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.