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The British Army’s 8×8 Programme Its Only Taken 30 Years! By Julian Nettlefold

 

 

 

 

 

As the British Army moves into what is seen as the final solution for its 30 year old 8×8 wheeled vehicle MIV requirement with the procurement of the ARTEC Boxer, it is worth looking at the tortuous process the Programme went through and the huge waste of taxpayers’ money to achieve this.

The Need

The need for a wheeled combat vehicle for the British Army was recognised nearly thirty years ago in 1989, when Land Systems Operational Requirements 1, headed by Col Derek O’Callaghan produced Future Light Armoured Vehicle Strategy Paper (FLAV).  The FLAV paper, laid down the framework for rationalisation, which was needed because of the recognised obsolescence of FV432 and CVR(T) and the fact that there were a large number of vehicle types with overlapping roles.  This led to the Future Family of Light Armoured Vehicles (FFLAV) programme, which identified the roles carried out by armoured vehicles on the battlefield and allocated them to vehicle types.

It was recognised that there was a requirement for heavy vehicles, such as a Main Battle Tank and self-propelled artillery guns.  It established that there were certain roles, such as reconnaissance, at the opposite end of the spectrum that required a small, light, armoured vehicle, Finally, it established that, in between those extremes, there was a requirement for medium armoured vehicles, which it divided into two classes: a high mobility high protection vehicle known as M1P1 and a less mobile, less well protected, vehicle known as M2P2.

The MRAV programme

The light armour requirement was recognised as special and distinct and was to be met by the TRACER family of vehicles, which would include an ATGW variant and support vehicles as well as the Scout variant; while the medium armoured requirement was to be met by two variants of Multi Role Armoured Vehicle.   M1P1 (standing for Mobility Level 1 Protection Level 1) was to be a tracked 30 tonne vehicle and became known as the Armoured Battle Group Support Vehicle; and M2P2, in the 20-25 tonne range, which would be a wheeled vehicle.  which evolved into MRAV.

MRAV was a FINABEL (France, Italy, the Netherlands, Germany, Belgium, UK and Luxembourg) exercise to identify common requirements for a medium weight multirole vehicle, but was little more than a talking shop, although it did set the parameters for the MRAV.

 

The MRAV programme itself began life as a Franco-German collaborative programme.   In 1992, France and Germany had programmes under way: France had the Véhicule Blindé Modulaire (VBM) and Germany had the Gepaanzerten Transport Kraft-fahrzeug (GTK).  In December 1993, at a meeting held in Bonn between the French Defence Minister, Francois Leotard and his German counterpart, Volker Ruhe, they agreed to establish a joint armaments agency.  This was not a European agency but a French/German organisation to manage a specific number of joint programmes.  From this would eventually spring forth OJAC or, as it was known in the French, Organisation conjointe de coopération en matière d’armement, which was to become OCCAR.  One of the programmes to be managed by OJAC was the VBM/GTK.

The UK was a founder member of OCCAR, which was established on 12 November 1996 by the Defence Ministers of France, Germany, Italy and the United Kingdom. Legal status was not achieved, however, until January 2001 when the parliaments of the four founding nations ratified the OCCAR Convention.

There had always been a tension between France which wanted a Mechanised Combat Vehicle with the emphasis on Firepower; and Germany and the UK who wanted a Mechanised Infantry Vehicle with the emphasis on Protected Mobility.  This eventually led to France leaving the programme in 1999 to develop VBCI and subsequently, in 2001 they were replaced by the Netherlands who joined the programme.

FCS and FRES

In July 2003 the UK left the programme.  The reasons are various and confused. Gen Shineski, CSA, was changing the US Army with the intention of ‘getting to the fight faster’, which placed considerable emphasis on C-130 deployability, through the Future Combat System Program (FCS). The British Army wanted to follow suit with the Future Rapid Effects System (FRES) concept.  Capacity was a prime driver in the MRAV requirement, with the user demanding that 8 fully equipped soldiers be accommodated under armour with all their kit for a 48-hour mission.  This called for an internal volume of 10.8 cubic metres and drove up vehicle size and weight up accordingly.

However, when General Richard Dannat (CGS) and his staff saw how big MRAV was they were horrified and seized on the new concept of deployable operations which called for C-130 deployability as a reason for cancelling the programme.  This spelt the end of MRAV, whose remaining funds were required to make FRES viable.  By that time MOD had sunk £57M into MRAV; and a further £131M was sunk into TRACER, which was cancelled soon after.

The FRES programme was originally conceived to provide a medium force capability which would fill the gap between the heavy forces, which were highly capable but not easily deployable, and light forces which were highly deployable, but vulnerable.  What differentiated FRES from other programmes was that it was to be a family of vehicles with a high degree of commonality, and it was to be rapidly deployable.   However, the thinking behind the concept was flawed.

Because the ‘R’ in FRES stands for ‘Rapid’, the assumption was that FRES would deploy by air, and because the only airlift available in the original timescale, apart from 4 leased C-17s, was C-130, the decision was made that C-130 deployability would be a defining requirement for FRES.  This was done with no regard to the design trade-offs that this would imply.  The TRACER studies had clearly shown that achieving protection for 3 crewmen against .50 armour piercing and RPG7 in an 18-tonne platform is barely achievable; and, although a C130 can take off with 18 tonnes on board, it cannot fly far, and the stresses involved limit the life of the airframe.

The DEC GM staff persuaded themselves, and almost everyone else, that the lack of armoured protection could be offset by Defensive Aid Systems; but, not only did they only offer protection against some of the threats, the cost and integration issues were significant; and, most importantly, the technology was not as mature as they believed.   Experience in Afghanistan demonstrated the need for conventional armoured protection and the C-130 requirement which had spelled the end of MRAV and its replacement by FRES was quietly dropped.

The FRES programme consisted of 2 primary vehicles the Utility Vehicle (FRES UV) and the Specialist Vehicle (FRES SV), which was essentially the reconnaissance variant.  FRES UV was launched first because it was deemed the most urgent.  The initial acquisition strategy for FRES UV involved a beauty contest and the selection of a preferred supplier, but this was never likely to satisfy the Treasury’s requirement to demonstrate value for money.  The next move was the selection of a preferred supplier, but this was never likely to satisfy the Treasury’s requirement to demonstrate value for money.  The DE&S was forced to change tack and run a competition and, in the hiatus that followed, it was decided to pursue a number of technology demonstrator programmes (TDPs), which would maintain the momentum of the FRES programme and keep the Integrated Project Team in being.

When the programme was eventually relaunched, the new acquisition strategy involved a Systems House, a System of Systems Integrator, for which Boeing later had an initial contract, a Utility Vehicle Integrator, a Utility Vehicle Designer and a Utility Vehicle Manufacturer,  GDUK was slated for this role, all working in an alliance. Industry struggled to get its head around how this construct might work, whilst MOD had difficulty in articulating its approach to the various stakeholders.  There was a meeting with Phil Riley, the IPTL, at which he was asked about the process for bringing the integrator and the designer together in a one-month period.  He famously said that he would ‘sprinkle some pixie dust’ to make it happen.  The MoD then ultimately compounded the problem by selecting the ‘UV Designer’, before selecting the ‘UV Integrator’, which was putting the cart before the horse.

The MOD assessed a number of contenders for FRES UV and eventually whittled the field down to the PIRANHA V, VBCI and Boxer, which were subjected to the ‘Trials of Truth’ at Bovington in June 2007.  BAE Systems Hagglunds SEP was an early casualty being seen as too immature with its hybrid drive technology. As a result of these trials, the General Dynamics PIRANHA V design was selected, but commercial terms were not agreed, and the programme was abandoned, while MOD turned its attention to the FRES SV programme.  By this time MoD had spent £133M of taxpayers money on FRES UV.

The 8×8 Requirement

The requirement for an 8×8 had not gone away, which is hardly surprising, as it was first identified nearly 30 years ago, and the MIV programme is latest attempt to satisfy this requirement.  The SDSR, published in November 2105, stated ‘We will establish these two Strike Brigades to be able to deploy rapidly over long distances using the new Ajax armoured vehicles and new mechanised infantry vehicles’.

This fired the starting gun on industry’s race to provide the ‘new mechanised infantry vehicles’ and the major players in the 8×8 market, General Dynamics, Nexter, Artec/Rheinmetall and Patria, have been working on the programme in anticipation of a competition.

To most people’s surprise the MoD declared in a statement on 31 March 2018 that ‘the UK will re-join the Boxer programme and explore options to equip the Army with the 8×8 troop carriers to modernise its vehicle fleet and meet the Army’s Mechanised Infantry Vehicle requirement’. 

 

The first thing that was surprising was the timing of the announcement. The MoD chose 5:30 p.m. on Easter Saturday to make the announcement.  It is highly unusual to make an announcement in the middle of a four-day public holiday with Parliament in recess.  Indeed, the Chair of the House of Commons Defence Committee had previously asked MoD not to announce anything while Parliament is in recess.

The BBC quoted Welsh-based Parliamentarian Wayne David saying the process had not been ‘fair and open’ and described the acquisition process as ‘clandestine’.  ‘The process should examine value for money and creating as many British jobs as possible.  General Dynamics are competent and were confident they could have beaten anything in terms of job creation and competitiveness on price,’ said the British lawmaker.

The market was also surprised that the MoD had decided against competition, because the decision not to compete MIV runs counter to the MoD’s stated policy of competition where a market exists – and there is certainly a very healthy market for 8x8s.

Indeed the National Audit Office in their report on the cost-effective delivery of an Armoured Vehicle Capability on 20 May 2011 made 5 key recommendations, the final one being:

‘The Department has chosen international competition as its preferred route for acquiring armoured vehicles, whilst retaining some specific capabilities on–shore. We support the principle of competition as a means of acquiring armoured vehicles, and this can effectively be achieved by accepting requirements based on minimum modification to existing vehicle designs. By procuring vehicles in successively more capable batches, and modifying them over the vehicles life, the United Kingdom can retain key technologies and the ability to design, manufacture and overhaul vehicles at levels the Department deems critical to hold on-shore.’

It is a brave, maybe foolhardy move, of the DE&S to go single source in the light of this recommendation and the fact that the original FRES programme foundered because the acquisition strategy did not involve competition and therefore the Treasury were not satisfied that the Programme who represent best value for money.

The only reason that Army and DE&S sources have been able to give for the decision is that this is the only way that MIV can be procured within the timescales that the Army are demanding.  This has been met with incredulity by the main industry suppliers, all of whom claim to have the capacity to produce 8x8s faster than the MoD can either absorb them or pay for them.

Another consequence of this acquisition strategy is that the DE&S will be outsourcing the procurement process to OCCAR.  Cynics suggest this is because the DE&S does not have the capability to deliver the programme themselves.  Be that as it may, it means that the MOD is losing a large measure of control over the programme and transferring risk, and its ability to manage that risk.

The DE&S and MoD have stressed the importance of Battle Proven, Commercial Off The Shelf (COTS) systems, which is laudable; but this is at odds with their desire to involve the UK Supply Chain, while achieving an early in-service date.  The problem with sourcing components and sub-systems from new suppliers, is that you undermine the reliability case and drive up the price, which is the whole point of buying a proven, off-the-shelf vehicle.  There are any number of UK vehicle programmes which have suffered from poor reliability because of UK specific requirements, and very few programmes, including the recent Ajax, have managed to meet their targets for UK content.

It shouldn’t be difficult to buy an 8×8 as they are not especially complex armoured vehicles and many nations that are much less prosperous and sophisticated than the UK have managed it.  In the last 29 years, the UK has had numerous failed attempts and the concern is that we may be heading for another.

As we head for DVD at Millbrook in September all eyes will be on the MIV Programme and whether at last this 30 year-old debacle will come to an end! The professionalism shown by Peter Hardisty’s Rheinmetall team and its obviously good working relationship with Roddy Malone’s team at DES&S and industry, the OCCAR connection, the will of the Treasury and the MoD to get this right, should see this project get to Main Gate by the end of the year and silence those doubters looking at the next 30 years without an 8×8. Certainly, my late great friend David Trevanion would have a wry smile on his face!

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