Part 1 of this report: Gaps, Gaps, Gaps
Next in line is the FRES SV vehicle family. Unfortunately, the NAO report covers a period that ends before the most interesting developments. Following confirmation of the enduring requirement for FRES SV at the completition of the SDSR, and indeed following the army restructuring program (Army 2020), the number of vehicles to be purchased and timings have all changed.
Entry into service will happen at least 9 months later than originally planned. The date is not disclosed, but we are possibly looking at 2018, if not later. I've read that CVR(T) vehicles will not be entirely gone before 2026.
An option that could be given the go ahead in the immediate future would however partly compensate the delay to entry in service by bringing forwards development and demonstration of the RECCE Block 2 group of vehicle variants.
The FRES SV has been broken down into multiple parts, all with their own decision Gates. So far, activity has focused on RECCE Block 1 (Scout vehicle, Armoured Personnel Carrier, Repair, Recovery and Common Base Platform) but the Block 2 could now be added to the ongoing activity, to demonstrate Ambulance, Command Post and Engineer Recce variants.
Part of the Block 2 should also be the Joint Fires direction vehicle, destined to carry a full six-man Fire Support Team of the Royal Artillery, with full equipment for the direction, under-armor or dismounted, of mortar, artillery and air attacks.
A RECCE Block 3 is also envisaged for the future, but budget uncertainty makes me be particularly careful about these future, as yet uncommitted to parts of the program. Bringing forwards demonstration of Block 2, to include the vehicle variants it covers into the Initial Operating Capability would be a very welcome move, as it would greatly increase the chances for the Army to actually get the vehicles it needs.
The Type 45 destroyers are now going strong, and the program has achieved a very positive in year net cost variation of -108 millions, which have been handed back for use elsewhere in the equipment programme. Reportedly, this year we'll see up to four Type 45 fitted with Harpoon missiles, presumably coming from the retired Type 22 frigates, but the NAO does not speak about it. Major improvements in Combat System software and communications (SATURN has been fitted) are reported.
The Typhoon Future Capability Program is, as always, a source of misery. While the Typhoon program registers a positive result, with a cost reduction of 69 millions, the Future Capability Program 1 for introduction of advanced Air-Ground features reports a 22 million cost increase (to 441 million) and, more importantly, a massive 18 months delay, to December 2013, which also affect the Meteor as we have seen before.
A combination of technical complexity, Partner Nation disagreement on a synthetic training solution and delays in agreement of an international support arrangement have caused the delay.
Anyway, the SDSR has pushed to the right the requirement for Typhoon ground-attack capability to 2015.
Future Capability Program 1 introduces Paveway IV, full functionality of the Litening III targeting pods and other improvements.
Future Capability Program 2 will follow, at some point, hopefully including integration of Storm Shadow and Brimstone.
An Active Electronic Scanned Array voice has made its appearance into the Report, with Initial Investment Decision made in July 2011, but no other detail is provided. The budgeted-for date of entry in service is currently classified.
Regarding the Warrior Capability Sustainment Programme, the NAO reports that the current plan is for the upgrade of 445 vehicles (all variants, including FV514 Artillery Observation Post, but excluding the Battery Command vehicles which appear not to be in use anymore, with a number having been converted in Ambulances by the REME for use in Afghanistan) from an affordable fleet of 565.
The FV514 vehicle is very important to the future of the Royal Artillery. As part of WCSP it is getting mechanical, electric and protection upgrades, but a separate programs will have to be funded at some point to upgrade the fire targeting and direction equipment. I plan to write an article in the near future looking in more detail into the Warrior situation, and more info will be provided there.
Importantly, the NAO report confirms that the Armored Battlefield Support Vehicle element is not dead, despite having been silent ever since it was made a part of Warrior CSP by the 2005 defence industrial strategy.
The ABSV is described as:
A new variant, replacing obsolescent platforms, that has equal protection and mobility to the core fighting platforms. Armoured Battlefield Support Vehicle is currently in the Concept Phase and is subject to future approval.
The ABSV, also known as "turretless Warrior" is meant to replace a number of FV430 tracked vehicles inside armored infantry battlegroups. Also known earlier as Battle Group Support Vehicle (BGSV) and earlier still as M1P1 (tracked vehicle which was accompanied by the also cancelled M2P2, the 8x8 Boxer vehicle), it has had a complex history to say the least.
At least 3 prototypes were ordered to then Alvis Vickers, and at least one was built and demonstrated. The requirement has varied anywhere between 125 and 300-plus vehicles, with Ambulance, Command Post and General Support variants envisaged.
With how things are evolved over the years, now ABSV and FRES SV Recce Block 2 are kind of in conflict for the same roles, replacing FV430 vehicle variants.
Using turretless Warriors for the roles might cost less than build a wholly new FRES SV, and of course having almost all the battalion using Warrior mechanics is good for logistics, but insertion of technology which is so important for Command and Ambulance vehicles in particular suggest that going for a new, modern FRES variant is desirable.
However, the FRES Engineer/Bridgelayer vehicle has been cancelled, while a Warrior bridgelayer prototype has been showcased in 2011. Since the requirement is still there (some 35 vehicles were envisaged), to support the FRES Scout, ABSV might end up delivering Bridgelayers instead of ambulances, command posts and APCs.
There is also another requirement that has been ignored this far, which is that for a Mortar Carrier replacing the relevant FV430 variant currently in use. As the Mortar Carrier role should not require a too complex modification to the Warrior hull, and since the requirement would be for a low number of vehicles (between 6 and 9 vehicles for each armoured infantry battalion, so around 54 at most) it might make sense to convert surplus Warrior hulls as a low-cost, big-gain program.
This way, FRES SV RECCE Block 2 would replace APCs (not overly complex, but required in significant numbers that Warrior wouldn't be able to cover) and the complex Command, Ambulance, Communications and Engineer Recce / Joint Fires variants, while surplus Warrior hulls could be used for covering the need for Bridgelayers and Mortar Carriers. The numbers are also compatible with what the NAO says, as 565 - 445 gives 120, a number of hulls more than adequate to meet the two requirements i suggest to tackle.
IOC for Warrior CSP remains defined as one Armoured Company equipped and trained collectively at Level 2. Expected in November 2018.
Among the pre-Main Gate programmes appears MARS, which will of course move up into Post-Main Gate in the 2013 report, since the contract has since been awarded for MARS FT.
The NAO report confirms what i had already reported: the procurement of the MARS Fleet Solid Support Ships currently sits on the White Board, waiting to be given the go ahead later in the decade, post SDSR 2015.
Money is planned to be provided from the core budget for assessment phase of Solid Support in the coming budget cycles.
One major, welcome programs in Pre-Main Gate phase is the Network Enabled Airspace Defence and Surveillance (NEADS), which is the Army's effort to modernize the obsolete air defence capability currently available.
A very complex program, it is considered of prioritary importance by the Army since future operations are expected to be conducted in far less permissive environments. NEADS is meant to expand the defence capability to give protection from the whole range of threats: aircrafts, helicopters, cruise missiles and, very importantly, against UAVs and Rocket-Artillery-Mortars.
Three Increments are planned:
Increment 1 will replace Urgent Operational Requirement equipment with an enduring Counter Rocket Artillery & Mortar automated sense and warn capability from 2015.
This capability is being used in Afghanistan to protect UK bases from rocket artillery and mortar attack. This was provided under Treasury Urgent Operation Requirement Funding. Automatic Sense and Warn capabilities will be brought into the core equipment programme.
Increment 2 will deliver an initial Counter-Unmanned Air Vehicle Capability and replace the existing Counter Rocket Artillery and Mortar intercept capability from 2017 as well as sustain ground-based air defence in the Falkland Islands beyond 2020.
Increment 3 will improve protection against the remainder of the Difficult Air Targets with Full Operating Capability expected in 2027.
The Difficult Air Targets set includes cruise missiles, Unmanned Air Vehicles, Attack Helicopters and Rockets, Artillery and Mortars.
Automatic Sense and Warn UOR is an adaptation of the Land Environment Air Picture Provision (LEAPP) equipment program for Afghanistan needs. Another element is JAPPLE. In 2011 i wrote this description, which should still be at least partially valid, even though not much info is available on this kind of systems, for obvious reasons.
The Joint Air Picture Provision of the Land Environment is active in Helmand since 2008. A team of eight, split between Camp Bastion and Lashkar Gah, provide the Joint Helicopter Command and to the Combined Forces HQ a 24-hours complete picture of activity going on in the air, to direct air defence efforts and de-conflict the Joint Helicopter Command routes and missions with the concurrent artillery fire or othe potential threats. In addition to this constant presence, the system also deploys small forward teams with troops where necessary.
JAPPLE builds on the capability provided by the Automated Sense and Warn system: this was procured as UOR for Afghanistan, and is a combination of software and hardware capable to fuse together information coming from a number of sources, including MAMBA artillery locating/battlefield surveillance radars. Mainly, though, it uses two Giraffe ABM radars. The information is fused and transmitted on the LEAPP C2 network, and alarm of incoming attack is launched via the Waves towers installed in based in Afghanistan. Two Giraffe radars are in Bastion, two in Kandhar.In the system, at some point, is likely to be integrated also the flow of informations coming from B-ISTAR sensors.The whole system is currently manned by 5th Regiment RA, with the support of roughly one battery deployed on each Herrick cycle by 16 RA.
LEAPP in itself (Land Environment Air Picture Provision) is a little known but invaluable programme which is going on from a few years, and that allowed the advanced JAPPLE to happen. LEAPP provides near real time correlated air picture for the land environment. It is a combination of control nodes and organic sensors, and a vital software, Bowman data radio-compatible, capable to link and connect all Royal Artillery assets (artillery batteries receive info and feed back into the system the data of their own firing trajectories, so that all things moving in the air can be mapped). LEAPP is deployed at formations Hqs, and provides its air picture to all users via NATO data link 16 and 11.
The report says that the C-RAM interception capability will be replaced in 2017, but please note that the British Army currently has not an in-service C-RAM interception capability. ASW is a detection and warning system only.
In Iraq, the Army deployed, as UOR, a number of american-made Centurion C-RAM trailers, fitted with suitably modified Phalanx CIWS guns taken from the Royal Navy's stock. However, for what i understand that was a temporary solution: Centurion was not deployed to Afghanistan, the trailers have been handed back to the US and the Phalanx guns returned to the Royal Navy.
The "existing" C-RAM capability is virtual, but a C-RAM protection system was promised in SDSR documents. Nice to see that they are sticking to that promise.
We can assume that connected to NEADS will also be the replacement for the now retired COBRA counter-artillery radar and for the active MAMBA: the Common Weapon Locating Radar, which should be the ARTHUR Mod C from Saab.
Entry in service should be in 2014 but an order has not yet been finalized.
Some 34 US-made Lightweight Counter Mortar Radar are in use after being procured as UOR. Most of them are in Afghanistan, but a number was also used to provide protection to the Olympic games in London. It's near certain that these precious radars are part of the solutions being brought into Core Budget.
The NAO does not go into such detail in its report, but includes this information:
Approval for the Assessment Phase 1 was given by the MOD Investment Approvals Board in February 2010, and ratified in June 2010 as part of the review by the new coalition Government.
The objective of the Assessment Phase 1 is to establish the most cost effective solution to the Increment 1 requirement and early de-risking activities for Increment 2.
The current approval covers Assessment Phase work required to reach Main Gate 1, which leads to the Demonstration and Manufacture phase for Increment 1 and effectively Increment 2 Initial Gate. The Assessment Phase has been structured into three workstreams as follows:
a. Workstream 0. Initial de-risking activities will identify and address any changes and further lessons learnt as a result of the evolving Land Environment Air Picture Provision and Urgent Operational Requirement projects and current operations. Further work will develop the architecture required to allow the incremental insertion of capability over the project lifecycle. This will also drive coherence into future Urgent Operational Requirement activity and address any scaling issues as a result of the Defence Review.
b. Workstream 1. The work stream will result in the down selection to a single affordable option to be presented at Network Enabled Airspace Defence and Surveillance Main Gate 1 to deliver the Automated Sense and Warn capability. A full option analysis will be undertaken to investigate retaining extant Urgent Operational Requirement and Core Programme components as well as alternative off the shelf solutions.
c. Workstream 2. This work stream will result in the development of a detailed system architecture and associated systems and technical requirements and initial evaluation of potential equipment options. It is planned to de-risk the overall Network Enabled Airspace Defence and Surveillance architecture, by integrating Future Local Area Air Defence Systems (Land) and High Velocity Missile models/ equipments into a representative Network Enabled Airspace Defence and Surveillance system and also undertake an initial assessment of Counter-Rocket Artillery and Mortars effectors.
In 2010, associated with the Strategic Defence and Security Review a number of options were raised to maintain alignment with wider Defence priorities. These were primarily associated with scaling and delivery timings.
An Industry Day was held in November 2010, at which a number of companies were briefed on the programme. Since then industry have been kept informed of developments via a series of newsletters. A series of one to one discussions with industry on Increment 1 is currently being conducted, following the Request for Information for Increment 1.
The NAO notes that, as of March 2012, NEADS activities were on track and making good progress towards the first Main Gate point. The Main Gate expected date, however, is classified and obscured in the report.
Surprisingly, the NAO shows FLAADS(L) as expected to hit IOC or even In-Service date in November 2016: i'm not sure how we should read this passage, however. While FLAADS(M) has long been expected to start replacing Sea Wolf on the Type 23s from 2016, Rapier replacement was expected not to be funded before 2018 at the earliest. I'd be surprised if it had been brought forwards.
Not because it is not needed, but because of budget considerations.
Another program of interest is the already mentioned upgrade to the Spearfish torpedo.
Spearfish is the sole heavyweight torpedo in the UK arsenal and is carried aboard Trafalgar and Vanguard Class submarines. The weapon was introduced into service in 1994 and is the only submarine launched weapon for offensive and defensive operations against ships and other submarines. Spearfish will be deployed in the Astute Class from 2013 and an upgraded Spearfish weapon is the planning assumption for equipping the future Deterrent.
The Spearfish Upgrade project is required to deliver a mid-life upgrade to sustain a credible and safe weapon for future submarine operations. The scope of the project includes digitisation of the weapon, the provision of a new insensitive munition warhead to replace the current ageing warhead, changes to the fuel system and the introduction of a new communications link. The upgrade will address obsolescence and also enable future reductions in through life costs.
Assessment Phase began with a contract assigned to BAE in April 2010, and will be completed in April 2014 with in-water trials. So far, the effort is progressing satisfactorily and on time. The new Insensitive Munition compliant warhead achieved the required level of technological maturity in January 2012 completing successful land based and underwater scale test firings undertaken in Germany and in the UK respectively.
The fibre optic dispensing system evaluation trials in April 2011 proved that the fibre in use was too weak and required replacement with a more ruggerized one. There are no delays to report anyway.
Initial design work to define and develop the interface between the upgraded weapon and the submarine combat system was completed in February 2012. Work is ongoing.
Regarding CEC, the NAO unfortunately confirms that:
Planning Round 2012 has announced United Kingdom Cooperative Engagement Capability Project Delete Option E12AW006S has been taken and is not part of the funded Core Programme. Delete Option also identified £1m to conduct project close down activities in Financial Year12/13.
It is a big loss of capability, in particular for the Type 45 destroyers. It is not clear how this PR12 decision affects the possibility, for the Navy, to resurrect the CEC effort in the coming years.
Particularly unwelcome is this passage:
Once the Sea King leaves service there will be some consequent capability gaps until upgraded Merlin helicopters can take on the tasks of providing helicopter lift from naval vessels to the shore (a two-year gap until April 2018) and providing airborne surveillance and control capabilities for the future aircraft carriers (a potential four‑year gap until 2020). The Department is examining alternative means of closing these capability gaps.
Regarding Crowsnest, the intended replacement for the Sea King MK7 ASaC, we will know more this year, if plans do not change: assessment phase will finally be launched. Avoiding this particular gap is extremely important.
Just as unwelcome is the gap in amphibious support helicopter capability. It is not clear how this must be read: the plan so far has been that in 2016 the Commando Helicopter Force will take over the Merlin HC3/3A, but properly "navalized" HC4-standard airframes were not going to arrived before 2017.
In the disaster, we have to hope that the April 2018 is the new date for conversion to HC4 standard of the Merlins: if the delay is to be intended as total lack of helicopters for CHF for two years due to postponed Merlin transfer, the only sane option is keeping the Sea King going for a little longer. It would be totally irresponsible to do otherwise.
Finally, they have nothing to do with the NAO report, but they are relevant news:
- The british armed forces have selected their new sidearm: it's the 9mm Glock 17 Gen 4 pistol, fitted with Picatinny rail under the barrel. It is lighter than the Browning, the clip holds 17 rounds (vs 13) and it allows much shorter reaction times from draw to firing of a full sequence of 5 rounds.
25.000 pistols have been ordered, at a cost of 9 million. Afghanistan-deployed troops, of course, will get the weapon first. Firearms distributor Viking Arms Limited, of Harrogate, will deliver guns and holsters.
- An UOR has also been financed to procure a number of LSD500 laser surveillance and sniper detection systems from France's CILAS. The systems are for use in base protection in Afghanistan.
I don't question the wisdom of the purchase which i'm sure is made for good reasons, but bases have already the Boomerang III system, while soldiers have seen the UOR for a body-worn or rifle-mounted sniper detection system cancelled last year. I would have preferred to fill the capability gap in terms of wearable/rifle mounted shooter detection system first, to extend the capability to foot patrols away from FOBs and vehicles (a number of vehicles in theatre are fitted with Boomerang III).