Sunday, August 30, 2020

The huge issues in the Integrated Review

 

F-35

Will the new Review provide an actual plan for the UK's F-35 purchase?

It is very much time to decide, because UK purchases are only planned out up to the 48th airplane. Specifically, the UK is acquiring:

 

3 jets in LRIP 12 (Fiscal Year 2018; delivery this year)

6 in LRIP 13 (2019; delivery 2021)

8 in LRIP 14 (2020; delivery 2022)

7 in LRIP 15 (2021; delivery was to be in 2023 but got slowed down. Just 2 deliveries expected in 2023 now)

6 in LRIP 16 (2022; delivery was to be in 2024 but got slowed down. Just 4 now expected in 2024. A total of 7 jets will thus now only be delivered in 2025)

 

The delay to deliveries was reported by the National Audit Office: basically, the MOD decided to delay delivery to spread out the expenditure across more financial years.

 

Note that Lot 15 and 16 are expected to be part of a 3-lots Block Buy (15, 16 and 17). The final production contract for this Block Buy, which will be as always concluded by the US Department of Defense on behalf also of the international partners, has not yet been concluded but will be in the near future.

The UK currently has no known plan for what to do with Lot 17: will it contain any UK aircraft? Will it be a complete gap year?  

In practice, beginning in 2023, the UK F-35 purchase is all up in the air.

 

The "138" number is probably entirely unfeasible. Many observers have been aware of this for years now, and I’ve written and tweeted about it many times over. Lately, with reports in the Press, it has emerged that this awareness is becoming very much “official” with the Integrated Review discussion reportedly focusing on having 70 accepted as the “minimum credible fleet size” to be pursued.

To me, and to several other observers, this is no surprise and no shock. Arguably, it is merely a measure of realism.

 

For several years now, the number 138 has arguably had zero actual relevance in regard to what the operational fleet can aspire to be.

The infamous key phrase to hang on to the number 138 was “the aircraft will be purchased over the life of the programme”, means the numbers would be spread over many years. Thanks to the MOD’s usual vagueness and deliberate murkyness, nobody even knows how many years.

The annual Major Projects Report has the F-35 programme end date as 31 March 2035, but how this should be interpreted is open to debate. Would 2035 see the last delivery? If so, the last order would have to be placed 2 years earlier, in 2033. Or would 2035 see the last order placed?

According to other interpretations, “over the life of the programme” should be read as “out to the aircraft’s Out of Service Date”, which is tentatively scheduled for 2048 as of these days (with the understanding that this will move to the right by potentially decades, as always happens).

Clearly it would be spectacularly dumb to be purchasing jets just before removing the fleet from service, and there cannot be absolute certainty that the F-35 production line would still be open at all by then. There are fair chances that F-35s will still be in production, but it’s just an assumption.

Not knowing on how many years the purchases are going to be spread out obviously makes it impossible to gauge the relevance of the total number. If purchases are spread out over decades, the actual available fleet will never grow beyond a fraction of the total.

Purchases very late on in the life of the programme might well be replacement airframes to make up for operational losses, or new-build machines purchased instead of replacing early production lot aircraft on value-for-money considerations.

 

In short: 138 was never going to be the F-35’s in-service fleet size.

138 F-35 would suffice for 6 or 7 squadrons, maybe more, but there is no manpower and no infrastructure for that to happen. That's why the number is meaningless and has been for years.

We have only ever been told there would be 4 F-35 squadrons.

 

And it would be very difficult indeed to create more.

The RAF currently has 7 frontline TYPHOON Squadrons and has repeatedly made clear that they want to try and squeeze an 8th one out, from a fleet of 140 machines (160 have been procured in total, but 1 was written off after a belly landing at China Lake in 2008; 3 were instrumented production aircraft for development and the Tranche 1 two-seaters have been withdrawn and dismantled for harvesting spares).

If you had 4 F-35B Squadrons, the total is 11 to 12 frontline Fast Jet units. The RAF hasn’t had this many from before 2010. And, notoriously, in 2010 the RAF shrunk down by 5,000 posts.

There clearly does not seem to be any manpower margin to create more Squadrons, even if there was the money to procure the airframes.

 

The fact that 70 F-35s are being described as the bare minimum requirement offers hope that the number of squadrons to be formed is still 4. A fleet of 70 to 80 jets should be enough to deliver that kind of force structure.

 



But again, there are too many things we do not know. One being the number of years in which the force will be built up. If 70 merely replaces 138 as a “through life” objective, we might well never see that many in service at the same time, and thus the number of squadrons would have to reduce.

If purchases are slow, the last 2 Squadrons might form only very late on, perhaps even beyond 2030. That would be very, very late indeed.

 

“70”, “138”, or whatever other number of airframes is individually almost meaningless.

If the Review finally gives us a realistic plan for the formation of the last 2 planned Squadrons by 2030, I invite everyone to leap with joy. 617 Squadron is operational, 809 will only stand up in 2023. What we need to see mapped out is the road that brings us to a third and a fourth frontline squadron.

The exact number of airframes is entirely secondary. Obviously, the more are purchased the easier it will be to form and sustain the fleet in the long term, but adjustements can be made. Less “attrition” aircraft purchased might be balanced by a greater investment in spare parts. Eventual losses should be faced with an eventual, occasional future purchase from a hot production line rather than by acquiring spare airframes early on, which will be difficult and expensive to keep up to date as the aircraft evolves.

 

I will be happy, quite literally, if people stop pestering us with a meaningless 138 number without dates attached to it in favor of an actual plan to get to 80 in 4 squadrons in an acceptable timeframe.

In fact, the UK should not commit to a fixed number of F-35s, and especially not such a high number. There will be time to make future purchases from a hot production line (for example if TEMPEST encounters delays, which is, let’s be honest, almost certainly going to happen; it always does) without having to unnecessarily constrain the Equipment Budget right at this time. 

 

My chief worry is that cutting back on the distant, long-term total number is in itself going to generate zero savings in the short term, were the financial problem sits. What needs to be settled satisfactorily is the timeframe 2023 – 2030 (2035 at the very latest).

This is especially true because the closer we get to 2030, the more F-35 will have to contend with TEMPEST for the same slice of budget. If you want TEMPEST by 2035 it means expenditure ramps up very quickly indeed. The UK has pinned on TEMPEST the future of its Aerospace industry and of its international credibility as a country able to lead a programme of this complexity. As a consequence, TEMPEST is an absolute priority and F-35 will inexorably tend to get crushed under its growing burden.

 

The real question is: can the UK afford another circa 40 F-35B by 2030? It would require the purchase of 5 jets per year beginning in 2023. This should not be unfeasible (the UK has ordered 6 or more jets in every year from 2019 to 2022) and is less aircraft per year than several other F-35 countries regularly order, but we know that the Combat Air budget is not looking very roomy in the next years and the RAF will have TYPHOON upgrades to fund; TEMPEST to develop and, hopefully, the LANCA unmanned loyal wingman to acquire. The same, small share of money will have to be cut up among these main programmes.

The situation is thorny enough that, I will repeat it again, 70 jets should make us all rejoice, provided that they are acquired over a reasonably short timeframe.

The real nightmare scenario we face is the impossibility to even do that.

 

Late 2020s and early 2030s will see TEMPEST expenditure ramping up more and more. As a consequence, I feel that the bulk of F-35 procurement will be over by 2030, by lack of money if not by design. Every effort, in my opinion, should be directed on getting those other 2 Sqns of F-35Bs by that date. And it is not going to be easy. It is in no way a given.

It is to be hoped that getting to 4 F-35B Squadrons will still happen, and that it will happen in a reasonable timeframe. The RAF will be severely short of Stealth capability until that happens, and the aircraft carriers will have a very hard time embarking a meaningful air wing. It would be a very embarrassing situation, as well as a dangerous one.

 

One welcome side effect of this much needed injection of realism is the fact that, if the RAF is at all sane, this will be the end of the ridiculous “Split Buy” idea. The fleet needs to be made up of one type, the B, which can work from the carriers as well as from land.

The F-35A is individually less expensive, yes. Has a slightly longer unrefueled range, yes. And can carry larger weapons in its internal bays, yes.

While these justifications are all true, the numbers (money, manpower and thus number of Squadrons, number of airframes) were never  sufficient to truly justify a split buy and were never going to be unless there was to be no TEMPEST. Splitting the fleet would result in tiny, operationally-ineffective fleets and in near-empty aircraft carrier decks.

The F-35A’s “advantages” would be totally illusory as well: the aircraft would be cheap, but there would be new costs associated to running two separate sub-fleets. Despite much commonality, F-35A and F-35B are not and will never be the same thing and there would be a constant fratricide struggle for securing a slice of the budget for covering the respective “unique” needs.

Moreover, the RAF does not own or plan a single payload which would fit the F-35A’s larger weapon bays but not the B’s ones. The large payloads are too large for both; the others fit the B just fine. So that is, and has always been, a moot point. Looks good on paper but never meant a thing in the UK’s context.

 

Hopefully, with the formation of the next two Squadrons now officially in jeopardy (unofficially, they have been uncertain for years to all who could look at the facts with the necessary realism) and the total number of airframes being revised downwards by 50% or even more, everyone will realize how utterly demented the idea of a split is.

 

The last time there was a 2-Squadrons small fleet, said fleet was offered up for the ritual slaughter because it was “too small to be sustainable and to support any sort of enduring operation, at sea or on land”. And honestly, it was. 2 Squadrons are too few to rotate in and out of task in a sustainable way. 4, ideally 5, is the number you are looking for.

That ‘s why the reduction of the number of squadrons in 2009 sealed the fate of that fleet, well before the 2010 SDSR even started.

That fleet was the HARRIER GR9 fleet. The number of airframes, ironically enough, was still 72 when the cut was decided. The number of crews and frontline squadrons operational on the type determined the cut, not the number of airframes.  

 

Whoever suggested that splitting the F-35 purchase in two to create not one but 2 barely-sustainable small fleets, both too small to meet their requirements, was being very unwise when 138 jets were still the assumption.

Whoever was to still insist on a split buy now would be, and I will unapologetically say this no matter how many might feel offended, an idiot. There really isn’t a kind way to say it.

 

 

CHALLENGER 2 Life Extension Programme

 

There is now a consensus on the fact that, if CHALLENGER 2 cannot be very decisively upgraded, it might be better to just remove it from service because it is suffering severe obsolescence, including in its main armament. The problem is well known: the rifled gun is a british oddity which has the drawback of employing two-piece ammunition. This means that the armor piercing rod cannot be lenghtened, creating a more effective round and putting an hard ceiling to the tank's lethality. It also means that there is no way to adopt the extremely flexible new generation of programmable, multi-mode explosive shells which are critical to counter reinforced positions and urban obstacles. 

I do not disagree on this assessment. The CHALLENGER has aged badly. It is also underpowered: its 1200 HP engine was arguably already inadequate when still new, especially considering that the british tank is heavier than its 1500 HP-powered counterparts. More weight and less power are a bad combination, that even the hydrogas suspensions cannot balance. 

What is extremely irritating, if not downright dishonest on the Army's part, is to come up with this radical assessment only now. Up to literally last year, the official position was that CHALLENGER 2 had no major lethality problems and only needed a refresh to optics, communications and electronics. 

For years i've written about the CR2 LEP and campaigned for the Gun and Powerpack to be at the very heart of the programme,. I went so far to suggest that LEP had no real sense to exist if the main issues were not to be considered. I did so before it was even confirmed that Rheinmetall was bidding a re-gunned upgrade solution, as this 2016 article shows

Yet, the Army initially launched LEP as a very limited obsolescence-removal effort, and it is only thanks to Rheinmetall's courage to show up with a new turret with the smoothbore 120/55 (what the Army wanted but did not dare asking for) that we are now looking at a LEP that, if it will progress, will actually mature the CR2 into that "world beater" it was falsely described as for all these years. 

Specifically, the latest Major Project spreadsheet, released in July and current to September 2019, reports on the sudden "change of heart" regarding CR2 LEP: 


The scheduled baseline project end date at Q2 1920 (30th September 2019) is 31/07/28, has lengthened by 791 days since last year's Q2 1819 date of 01/06/26, due primarily to the following factors;


 - In this period the programme's scope was expanded from obsolescence only to include enhancements to its lethality and survivability. The expanded scope has also lengthened the time to complete the work and increased cost over the assessment, demonstration and  manufacture phases.  These dates are currently subject to negotiation and will be confirmed when the full business case has been approved. 



The baseline Whole Life Cost at Q2 1920 (30th September 2019) is £1,304.19 m, due primarily to the following factors;


 - This reflects the financial position following the capability uplift endorsed by HMT. This sees a capability uplift and extension to the Main Battle Tank out to 2035.




Speaking to the Defence Committee, the Chief of the Defence Staff, previous Chief General Staff and mastermind of Army 2020 and Army 2020 Refine, General Sir Nick Carter, said that it has been "realized" that the CHALLENGER 2 needs the lethality upgrade to effectively face russian armor. 


I think the requirement is now pretty clear, and that is one of the reasons why Challenger 2 is taking a long time. It is because there was this realisation that the programme was not ambitious enough. It needed a smoothbore gun. It needed the ability to put a missile down that barrel to overmatch Armata, as you rightly describe. It needed its protection levels to be significantly enhanced. So the requirement has evolved. I think the Army now has a very clear idea of what it needs. The trick now is to find the resources to get behind what
it needs.

[Note: the mention of a "missile" can be interpreted as a new requirement for a gun-fired ATGW missile, but it seems that Carter was just being very "byzantine" in describing what is just the APFSDS round, but the longer-rod one enabled by the smoothbore cannon]


Carter's words do not reflect positively on him and on the Army as a whole. If they couldn't see the need for upgrade before 2019 they were not doing their job properly. 

The Army, of course, knew perfectly well that the gun needed to change: it was, in fact, looking for solutions already in the early 2000s, when the Challenger Lethality Improvement Programme was tentatively launched. It was in 2006 that a CHALLENGER 2 was first retrofitted with a 120mm smoothbore gun, in fact. Swapping the gun was never an issue: the issue was in the complete redesign needed to fix ammunition storage spaces and make room for the much longer single-piece rounds. This is the main issue to this day: the driver behind the need for a new turret. 

Have they forgotten everything about that phase? Was Carter being overly kind to his political masters, to the point of having the Army shouldering more blame that necessary? He was not shy earlier in the same hearing saying that it depends on money: why, then, say something as hopelessly stupid as this about CR2 lethality problems suddenly "dawning" on an oblivious Army...? 


The handling of the whole CHALLENGER 2 saga is horrible, and it makes me think very unpleasant things of the Army and of the current Chief Defence Staff. 

It strikes me as a binary choice: either there is staggering incompetence at play, or there is a fundamental dishonesty. 

The sudden "extremism" on the CHALLENGER 2 LEP issue at a time in which the risk of seeing the whole fleet axed for real is staggeringly elevate is very puzzling indeed. Up to last year they were fine with doing little more than changing radios and thermal cameras; now it's all or nothing. 

It's a terribly risky gamble. 

If not a deliberate ploy to direct the incoming cuts exactly in that direction. 

It feels like the 2009 reduction to the number of HARRIER Squadrons, which effectively made cancellation of the whole fleet the following year a foregone conclusion. 


Maybe i'm being overly harsh. Maybe my suspicions are unfunded. But it very much smells to me like an underhanded move on the part of what i suspect is a "wheeled faction" which seems to have gained the upper hand within the Army since 2015. 

I've long suspected the existence of a fundamental disagreement at the heart of Army planning between Tracks proponents and Wheels supporters. The dramatic change of priorities in 2015, just after the massive AJAX contract was signed, will always have me wondering. 


It is safe to say that, whatever the final outcome, as far as i'm concerned, the sooner General Carter's era ends, the better i'll feel. The original Army 2020 plan was a mess that had to be fixed with a long list of U-turns in the following years, and Army 2020 Refine now risks to destroy what's left of the British Army. It could hardly have gone any worse than it has. 


The prospect of the Army losing its MBTs and IFVs is one that is very hard to stomach. The destructive effect of such a decision would ripple farther across the force structure than most realize. It would be a life-changing injury for the Army. In the graphic below, I tried to evidence some of the less immediately-evident ramifications of such a scenario.

 

 

 

This graphic shows some (not all) of the true implications of doing away with the tank.
This graphic shows some (not all) of the implications of doing away with the tank. 

 

What is most infuriating about the tracked heavy armour situation is that the Army has laid its head into the guillotine all by itself. As we wait to see if the blade descends or not, we might contemplate the fact that in late 2019 the MOD signed into a 2.8 billion pounds contract for 523 BOXERs, as part of a Mechanized Infantry Vehicle contract which has an overall budget for procurement and first few operational years that is given as 4.6 billions in the latest Major Projects spreadsheet.

It is a fact that the Army put itself into this thorny corner by making BOXER its absolute number 1 priority, despite knowing that these 523 vehicles are a mere start, insufficient in numbers and variants to cover the need of the 2 STRIKE brigades.

 

In an alternate universe, the British Army has not strayed away from the 3 armoured  brigades of Army2020; has not yet bought a Mechanized Infantry Vehicle (MIV) and is making do with MASTIFF in its place but has but those billions into continuing the job it had started on Armour, getting CHALLENGER 2 LEP and WARRIOR CSP under contract and is, as a result, riding out the Integrated Review with a lighter heart.

This is a fact, and no hindsight is required. I’ve been shouting warnings for 5 years about the STRIKE adventure, as you will know if you have been following me for a while. I’ve collected hate from multiple corners, but I’m sadly, once again, proven right.

Believe me, I would very much like to be proven wrong in these cases, but it does not happen.

In pursuit of a concept that remains uncomfortably vague, the Army has put its core capabilities into a guillotine.

 

The MBT – IFV combo is the heart of any modern army. As the graphic hopefully helps understand, the ramifications extend across multiple formations and roles. All of that would have to be re-imagined and re-built around new concepts and new vehicles. This would be very expensive… and thus would likely not happen. Not anywhere near the scale that would be required.

 

Doing away with MBTs would require a very honest and very significant downgrade to national ambitions; a complete re-write of how the Army fights and against what kind of enemy it can go; and the rebuilding of the force structure around new and different vehicles and sources of firepower.

 

The problem is the UK would probably do none of the 3. Multiple governments have shown not to possess the necessary coherence and honesty to admit that having less capability only ever means doing less, not more. And the expenditure required to rebuild the army would be monstrous. If the tanks are cut for lack of money, you cannot possibly expect big amounts of money to be available right away, if ever, to launch a complete reconstruction of the force.

 

The Army would be left with BOXERs for some 4 infantry battalions, and plans for 4 regiments on AJAX. And that would be it. Half of 3rd Division would virtually cease to exist in one go, and since 1st Division is mostly only an empty shell containing multiple Light Role infantry battalions, there would be very, very little left to work with.

 

This is not the time to lose the MBT. Such a decision would also shut Britain pretty much out of any attempt to secure an industrial role in future MBT programmes. One popular option that gets mentioned a lot is “joining the franco-german Maing Ground Combat System”. There are multiple issues with this: France and Germany are not really looking for partners to treat with any equality. Industrial opportunities for other countries will be extremely limited. The UK would be welcomed as customer, not as partner.

And even if this was to change, the UK will have very little chance to secure any important industrial role simply because the relevant capabilities in this sector will have gone.

 

Rheinmetall BAE Land Systems is offering an incredibly fascinating option for a deep modernization of CHALLENGER 2: a whole new turret. This solves the ammunition problem of the CR2, which is the only NATO tank that uses 2-piece ammunition, which prevents the armor-piercing rod to be lengthened, thus hard-capping lethality. The CR2 ammunition is increasingly obsolete and is an oddity that offers zero commonality to NATO stocks and developments. No path to greater armor-piercing capability (important in the light of new Russian developments) and no chance to adopt modern programmable explosive rounds either. The new turret has been tested on a CHALLENGER 2 hull armed with the NATO standard 120 mm smoothbore and the very latest ammunition.

The new turret also comes fully digitalized and with modern systems, including new optics shared with AJAX, offering logistical commonality.

 


The first LEP demonstrator by Rheinmetall (now RBLS) focused on a "conservative" approach by going with the standard 120/55 smoothbore. 




The second demonstrator, publicly unveiled only last July, is more radically new as it comes with the 130/51 smoothbore. The turret is the same, but fitted with extra armour on the front and sides, possibly also as a form of counterweight for the cannon. Rheinmetall is betting big on this turret and this cannon; for them the CHALLENGER 2 LEP is an exciting opportunity, but the turret is very clearly aimed at future developments (MGCS) and at the LEOPARD 2 upgrade market. The first CHALLENGER 2 demonstrator was showcased at the NEDS show in the Netherlands in 2019, along with the 130 mm shell. It was a hint of what was coming, and a clear sign of the turret being meant for far more than just CHALLENGER. In the Netherlands, nobody cares about CHALLENGER. LEOPARD 2, on the other hand...


But more than that, the new turret is a product that Rheinmetall is using to develop next-generation solutions that could find a vast market in the future as LEOPARD 2 customers around the world take an interest.

 

In July it was revealed that the new turret, mounted on a CHALLENGER 2 hull (presumably the 2nd of the tanks given originally to Rheinmetall to become demonstrators for LEP proposals) has been trialed with the new 130/51 gun, which offers an estimated 50% lethality boost.

This new cannon is not yet a given for the franco-german MGCS, but is expected to eventually be officially picked, and it is assumed it will become a NATO standard in time as a consequence.

 

Clearly there is a risk that, in the end, the new gun won’t be so widely adopted. Or perhaps it will only be adopted over many years.

Then again, every risk comes with an opportunity. There is a more than real possibility that this new gun will only grow in relevance in the future, and that it might pick up big export orders.

If the UK became the launch customer and got RBLS to launch production of the turret, gun and ammunition in the country, the heavy armour industrial capability of the country would go from moribund back to very healthy. It would be much easier to secure a role into a future tank programme too. Perhaps even have a leadership position into an alternative programme to the franco-german one, with countries like Italy and Poland not at all thrilled by the virtually inexistent role for their industries if they were to buy into the MGCS.

Rheinmetall is likely to be sympathetic with a UK base for the new turret and gun because London is less likely to impose bans that prevent the company from bagging massive and lucrative middle east contracts. The german parliament has killed off several opportunities that Rheinmentall would have loved to pursue.

 

There is a huge opportunity within reach. In order to make CHALLENGER 2 fit for the next 2 decades, the new turret is a must. And whether it is armed with the 120 mm or the new 130 mm, new ammunition will have to be part of the expenditure. Arguably, this is exactly the time to be bold and adopt the new gun.


 

 

MIV and WARRIOR

 

MIV is a huge part of why the Army’s budget is in trouble, but BOXER is a good vehicle, and there are understandable reasons for wanting wheeled armour. Ideally, there should be both fully tracked and fully wheeled brigades, but the British Army does not have the resources to make it happen anytime soon, and so a different approach is required.

 

As I’ve written multiple times, I think the best compromise that can be pursued from where the Army currently stands is the French one. This means giving up tracked IFVs in favor of wheeled ones.

 

WARRIOR CSP is not yet under production contract, and since the base hull, even after the upgrade, shows all the limitations of age and of a powerpack that is not being replaced with a more modern and powerful one, it might be wiser to just abandon the project and the whole fleet.

 

The money (more than 800 million are earmarked for the WCSP production), the 40mm gun and the turrets should instead be put into BOXER.

Integration of the turret into a BOXER module should not be overly complex. Lockheed Martin fit one onto a BOXER and carried out some early trials, including weapon firings, as far back as 2015. While these industry-led demonstrations involve integrations that are far less mature than one might think, there should be no reason for the turret not fitting on a troop-carrying module.

 

The turreted BOXERs would then be mixed with the APCs already on order with the aim of eventually forming 8 battalions: 2 for each Armoured and Medium brigade. There are many reasons for me to formulate this recommendation, but they all more or less stem from the following main considerations: the Warrior hull is old and tired and the CSP does not quite solve that, nor does replace the old powerpack; an all MIV fleet helps standardization; having the infantry on wheels helps the Army be more self-deployable and means the precious few Heavy and Light Equipment Transports (89 and 77 respectively) are free to focus on moving the MBTs and other tracked platforms, such as AJAX and TERRIER; having at least a portion of the BOXERs well armed with a 40mm gun means that, apart from being able to get to the fight, they will also be able to fight. The current MIV, armed like a SAXON, can get there but can’t get into a fight, only drop its infantry a safe distance back. 



With thanks to Jon Hawkes (@JonHawkes275) who dug up these old slides and posted them on his Twitter. He is a must-follow in the field of Armour. 

Finally, plans for a new tracked support vehicle to replace FV432 seem to have died entirely, and it would border on ridiculous to field a 28 tons tracked Warrior supported by wheeled 8x8s weighting close to 40.

 

Boxer is a modern and well protected hull, and if the Army cannot afford a proper split of tracks and wheels, on balance of merits and defects, wheels should probably take precedence. This is what France has done with the VBCI replacing the last tracked IFVs of the Armee de Terre. 

It is a compromise, since there a tracked IFV will always have a greater ability to run down obstacles and dug-in positions and will always have greater all-terrain mobility than a wheeled platform, but I feel it would be a good compromise all the same.

 

Again, a priority for me would also be to re-evaluate the variants of MIV to be procured, reducing to the bare minimum the number of ambulances and command posts in favor of pursuing instead a 120mm mortar and an ATGW variants as well as, potentially, more APCs / IFVs to increase, if at all possible, the number of mechanized battalions in the Army. With over 500 vehicles already on order, it should be feasible. I’ve written about this in greater detail in a previous article.  

 

The Ambulance role and, wherever possible, the C2 role would be instead “offloaded” onto much cheaper Multi Role Vehicle Protected variants. Regarding MRV-P, I’d personally urge the Army to finally proceed with the programme with the aim of rationalizing the current dog’s breakfast of multiple “mini” fleets, getting rid progressively of Husky, Panther, DURO, Pinzgauer and part of the Land Rovers.

My favorite for Group 2 would be the Thales Bushmaster, to be assembled in their Glasgow plant as promised by the company and by the Australian government.

 

I do realize, however, that a quiet, unspoken further delay to the whole of MRV-P is likely, as it defers expenditure into a vague, undetermined future.



Further pre-Integrated Review reading material: 


- Amphibious without ships  - There is no amphibious capability without adequate ships and ship to shore connectors. A look at the USMC reforms and the question mark over the Future Commando Force


- A different angle to "difficult choices" - If the UK really doesn't want to spend money to maintain its capabilities, it needs to at least be wise on what it invests on. Building on strengths is more cost-effective than trying to reinforce weakness. 


- The many weaknesses of STRIKE - 5 years on, there is still not a consensun on what STRIKE is actually good for. And it is becoming painfully clear just how much it might cost the Army to pursue this plan. 


- Towards the SDSR 2020 - This was written in December 2019, before the COVID spending generated the current psychosis around public expenditure. While we wait to understand if HMG chooses to obsess about Debt reduction and launches a new Austerity drive (hopefully not), the overview of the main issues remains valid. 

11 comments:

  1. Read the first section on F35 and as always you make a lot of sense. One point I would make is that a significant number of RAF aircraft are of a fleet size of little more than a squadron - all the ISTAR aircraft, C-17, P-8, C -130 - so the 'too small to be sustainable..." So , yes, argument is often used when convenient to justify the culling, yet , on other occasions RAF muddle on...

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    1. You can't directly compare cargo and ISR planes with fast jets, though. While it would obviously be nice to have more, their output is completely different. Take Rivet Joint: the US and RAF have 20 in total between them, 17 + 3. But you don't deploy squadrons of them. Generation of cargo aircraft is also very much a single-plane job. Multiple planes generated from a Sqn are a normal and entirely acceptable output.

      But fighter jets need to be deployed in numbers to be able to function, and to have a 4-ship in the air you have to have others on the ground, and others still back home.

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  2. I have read with great interest your observations over the last decade and above all it is the farce that is the CR2/Warrior upgrade (and the general vehcile upgrade mess) which has most astounded.

    The current CDS has presided over this entire 'powerpoint' incompetence. The army has only itself to blame on this one. We need two deployable divisions, one armour, preferbaly three brigades, and one coherent, fully realised 'strike' of two brigades - no mixing of wheel and track, with armoured forward deployed. (A further independent Air Assault brigade, and my innovative Coin/Urban Warfare brigade to give purpose to the 'light' infantry ) How difficult is that to plan, form and operate. We were discussing this in 2010, and we are no nearer ... and meanwhile billions have been spent with nothing to show for it.

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  3. Gabriele, you have 3 subjects so I will think through 3 comments.

    Firstly the F-35B will B what it will B. There are no prospects for immediate savings and longer term you have a good evaluation of what would be good.

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  4. CR2 LEP should go ahead, in my view, but CR2 LEP + lethality enhancement should not. CR2 LEP+ is more than was required and undoubtedly would cost more. The MoD went into an extended assessment of the enhanced capability. That assessment may be due to finish soon, may already have finished. It would not be out of character not to admit that the capability can not be afforded. Then a few scare stories are put out to try to scare up some more money. It is possible that the Army has laid its head in the guillotine and could lose MBTs with all the implications that follow. That would require a policy decision, an honest announcement at political level. More likely is more of the same. The CR2 OSD will be quietly extended, the reliability, numbers available, and capability in a modern environment will decline, and a new world be promised for Army 2035.

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  5. Regarding F-35, I agree with you 100%. I don't have an optimistic take on Tempest, however. Its overly ambitious and will most likely end up way over budget and behind schedule if not getting canned outright. Just mark my work today and lets see how it plays out. I will be gladly to admit I am wrong if they can get it done successfully.

    On the other hand, I see no future for MBT in UK service. Already a niche capability and almost obsolete platform, it's not logical to commit substantial resources on CR2 upgrade while your pocket is already tight and is getting tighter. NATO does need UK contributions in areas of her expertise: airlift, in flight refuel, ASW, etc. Money needs to be spent wisely.
    I would be delight to see Boxer as a replacement for Warrior in IFV role. Upgunning Boxer with a medium cal weapon plus ATGM ensures British medium forces with sufficient firepower to fend off potential enemy armored formation. Less demanding roles can be offload to MRV-P. My preference would be French Griffon/Serval VBMR combo. GDUK's offering of Eagle 6x6/4x4 is also intriguing as parts/logistic commonality goes.

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  6. Warrior CSP is forecast to be 52 months late and 227 million pounds over budget. The Infrastucture and Projects Authority assessment is red. What may eventually arrive has weaknesses. I have thought perhaps a reduced scope could get something back from the money already spent, Maybe enough vehicles for 2 battle groups with the 2 armoured regiments. But no, I think the small numbers would not be worth the training and logistics costs. It is time to end Warrior CSP.

    The army has chosen Boxer and although it is expensive, that is where the money should go. The Boxer order is basically APC,s. There are no turreted versions (in the UK order. I thought that was a mistake but that is were we are. There way to go, I agree, is to order some turreted versions, mix these into the planned battalions, and use the released APC's to form more battalions with more of the turreted versions. My assumptions get to 2 more battalions, 6 in total.

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  7. Re split buy for F35. My understanding is that there is only about 20% commonality with the F35A; in essence it would be a new aircraft to the RAF, and one which needs boom air to air refuelling rather than probe and drogue of the F35B. Funny old thing, when the RAF bought the Voyager, it was without the boom to save money.

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  8. Let me play devil's advocate here. First, I highly doubt TEMPEST will ever be fulfilled. Mark my word here and let's hope I am wrong on this one.
    I also don't share this obsession of holding onto a tiny fleet of MBT. What good is that for UK overall military objective? Realistically who believe UK's contribution of heavy armor will a difference anyway, against Russia? Give me a break.

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    1. For my part, I expect Tempest will deliver. I remember EAP (Experimental Aircraft Programme) that led to Typhoon. EAP was privately funded by British Aerospace, Tempest has the advantage of government funding from the start.

      I don't know what you think is the UK overall military objective. From SDSR 2015 an objective was to have a warfighting division to deploy. Currently an armoured battle group is deployed in Estonia facing the Russian army, although not the whole Russian army of course. The 6th Army has 2 motor rifle brigades, 1 north of St Petersburg facing Finland and 1 to the west facing Estonia. If the UK battle group was increased, not to a warfighting division but just to a brigade, then 1 Regiment of 56 MBT's would make a difference against the 1 battalion of 31 MBT's in the Russian brigade.

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    2. Again I hope you are right and I am wrong at the end of the day. I truly wish UK has a successful program at last after so many fiasco when comes to defense acquisition. Personally I have zero confidence in MoD. Past acquisition successes don’t mean jack. UK is better off with an ots solution. The Franco-German collab has a much higher chance of success.

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