FRES SV hit trouble in the last few months, and the prototypes are struggling with weight management and other issues, including an internal spat between General Dynamics and Lockheed Martin. The FRES SV Scout variant, the most complex and heavy of the platforms under development in the program, must deliver a vehicle which is 27 tons in weight for air transport, around 32 tons in combat ready configuration and with a growth margin stretching well beyond the 40 tons, up to 42 or even 45. The superior promise in terms of weight growth margin was a decisive factor in GD’s victory over the rival proposal of BAE Systems with the CV90, so weight issues are not promising.
It is to be hoped that the very generous planned length of the demonstration phases for the programme will contain any slip and reduce its effect on the wider defence programme. In fact, already months ago it became evident that FRES SV would not substantially appear in the Army before the 2020s, and IOC might be as far away as 2023, with the last of the CVR(T) family of vehicles not expected to bow out before 2026. The time it is taking to deliver this capability is seriously depressing, and not for the first time I’m left to wonder why the “paper project” of GD was preferred over the more mature CV90 solution. We have no certainty that the second would deliver without issues either, of course, but it sure looked promising back then.
Warthog into core; what about TALISMAN?
One good news comes from the UOR to Core front, with Warthog securing itself a future in the Army beyond Afghanistan. Around half of the one hundred Warthogs available will be refitted and reconfigured for use in the 1st Intelligence and Surveillance brigade. They will have two main roles: they will give mobility to the Desert Hawk III detachments and to the five MAMBA artillery-locating radars, currently installed on older, unprotected BV206 platforms.
The fifth MAMBA was only delivered this year, and the OSD for the system is now given as 2026: it seems that the ambition to replace both COBRA (already gone out of service) and MAMBA with a dozen new surveillance and artillery locating radars under the Future Weapon Locating Radar program is dead, leaving the Army far away from the level of capability it hoped to have and from the capability it had before the COBRA went out of the window. COBRA was going to be hardly sustainable as, despite impressive performances, had a huge obsolescence bill mounting up and would have needed several serious measures taken, but now it is gone and the promised replacement is nowhere in sight. Unfortunately, this kind of situation ceased to be surprising quite a while ago.
The 21 Watchkeeper TacGroup vehicles (on Viking hulls) recently purchased will be kept as they are, denying a full commonality in terms of armor platforms used by the Royal Artillery UAV regiments, with Viking and Warthog forced to coexist.
The hand-launched Desert Hawk III UAV, in itself a UOR, will be brought into core budget, and so will the dozen of Tarantula Hawk UAVs used as part of the TALISMAN route-clearance convoys. The fate of the TALISMAN convoys themselves is not yet clear: the Buffalo rummaging-arm vehicle, the remotely controlled PANAMA (Land Rover Snatch converted as unmanned vehicles fitted with ground-penetrating sensors) and the High Mobility Engineer Excavator HMEE are all UORs, and their fate is not year clear. Hard to say if the composite route-clearance convoys will be maintained in their current general arrangement. The HMEE was a stop-gap solution between the retirement of the old Combat Engineer Tractor (CET) and the entry into service of the new Terrier, so it might be very low on the list of priorities, as Terrier by now is in service. Buffalo and PANAMA; on the other hand, are much harder to replace in the respective roles and there are no alternatives immediately available, unless the army replaces them with the impressive Pearson Engineering PEROCC, but this appears very unlikely. The fear is, of course, that not unlike what has already happened with other route clearance solutions of the past, the Army will divest the precious TALISMAN system and the knowledge connected to it, only to have to come up with a new solution during the next deployment.
The Mastiff Protected Eyes vehicle, regardless of the fate of the rest of TALISMAN, would instead most likely be kept and used as a combat ISTAR platform or converted for another role within the planned Mastiff-mounted mechanized infantry battalions.
|A Desert Hawk detachment with a Husky vehicle. 12 DHIII detachments are routinely active in Afghanistan|
Warrior CSP and ABSV
Jane’s reported on November 5 that the Warrior Capability Sustainment Programme has hit issues with the CTA 40mm gun which have caused a slip in the schedule, with unmanned firings from a static platform now not planned before next year. However, the news piece has been taken down and can no longer be read: it is rather surprising, and makes me wonder if the report wasn’t wrong somehow. After all, the CTA gun cleared in July a long and comprehensive campaign of test firings, during which the problem should, at least in theory, have surfaced. We will have to wait for further reports to understand what is actually happening on this front.
Promising news have filtered out of the Army about the conversion of Warriors surplus to the CSP numbers into new support variants. Considerable confusion was caused by early press reports about what DE&S head of Armoured Vehicles Programmes, Brigadier Robert Talbot Rice, said in his conference at the DVD show held in the summer of 2013.
In particular, a report by Shephard News suggested that the Warrior Capability Sustainment programme only plans to fit the renewed turret with 40mm gun to a mere 65 vehicles, with aspirations to modify another 300. However, a report by Army Recognition puts things straight and explains that while most Warrior vehicles interested by the CSP are in the IFV variant and will get the new turret, 65 are in the Repair and Recovery variants (FV512 and FV513) and are also getting enhancements. The CSP should also deliver protection, mechanical and electronic upgrades to the FV514 variant, the Artillery Observation vehicle for the Royal Artillery. According to the NAO Major Projects Report 2012, some 445 vehicles will be interested by the CSP. I believe 65 of these are the mentioned repair and recovery platforms (a reduction from over 130, proportionate to the reduction in the number of armoured infantry and tank formations) while a further 40 to 50 might be in the FV514 variant (which only has a dummy gun, so is not getting it replaced with the CTA 40mm). This would leave some 330 vehicles in the Section and Infantry Command variants (FV510 and FV511), which is a value consistent with the planned six armoured infantry battalions.
There are, however, more than 700 Warrior vehicles in the Army’s inventory, and while as of NAO report 2012 the affordable fleet has been already cut back to just 565 as the army closes down whole battalions, the Army is (thankfully) aware that the 300 (more or less) fine vehicles left out of the CSP could and should be put to better use than being just cannibalized and scrapped.
"Why would you not make use of these pretty good armoured vehicles? If you could sort these out, you could save money on Bulldogs and have better command and control elements based on Warrior."
This is where the Armoured Battlefield Support Vehicle (ABSV) steps in. This programme has been around, notionally, for years, but it now seems that the Army is determined to breathe new life into it. ABSV is currently still in the Concept Phase, but it is reassuring to know that it has the Army’s attention as a possible solution for the replacement of, mainly, the old Bulldog.
Each armoured infantry battalion is not only made up by Warrior vehicles, but by a substantial number of Bulldog vehicles (the latest incarnation of the ancient FV432) as well. This is a consequence of the management of the Warrior procurement back at the time. The Army was never able to purchase as many Warrior as it had initially planned, and any ambition to completely replace the FV432 was abandoned, with many Warrior variants never seeing the light of day.
Basically, ABSV is a bit of a time machine to go back in time and fix that problem, but much will depend on what variants eventually emerge during the concept phase. As said, ABSV is a programme which has born and died many times. Once known as M1P1 (in opposition to M2P2, the 8x8 wheeled platform which initially had to be the MRAV Boxer and then became FRES UV), it then became ABSV, it was first planned to encompass some 125 vehicles, and there was a contract signed with Alvis Vickers for it, with some prototyping work completed. ABSV was then supposed to deliver Command Post, Ambulance and General Purpose variants.
|ALVIS produced a prototype of the "turretless Warrior" ABSV Ambulance|
An armoured infantry battalion can have as many as 20 between FV432 and FV434 (the recovery variant), in Mortar Carrier, General Purpose APC, Ambulance and Command variants. All these need to be replaced at some point, either through FRES SV or, where possible, via ABSV. There is also a new requirement for up to 35 engineering and bridgelaying vehicles to support the FRES Scout equipped formations. This was once part of FRES but has been descoped in a money saving review of the program, while a Warrior bridgelayer variant has been showcased.
It will be very important to see where ABSV goes, and how it integrates with FRES SV.
The US Army is facing much the same situation with its need to replace the M113 and its countless variants, and unsurprisingly one of the solutions offered (in my opinion, the most realistic) is the “turretless Bradley” family put forwards by BAE Systems.
|The Turretless Bradley proposal gives a good idea of what ABSV should be about. A turretless Warrior family would be very precious for the british army|
The ABSV vehicle is closely connected to FRES UV and Mastiff, as well. The Bulldog that ABSV would replace has also been, in these years, the APC for the mechanized infantry battalions of the Army. Three such battalions, as for Army 2020 plan, are now going to transit on Mastiff and Ridgback wheeled vehicles, with the aim of receiving, finally a 6x6 or 8x8 armoured vehicle under FRES UV, around the middle of the next decade.
The FRES UV (Utility Vehicle) was also meant to replace various variants of FV432 vehicles, mainly in the mechanized infantry battalions, but not only in them. The Army seems to now be more aware of the need to keep tactical wheeled platforms and tracked platforms separated: an 8x8 command post in a Warrior-mounted battalion would not make much sense, and one of the recommendations of the Agile Warrior experimentations has been to ensure that all main platforms in a formation have, as much as possible, the same mobility characteristics. As a consequence, the focus on ABSV has returned, and Rice has gone on record suggesting that ABSV, FRES SV and even wheeled platforms such as Foxhound all have a part to play in covering the various requirements in the various formations. The 8x8 or 6x6 vehicle to come will be ordered to cover a specific requirement which can be assumed to be almost wholly confined in the mechanized infantry area.
The opening to a 6x6 vehicle is very significant as it can be read as an opening for possible collaboration with France, which plans such a platform as solution for its VBMR requirement. VBMR is supposed to replace the countless 4x4 VAB vehicles of the French army, coming in many variants and with as many as 1000 to be procured, so it could become very attractive for the british army to follow this path.
|One of 124 specially up-armoured Bulldog APCs used in Iraq. Command, Ambulance, General Purpose and Mortar Carrier variants of the FV432 are still serving in the army, but growing more and more ancient|
Returning to the Warrior Section Vehicle, RUSI wrote an analysis reporting that the upgrade, which replaces the seats for the soldiers with new, blast-resistant seating, reduces the number of dismounts carried by 1, from 7 to 6. In a platoon this means a reduction of at least 3 men, and while the 40mm gun with its new ammunition boosts the battalion's firepower massively, losing a significant number of dismounts is not such a good thing.
RUSI observes, with some merit, that the Army might want to reduce the number of Warrior IFVs fitted with the turret and 40mm guns, delivering instead a greater number of Warrior "APC" via the ABSV conversion programme, to restore somewhat the number of dismounts. If a platoon of four Warriors included one Infantry Command, two Section vehicles and one such Warrior APC (which would realistically carry 8 men if not 9 or 10), the number of dismounts would remain unchanged. It might be something worth considering, even though the reduction in manpower of the Army and in the establishment figures for every kind of battalion are there to remind us all that it is personnel that has the greatest impact on costs.
The Army might not be concerned with the reduction in the number of dismounts, at this point...
Under the 38 million contract for the refurbishment of 99 Viking vehicles for the Royal Marines, the Vikings are sent to the Örnsköldsvik plant in Sweden, where they were conceived and built, to be re-lifed after the heavy usage in Afghanistan and to be upgraded with greater protection, bringing them all to MK2 standard.
The Royal Marines have gone through three different Marks of Viking, the original MK 1, the improved MK 1A with modifications due to Afghanistan needs and the MK2.
The vehicles of all variants (Command, APC, Recovery & Repair) are being given V-shaped hull and improved protection on both front and rear cars (the exception is the rear car of the Repair and Recovery variant as it carries no personnel). All variants have also been by now fitted with a ring for a protected weapon station.
An underbelly mine-protection kit has also been purchased and has already been delivered, back in April. These will not be a normal fit, but will be kept ready for installation when greater protection is needed (and amphibious capability is not, as the weight is likely to become excessive for floating).
Greater work is required on a total of 28 vehicles as they are being turned into two new variants: Crew Served Weapon carrier (19) and Mortar Carrier (9). BAE showcased both of these new variants in defence shows, before the UK made an order for them. However, it is far from certain whether the Royal Marines are going to get the “full optional” platforms seen in the shows. The Crew Served Weapon carrier, in particular, was showcased not only with a protected, manned weapon station on the rear car (which gives the name to the variant), but with a Selex Enforcer RWS with .50 machine gun on the front car, plus Boomerang III acoustic fire detector system and mast-mounted ROTAS EO/IR unit with laser designator. Boomerang, RWS and ROTAS might or might not figure on the Royal Marines vehicles: at the moment, it is not known.
The mortar carrier allows the firing of the L16A2 mortar from within the protection of the rear car, and carries 140 rounds. The mortar is mounted on a turntable.
|Warrior Crew Served Weapon carrier as offered by BAE: will the Royal Marines variant be this "full optional"...?|
The Crew Served Weapon carrier as showcased would be a major addition to the firepower and ISTAR equipment of the Royal Marines, while the mortar carriers provide a steep improvement over the old, un-armoured BV206 equivalents. Unfortunately, there will be enough to equip just the high readiness RM battalion, part of the Lead Commando Battlegroup. With the Warthog taken up by the Royal Artillery, the Royal Marines remain faced by the problem of funding a replacement for the venerable BV206s.
|Viking mortar carrier as proposed by BAE|
The entire fleet is being certified for a 14 tonne gross weight, will be fully amphibious and will have improvements to suspensions, brakes and other modifications where necessary. Unfortunately, it wasn’t possible to fund the replacement of the engine on the old MK 1 vehicles: the MK 2s sport a bigger, more powerful and more modern 6.7-litre Cummins engine instead of the original 5.9 unit. Unfortunately, this couldn’t be adopted at this stage on the whole fleet, but the Vikings are being given wiring and adaptations which will make the replacement of the engine easier and cheaper afterwards, when there will be a budget for it.
The programme is going well and meeting its targets. By the end of next year the whole fleet should be back with the Royal Marines. It would be fantastic to replace the old engines on the upgraded MK 1 and 1A vehicles (which would also bring all the fleet to a single mechanical standard, importantly) and it would be even better to be able to purchase more vehicles, to replace the BV206. Other variants, ordered by other countries such as France and Sweden, include load carrying / logistic platform and ambulance variant, and both are likely to have the interest of the Royal Marines. Let’s hope they can get them soon enough.
|Viking variants. The Royal Marines could use at least some ambulances...|
Mortars and Artillery
Jane’s reports brings both good and bad news about the future plans of the british army for mortars. Once more, the British Army is preparing to remove the light, hand-held mortar from the infantry platoon. The 60 mm mortars procured for this role as UOR for the Afghanistan operations will be put in storage, with only a few of them remaining in routine use, only with the Marines and PARA formations. Removing the handheld platoon mortar has been done and proven wrong already several times since the end of world war two, but evidently it is still not enough of a lesson learned.
The long-barrel, bipod-equipped 60mm light mortars that have complemented the venerable L16A2 81mm mortar on operations in Afghanistan will also all be put into storage, as there is no money to bring them into core.
And of course there is no plan to follow the lead of many NATO allies and procure 120 mm mortars.
The British Army will instead revert fully to the L16 itself. The L16A2 will be life-extended with new barrels, which might receive a Blast Attenuation Device, like the American variant did already in 1984. The BAD is meant to reduce the peak pressure to comply to health and safety normative in terms of hearing protection. The British Army, having no money for a longer range 120mm mortar, wishes to achieve an extension in the useful range of the L16A2, but this will be challenging because it will require either a more powerful launch charge, which would also be, again, noisier, or a longer barrel which would make the mortar heavier, another big no-no. In any case, the current L41 HE bomb is to be replaced with a new bomb, compliant to the Insensitive Munition (IM) regulation.
Improvements are planned for the training and equipment of Mortar Fires Controllers, which will receive a wider training to be better able to direct support fire other than mortars. Mortar Troop Commanders should also receive greater battlespace management training to enhance their contribution to tactical decision making.
During next year, the Mortar Fire Controllers will replace the current Fire Control Application computer with a much lighter solution which will add a meteorological data handling capability while cutting weight to 0.9 kg including battery from 2.4 without battery. This at least looks like a major improvement.
A programme was also started last year for the selection and acquisition of a lightweight targeting system, which should be delivered by 2018. A laser-designation capability is among the ambitions for MFCs, as well, as it would allow them to designate targets for the EXACTOR missile (SPIKE NLOS) which is being brought into core budget.
An EXACTOR troop should be added to each of the three GMLRS batteries in the “reaction force” artillery regiments, which will so gain a truly formidable and complete spectrum of firepower, from the AS90 to GMLRS to EXACTOR, which will give a precision strike capability even against moving targets.
The EXACTOR should be installed on a new vehicle platform as it is brought into core, but it is not yet clear on which one: as a UOR, it has been sourced urgently from Israel, installed on non-standard M113 vehicles which, in the british army, would be a logistic oddity.
A budget of 5 million pounds is allocated to Project VIRTUS in the financial year 2014 – 15, so we should finally see some elements of this new integrated personal load carrying equipment. A contract notice appeared in February this year, specifying the planned programme of trials and the evolutionary plan for the acquisition of the VIRTUS capability with three successive ‘Pulses’.