Generally speaking, the British electorate doesn’t take much interest in defence matters.

There are obvious exceptions to this statement – Battle of Britain Day, Remembrance Sunday, and various other anniversaries like Arnhem and D Day which seemed to come all at a rush recently. But for the rest of the time public knowledge of the military is rather as it was during Victorian times. We know we’ve got armed forces, but where they are and what they’re doing generally passes your average civilian by.


This opinion piece was submitted to the UK Defence Journal by Stuart Crawford, a regular officer in the Royal Tank Regiment for twenty years, and first appeared on Think.Scotland.org. Crawford now works as a political, media, and defence and security consultant in Edinburgh and is a regular commentator and contributor on military and defence topics in online and other media.


For military nerds and geeks (like me), though, there’s just so much going on. At the strategic level, if you like, there’s something called the Integrated Security and Defence Review (ISDR), a stop-start process which has been interrupted by the pandemic but which is apparently back on the move again and due to conclude this November according to some sources.

It is, essentially, the UK’s review of our security, defence, development, and foreign policy, which should march hand in hand with a Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR) and it is hoped it will deliver its recommendations shortly. I’m not holding my breath, but such reviews come round with monotonous regularity in military circles and usually translate as “budget cuts”. But we’ll see in due course.

It’s the defence part of this process I’m interested in really, and there has been much chatter amongst those for whom military matters are their thing. And, because I used to work in the equipment procurement are when I was in uniform, for a bit anyway, I am particularly interested in that aspect of it all. Also, I used to be a tank soldier and that was my area of expertise if I could claim to any, so the British experience of procuring its armoured fighting vehicles (AFVs) is a topic I continue to follow. 

By way of background, I think it’s fair to say that the British army as a whole has been sucking on the hind tit of late compared to the largesse which has been lavished on the other services.

The Royal Navy (RN) has probably fared best of all in recent years, with two brand new aircraft carriers in HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales now in its inventory, the Offshore Patrol Vessels of which the fifth has just been delivered, plus the T26 frigates now in build, and the T31 frigates more or less confirmed, on top of which there appears to be no stopping the Dreadnought SSBN programme which will provide the next generation of delivery means for the UK’s Trident nuclear armed missiles.

F-35B jets onboard HMS Queen Elizabeth.

The RAF has done not too badly either, with Typhoon now in service and upgraded, the introduction of the F-35B Lightning II (shared with the RN), ongoing purchase of the P8 Poseidon Maritime Reconnaissance Aircraft (MRA), the initiation of the future Tempest aircraft programme to replace Typhoon (and F-35B?) and various other enhancements in the training fleet. Meanwhile the Army has looked on enviously from the sidelines, stuck with an ageing if not obsolescent vehicle and weapons inventory which is badly in need of upgrading and/or replacement. It seems like the Army has lost the habitual inter-service battle over finance in the last few spending rounds, and it isn’t looking any more optimistic for the its prospect in the IDSR, I’m afraid.

An RAF P-8A Poseidon and Typhoon overflys Vasily Bykov over the North Sea.

Why should this be so? Well, some might say that the Army had its shot in the early 2000s, when embroilment in Iraq and Afghanistan prompted a flurry of urgent operational requirement (UOR) equipment purchases to provide special-to-theatre equipment, most of which no doubt languishes unloved in draughty warehouses awaiting the “next time”. Others might aver that the Army has simply been outmanoeuvred by the other two services in the corridors and tearooms of Whitehall. Or perhaps it is just that the focus of British military doctrine, such as it is, has shifted to favour expeditionary operations which tend to be RN or RAF led.

I suspect it is a combination of these and other factors.

There are other factors at play here, though, which we will look at later. But let’s first have a look at the Army’s AFV procurement programmes and see where it has all been going wrong. Starting at the very top of the food chain we have Britain’s current main battle tank (MBT), Challenger 2 (CR2). I have written elsewhere why CR2 was the wrong choice in the first place and won’t bore you with the details now. Suffice to say we staff officers recommended the purchase of the German Leopard 2 (Leo 2) at the time. 

British tanks in Oman on exercise.

A total of 446 CR2 were delivered; 408 to the British Army and 38 to Oman. No other nation has purchased them. In stark contrast, 3,600 Leo 2s have been built and are operated by roughly 20 nations with a couple more in the pipeline. On top of this, or perhaps because of this, Leo 2 has had continuous updates since its first introduction into the Bundeswehr in 1979 and the wider user community has benefitted from the economies of scale its overall numbers allow. In contrast, CR2 has had minimal, if any, real enhancement since it entered service in 1998.

The Queen’s Royal Hussars (QRH) make use of the Hohne Ranges.

CR2 now compares badly to Leo 2 (and other MBTs too). In particular, its gun/ammunition combination is now inferior, it does not share NATO ammunition compatibility because it has a different gun (rifled, as opposed to smoothbore on Leo 2), and is badly in need of upgrading in other areas. There are, however, various programmes to effect this upgrade, of which we need only concern ourselves with two here. These are the Challenger Lethality Improvement Programme (CLIP), which basically sought to replace the British rifled gun with the German Rheinmetall 120 mm smoothbore, and the Challenger Life Extension Programme (CLEP) which proposed a multitude of other improvements. 

Neither programme has progressed beyond demonstrator vehicles and both are now at risk of funding being withdrawn in the ISDR. If CLEP does go ahead, which appears doubtful, it may be that only 150 of the fleet of 227 will be upgraded, which has led to  many of us commenting that the UK might as well give up its MBT capability altogether. 

Now let’s look at the Warrior Infantry Fighting Vehicle (IFV). Even older that CR2, and originally designed to replace the ancient FV432 Armoured Personnel Carrier (APC) which equipped British mechanised infantry battalions, Warrior was accepted into service in 1984. The British army got a total of 789 Warrior and variants, while a further 254 of a modified version called Desert Warrior were produced for the Kuwaitis.

Warriors in Helmand Province.

Since then, apart from new radios and thermal imaging (TI) sights on some of the vehicles, plus protection enhancements for various conflicts like Iraq and Afghanistan, the Warrior has remained basically the same and is in dire need of either replacement or further upgrading. The Warrior Capability Sustainment Programme (WCSP) plans to enhance some, but not all, of the fleet to bring it up to date and allow it to soldier on until 2040, when some of the hulls may be over 50 years old. A new turret and gun are also part of the programme. However, as at June this year the programme was running four years late and some £227 million over budget. It too is ripe for the chop. 

However, all of this pales into significance when compared to the disastrous slow-motion car crash that is Britain’s attempts to modernise its light to medium AFV fleet, which, amongst other things, is needed to replace the aforementioned FV432 (introduced in the early 1960s, maybe as many as 500 still in British service) and the Combat Vehicle Reconnaissance, Tracked (CVRT) fleet (one of whose design parameters was allegedly to be able to pass between rubber trees in Malaysian plantations, which shows its age). Others have written in detail on this fiasco (and a long read for AFV nerds is available here) but it is a sorry tale. Recently, an expert witness at the Defence Select Committee inquiry into the topic suggested that £5.6 billion had been expended since year 2000 and not one vehicle has been delivered to units to date.

AJAX, the Future Armoured Fighting Vehicle.

However, the UK has, at long last and much wasted time and expense, eventually settled – we think – on its future medium AFV equipments in the form of Ajax and Boxer. Ajax is the long-awaited replacement for CVR(T) and in its primary form is a tracked, turreted vehicle with a suite of sensors more fitting for the modern battlefield. It is also a much more substantial AFV, weighing in at 32 tonnes compared to CVR(T)’s 8.2 tonnes. Sadly, however, the programme has once again been beset with difficulties and most recently the first batch of production standard vehicles was found to be “not ready for delivery”. Not for the first time, therefore, its planned in service date has been delayed.

The British procurement of Boxer, an eight-wheeled MIV of German-Dutch design (mainly) and which has had considerable success on the international arms market, is also a salutary saga. It is a modular design, comprising a drive module and interchangeable mission modules and is by all accounts an impressive vehicle. To date Germany, the Netherlands, Lithuania, and Australia have adopted it, with the UK, Algeria, and Slovenia next in line. But Britain was part of the original international consortium at the very start of the Boxer project, together with Germany and France, way back in the late 1990s, only to withdraw from the programme in 2003 to pursue UK national projects. The UK then rejoined the project in 2018 when national alternatives had come to nought. In effect the UK will get Boxer at least ten years late and no doubt at significant additional cost. 

A Boxer vehicle at Milbrook Proving Ground.

On top of all this, we should just mention artillery and air defence in passing. Whilst the Multiple Launch Rocket System (MLRS) fielded by the Royal Artillery (RA) is probably still marginally current, the rest of the British army’s elderly systems – the AS90 self propelled 155mm gun and the 105mm Light Gun – are both now outmatched, outranged, and outnumbered by peer level potential enemies, in particular Russia. In addition, recent experience of the vulnerability of AFVs to drones and loitering munitions in the Armenia – Azerbaijan conflict show the importance of integrated air defence in the deployment of armoured formations. Once again, the UK is found badly wanting here. The budget currently does not cater to improvements and/or replacement of either.

A British Army MLRS. Photo: Cpl Jamie Peters [OGL], via Wikimedia Commons.
I could go on, but by now I think the picture has been adequately painted. The big question is, of course, why has all of this happened? I believe there are several reasons. First and most importantly, my own admittedly not-so-recent time spent in defence procurement demonstrated to me a sclerotic system firmly rooted in the past. In the 1920s – 1950s, even during the Second World War, Britain’s AFV production effort has been described as a cottage industry, with assorted firms and teams, some competent and innovative, some not, tinkering away on their own pet projects with no real sense of a coordinated, national effort. 

I suspect aspects of this may pertain today, that is if there’s much AFV industry left. The MoD effort seemed to be mired in the days when you built a prototype, tested it, bent some metal to iron out the glitches at repeat the system ad nauseam. No wonder the flash to bang time of UK AFV procurement has tended historically to be in excess of ten years. This is hopeless, of course, when modern advances in technology can render new equipment obsolete in about six months!

It also doesn’t help when military officers in the equipment procurement world tend to hold their positions short term, with most being posted elsewhere within an 18 months to two year timeframe to ensure their planned career paths continue. Accordingly military officers are seldom around to take responsibility for the decisions they make, which can lead to a certain sang froid when dealing with such matters. And the important decisions are usually taken by senior officers who may not be up to speed with more recent technological developments, leaving them easy prey to persuasion from commercial interests.

This egregious state of affairs is exacerbated by what defence analysis Francis Tusa has labelled “British exceptionalism”, sometimes described less kindly as “not invented here syndrome”. This is an institutionalised resistance in the equipment procurement system to anything that does not originate within the UK or from UK initiatives, which is surprising given that the British armed services are awash with weapons systems sourced from abroad. The “exceptionalism” bit kicks in when, even when accepting another country’s AFV, for example, as being the best fit for the requirement, there is insistence on a multitude of changes to make it “ours”. 

Another view of Ajax.

Then there’s “specification creep” and “gold-plating”, in which the requirement itself changes owing to new advances or trying to make things better or do additional things. All of which flies in the face of the old adages that the best is the enemy of the good enough, and better to achieve 80% of the requirement on time than 100% too late. 

Put all of these factors together and they go some way to explaining the disaster that has been British defence procurement over the past 20 years. The UK is now faced with a situation where more or less the entire British army’s equipment is obsolescent and needs replacing at the same time, there isn’t enough money in the budget to do it, and what funds as exist are in danger of being cut in the ISDR. Something is going to have to give, and the clever money is on the abandonment of CR2 LEP and Warrior WCSP, but we shall see.

A Warrior Infantry Fighting Vehicle fitted with the Marionette Universal Control System. A ‘bolt-on’ external control which can be fitted to a diverse range of vehicles and equipment. It integrates with or works alongside existing systems and allows add-on systems to improve, or re-purpose vehicles in the field.

Against this background we can only hope that Dominic Cummings gets his wish and goes through the MoD like a dose of salts. But even if he does, those responsible for the debacle will be long gone, tending their rose gardens in Wiltshire and huffing and puffing from their leather armchairs in their London clubs. No blame will be laid and no heads will roll. It has ever been thus. 

The British army deserves better than this. Who will rise to the challenge? Famously, Winston Churchill put Lord Beaverbrook, a Canadian newspaper magnate, in charge of RAF aircraft production during the early days of the Second World War to galvanise the industry. Will Boris Johnson take a leaf from his averred hero’s book and do the same for the British army? 

© Stuart Crawford 2020 

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George Royce

We can all make some very good, poignant arguments. Many people will point out a history of procurement cockups, facts, statistics etc. However I think the single most detrimental issue is, funding.

A 1% increase in defence spending would solve so many problems. It’s not a magic bullet solution, but going from £60bn to £90bn would be a major improvement. Especially now, that we’re not going to join an EU army, and Russia and China are threatening the peace in their respective regions.

Mark

What EU army is that?

George Royce

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7gHOA2y9BzU This one. It may have been put on hold due to the pandemic, but the EU will go ahead with this soon. I think they’ll have an EU army before the middle of this decade.

Mark

I’d happily put as much money as you want on it that no it won’t. Merkel’s time is nearly up even though she remains far more popular than any successor and there’s little appetite within the 27 for such an entity. There hopefully will be smarter procurement with more widespread usage and some nations will work closer but a EU wide force… Short of NATO going away first, nope.

Lordtemplar

Agreed there is no EU army and we will not see this anytime soon. Each EU country has different foreign policies and you cannot have a functionning army without clear direction from the top. However we will see more EU joint exercises and operations on an ad hoc basis since NATO is broken (Turkey’s membership is problematic, the US pivot towards Pacific …)

Mark

I’d agree “ad hoc” formations are likely, and some countries will have more than others (Germany and the Netherlands for example), and ideally some sort of better procurement so European projects get more benefits of large production runs (not without problems as seen of course). But yeah an integrated “EU Army”… Not going to happen anytime soon.

Gavin Gordon

But there is still the above salutary statement that claims, at face value since we cannot gainsay, the MOD (by which Army) has spent £5.6 billion over 20 years with effectively nothing to show for it. I’ve refrained from an expletive response. DC Comics can argue that the carriers are a waste, if he so wishes, but in comparison the taxpayer is quids in.

BB85

I don’t think its fair to blame funding for the cock ups in Army procurement. As the article states over £5.6 billion has been spent on procurement yet no vehicles have been delivered since 2000. The people in charge didn’t have a clue what they wanted or needed and kept changing their mind on a whim, this completely screwed up the British armoured manufacturing industry to the point it no longer exists. BAE only had operations in Sweden, and GDUK and LM has to setup new facilities that have been plagued by problems. Boxer should have been delivered between 2008… Read more »

George Royce

Oh yes I agree. There needs to be a major rehiring and firing process. The people that made these cockups need to be let go, or moved into another field. But again, ultimately the chaps who make the final decisions are those in Westminster. Bottom line still stands, a lack of funding is the main issue. We have asked the Army to do much more with much less. We can pull £200bn out of our arse for a bloody railway, but nothing for our armed forces.

Last edited 1 month ago by George Royce
TrevorH

As of 13 Oct the London Birmingham cost was 45 billion including 5 billion contingency. Even without that, there would have to be substantial investment in north to south rail. And in the meantime France, say, still manages to have endless miles of high speed rail and still have a defence budget.

In terms of a SDR, surely the operative word ought to be ‘Strategic’. Does the MoD have any strategy?

4th watch

Its all down to education and national preferences. At whatever level you take it education in UK is hardly fit for purpose. But as was ever the case manufacturing and the knowledge surrounding it is woeful and as people don’t understand hard tech stuff and reject nerdism things go from bad to worse.

ChariotRider

If the Army has wasted £5.6b as alledged then frankly my sympathy for the position the Army finds itself is somewhat tempered. Certainly, those senior officers who worked on any of these projects on their up, need to take a good long hard look at themselves. £5.6b for AFV’s and not a single unit entering frontline service, words fail me… Whilst the Army’s equipment budget has still been smaller than the RN’s it is equivalent at least another aircraft carrier or 5x T45’s or few more F-35’s, or better still enough spares, people and weapons to properly equip and maintain… Read more »

Joe16

I had a quick look, just to see. The defence equipment plan 2018 has the RN planning on spending £32B over ten years, the Army spend £30B and the RAF £34B.
Those are just the headline numbers, I haven’t dug into it, but it would appear that funding generally is split fairly evenly- I can’t say how that compares historically.
Frankly, from what I see, Army just seems to be sending its cash badly compared to the other commands.

ChariotRider

Yup, that’s my reading of it as well. The Army seems to have done paticularly badly in managing its equipment procurement programme. That’s not to say that the other services’ programmes have been covered in glory, but at last they got something for their (our) money! All the services can reasonably point to daft moves by politicians, but that does not excuse the Army’s total failure on its AFV programmes. They should remember who’s money it is they are spending… IF you haven’t guessed already I am pretty cross as I know that the MoD / services could easily have… Read more »

Pacman27

Whilst I agree that the military needs some additional funding, it has proven itself on numerous occasions to be not capable of managing budget accordingly. Lets not forget that the $55bn [£42bn] pa currently allocated is the 5th largest defence budget in the world and we have one of the smallest militaries in terms of people. So what is the money being spent on? The USMC are able to field nearly 200k personnel on an audited budget of $26-30bn pa. have plenty of kit and people and although it does not fund a navy out of this funding, the residual… Read more »

ChariotRider

Hi Pacman, Nice post and couldn’t agree more, although I would emphasize cultural change over organisational change. 20 years ago the Mod developed a very good straightforward procure system that was beginning to generate real improvement in project performance. Unfortunately the processes imposed discipline even on senior officers, which didn’t go down well. So guess what, they changed a words here and there in the processes and completely undermined to whole lot. The significant change was changing out the word freeze for ‘chilled’ when suposedly agreeing equipment requirements. That change alone was a licence for constantly changing design requirements, delays… Read more »

Mike O

Well said Pacman. A generation of failure is all the excuse that is needed to wipe the MOD slate clean and start fresh. I truly hope it happens.

SD67

The army have had an inordinate amount of time and money. Look at the Scorpion project in France – their Jaguar recce vehicle built from scratch in 6 years at a fixed price of 1 million euro per unit. Ajax has been a decade in the making and is projected to top out at 6 billion GBP for 500 vehicles. That’s not to mention own goals like Panther, the UOR vehicles, Watchkeeper.

CR2 LEP and Warrior upgrade will never work. You cannot just bolt a new turret onto a 50 year old chassis.

Martyn Parker

Neither chassis is 50 yrs old

SD67

Warrior was designed in the 70s, service entry mid 80s. Best case for Warrior upgrade is that manufacturing phase will start late 2020s. OK let’s call it 40+. During which time it has been worked hard all over the world and never zero-lifed. How much extra kit has the army acquired during that period, add on armor, comms etc. The ultimate weight growth is going to be way outside anything anticipated back in 1977.

Sean

I’m a little surprised that an otherwise excellent article that reviews the army’s most significant weapons, from self-propelled guns to MBTs, omits the army’s most potent weapon system, the Apaches, flown by the Army Air Corps.

BB85

It’s probably the only thing that was delivered on time and on budget.

Nscnick

And not British!

Heidfirst

Built by Westland though rather than Boeing & the RR engines & foldable blades are again a (more expensive) deviation from the standard build at the time. To be fair they were more powerful & the standard engines have latterly been found wanting in US service with equipment growth over the years. The AH-64Es though afaik are going to be standard production items & bought direct from Boeing rather than licenced production.

Mark

Isn’t that in part due to the changes made in the UK meaning the UK can’t now leverage off the E upgrades without significant extra costs

BB85

That was always the case. Back in the 90s it made sense for the uk to spend more to get some sort of domestic work through assembly and RR engines. Now there is no money it would be scandalous to spend double when the off the shelf version is better anyway.

Johnny

Could be wrong here, but I’m sure I read the aac apaches were the only ones that could operate hot and high in Afghanistan whilst carrying the longbow radar. Sure there’s someone on here who is far more knowledgeable than myself will be able to confirm or deny!?!?

BB85

The new E variant now has more power engines even than the AW version. It wouldn’t make sense to order additional units to be assembled locally, the cost would be more than double and the MOD still hasn’t committed to ordering 50.

Johnny

Hi BB85, I Think you may have missed what my question was, I was asking if I was correct in assuming that the uk apache w as the only one that could operate hot and high in Afghanistan?

Daveyb

Yes, the D version of Apache we had, that was put together by Westlands, had the RTM322 engines instead of the GE T700C. The RTM was a slightly more powerful and efficient engine. It did mean in Afghan that ours could fly higher and during early afternoons when it was really hot, compared to everybody else’s Apaches. This was also a major problem for our Lynxes in Afghan, until they got the better LHTEC engines. The new E model we are getting comes with the GE TC700D engines which are rated at 2000shp each, compared to the earlier 1890shp of… Read more »

Johnny

Missed out with longbow equipped

Pacman27

and the next batch are being sold at an amazing price point, and the UK decides to reduce the fleet of possibly the most overworked/overcommitted piece of equipment it has.

Tells its own story I think

Jack

Designed, engineered and built in the USA.

Nscnick

Excellent article and hits the nail on the head. Defence is seen as a means of commercial companies making money from the taxpayer and not as one of the most important things any government is responsible for on behalf of its citizens. UORs demonstrate that we can step up to the mark, but at least it means we can get something quickly, as long as the enemy allows. Too many vanity projects and vested interests involved unless we are in the middle or start of a crisis. Procurement shouldn’t be in the hands of serving career officers, but under the… Read more »

Daniele Mandelli

Spot on with the comment on commercial companies seeing the budget as a cash cow. I also believe HMG frequently favour those same companies over defence, full stop. I predict we will see exactly the same in the ISDR, the likes of Tempest get funded ( all well and good for UK PLC, of course) and defence gets some cuts immediately. Tempest is a future carrot to make up for this. Give it another 5 years and the wheel comes full circle. Tempest is cut or reduced, the earlier cuts to the forces were for naught, but the military industrial… Read more »

Supportive Bloke

In all fairness to BAE the QEC’s were pretty much delivered to budget, when you allow for the Treasury mandated extension of build time to suit the cash flow curves. The T26 pricing is again inflated by the leisurely build speed. And we have covered that off many times. They offer to build 13 at far lower unit costs and faster. So I am not sure that blaming the “usual suspects” is that helpful. What is utterly clear is that the army has not the first idea how to buy combat vehicles. Whereas the RN seemingly can buy ships and… Read more »

Pacman27

the other thing to say about this is that if anyone needs a direct comparison on how to do it right, look no further than the Australians. Land 400 is an excellent programme with clear requirements, documentation and funding that has resulted in some good decision making.

Ultimately this like many programmes is about governance and the MOD just doesn’t seem to have any

Harold

What a shambles. And who pays? We the taxpayers. What on earth do we need to fritter all this money on weapons for?

Ian M.

Yet you read articles such as the above, on a defence related website and then ask why we need “weapons”?

4th watch

Harold is a troll.

Harold

Harold’s lived long enough to understand the difference between defence and aggression, between maintaining a sensible foreign policy and deliberately showing off and impressing no one, between what is a good use of public money and what is an utter waste.

Daniele Mandelli

I’ve lived many fewer years then you I suspect, yet I understand strategic realities clearly. You call it “defence and aggression” Translated as, in reality, Offensive and Defensive capabilities. You don’t need to be aggressive to have the deterrent or threat to use military force if you need to. You must also have lived long enough also to see that as other nations still maintain offensive capabilities, western nations, including the UK, must do likewise. What you propose is unilateral disarmament, you no doubt remember Spies For Peace and CND. While others gain the strategic and tactical initiative in maintaining… Read more »

Mark B

Having a deterrent has kept us all alive for a long time. If we keep it up we might all die in our beds!

Airborne

Yaaaaaaaaaaaaaaawn, god the troll does get boring.

Airborne

Boring, repetitive and rather sad. You need a hobby and at least one friend. You need to work on it, once the meds kick in.

maurice10

Time to realize the blunt truth, the RN is the critical customer for the lion’s share of future UK military expenditure. The Army is now facing cuts in order to achieve RN build programmes, and something has to give. The Warrior is a sound and worthy vehicle but has been thrown before the lions by the hideously expensive upgrade programme, in combination with constant delays. I don’t give it much of a chance other than the retention of some unmodified units for peripheral duties. As for CH2LEP, I’ll take 120 units rather than see our MBT fleet scrapped. Tough days… Read more »

Harry Bulpit

A force of 120 unique tanks is pretty equal to no tanks at all. While I disagree with the authors views on Challenger. It is never the less clear that it has been allowed to sink in to disrepair. As such personally the best option would be the purchase of a forign tank.

maurice10

120 MBT’s may be ridiculously small but it’s better than nothing. The best way to resolve the current impasse is to join the M1 replacement project and eventually purchase a meaningful fleet of ultra modern tanks.

Supportive Bloke

Or is it to do with the RN spending £6.2Bn on getting two new aircraft carrier and the army spending £5.6Bn and getting nothing? If that is true then blame the army for that not the RN or anyone else. Army procurement is the issue here not the money. £5.6Bn is a lot of dosh to waste with nothing in service. It is almost the cost of the T45 project and that is in service now. For £5.6Bn I would expect a lot of good combat vehicles to be procurable. Other countries manage it. Current price of Leopard II is… Read more »

Rob

The author asks above, ‘Why have the Army done relatively badly as opposed to the RN & RAF?’ Simple. 3 reasons: As an island nation the defence strategy is majorly orientated towards securing our maritime zone and air space and beyond that expeditionary warfare. Land forces can be regenerated relatively quickly but pilots, submarines and aircraft carriers can’t. The campaigns in Iraq & Afghanistan shaped and absorbed the Army’s budget for 15 years. Nobody was thinking about Eastern Europe until relatively recently. Ships & aircraft are a far ‘sexier’ to sell to the general public than green kit stuff. Now… Read more »

Bob

@Rob. I’m going to call out here that land forces cannot be regenerated quickly any more than ships and aircraft can. The reality of land operations today means that it take years for formations to become competent; vehicles and weapon systems take a long time to produce and deliver. Just look at infantry officer training as a case in point. A young officer goes to Sandhurst for 44 weeks (that’s the course length, in reality it’s a year). They then go to IBS Brecon for 3 months, where they learn their trade and gain their full range qualifications. If they… Read more »

ChariotRider

I was in defence procurement for years as well, although mostly Air and to some extent Joint. I have have posted about short term postings repeatedly and requirements being treated as moving targets. So I am glad to see someone else make the same points. The damage to UK (land) defence industry is considerable, virtually a total wipe out! For me the main issue is a lack of discipline. There was a scrutiny team within MoD (not sure if it still exists) that used to ensure that certain processes and approvals had been achieved before a project could move forward.… Read more »

BB85

What annoys me is that in a lot of these projects industry knows full well what the budget is yet makes no attempt to meet it. They have no interest in export potential if they think they can rinse the UK government for delivering F all. Look at Nexter and Reinmettal on the other hand that use the limited French and German budgets to deliver solutions they can then market and export. Griffin and Jaguar is a great example that will have huge export success. Boxer and Lynx look like they will clean up for Reinmettal. GDUK and LM have… Read more »

Ian M.

GDUK put a lot of effort into foreign sales, they bid for the Aussie Land 400 contract, they are bidding for the US MPF contract (down to 2 to provide 12 prototypes)………….the company is well aware of the lifespan of the Ajax program.

BB85

In fairness I know they did bid on the Land400 contract but I get the feeling everything would be produced in either Spain or Australia. The Cta cannon appears to be more of a hindrance than a help due to its troubled track record and ammunition cost.

peter wait

Don’t think anyone will buy Ajax, at walking speed the sixth roadwheel jacks due to lack of torsion bar damper(state of art design claimed!). dampers seem to be fitted to the likes of 432 and warrior. Also why would anyone want the expense of CTA 40 when bushmaster is cheaper?

Ian M.

I don’t know where you get your information Peter but the 6th roadwheel is fine and dandy thanks. Hydraulic dampers are fitted to roadwheels that require them. The cross country performance of Ajax and it’s variants is best described as impressive as can be observed on BTA by the public. The CT40 cannon is a new concept, chosen for the ability to introduce rounds regardless of the elevation of the weapon giving it an impressive arc of fire and all with minimal turret intrusion, not to mention a high rate of fire, accuracy and terminal effects. The cost of the… Read more »

peter wait

The AJAX vehicle that is marshalled out of ATDU daily on test has the sixth road wheel jacking, as seen on several occasions lol. Clearly hydro-gas as used on CR2, T2, AS90 and terrier is far superior off road and allows better armoured floor without voids for bars. Bushmaster would have been better choice due to CTA40’s short barrel life 700-1000 rounds and expense of rounds. The Army has not got money to waste in folly. The Americans spent 30 years and over 200 million dollars and gave up on CTA tech. How can you argue for smooth bore on… Read more »

peter wait

Wonder who will pay for suspension mod’s if fatigue causes number 6 torsion bar failure. Now its highlighted it should not be the tax payer. Cameron should be liable as he signed the project off!

Peter S.

A sorry tale but I am not wholly convinced by the reasons given. I believe the trouble started with an over enthusiastic welcome of the post 1990 peace dividend. Couple this with the privatisation of defence manufacturers and you have the perfect storm. Given the disappearance of the British Armys main role in West Germany, it is perhaps surprising that AS90 and Ch2 were delivered from 1997. We then move to the Blair wars of choice and budgets spent poorly on UORs. Meanwhile, faced with no new orders, AFV manufacturing facilities are closed down. Whilst it is unlikely Britain will… Read more »

The Snowman

Successful procurement comes from the Objectives -> Requirements -> Procurement -> Contract Management. UK objectives are (as I see them):- National Defence (nuclear deterrent, QRA, counter terrorism); NATO role (G-I-UK gap, Western Approaches, reinforce Norway) Protect trade and dependencies. Exert global influence Requirements should stem from these (mainly naval and air). Apart from training and SF, Eastern Europe land power is for our friends in Poland and Germany. We simply cannot get there in time, but can contribute all sorts of air power. Given the above, it seems reasonable that the army is the least well funded of the armed… Read more »

Glass Half Full

I would add Baltics support to your UK objectives as a NATO role, including air policing and forward presence. There is also a non-NATO UK Joint Expeditionary Force role for the Baltics and Scandinavia with Denmark, Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Sweden and Norway involved. Agree that requirements then drive equipment. We must be honest in what we want to do, the equipment necessary to do it and honest estimates for the budgets required, and cut our cloth accordingly. No over promising, under delivering and hanging troops out to dry with potential mission failure because of it. So, working… Read more »

AlbertStarburst

Good article Stuart and as you sum up at the end, is a UK Government visionary enough to do something along the lines of Beaverbrook in WWII? I have been arguing on this Forum for just that. Rather than just a WWII “Ministry of Aircraft Production” for the UK (with its Commonwealth allies), for the UK to go the whole hog and just have some form of a National organization that nurtures and delivers key strategic assets and capabilities and comes away from the global arms trade. Call it “Royal Assets Works” (RAW) or something, but it would mean that… Read more »

Daveyb

During the Cold War, the British Army Of the Rhine (BAOR) was seen as the trip wire, if a conflict kicked off. It is sad to say, their life expectancy was measured in days. The remainder of the heavy units in the UK were NATO’s mobile reserve. Their task was to fill the gaps or halt a breakthrough, and try to hold up the advance long enough, so that US troops crossing the Atlantic could reach Europe and deploy in a timely manner. Today we no longer face the Warsaw Pact juggernaut. Russia is the main protagonist, perhaps with Belarus… Read more »

AlbertStarburst

…yes, call it what you like and include the basic capabilities such as ammo. However, what I am also suggesting is a National organization with a much wider remit. One that encompasses just the key strategic technologies that the Nation needs for both defence and the economy, and holds strategic assets (e.g. energy resources). Like other countries we could have a Sovereign Wealth Fund that over time could help pay to take this sort of thing in-house. Else the rest of the world just slices up what remains of our industry as we are too naive to see the bigger… Read more »

DaveyB

Sounds like a cunning plan. You’ve got my vote.

AlbertStarburst

Thanks DaveyB.

For it to work, those put in charge to run such an organization would have a have a different mind-set to the usual lot who get parachuted into senior roles. The MoD would need to be kept at arms length too – else it will lose focus.

Dern

I feel like it’s incredibly unfair to skip over the entire debacle for the British Army equipment plan that was Afghan and Iraq. The RAF and RN where mostly unscathed by this, able to continue funding into and working on their normal projects (QE, Typhoon, F35). The Army on the other hand basicially had to hard stop work on anything conventional and grasp for a brand new fleet of vehicles for a pair of COIN wars.

No wonder everything is behind schedule, out of date, and over budget when you return to the conventional warfare game 15 years later.

AlexS

British Army conventional programs continued. Do you read about FRES? Besides it is not like land vehicles are more complex than aircraft and ships… The Army already have the advantage of dealing with less complex stuff but they still bungled heavily. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Future_Rapid_Effect_System My opinion is that what they wanted isn’t available technologically, so they got stuck. They wanted the miracle of a C-130 transport capable vehicle with protection of a 3-40t vehicle and hitched into a miracle armor. Meanwhile elsewhere like Israel and Russia they got the inevitable conclusion, Armor does not have anymore power to stop weapons so they… Read more »

Dern

They continued in the sense that they where not outright cancelled, but they became very much deprioritised, and pushed to the back while the army had to focus on a war to fight and the equipment needed then to fight that war.

FRES was simply another casualty of Afghan.

As for complexity, that’s irrelevant. As I said the navy and airforce had the luxury of having 15 years where they could concentrate on their core programs and get on with it while the Army was mired into COIN.

AlexS

And i explained that i disagree with that thinking. It does not make sense, Russia, Israel and others don’t stop thinking about a major war because they have insurgents nearby.

Dern

I’d heavily disagree, Russia did stop thinking about the next major war when they where fighting in Chechnia during the 90’s. It makes perfect sense: you pay way more attention to the fight you are in than to the hypothetical next one on the horizon.

BB85

Its no excuse, the MRAPs and Warthog was purchased through an UOR requirement. They where not funded from the MOD budget, so if anything it should have helped them focus on what they actually need rather than dicking about back and forth between Boxer, Fres, Piranha V, Ajax, Warrier LEP to end up with with Boxer and Ajax.

Dern

Capital is only part of the issue (though even then focusing on UOR’s misses the point that fighting a war on the a different continent even without procuring new systems are expensive). Simply put the Army was mentally and financially focused on Afghan and Iraq, and how to win there, not on the next war.
Plus MRAPs, Jackal… so many where brought into the core budget at the end of the war and the treasury had to be repaid.

Last edited 26 days ago by Dern
fearlesstunafish

simple answer….money and politics, plus an old fashioned/inefficient way of doing things in the mod… same as all govt procurement….

fearlesstunafish

oh yea, i forgot the rediculous short-termism regarding basically everything…… save money in the short term to balance budgets even tho it screws you in the longterm and ends up costing more…

Ron5

The claim that the Army spent 5.6 billion without a vehicle to show for it doesn’t bear much scrutiny. It’s just not true.

The army has wasted money but not to that extent, maybe a few hundred million which is peanuts compared the the money the RAF wasted on the Nimrod fiasco alone. And the navy on it’s carrier and submarine programs.

BB85

I think they are including the UOR vehicles in that figure, although there where plenty of vehicles delivered if that is the case. However treasury rules mean the mod is scrapping vehicles like the warthog so it doesn’t get taken from their budget which is scandalous so maybe does take numbers back to 0. I don’t think boxer would have been available in time to avoid the mrap purchases for Iraq but the Austrian bushmaster vehicle was and its crazy we are only considering it now. Panther was a poor choice with hindsight. Selecting LM to integrate the CTA cannon… Read more »

peter wait

Only an idiot or an MP would want to convert EX Saudi comets into Nimrod due to the hand built air frames being different measurements and corroded !

Supportive Bloke

I’m a bit lost as to where the money wasted on the carrier program was? Yes, the Treasury slowed the build rate down but when that is allowed for the QEC came in pretty close to budget. Which for such an unusual program was actually pretty good going.

Agreed, the Astute program is a bit of a mess costs wise.

Daniele Mandelli

Excellent article Stuart. FRES, Tracer, Ajax, WCSP, an endless debacle. I think Challenger will be updated myself, and WCSP dropped. Which begs the question. If mobility and wheels is the new thing though with Boxer, why are we still getting Ajax? No doubt it’s sorely needed to replace the varied ancient CVRT variants, but it’s big, heavy and tracked. That seems the opposite to what the CGS is hinting at lately. It seems the army has no idea what it wants and keeps changing its mind. We could have updated Warrior and Challenger in the 3 big armoured infantry brigades… Read more »

BB85

I just don’t see how Ajax works with the strike concept. It makes sense providing reconnaissance for a heavy armoured bridge but not strike. I have a feeling the army prioritised it because if they had they gone ahead with pharanah v when it was originally selected they never would have got ajax. So they played slight of hand knowing the government had to fund an apc eventually. Warrior must be toast, I just hope the huge amount of money pissed away on the LM Turret can be recovered by placing it on boxer modules.

Daniele Mandelli

Agree. I believe there is plenty of as yet uncommitted billions in the WCSP budget. Maybe some of that will go into more Boxers. I read Ajax has good ISTAR tech. So far they seem committed to it providing the medium armoured firepower for Strike. Maybe it will revert to where it belongs and Strike will be all wheeled. To be fair, the Soviets had mixed wheeled / tracked formations, so it’s not so much that, it’s the distances strike is meant to cover and our lack of HET and recovery assets. I hope it’s not cancelled though, simply because… Read more »

BB85

I feel like Ajax is well suited to Norway and Sweden if that is where they are deployed in a hypothetical war that will never happen. But medium tracks don’t make sense in the middle east. The French Jaguar costs a fraction of Ajax and likely has the same ISTAR features. It is lighter, faster and can travel significantly further with less support than Ajax. Their scorpion program is what the UK should have been working on 10 years ago.

simon richards

Think the UK should ditch the challenger and warrior and replace it with the polish pl01 tank I’m sure bae could modify the design

peter wait

Cheaper to but ex marine core Abrams and fit conventional diesel engine!

Barry Larking

The article forgets that this country and England in particular, has never fought a major war on its own by design. Never a major Continental power, its foreign policy since Elizabeth I was shaped around alliances or, in reality, playing one possible foe off another one. There is no point at all planning for a war this country cannot fight alone. A medium small military power needs flexibility and agility to aid ‘friends in need’ to overcome local difficulties or, more reasonably, put up a show of force when diplomacy can secure a better outcome than arms ever could. We,… Read more »

Ron5

What an extremely weird point of view.

Barry Larking

Basil Liddell Hart.

Phil

Another key problem is that unlike the RAF and the Royal navy the Army seems to spend it’s time defending cap badges. The RAF seems to have no problem standing down/up Squadron titles, yet the Army appears to go to exceptional lengths to structure it’s units around cap badges. Why have we got FIVE Guards Infantry Battalions when we need Air Defence and Combat Engineer Battalions – oh, because then they wouldn’t be “Guards” if we re-roled them apparently. It took WW2 to overcome that attitude and create Guards Armoured Regiments out of former Infantry Battalions. Something of the same… Read more »

Daniele Mandelli

Spot on. Cap badge mafia lurk.

Adrian Cockerill

All symptomatic of trying to have £70 billion defence with a £40 billion budget… Take the aircraft carriers for example, delayed to save money at a cost of how many billion extra. Defence procurement will never be fixed until capability requirements match budget or budget matches capability requirements

Harry Bulpit

A great article. Although it misses out on the issues regarding personal kit. Virtus has proven to be a failure and while there’s nothing particularly wrong with SA80A3. Colt M4 where available at the same price as the sa80 optic. The Army must except it is no longer Britains poster child and should buy simple and tested kit.

peter wait

Perhaps you should start with the 432 AFV, kept on mainly because its simple robust and is said to cost 1/4 of the running costs of Warrior. Warrior with CTA 40 was a poor choice because despite the Americans spending over 30 years and 200 million dollars failed to produce sensible gun- short barrel life, then 200 rds , now it seems 700 rds -1000 rds, ammo costing more than 105mm due to complexity and jamming issues from rotating breach! Trojan built before a tested prototype fully designed and over complex and lots of mod’s later (this one would get… Read more »

Geoffrey Roach

Stuart, I recently submitted a paper for inclusion In the upcoming SDSR. I picked up on nearly all the points you have made, though I would have to say not as well written as your excellent article. I did not mention the F432, probably because I thought they had already had their day. I did make other points Briefly …GMLRS is now thought suspect in some circles because of potential Russian GPS jamming making it inaccurate.The 105 mm light gun is out ranged by nearly all adversary forces.We are now down to 48 Apache to provide air cover for 3rd… Read more »

Jonny

It’s a shame the army is in a mess, but I’d much rather it were them than the navy or air force considering we are an Island nation.

Gunbuster

For some rather excellent analysis of the Army and its procurement troubles I suggest you take a look at Think Defence.(Google it)
Warrior, Boxer, Challenger and containers (in joke) amongst others are covered.
Its Worth the read and you will shake your head in disbelief as you realise the UK has identified the perfect systems of how not to buy an AFV.

Daniele Mandelli

Used to read TD a lot then he announced he was stopping with only an occasional article.

They are obsessed with containers!

TW

I was surprised by the ommission of Skysabre particularly given the article stated we had no integrated air defence.

There are obviously issues with it (short range, limited potential targets, not suitable for manouvre warfare) but it’s still noteworthy and procurement appears to be proceeding fairly smoothly.

Daniele Mandelli

Yes, though it is just a regiments worth. I have no idea for sure how many firing posts we are actually getting! Sky Sabre as you say will not be travelling with our armoured battlegroups, it is more of a rear of battle area asset. Integrated air defence, if you mean combined with forward battle groups, that is the job of what little Starstreak coverage we have. There is no mobile AA gun like the famous Soviet ZSU or other anti drone weapons, and how the dispersed groups in the Strike Brigades are meant to have integrated air defence cover… Read more »

BB85

I’m curious about how effective the CTA40 is in the air to air role. Thales has developed an air defense version for the French navy so not sure why Ajax could not be equipped with programmable aorburst rounds to take out UAVs and attack Helecopters out to 4km. We still need a Mobil solution that can cover twice that distance though.

Daniele Mandelli

Good point. On that I have no idea.

peter wait

With the round expense and short barrel life other systems would be more cost effective!

Ian M.

CT40 does have programmable airburst ammunition

TW

Thank you for the detailed reply! In terms of SHORAD I think we should be looking at innovative solutions like the Americans have been considering such as programmable munitions fired from regular artillery pieces and directed energy. That would allow us to utilise one asset for a number of tasks which is preferrable given where we are in terms of budgets and size of the army. Its also feeds into the current preference for “leap ahead” technologies. More broadly I think our doctrine is based on the assumption we will always have air superiority and so the threat from enemy… Read more »

DaveyB

What’s that phase, assumption is the mother of all f**k ups? To assume the Army has a clear sky above them secured by the RAF etc. would be to invite the biggest strategic blunder ever. The Army must be able to operate under not only contested skies, but where the balance is not in their favour. It can only do this if they have the correct assets employed within the manoeuvre regiments. which means Sky Sabre can’t be used. Therefore, we are talking short range air defence (SHORAD). The Stormer armed with Starstreak, currently gives us that capability. However, it… Read more »

Daniele Mandelli

Thanks Davey.

Surely the army realises this and we will see newer emphasis on air defence and anti drone weaponry. Maybe a growth area along with long range fires for the RA at the expense of some tanks and other armour?

I assume a gun system bought to complement existing Starstreak would be optimal, given Starstreak’s strengths? Rather than outright replacement? Could the system be transferred onto a Boxer if the Stormers are knackered?

I remember reading long ago when HVM entered service about how the missile splits into 3 or 4 darts, creating a big impact on target.

Ian M.

3 sub-munitions, each with it’s own proximity fuse.

AlexS

Well as things go if RAF does not have air supremacy British Army is dead to drones and loitering munitions.
Another strange thing is 0 APS. Currently there is no way that BA can deploy on its own for combat except against weak insurgents.

Supportive Bloke

I chuckled when I read “ The Royal Navy (RN) has probably fared best of all in recent years, with two brand new aircraft carriers in HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales now in its inventory” The answe you are looking for is further down the article “ Recently, an expert witness at the Defence Select Committee inquiry into the topic suggested that £5.6 billion had been expended since year 2000 and not one vehicle has been delivered to units to date.” The £5.6Bn would have paid for 2 x QEC (if built fast, not Treasury speed) 5… Read more »

Brian Foley

A very well written article, clear and concise without being terse. The author lays on the table a sound argument for exactly what the British Army needs and all without being nasty about it.

Ian

AJAX specifically has suffered a series of delays that owe more than a little to the senior stakeholders repeatedly moving the goalposts. Not so much for the sake of ‘goldplating’ as being generally indecisive about what capabilities were or weren’t required and how much they were prepared to spend. Settle on a specification and commit to it and many of these problems go away.

peter wait

It was an idea of a vehicle and developed from the Ascod, the CTA 40 gun was also still under development. Hard to integrate a a weapon system that was not finished. Americans spent some thirty years working on the CTA system and had problems with barrel life, rotating breach causing jams, loading mech ,ammo cost so gave up. When the cartridge is fired there is “blow by” before the round seals in the tapered venturi , this strips away material shortening barrel life. Seems the scout version is still delayed !

Stevo H

This is absolutely tragic, seeing my British Army being decimated by morons and billions of pounds being utterly wasted on [email protected] which isn’t fit for purpose. What’s the remedy? Buy whatever is best for the job, stop being blinded by the ancient “we should buy something uniquely British” thing because it’s not working…..clearly. If a German vehicle is a perfect fit….buy it, if a British design is perfect and on budget/time…buy it. If an American SPG is a perfect fit…buy it. If we desperately need air defence systems…buy it. In the current climate, time is of the essence so stop… Read more »

Stevo H

If the M.O.D are messing about with the MBT conundrum, make your mind up!! Either massively upgrade all the 400+ tanks, bin the Chally 2 and buy the Leo 2 or ditch MBT’s altogether and invest in other modern, high tech, powerful armoured vehicles such as SPG’s and AFV’s. Whilst they’re dillydallying around, the rest of the World moves on and they’re producing new equipment all the time. Prime example the Azeri/Armenia conflict……look at the videos of the high tech stuff they’ve got and way more armoured vehicles than we have had since the Cold War. It’s beginning to get… Read more »

Grant

If you read the MOD equipment plan you can see the Army has as much as the other forces allocated (submarines excluded). The Army has clearly spent its money less effectively The Ajax procurement will cost as much as our carriers. The RAF has done worst out of the recent funding regime with its combat air numbers halved since 2010; but all three forces need more. A good place to start would be the £24bn of IT spend in this very plan… https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/868076/20200218_EP19_v1_1-O.PDF