Saturday, July 21, 2018

British Army going wheeled?

British Army going wheeled?

The MOD has released to the public a voluntary ex ante transparency notice in which it reveals that it has asked the Organisation for Joint Armament Cooperation (OCCAR) to enter a contract for the delivery of between 400 and 600 Boxer 8x8 for the Mechanised Infantry Vehicle programme.

The notice says that 4 variants are requested, in addition to driver training vehicles, reference vehicles and related support.
The four variants are not detailed, and subsequent reports are not in complete agreement. APC and Command variants are a given, and there seems to be a consensus on the third variant being the Ambulance, but the fourth variant is given as either a Mortar Carrier or an “Equipment Support Vehicle”, which presumably would combine Recovery and Repair functions in a single vehicle. It must be noted that both Mortar and Recovery/Repair variants of the Boxer aren’t yet in production and have not been ordered by anyone, although the development of both is a distinct possibility and one of the latest Boxer customers, Slovenia, has expressed a mortar requirement.
Naturally, the development of new mission modules is a possibility and could indeed represent a chance for the british industry to develop something that could be exported to other users.

What is most interesting in the notice is the number of vehicles that are anticipated: a first batch of at least 400 vehicles is significantly larger than the expected 300 – 350 that were commonly mentioned in recent times. 400 vehicles would comfortably cover the “Strike” requirement of 4 battalions, with substantial room for additional vehicles which would cover, probably, the replacement of FV432 variants in other formations; beginning, judging from the variants, with the FV432 ambulance which is found in tank regiments, armoured infantry battalions and armoured medical regiments. The Warrior CSP requirement is understood to be for 380 vehicles, of which 245 IFVs and the others in Joint Fires direction (FV524 variant) and the 522 and 523 REME variants. The number of battalions is the same, 4, so it is immediately evident that even the lowest quantity mentioned in the notice includes vehicles for roles outside the STRIKE infantry; or, less likely, an ambition for additional mechanized battalions.

The notice specifies that additional variants and requirements could follow, and it specifically mentions the adoption of a “medium gun”, basically implying an IFV variant.
Moreover, the notice specifies that the MOD is asking for the option of ordering up to 900 more vehicles, for a total of 1500.
1500 does not appear to be a casual number: the Army has been planning for 380 upgraded Warriors; declares on its website 409 FV432 still in use; and fields / stores a fleet of 305 Mastiff Troop Carrier Vehicles plus 127 specialistic variants (Enhanced Communications Variant, Interim ECM, Interim EOD [possibly 23], ambulance, Protected Eyes / Praetorian) plus 118 Ridgback Troop Carrier Vehicles and 51 specialistic variants (Command, Ambulance), supported by 125 Wolfhound (Utility and at least 44 between Military Working Dog and EOD).
The total is 1515. Coincidence? Probably no.

It seems more and more likely that the troubled Warrior CSP will, in the end, be cancelled. This MIV notice seems to prepare for a WCSP cancellation scenario by making provision for the numbers and the addition of a medium gun.
Moreover, it clearly includes numbers sufficient to cover the replacement of all remaining FV432 variants as well, which means that the Armoured Battlegroup Support Vehicle, officially “descoped” in 2016 as part of cost-growth management measures within the programme “Armoured Infantry 2026”, might just be dead for good, in favor of a huge MIV purchase.

The Warrior CSP has repeatedly missed its target dates and remains without a manufacture contract. Work is advanced on the turret and the 245 CTA40 guns are under contract, but it is not impossible to imagine a scenario which migrates the turrets onto Boxer hulls.
Lockheed Martin, perhaps genuinely aiming at future MIV requirements or perhaps shielding itself from the possibility of a WCSP cancellation, has already showcased its Export version of the turret on a Boxer.

The replacement of WCSP with more MIV would put the British Army on the same path chosen by France with the VBCI, which entirely replaced their own tracked IFVs. Moreover, the replacement of FV432 with MIV variants would represent a rather dramatic shift in favor of wheels, completely changing the scenario that currently exists within the British Army.   
Such a change of heart would do wonders for commonality and obsolescence removal from what is an aging fleet of fleets, but it would also sideline Ajax even further, leading to further questions about where the tracked heir to FRES should sit.
Ever since the SDSR 2015 was published, Ajax has looked more and more lost, ultimately resulting in its “re-branding” into a “medium armour” capability which has, it is fair to say, convinced very few people.
I’ve been and I continue to be a huge critic of the idea of leaving the armoured infantry brigades devoid of their own recce cavalry, especially if the reason to do so is to use the Ajax’s 40mm gun in support of toothless APCs in Strike Brigades. That, in my opinion, is the way to ruin both brigade types at once, destroying the capability of both.

Boxer showcased with the LM Export turret with CTA 40mm and double AT missile pod. 

Boxer with the LANCE turret with 30mm and Missiles, as selected by Australia. The module is being lifted out of the craddle. Or lowered in, depending on how you want to see it! 

A reassessment of how the various fleets will work together and how the various requirements can be covered has been a clear necessity for years, and has been a recurring theme in my posts on armour plans. A “full-MIV” scenario is not a bad outcome, and this notice seems to prepare the ground for such an approach, but it is absolutely regrettable that in the meanwhile hundreds of millions will have been expended for near zero return. If WCSP is cancelled, the Army will have once more wasted years and hundreds of millions for nothing.
Moreover, it is extraordinary that Ajax took less than a year from contract award to become a “problem”; a platform desperately looking for a role and place which is not in conflict with everything else.
Another rational alternative would be to renegotiate the Ajax contract if possible and add an IFV variant, which is being offered by General Dynamics for export, including to Australia. If Warrior CSP was cancelled in favor of an Ajax IFV variant, the british army could then concentrate all tracks in the armoured brigades and all wheels in the Strike brigades, which would enable the two formations to truly exploit their own strengths without the compromises imposed by a sub-optimal mix.
I can’t help but say it again: that the army has gotten this far without being able to formulate a comprehensive plan is an extraordinary failure, born not so much out of lack of money (Ajax is anything but cheap) but out of lack of long term vision.
I’d “gladly” sacrifice WCSP if it meant finally making a choice and getting on with it. This is the kind of thing that the Modernising Defence Programme should be about, but any residual bit of confidence in the process has been disintegrated by the insultingly pointless “statement” released this past week.

A variety of internal arrangements are offered. The Australian CRV comes with four dismounts, but an IFV variant with manned turret and a full team of 8 dismounts is also a possibility. Warrior CSP would have six dismounts; if replaced by more MIV it might allow an uplift in the number of dismounts without armoured infantry battalions

The Germans giving a visual demonstration of the payload of a Boxer APC

The notice notes that a 1500 vehicles programme could mean an expenditure of 11.5 billion over two decades. Is this unaffordable? For sure it would be challenging. However, in April 2014, the MOD decided to split the massive “Mounted Close Combat Capability Change” programme into four:

-          Armoured Cavalry 2025
-          Armoured Infantry 2026
-          Armour; Main Battle Tank 2025
-          Mechanized Infantry 2029

The date at the end indicates the desired completion time. The budget for the Mounted Close Combat super-programme was 17.251,83 million pounds, with a project end date set for 31 december 2033.
Data released this year, and current to September 2017, reveals that the Armoured Cavalry programme has a budget of 6258,19 million, for procuring, putting in service and supporting for the first few years the Ajax fleet.
The Armoured Infantry programme was composed by Warrior CSP, but was also meant to include the Armoured Battlegroup Support Vehicle programme. The budget was consistently given as higher than 2 billion, even when ABSV was descoped and pushed to the right with the ambition of becoming its own Categoary A programme. In the latest report, pretty much all data, including the budget value, is not disclosed for reasons of “commercial interest”, as the MOD is locked into discussions with Lockheed Martin, the prime contractor for WCSP.
The budget for the Challenger 2 LEP is also not disclosed although in previous years it danced between 700 and 900 million.
Mechanized Infantry 2029 seems to now be just “MIV”, and naturally, all numbers for it are hidden as well.
A part of those 17 billions has been of course expended, but the new “super-MIV” programme would extend past 2033 (significant costs are related to support in the long term, not to procurement). In theory, there were always going to be significant sums available for armour programmes, but keeping track of it is simply impossible due to the insufficient and often contradictory information released by the MOD.
Boxer modules already ordered by other countries. 
A Boxer module

Boxer module on its container-like frame for transport 

Industrially, Rheinmetall / ARTEC have put together an impressive proposal, with 100% assembly in the UK and a commitment to manufacture 60% of the vehicle value in the country. Before the MOD choice was announced, one of the two partners in the ARTEC consortium, Krauss-Maffei Wegmann (KMW), had already funded new tools at William Cook’s Sheffield and Leeds factories to prepare to manufacture the high strength steel castings, bullet and blast proof, for the Boxer.
A production line will be stood up in the UK, where “most” of the design work for eventual new, British-specific mission modules would take place, along with construction and integration of modules and final assembly of the vehicle.
ARTEC has taken onboard BAE Systems, Pearson Engineering, Raytheon U.K. and Thales U.K as partners for the Boxer programme, and a sizeable production run would bring a lot of work to the sector, for many years.

So far, Germany has ordered 272 BOXER starting in 2009, with a follow-on order recently for another 131. The Netherlands purchased 200 and the last delivery has just taken place. Lithuania ordered 88; Australia selected Boxer for its army reconnaissance vehicle requirement for 211 vehicles and 223 modules and Slovenia has selected the Boxer for its battlegroups and plans a first batch of 48 IFV.
The UK’s order will at least equal Germany’s and could, depending on follow-on decisions, become by far the largest. Indeed, if the options were to be exercised, the UK’s order would swell the Boxer fleet until it is the second largest 8x8 programme in NATO after the US Stryker.
This, obviously, would have a technical and economical impact on UK’s capability in the armoured vehicle sector.

Boxer's win in Australia after a long selection process was an important factor in the British Army's own decision. It could be another key area of cooperation after Type 26

Capability-wise, the Boxer is a proven solution and was all along the candidate with the best growth margins. Reportedly, the UK will go from the start with the “full-fat” variant sized for 38.5 tons gross weight, giving ample margin to add new capability, including turrets and weapons.
The Boxer notoriously uses a common hull which is “missionized” thanks to modules installed in the back cradle. This modularity is unlikely to ever be a major factor during operations (“swap module and role mid-way through an operation”) but greatly eases the addition and evolution of capabilities during the service life. The modules can be detached from the hull and mounted in container-sized cradles for transport or to be operated inside bases, once hooked up to power and services. This potentially eases training and can reduce somewhat the requirement for hulls: the Australian Army, notably, somewhat downsized its planned purchase (from 225 to 211 vehicles) and procured more mission modules than hulls.

Generic Vehicle Architecture-compliant modules for the UK can be developed and installed over the common hull.
If Warrior CSP ends up cancelled, one particularly important variant to be acquired would be the Joint Fires variant, and Australia's work in this area could bring beneficial lessons.  

A different British Army?

The Army could be the service bringing the most changes to the MDP table. Jane’s is reporting that Gurkha numbers will swell further, probably because there is never a shortage of willing Gurkhas to recruit. The biggest novelty is that next year Gurkhas will stand up their own Specialised Infantry Battalion. Not clear yet if it’ll be the “optional 5th” which was always given as a possibility or if they will replace 2 LANCS as the 4th such unit.
2nd PWRR converted to Specialised Infantry role this year, following 4 RIFLES and 1 SCOTS.

The rebuilding of the Gurkha numbers after the cuts ordered in 2011 had already been announced and i had written about it already two years ago. 
What has since been detailed is that 2 additional Gurkha squadrons will be raised to strengthen 10 Queen’s Own Gurkha Logistic Regiment, while 2 extra signal squadrons are standing up: one within 3rd UK Division Signal Regiment (249 Sqn) and one within 16 Signal Regiment (247 Sqn). Gurkha engineers growth is also expected, perhaps with a new squadron to be formed within 36 RE.

It is also now official that the Wide Wet Gap Crossing capability is to grow, with the stored M3 being reactivated, and it has been announced that the capability will stay put in Germany, along with vehicle storage and a presence at the Sennelager training facility. Details are still scarce: in particular, the M3 permanence in Germany means a change of plans for 75 Royal Engineers.

The Royal Signals are about to disband the short-lived 2 Signal Group, which was created within 11 Signal Brigade to control the reserve signal regiments under Army 2020. Reserve signal regiments are being resubordinated as their roles expand (notably with FALCON training and equipment). 32 and 39 Signal Regiments, of the reserve, have resubordinated to 1 Signal Brigade in support of ARRC and High Readiness formations. Further changes might follow as the Royal Signals looks at the creation of hybrid regiments of regulars and reservists.
10 Signal Regiment, given its specialized roles (from reserve ECM to installation specialists), is resubordinating directly under 11 Signal Brigade, while 37 and 71 joint the regular regiments within 7 Signal Group, 11 Signal Brigade.
The Army’s Information Manoeuvre Strategy which was half-announced by Fallon has not surfaced yet, but could bring great changes. According to what Fallon said at the times, it would bring together the Corps of Signals with the Military Intelligence Corps, and also bring the creation of a second EW regiment. Nothing has been heard or seen since, but hopefully one day we’ll know more.

The Royal Engineers are about to reform 35 RE into an EOD & Search regiment, joining 33 RE in the role, at the cost of one armoured close support engineering formation. 33 and 35 RE will contain the Regular EOD squadrons, while Reserve EOD will be once more centralized in its own regiment, 101 RE. This reverses, once more, an Army 2020 decision which had turned 33 and 101 into Hybrid regiments. One can’t help but notice the completely different directions followed by Signals and Engineers…
In the meanwhile, 12 HQ & Support Sqn has stood up anew in 23 (Parachute) RE, after the regiment took in some extra manpower as part of Army 2020 Refine. 12 had disbanded in 2013 as part of Army 2020 changes. 
Next year it is expected that 28 Royal Engineers will stand up as CBRN formation, presumably pulling in FALCON Sqn, Royal Tank Regiment (Fuchs and wide area surveillance) and the Light capabilities of 27 Squadron, RAF Regiment, which has already absorbed 26 Sqn and is now standing up a Parachute capability for support to high readiness formations.
The formation of a (joint?) CBRN regiment is, of course, another U-turn over 2010 decisions. Did you notice the trend yet…?

26 Royal Artillery is now 3rd Division's Fires specialist, with GMLRS and Exactor, which means there is one less AS90 regiment and that a number of batteries have resubordinated (such as 176 (Abu Klea) Bty moving from 19 to 26 RA, or H Bty (Ramsay's Troop) moving from 1 RHA to 26 RA, rallying under the flag of 19 (Gibraltar) Bty), while others have gone into suspended animation, namely 17 (Corunna) Bty and 38 (Seringapatam) Bty
This reverts the de-centralization of GMLRS which had taken place under Army 2020. I'll be honest and say that this was one of the very few things of Army 2020 which i actually appreciated, because having a wider spread of GMRLS and Exactor meant putting the capability where it needs to be. 
26 RA will still end up parcellized all the time, sending out batteries to be battlegrouped to support this or that brigade, and while there are probably advantages to having all GMLRS training and management in the same place, the mixed artillery regiment is, i believe, the right way to go. Notoriously, i'm a champion of the approach "structure and train as close as possible as to how you fight", and i've already said more than once that i'm also all in favor of permanent combined arms battalions with tanks and armoured infantry working shoulder to shoulder. 
I'm also a huge supporter of Exactor and would very much like to see it employed more widely, perhaps not by the Royal Artillery but directly by infantry and cavalry. For now at least, the Army is not "listening". But it eventually turned back on many of the decisions of Army 2020 that i thought made no sense, so perhaps one day... 

Meanwhile, 42 Air Defence Support Bty has been disbanded and 12 and 16 Royal Artillery regiments will rebuild their own dedicate support elements to be able to deploy independently. They had been joined at the hip by Army 2020 cuts and related force structure changes, but, once again, a U-turn has followed. 

These are mostly good news, but we might find unpleasant truths later on. The long-delayed report on the future of the Army Air Corps bases is still not coming out, and the promised 4 squadrons of Wildcat helicopters are still only 2, even though deliveries have ended. This is worrying.

There could be big changes coming if Warrior CSP is given up and an “all-MIV approach” is approved.
My own advice to the British Army is to consider a wide-ranging rethink of Cavalry, reconnaissance and ISTAR. The confusion over Ajax’s role and deployment within the brigades and the fact that the future of battlegroup ISTAR is up in the air with no endorsed path to a Desert Hawk III replacement is alarming, and shows that FIND doesn’t have enough of a voice, or of a direction.
The Royal Artillery and the Cavalry are reportedly sparring over who should be responsible for the post DH III FIND, and depending on who you listen to, the spar seems to be about staying OUT of the role. I had a discussion with a cavalryman who said that “playing around with toy aircraft” is not a Cavalry role. I think and hope he doesn’t speak for the whole Corps, but it certainly left me with the worst of impressions. FIND is a key function which deserves a lot more effort. Brigades without a dedicate reconnaissance unit are a terrible idea which shouldn’t even have been put forwards. And it is ridiculous to think that the British Army can seriously think about high intensity warfare while fielding a grand total of 5 counter-artillery radars, and short ranged too.
If it takes a specific “ISR Corps” to bring a more rational approach in the sector, so be it. Each brigade will need its own ISR formation which can conduct reconnaissance, counter-reconnaissance and surveillance of the area of operations. Most nations have been organizing their cavalry according to these requirements or forming specific battlefield surveillance brigades in the case of the US Army. Mast-mounted sensors, radars and unmanned vehicles, both air and ground, have become part of the cavalry mission pretty much anywhere, with the UK as the only notable exception.
Ajax, and with it the whole recce cavalry concept, seem to have bogged down somewhere midway between the Squadron of American Brigade Combat Teams and the 8x8-based cavalry squadrons planned by the Italian army.

The US Army cavalry squadron in armoured BCTs is now composed of a tank company with 14 Abrams MBTs and the “6x36” model, in which each Troop has two platoons of 6 Bradley IFVs, each carrying 3 crew and 3 dismounts. One every two vehicles in the Troop is fitted with a LRAS long-range sensor, and the Squadron has its UAV platoon with RQ-7 Shadow drones, plus HUMINT/IMINT intelligence element.
Wheeled BTCs on Stryker replace the MBTs with the Mobile Gun System and TOW variants of Stryker. Notoriously, the US Army is moving towards the introduction of 30mm guns on the other Strykers.
In practice, the American recce cavalry has moved towards greater firepower and a greater number of dismounts. The Americans also hold on for dear life to mounted 120mm mortars.

The Italian army intends to restructure its cavalry on homogeneous regiments each containing a squadron of 8x8 Centauro II tank-destroyers, with 120/45 mm cannons; 2 squadrons of Freccia 8x8 in two variants, FAR and CLOSE; and another squadron of supporting elements.
The Freccia FAR closes equipped with HORUS tube-launched UAVs and a combined radar-EO sensor which can be dismounted or deployed on a telescopic mast; while the CLOSE carries dismounts plus an unmanned ground vehicle UGV, while replacing the HORUS tubes with SPIKE anti-tank missiles.

An early Freccia Recon FAR shown with the LYRA radar selected for it, in dismounted mode. It will also employ the HORIZON optical sight. 

The UGV seen on the CLOSE's ramp 

This image shows the UGV, the Lyra radar and HORIZON sight near a Freccia Recon CLOSE
HORUS drone seen coming out of its launch box on the Freccia Recon FAR 

The Ajax is similar to the Bradley used by the American squadrons, but does not carry dismounts. Each Sabre Sqn will continue to have a support platoon with dismounts riding in Ares APCs, replacing the current Spartan, but it will be a small component.
We were told that there would be around 20 vehicles in a “Ground Based Surveillance” sub-variant of Ajax but it is not clear if it is still the case and what additional sensors, if any, this sub-variant will be able to bring to bear. Mast-mounted long range sensors are still nowhere to be seen, leaving Ajax essentially only with its main sight, which because of very questionable design decisions needs to be removed if a Protector remote weapon station is deemed necessary. Taken all together, these weaknesses expose just why I feel that the focus of the Ajax programme was sadly not really on ISR at all.

With the rush to Strike in 2015, Ajax is now attempting to re-invent itself as a “medium tank”, with at least half of the regiments literally leaving recce behind in favor of a combat role more akin to a real MBT.
This continues to be a rash and irrational decision, that the MDP should reverse.
Despite claims to the contrary, it looks like the Ajax family has been purchased as a one-for-one replacement of the Scimitar / Spartan combination, just much larger and heavier. Ajax as the dismount-less “tank”, with more protection and firepower but less deployability and stealth, supported by a handful of APCs carrying small teams of max four dismounts. There should be an “Overwatch” sub-variant of the Ares to give the formation some anti-tank punch, but it is not clear if it will offer any more capability than just carrying a Javelin dismounted team. In this sector, in many ways, the Army took a backward leap when it retired Striker and its Swingfire missiles back in 2005.

As it stands, the Ajax family does not have the firepower, nor the full range of sensors to be a truly capable ISR system. As for its attempt to be a Medium Tank, that is just insane.
The Army needs to approach the MDP as a chance to urgently reassess how Ajax will be used and distributed. A decision on WCSP is needed, and ABSV must absolutely be taken into account as well. If all the parts aren't considered within a much needed long term plan, the Army will end up in trouble again very soon.
And i will add that the Army also needs to organize the cavalry into a force that delivers the kind of ISR and punch that a modern brigade needs. And / or procure a "true" Medium Armour variant of Ajax, which would at least possess a more credible firepower.