who shares that interest, and has a very good understanding and knowledge on the subject!

  4. Many thanks in that case! It's a pleasure for me to share what i know and think.

    I just wish there were better news, instead of either uncertainty or bad news all the time!

    Anyway, just posted the updated version of the post. A good bit of additional info i managed to squeeze out of documents. ;)

  5. Nice piece, Gabby

    You give two alternative years for FRES UV. For the earlier, I have seen the wording "tender process will be restarted" used,

    For MI bns and Mastiffs, you jump to the conclusion from it being retained, to all 5 bns getting it; How does that reconcile in numbers and the atrocious availability (two thirds, on a good day)

    Good thinking for the Warthog. If there are a hundred of them, roughly, would that be enough cover all five formations?

    Finally, what's your guess: How many units would the £ 894m buy in the first recce batch?

    Cheers, ACC

  6. I've suggested that FRES UV could, if the tender is restarted, veer decisively towards France, and not towards VBCI, which appears too ambitious in these times of economic issues, but towards their Véhicule Blindé Multi-Role, a 6x6 vehicle with Mastiff-like protection against mines and IEDs, that would come considerably cheaper, especially since France plans to develop it and then acquire some one thousand. The article is here, if you want some more detail:

    As to Mastiff going to all five battalions, you are right, there is probably a numeric issue, even if Ridgback is kept as well.
    But 2 or 3 battalions could probably be equipped with it, and along with a number of retained Bulldogs could bring up the number of mechanized infantry battalions from 3 now, all on Bulldog, to the five needed as of SDSR.

    As to Warthog, which is far more of a wild-guess or dream of mine, it is hard to say: much depends on how many will be judged eventually in good conditions for further usage come 2014/15. 115 were procured, and standing up five squadrons with an ORBAT of 14 vehicles or so each shouldn't be an issue, especially remembering that not all vehicles would be used in peacetime, but many would actually be stored away under Whole Fleet Management, and the full ORBAT would be reached only prior to deployment.

    14 Warthogs would give the Sqn the capability to move around quite comfortably a whole infantry coy taken up from the Light Role Battalion of the MRB, so it wouldn't be bad at all.
    It would also be a Sqn used more frequently, arguably, than CR2 ones.

    For FRES SV numbers, it really is hard to say without having an idea at all of the unitary cost.

  7. "In addition, as part of NAO written evidence, we also learn that Future Force 2020 is actually… Future Force 2025, since 2025 is the date at which the armed forces are expected to deliver against the SDSR mandated targets."

    Good find Gabbie, you remember me repeatedly asking on TD whether anyone could confirm the reference to FF2025, and what it would mean in practice.

    Looks like you tracked it down, my thanks.

  8. I actually didn't remember you having that question: i would have gladly answered on TD if i had remembered.

    But yes, it does appear that 2025 is the aspirational date for having all components of FF2020 delivering. Hopefully the new week will bring along a few more answers... there's quite a few papers which are late, as they were promised for September, and they finally should come up.

    I hope.

  9. ah, it was originally referred to as FF2024 back in July:

    now slipped? ;)

  10. Hi Gabriele,
    I see that we are to be told of tranche 2 of the cuts, in the new year.
    Will they hold on until then to tell us about new equipment, so to give us some good and bad news at the same time?
    Has anything been said about the 1% increase in defence spending post 2015? In view of the bleak news on the government budget this week.
    As I read it, in 2015, there will be another round of government cuts?

  11. The official line is that there are "adjustements" to be done to Planning Round 2012, but that the MOD is "broadly in balance".

    As for 2015, for now Hammond has been adamant that the 1% budget increase in equipment procurement is confirmed and still planned. The Treasury confirmed, even though a further 2 years of austerity are expected for the UK, from 2015 to 2017.

    Of course, only time will tell!

  12. Hi Gabriele,
    I watched Mr Hammond being questioned by the defence committee. He seemed to have settled into the job well. I was impressed, as was the chairman with his performance.
    He did say when asked about the future fast jet for the carrier, it had not yet been decided which option was the best deal for the MoD. Which surprised me, F18B and F35C both got a mention, and I assume Rafale must also be in the mix?

  13. Sorry Gabriele, a little of topic. FF2020, Army.
    I have been thinking about the following;
    Army to be reduced by an extra 10,000. Post SDSR report.
    Reserves to be increased, and more operational.
    Leaked that the RAC is to be reduced by 5 regiments.
    I may be adding 2 and 2 and making 5 here, but I think that the 2 low readiness multi role brigades are going to be at least partly or totally TA commands.
    This would fit the leaked reduction in the RAC, the 6 remaining regiments would fit with 3 multi role brigades.
    The extra 10,000 reduction post SDSR would be about the strength of 2 multi role brigades.
    The increased readiness of the TA, would also fit, if they were to man the 2 low readiness MRB.
    The only thing that does not fit, is the artillery saying they are going for 5 regular MRBs, but have they jumped the gun there?

  14. RE: F18 and Rafale, i think they are both very unlikely. The second, in particular.

    As for your idea about reducing the regular army to just 3 brigades, i think that at that point it kind of severely ceases to make sense to bother with an army. It is well thought and even "realistic" in its way as plan, but i consider it an apocalypse scenario.

    I'm absolutely hoping not to see anything like that happening. And i consider it, thankfully, highly unlikely.
    Far too big a change from FF2020's promises to be accepted without putting up a new SDSR to provide at least a pathetic paper justification.

    And before assuming that the reserves could fill up such a huge role, looking at what they can do now, i'd be very, very, very careful.

    The US national guard deploys brigades and squadrons all the time, but the TA no. I hope that it will improve with time and with the new reserves plan, but i prefer not to make assumptions for the moment, because it is very ambitious a change. And might very well fail. Besides, even said ambitious plan does not go anywhere near suggesting that we'll ever have TA brigades deploying. Mixed batteries/squadrons/battalions/regiments, yes. Perhaps one day even whole-TA battalions, but inside a skeleton of regulars.
    Deploying a TA brigade is way beyond any assumption or current ambitions.

    The RA and RE are both pretty advanced in their planning, and all what's been heard this far, for both, still definitely aims towards 5 MRBs, so i really won't dare making assumptions so much different from the plan, at least for now.

  15. Hello gabriele I only managed to stumble on your blog by chance but I have found it most interesting and informative as you share many of my views If you would like to discuss topics views and ideas comment back and see about getting my email.

    Many thanks

  16. I'm glad you found my blog and even happier that you find it interesting, Shaun. You can contact me directly by mail, if you want. Thank you for visiting, reading and commenting


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