By Nicholas Drummond

British Army modernisation has become an urgent priority, not only because existing systems have long since reached the end of their intended lifecycles, but also because the Army needs to counter new threats. Given that many new equipment programmes have been delayed by ongoing austerity, are initiatives conceived more than a decade ago still relevant? If not, how should they evolve so that Army has what it needs to be an effective deterrent force? This article looks at the Army’s acquisition record and makes suggestions about how current programmes could and should be tweaked.

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Introduction

When it comes to procurement, the British Army is often accused of spending its money badly. This is strange because it genuinely has excellent personnel responsible for the acquisition of new kit and they are supported by equally competent MoD civil servants.

So, the first question to ask is does the Army actually do such a bad job?

A long history of getting it right

Over the years, the British Army has fielded some pretty impressive equipment types. The Centurion tank was arguably the best MBT in the world from 1945 until Challenger, Leopard 2 and Abrams came along in 1979. In the 1950s, Saracen and Saladin gave us a useful medium weight capability long before the concept was ever a thing. The CVR(T) family that replaced them in the 1970s was highly innovative and achieved great export success. We adopted the 30mm RARDEN cannon when everyone else was still using 20mm or 25mm.The FV432 APC has been the Army’s most successful postwar AFV, so much so that it remains in service almost 60 years after first being developed. The 105 mm Light Gun is another success story that continues to this day. When AS90 came into service in 1992, it was described as one of the most capable self-propelled howitzers in NATO. Although Challenger I was gifted to the Army through the demise of the last Shah of Iran (who paid for its development) the evolution to Challenger 2 again gave us a world-beating MBT.

Despite these pinnacles of success, the Army has had its fair share of failures. The SA80 rifle saga is perhaps the best example of how not to procure something. Development started in 1976, but no weapon was fielded for another decade. It failed dismally during Gulf War 1 and didn’t work properly until 2001. More recently, the Bowman communication system arrived 10 years late and was obsolete by the time it entered service. Troops in Afghanistan complained that it lacked range, while it was bulky, heavy and difficult to integrate into vehicles. Most recently, the Watchkeeper UAS has also taken a decade to bring it into service and doubts remain about its fitness for purpose.  

The most glaring recent acquisition failure has been our attempt to field a medium weight multi-role vehicle family. This started life as the FFLAV and TRACER programmes in the late 1990s. Then we joined the MRAV programme with France and Germany, which resulted in Boxer. Britain and France left MRAV in 2002. While France successfully pursued VBCI, we moved-on to FRES UV and SV. By the time we selected Piranha V, we couldn’t agree on IP ownership and had run out of money due to the global financial crisis in 2008. It was a disaster that reflected badly on all involved.

In 2008, Sir Bernard Gray, who later became the head of the Ministry of Defence’s procurement agency, Defence Equipment & Support, was asked to produce a report on UK Defence Acquisition. His conclusion was that a set of incentives operating at the centre of the Ministry of Defence caused people to over-programme, which is ordering more capability than the budget can sustain and to systematically under-estimate the cost of those capabilities. Adding to this problem, scarce resources invariably forced the three armed services compete with each other rather than co-operate.[1]

Part of the problem was profligacy, an insatiable appetite for the new, new thing. The desire to achieve competitive advantage through technology caused us to over-reach. Having an anti-tank missile that is world class is one thing, but like the USAF in the 1980s, we do not need and cannot afford to fit $500 lightweight ashtrays to combat aircraft. 

We also have a record for mis-managing equipment in service, which results in waste and inefficiency. The Army has just upgraded the SA80 rifle again. The new L85A3 standard includes fitting a new handguard with a continuous rail system, attaching a stud to prevent over-rotation of the change lever, and applying a new surface coating. The cost per rifle is £1,700, which more than the cost for a new assault rifle made by the same supplier, Heckler & Koch.[2]

An overheated budget is also attributable to the rising costs of defence technology, with successive generations of capability types costing considerably more than their predecessors. Further to this, we must not overlook the Government’s own role in skyrocketing costs. In a bid reduce annual costs, it frequently delays or slows down the acquisition process. Delays in granting approval for the Royal Navy’s new aircraft carriers added at least £2 billion to the cost of the programme. When delay the entry into service of new equipment, you not only increase the total cost of whatever it is you are buying, you also have the ongoing cost of supporting the equipment it is meant to replace.

Despite occasional glitches, over its long history, the British Army has tended to get equipment acquisition right more times than it has got it wrong. It is only since 1990, when the Cold War ended and defence became a lower budget priority, that problems have begun to surface. Nearly all of the acquisition-related issues that the Army faces are related to money, or rather the lack of it at a time when it needs to modernise.

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The controversial Snatch Land-Rover. Despite having armour protection, it proved to be extremely vulnerable to IEDs, making its replacement an urgent priority.

Attempting to modernise while fighting two separate conflicts during a global financial crisis causes things to unravel

The need to enhance the capabilities of Challenger 2 and Warrior; to replace CVR(T) and FV432; and to acquire a new family of medium weight wheeled armoured vehicles had been identified as far back as 1998. As the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan intensified, modernisation efforts assumed a lower priority.

Needing to respond to the IED threat, the UK hurriedly procured all manner of MRAP platforms to provide protected mobility. Described as “Urgent Operational Requirements,” resources were thrown at the problem to resolve it quickly. Unfortunately, this took money away from subsequent modernisation initiatives. Making matters worse, many of the MRAP vehicles that were acquired had little utility beyond the campaigns for which they were bought. The Mastiff PMV, for example, has a very limited cross-country performance. Even so, one notable MRAP success was the development of Foxhound. No other vehicle in its 7.5 tonne weight class offers better protection. It was developed within 18 months and, despite teething troubles, has evolved into a highly valued vehicle. It seems strange that, just we have got Foxhound to work perfectly, it will now be replaced by the US JLTV.

Since 2006, modernisation efforts have advanced at a glacial pace. If they had been delivered by 2016, as was originally envisaged, then the Army would be in great shape. When David Cameron’s Coalition Government came to power in 2010, the Army’s need for new kit was acute, but not as pressing as the need to cut the budget deficit. Defence was marked-out for swingeing cuts, so personnel numbers were reduced and new equipment purchases were pushed as far to the right as possible. Any tendency to over-programme was rooted out leaf and branch. All unfunded commitments were discarded. Ruthless cost-cutting and cost-controls dramatically changed the acquisition mindset of all three services. 

Since 2010, whatever the Army asked for, it was told it couldn’t have it. For the author, a Defence Industry insider, the most shocking aspect of austerity was Phillip Hammond and Michael Fallon talking about the £168 billion Defence Equipment Plan without any cash actually being released to fund purchase of the things the Government had already agreed the Army could have.

The impact of ongoing austerity

For more than a decade, the Army has been drip-fed cash that has only satisfied its most pressing needs. The Government was happy not to spend on recruitment, for example, because this reduced the overall headcount bill. Any development problems associated with vehicle programmes immediately resulted in “reliability growth trials” that further delayed the award of a production contract, although in some cases this was entirely justified. But, it wasn’t motivated by reducing risk; it was about saving money. We often talk about capability holidays, but, according to one senior officer, the years since 2010 have been like the entire British Army being placed in suspended animation.

The net of all this is that many of the equipment modernisation plans envisioned before we became embroiled in Iraq and Afghanistan have now been overtaken by events. In particular, Russia’s annexation of Ukraine territory in 2014 means that high-intensity warfare versus peer adversaries is now back on the agenda.  

As the Treasury begins to release money to deliver longstanding programmes, there is the risk that their scope may no longer be relevant to the threats we now face. General Sir David Richards’ vision when he became CGS in 2009 was an Army built around counter-insurgency warfare. General Sir Nick Carter’s plan for medium weight Strike Brigades became the centrepiece of British Army modernisation. Now, General Sir Mark Carleton-Smith finds himself in a position of having to re-prioritise Armoured Infantry brigades. 

The implication is that making good on procurement promises developed before 2010 could now be a mistake. Exceptionally long lead times could now result in the Army getting equipment it no longer needs, while not getting what is really required to execute a new and evolved mission set.

Against this background, the Army has become sensitive to accusations of profligacy, inefficiency and criticisms of its future strategy. The long journey to MIV was ambitious, but was it unrealistic? No. The US Army had reached the same conclusion about future armoured vehicle requirements and its own modernisation efforts resulted in the creation of Stryker Brigades and the M1126 Stryker family of vehicles. These have been hugely successful and have defined a blueprint for other NATO armies (as well as China) who have all invested in an equivalent capability.

What has happened is that the lack of resources and political oversight over all acquisition programmes have hamstrung the Army’s ability to think big. It is terrified of changing a requirement or reducing the scope of one programme to fund a more relevant new one, or to admit that its needs have evolved, lest it be accused of mis-management or incompetence. It certainly doesn’t want to lose money allocated to modernisation.

The climate of austerity has given birth to a further problem that impacts the Army’s ability to make appropriate acquisition choices: how do you fulfil all your equipment needs when you don’t have enough money?

You compromise on what you buy. 

This is why we are still operating FV432 six decades after it entered service.
This is why the original Challenger 2 LEP never included a switch to the 120 mm smoothbore gun.
This is why we will only have 148 MBTs instead of the 227-250 we need.
This is why we have decided to upgrade Warrior when most of our NATO allies are buying new IFVs.
This is why we decided to tack-on an order for the US Army’s JLTV, rather than developing our own multirole utility vehicle to replace Panther.

Another by-product of austerity is that we have lost the ability to design, develop and build armoured vehicles in the UK. Instead, we have committed ourselves to a policy of buying off-the-shelf from abroad. 

Increasingly, we are buying from a single supplier instead of competing it. This is a problem that afflicts all three services, rather than just the Army. Here are a few examples:

  • Boeing AH64 Apache E Attack Helicopter
  • Oshkosh JLTV (Multi-Role Vehicle – Protected)
  • ARTEC Boxer Mechanised Infantry Vehicle
  • Boeing P-8A Poseidon for the Maritime Patrol Aircraft
  • Boeing E-7 Wedgetail for the Airborne Early Warning & Command Aircraft
  • General Atomics Certified Predator B Protector Unmanned Aircraft System

Buying without a competition, because you want to support your national industry defence industry, is commendable. It is what the United States, France and Germany do well. While the UK has a national shipbuilding strategy that views the construction of naval vessels as being vital for national security, the same is not true for combat vehicles.

What we save by purchasing equipment from non-UK suppliers can often be lost when the long-term costs of supporting it from overseas become greater than if we had used domestic firms. When we buy equipment internationally, we may not get priority treatment for spare parts or repeat orders in times of emergency. This makes competition essential. 

It’s often said that armies are equipped to fight the last war not the next one, but the dilapidated state of the British Army’s combat vehicle fleet could easily lead a casual observer to note that it isn’t even equipped to fight the last war. With the mix of threats we now face, there is a risk of the Army being substantially overmatched by both the quality and quantity of potential adversaries’ military resources. With many major platforms approaching a cliff-edge of block obsolescence, we are in the unenviable position of having to replace many vehicles simultaneously while having insufficient resources to do it. All these factors increase the risk of getting new acquisition programmes wrong. 

The old adage is that when it comes to procurement there are three elements: quality, time, and price. You can only ever prioritise two of these three elements. Which means if you want something of high quality quickly, it won’t be cheap. If you want something inexpensive and fast, it won’t be high quality. And, if you want something high quality and at low cost, you won’t get it quickly.

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Russia’s 2014 annexation of Ukraine territory has triggered Cold War 2.0.

New threats have lit a fire under the Army’s modernisation efforts

The world changed in 2014 when Russia annexed the Crimea. An aggressive response to economic sanctions placed on Russia as a result, has seen all kinds of hybrid warfare activities conducted against us. With Vladimir Putin seeking to re-unite former Soviet Union states, we have been forced to enlarge the deterrent effect of armed forces. China’s aspiration to become a global superpower that rivals the influence of the United States has seen it act to dominate Asia and Africa. It also transforming its military capabilities. Meanwhile, Iran remains a major sponsor of international terrorism and has unfulfilled nuclear ambitions. North Korea remains a threat. Finally, Daesh has not yet been fully defeated while Islamic extremism is expanding across Africa. Over the last decade, the world has become more volatile and dangerous than it has been since at any time since the end of the Cold War. For all of the above reasons, there is an urgent need for the Government to fund Defence programmes that have languished in the Treasury since 2010. The need for Army regeneration has become an urgent priority. This is no longer just about new vehicles, but reconfiguring it at a fundamental level in terms of roles, missions, size, structure and capabilities.

In the light of all this, the Army needs to re-examine its modernisation plans and the acquisition  programmes that flow from them and to ask itself: is what we originally planned to do still the right way ahead?  If it is, then it should continue to press for the implementation of its current acquisition strategy. But if it isn’t, then the Army must have the confidence and self-belief to say: this is no longer what we need. We need to do something else.

Above all, we need the Army to think big again. We also need the Government to trust the Army to know what it needs. 

The Navy has been consistent in thinking big and has been uncompromising in demanding what it believes is required to make its major programmes successful. Carrier Strike has been the focus of Royal Navy modernisation for more than 20 years. It wanted two 65,000 tonne carriers instead of three 40,000-tonne vessels, because it felt it could deliver a more effective capability. Astute Class attack submarines, Type 45 destroyers and Type-26 frigates are part of the same vision. So are the F-35B Lightning JSF and AW101 Merlin helicopter.

The RAF has also shown itself able to think big. The Tempest future combat aircraft represents a stunning vision for the replacement of the already excellent Typhoon. It follows a long lineage of excellent combat aircraft developed and operated with extreme focus and ambition. Like the Royal Navy the RAF knows what it wants. It was very clear in stating that the P-8A Poseidon was the only realistic option for its Maritime Patrol Aircraft requirement.

So where does this discussion leave current British Army programmes?

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It is impossible to predict when and where the next conflict will start. Recent history has shown us that serious situations can unfold with unexpected speed and ferocity. With condensed reaction times, we go to war with the army we have not the one we would ideally like. Without wishing to over-simplify the Army’s future strategy, it must be prepared for three types of situation: high, medium and low intensity conflict versus conventional and asymmetric threats. This means it needs potent and resilient heavy armour formations that can fight anywhere and stand their ground. It also needs highly mobile expeditionary formations that have the agility and firepower needed to project power at distance. Third, it needs SF, Air Assault and Light Role forces that can deploy boots on the ground quickly when needed. This mix of Light, Medium and Heavy Forces has created a new paradigm, but with one common theme that runs through all deployment types: the need for protected mobility.

The four cornerstones of army modernisation are vehicles, weapons, communications and supporting equipment. The Army’s combat vehicles programmes are its largest area of expenditure:

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Challenger 2 LEP

The ongoing need for MBTs has been established by the sheer number of tanks that remain in service across the globe. We recognise that deliberate set-piece attacks against firmly entrenched enemies are likely to be less common, but not impossible. Tanks may play a lesser role in future conflicts, but still remain the only viable solution across various scenarios. A concern about MBTs is their deployability. If they cannot be transported quickly enough from their bases to the area of combat operations, they may not arrive in time to influence the outcome of an engagement. So, if we’re going to use MBTs widely, we will depend on a fleet of Heavy Equipment Transporters (HETs).

In the short-term, we will continue to rely Challenger 2 LEP to deliver the heavy armour capability we need, because there is no obvious alternative. Rheinmetall’s proposal will deliver not only a useful life extension, but a substantially upgraded capability. It usefully includes a 120mm smoothbore gun, which offers increased penetration against threat MBTs, but also commonality with our allies. However, we need to start thinking about what comes next. We need to answer the question: will the next MBT be a development of an existing concept, e.g. a tank with reduced weight, or will it be something completely different?

There has been some suggestion that we should consider retiring Challenger 2 and gapping the capability until a next generation MBT is available. With the USA, Germany and France all working on new ground combat vehicle concepts, a new design should be ready by 2027. However, the increased number of threats we now face, there is a higher risk of needing to deploy heavy armour. If we were forced to deploy a large armoured force, but but didn’t have any tanks, we would lose all credibility. So gapping the capability simply isn’t a realistic option.

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Warrior CSP

It is often said that conflict is resolved on the ground. This invariably implies the need to deploy infantry to seize and hold vital territory or to close with and defeat the enemy. Delivering infantry wherever they are needed creates an enduring requirement for protected mobility. This belief gave birth to the Armoured Personnel Carrier (APC) during World War 2, which is a tracked infantry vehicle able to keep pace with MBTs. Recognition of the fact that APCs would encounter other APCs, led to the development of the Infantry Fighting Vehicle (IFV), which is a vehicle with a weapon capable of defeating other IFVs. Warrior was excellent in this regard when it first appeared 40 years ago. Today, as other NATO armies adopt new platforms, Warrior is showing its age. Given the ongoing importance of this class of vehicle, there is a case for acquiring a brand new IFV rather than simply plonking a new turret on Warrior.

In particular, the Warrior CSP programme has been beset by difficulties. Problems with the new turret, including the ammunition handling system and power supply, have delayed it. More important, concerns about cost of the programme mean that many fundamental issues with the platform have not been addressed, such as the need to relocate the fuel tank. This presently sits below the turret basket on the floor of the vehicle. Should it run over a mine or IED, the underside of vehicle is likely to be penetrated. This could ignite the fuel and, in turn, the cannon ammunition, causing a catastrophic explosion.

The need for increased IED protection, to fit blast attenuating seating and a new electronic architecture require a considerable re-engineering effort. At the same time, corrosion issues have reduced the structural integrity of many existing hulls, creating a need to fabricate new ones. With such an extensive number of engineering changes to the original vehicle, costs have inevitably risen. A question that many users are asking is whether the Army would be better off with a new IFV? If so, there is definitely a need to re-think this programme.

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Ajax

Ajax has been acquired to replace the CVR(T) family of reconnaissance vehicles. Using the ASCOD 2 infantry fighting vehicle platform as a foundation, GDLS has engineered a brand new vehicle. Ajax’s IFV roots mean that it is much larger and heavier than its predecessor, but it has to be to achieve the required protection levels. Even so, it is a hugely capable and agile vehicle.

Ajax is fitted  with a new 40mm cased-telescoped ammunition cannon. This is as innovative as RARDEN was in the 1970s. Co-developed at considerable cost with France, this uses a unique and expensive ammunition type. The UK has encountered significant development issues developing an ammunition handling system for it, while barrel life is still less than 1,000 rounds. With only three nations using CT40, you have to ask why we specified and then developed a bespoke capability at great cost when so many proven systems offering similar levels of performance were already available off the shelf? 

One important feature missing from Ajax is the addition of a twin ATGM pod to counter MBTs. Obviously this extra feature is much desired by the Army, but was deleted on grounds of cost. Had we acquired a less expensive cannon, we might have been able to fit anti-tank missiles. As noted above, the upgraded Challenger 2 will switch from a 120mm rifled gun to a smoothbore gun, giving us commonality with our allies and reducing ammunition costs. We have put right one mistake with tank guns only to repeat it with cannons.

The reduction from three Armoured Infantry brigades to two (plus two Strike Brigades) means that we may acquire more Ajax platforms than we actually need to for the reconnaissance role. For this reason, Ajax will be used by the Strike Brigades as well. However, as has been made clear elsewhere, there are concerns that mixing wheels and tracks when the purpose of Strike is long-distance deployment does not make sense. Ajax will not keep-up with Boxer when deploying by road at distances over 1,000 kilometres.

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Boxer

The Mechanised Infantry Vehicle programme is the latest effort to acquire a medium weight wheeled vehicle family. Paradoxically, we have gone back to the very Boxer 8×8 vehicle we rejected in 2002, which was the result of the Multi-Role Armoured Vehicle (MRAV) project and closely based on UK requirements. If we had remained a partner, not only would have Boxer entered service in 2010, but it would in all likelihood have cost much less than the price we are expected to pay for it in its evolved form.

Despite previous misgivings, Boxer has evolved into the most capable and well protected of any 8×8 currently in service. Superior to the LAV III on which the US M1126 Stryker vehicle is based and to the French VBCI, its mission module approach allows an extensive family of vehicles to be based on a common platform. There is no doubt that this vehicle fully meets the UK requirement and will be flexible enough to give us future flexibility.

The most important aspect of Boxer is that it combines operational mobility (its capacity to move at high speeds on road) with tactical mobility (its capacity to move across country). As good as wheeled vehicles are, they complement heavy tracked armour rather than replacing it. We will still need tracks for vehicles that weigh more than 40 tonnes and for use in extreme terrains.

The only real issue with Boxer is the number of variants we will acquire. If Ajax belongs in the Armoured Infantry Brigades, we will need to specify a Boxer reconnaissance variant. Not having one is a major concern as the Strike Brigades will need some form of direct fire support if they are to survive against peer adversaries.

Oshkosh JLTV

MRVP

The Multi-Role Vehicle Protected (MRVP) consists of three separate vehicle packages intended to fulfil a variety of roles. Package 1 will replace the Panther Command & Liaison Vehicle (CLV) and Husky Tactical Support Vehicle (TSV) with two versions of the JLTV. One will be a CLV the other a TSV with a flatbed. Package 2 will be comprised of a Battlefield Ambulance (BFA) and a Troop Carrying Vehicle (TCV) designed to replace various MRAPs including Foxhound, Wolfhound, Mastiff and Ridgeback. Package 3 will be Light Recovery Vehicle (LRV) most likely based on the Supacat HMT600 platform. Ultimately, the MRVP programme will replace eight platforms with just three. 

Recognising that Boxer and Warrior are expensive, adopting a troop carrying MRVP variant makes sense. It is the Army’s equivalent of the Navy’s Type 31e light frigate. Being a smaller and less heavy vehicle than Boxer will aid deployability, but MRVP is more of a battlefield taxi than a combat vehicle.

Tweaking the plan

Overall, the above vehicle programmes reflect a solid and well-considered strategic plan. They will reduce the total number of combat vehicle platforms operated by the Army from 25 to around 12. This will deliver huge savings in through-life support (TLS) and training costs. Training will also be simplified, but most important, the Army will receive more capable combat platforms across all essential roles.

Although the above vehicle programmes will deliver many advantages over the platforms they are intended to replace, there is still room for improvement. The increased cost of the Challenger 2 LEP means we will only acquire 148 instead of renewing all 227. This is a mistake. The increased threat posed by Russia implies a larger fleet of tanks. If we have fewer brigades, why not make those we do have more substantial? We would not go wrong if we followed the US Army’s Armoured Brigade Combat Team (ABCT) approach and generated square brigades, each with two MBT regiments instead of one, plus two IFV battalions. With two Armoured Brigades adopting this structure, we would need four tanks regiments or 227 Challenger 2 MBTs.

We might also consider re-adopting the original Army 2025 plan and generate three Armoured Brigades. If we did this, and adopted square brigades, we would need six MBT regiments or 336 Challenger 2s (as we had before). If we equipped regiments with 44 tanks instead 56, we could get by with 264. But, whichever way the requirement is delivered, 148 MBTs is not enough.

As noted above, the Warrior CSP programme is behind schedule, over budget and with ongoing technical issues. If it were cancelled, the money saved could be diverted towards buying the Ajax IFV that GDLS has developed for the Australian Land 400 Phase 3 competition. With a lengthened hull, this has more interior space than Warrior. Since we need fewer reconnaissance vehicles, we could reduce the current Ajax reconnaissance variant purchase to 300 vehicles instead of 589 and buy 380 Ajax IFV variants instead. This would increase the total number of Ajax platforms to 680. It would give the AI Brigades a common platform with a long shelf-life. Above all, it would deliver an exceptional capability to reconnaissance regiments and infantry battalions alike.

Alternatively, the money saved by cancelling Warrior could be diverted to buying a turreted variant of Boxer for the Strike Brigades, or another 200 vehicles. Even without doing this, we will need to acquire additional Boxers if we are to fully replace the FV432. There is talk of the UK acquiring 1,200 Boxers, and possibly as many as 1,800 in the long-term. This would be a huge win for the Army and give the utility it desires across low, medium and high intensity deployment types. It cannot be unrealistic, over-ambitious and unaffordable to want to replace a 60-year old AFV.

As things stand, the Boxer Infantry Carrier Vehicle (ICV) will only mount a 12.7mm HMG. This may be sufficient for counter-insurgency deployments, but not if we need to take-on peer adversaries. Mounting a cannon in a remote weapon station, unmanned turret or crewed turret is likely to become an increasingly important requirement. 

The MRVP programme will ensure that all units that need protected mobility get it. The UK Land Power blog has already suggested that leveraging the Supacat HMT or Foxhound platform might be preferable, yet we seem committed to the US Oshkosh JLTV. If this delivers the desired utility at a good price, then it is justifiable. The Package 2 contenders, the Thales Bushmaster and GDLS Eagle, are both proven platforms in service with other armies. So whichever one is chosen is likely to be a low-risk solution. Package 3 will leverage the Supacat HMT platform, so is also aa low-risk solution.

If UK modernisation plans are compared to those of France, they cannot be criticised for being over-ambitious. Tweaking numbers would give us a commensurate capability.

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Thinking beyond vehicles

The second cornerstone of Army modernisation is its communication systems. The Land Environment Tactical Communication & Information Systems (LEtacCIS) programme, known as Morpheus, will replace Bowman with a new family of combat net radios and systems built around modular hardware and an open software architecture. It will ensure reliable and secure long-distance communication via voice and data. It will be linked to the Army’s Battlefield Management System (BMS via a Generic Vehicle Architecture (GVA) which is the digital backbone being plumbed into all combat vehicles. With upgradeable hardware and software, more compact packaging, longer battery life and other enhancements, it should be a big step forward. Those responsible for delivering Morpheus are conscious of the mistakes of Bowman, so hopefully they will avoid repeating them.

The third modernisation cornerstone is weapons that deliver kinetic effect. One particular area that needs wholesale re-investment is artillery. There are seven missing capabilities:

  • 120mm mortar
  • 155mm L/52 calibre howitzer
  • Wheeled multi-launch rocket system (HIMARS)
  • Long-range precision fires missile system
  • Ground-based air defence (Short-range and Medium-range)
  • Counter-battery detection systems
  • Small UAS operated at unit level

For a long time, the UK has been out of the air defence game. If, for example, we deployed a force in Eastern Europe without sufficient GBAD assets, it would be decimated. The ubiquity of low cost drones used as reconnaissance and offensive platforms means that using effective but expensive air defence missiles such Starstreak HVM is unaffordable. So we will need to acquire some kind of air defence cannon. The Army will replace the ancient Rapier air defence missile with the SkySabre / CAMM missile system used by the Royal Navy. This is an excellent capability and having commonality across both services allows interoperability as well as saving costs. The problem is that we will have just 24 launch vehicles. We need at least 96.

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SkySabre Medium Range Ground-Based Air Defence System uses the same CAMM missile used by Royal Navy and the Saab GMB 3D radar system. (Image: UK MoD)

The fourth cornerstone is the technical systems and infrastructure that support our primary capabilities. We also need to invest in people and training.

What will most ensure the effectiveness of Armoured Infantry and Strike Brigades is the CS and CSS assets that keep them supplied when deployed. We cannot invest in all the shiny stuff without looking and the systems and processes that enable effective logistic support.

As we look to restore potency across many of the Army’s existing functional areas, we also need to embrace new requirements. We need to develop our Hybrid and Proxy Warfare skills. We need an offensive Cyber and Electronic Warfare capabilities. We need to be able to operate within the “Grey Zone.”

As the Army tries to meet commitments across many areas, it must make smart choices. But whether it’s buying boots, body armour or batteries, it knows that buying the cheapest option often means buying the same equipment twice. So, it must tread a fine dividing line between cost and utility to ensure it delivers value.

The problem with many of the requirements listed above is the defence budget as it stands today simply isn’t sufficient to deliver them all. Based on analysis of major programme costs, it is estimated that the Army would need a minimum of £2 billion a year for the next 10 years to procure all of the equipment it wants. Is this a return to profligacy? No, it is a recognition that the defence budget now needs to grow.

 


[1]McKinsey on Government, An Expert View on Defence Procurement, by David China and John Dowdy, April 2010.

[2] https://www.overtdefense.com/2018/11/06/sa80-rifle-upgrade/

 

 

 

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