06 Oct 20. The Defence Committee held session on progress delivering Armoured Vehicle capability on Tuesday 6 October, at 14.30 where The Defence Committee held its first evidence session in its inquiry into Armoured Fighting Vehicles (AFVs). The session discussed the progress being made in delivering current AFV programmes, the lessons learned from the last two decades of AFV procurement, the current status of the Challenger 2 upgrade programme, the viability of the UK AFV industry and future developments in AFV technology. Witnesses included: Francis Tusa, Nicholas Drummond, Peter Hardisty, Carew Wilks and Lee Fellows.
The first panel heard from Francis Tusa and Nicholas Drummond. Francis Tusa is an experienced defence journalist, having worked for RUSI and with media outlets such as the Times, the BBC and CNN, and as a regular contributor to Sky News.
Nicholas Drummond is a former British Army officer and now works as a strategic consultant serving the Defence Industry with clients in the EU and USA. Mr Drummond currently acts as an advisor to Krauss Maffei Wegmann (KMW) which is a shareholder in the Joint Venture (ARTEC) that is under contract to supply Boxer armoured vehicles to meet the Army’s Mechanised Infantry Vehicle requirement.
The second panel included Peter Hardisty, Carew Wilks and Lee Fellows. Peter Hardisty is currently the Managing Director for the Rheinmetall BAE Systems Land (RBSL) joint venture business. He was the Managing Director of Rheinmetall Defence UK and Rheinmetall MAN Military Vehicles UK, two of the UK subsidiaries of Rheinmetall, a large German defence firm.
Carew Wilks is Vice President of General Dynamics Land Systems (GDLS), having working in both infrastructure and equipment acquisition roles; as Director of Army Infrastructure in Army HQ and finally as Director Land Equipment in DE&S, with responsibility for the acquisition and support of all the Army’s equipment.
Lee Fellows was appointed Vice President and Managing Director of the LMUK Ampthill business in 2020.
• Francis Tusa – Editor, Defence Analysis
• Nicholas Drummond – Director, AURA Consulting
• Peter Hardisty – Managing Director, Rheinmetall BAE Systems Land (RBSL)
• Carew Wilks – Vice President, General Dynamics Land Systems (GDLS)
• Lee Fellows – Vice President and Managing Director, Lockheed Martin UK Ampthill (LMUK)
The general view of all the people giving evidence was the lack of an Armoured Vehicle Strategy by the UK MoD for many years. This had led to a lack of professionalism and engineering understanding amongst the MoD and DE&S, which affected relations with industry for major projects.
Lee Fellows said that after a number of changes and amendments to the WCSP that he expected negotiations to begin for a contract by the end of 2020.
Lee Fellows said that at the start of the process there was a lack of coherence between Lockheed Martin, the MoD and suppliers and numerous design changes but that was improving. He said that the biggest cause of these delays was a lack of a UK MoD Land Industrial Strategy.
However, when asked which APC Project would be likely to face the axe, both Nicolas Drummond and Francis Tusa stated WCSP as the most likely candidate. However Nicolas Drummond warned about not having a tracked capability for deployments in Northern Europe in winter.
Discussions about how problems and changes with the GFE CT40 canon had caused delays and problems to both WCSP and Ajax were discussed at length. However, none of the participants ventured into the huge technical problems and lack of TRL readiness by the MoD with CT40. Francis Tusa said that the French approach to producing a system rather than a canon had speeded up their process. He did not elaborate whether the French had solved the recoil problems which beset CT40 in the UK. The barrel wear problem being solved in 2018.
Carew Wilks said that there had been technical challenges and delays with Ajax, he did not elaborate on the reported build standard problems of vehicles built by GSELS in Spain and the differing dimensions of the vehicles which resulted in the applique armour kits having to be rebuilt to suit the different dimensions. He said that changes in design had caused delays but did not elaborate on the reported ‘wobble’ problems encountered when testing the turret. He said that 10 year Ajax Programme had been a learning journey for the whole of the UK APC enterprise including MoD and industry with the desperate need to develop learning skills in particular and a Land Systems Roadmap.
Peter Hardisty agreed with the other speakers that the biggest cause of these delays was a lack of a UK MoD Land Industrial Strategy and that the UK could have had Boxer ten years earlier which would have negated the requirement for specialist MRAP vehicles in Afghanistan.
All the speakers criticised the need for ‘a UK Special vehicle,’ which ramped up costs, caused delays and resulted in a vehicle which was often over specified and an 80% solution would have suited.
All the speakers also said that a lack of a UK MoD Land Industrial Strategy had caused a huge lack of skills and recruitment of engineers into the UK APC sector.
At the end all industry speakers were asked what their technology ‘wish list’ was. They all agreed that common GVA, Unmanned, Manned-Unmanned capability and Manned-Unmanned Teaming were crucial.
Finally in closing Chairman Tobias Ellwood asked the key question as to what was the difference between Warrior and Ajax and therefore why did the British Army need a new vehicle when the Warriors could be fitted with the new systems required to update and improve Warrior.
Of course with the purchase of Hägglunds by Alvis, Warrior was dropped in favour of CV90 which was a major factor in the debate.
The Editor wrote to the Times at the time of the Ajax bid and suggested that the MoD had enough Warriors to use them for the Ajax requirement. On publication, this was met with a furious riposte from Sandy Wilson GDUK. ASCOD was a dreadful choice by the MoD as it had been rejected by both Spain and Austria.
The TES-H Iraq UOR on Warrior by BAE Systems was excellent and could well have been used as the base vehicle for Scout with a new comms suite. Indeed BAE Systems has designed a new strengthened armoured hull which could be retrofitted after the explosion which killed the crew in Afghanistan. However, BAE Systems were out of favour at the time and the other problem of course was that GDUK was promised FRES after the Trials Of Truth and then FRES was cancelled. They used the jobs lever to get Ajax and promised it would be ‘British To Its Bootstraps’ and keep 10,000 jobs which of course never happened and the UK Supply Chain was destroyed accordingly as the Ajax suppliers were sourced in Europe.
There is no difference in design or performance of the two and indeed CV90 would have been a better choice than ASCOD due to the number of users, but BAE Systems was the Prime and out of favour.
Given that Lord Drayson said that APC hulls would not be made in the UK the Ajax choice was of course Government policy in line with the marked decline and planned decline of the UK’s defence industry.