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FRES ADJOURNMENT DEBATE

Future Rapid Effects System

28 Jun 05. 12.30 pm

Ann Winterton (Congleton) (Con): I commiserate with the Minister, who has drawn the short straw to be the Minister on duty while his colleagues are, no doubt, enjoying themselves on the Solent, at the review celebrating the glorious victory of Nelson at the battle of Trafalgar. I agree with Nelson’s descendant that the politically correct competition between the red and blue teams is unnecessary, although I welcome the visiting fleets, because without them there would not be much of a review to show Her Majesty. However, in line with Nelson’s words: “England expects that every man will do his duty”, perhaps I should do my duty and get on to the subject in hand. The future rapid effects system came to the fore almost a year ago when the then Secretary of State for Defence, who is now the Leader of the House of Commons, said: “The balanced land force of the future will consist of two heavy armoured brigades, three medium-weight brigades, based around the future rapid effects system family of medium-weight vehicles—FRES—and a light brigade, in addition to the air assault and commando brigades. We launched the assessment phase of the FRES project in April this year and we expect to sign a contract for technology demonstration work to start later this year.”—[Official Report, 21 July 2004; Vol. 424, c. 344.]

On 16 November, the Minister of State, Ministry of Defence announced in a written statement that: “the Ministry of Defence has signed a contract with Atkins in respect of the systems house role for the future rapid effects system”. The statement concluded:
“Finally, FRES is a complex programme, with obvious tension between competing demands such as capability, time to delivery and affordability. However, the award of this contract to Atkins provides us with the necessary industrial expertise and realism to examine those competing demands in detail and to make informed decisions in order to achieve the optimum FRES solution.”—[Official Report, 16 November 2004; Vol. 426, c. 76–77WS.]

I shall highlight some of the areas that I believe should be kept under scrutiny about the feasibility of FRES and its objectives. The previous Secretary of State, who was supported by the Chief of the General Staff, General Sir Mike Jackson, said of the new capabilities, when speaking about the future of the army structure:

“They are being backed up by an impressive re-equipment programme,”
and went on to discuss “modern vehicles such as the Panther armoured reconnaissance vehicle”—which is now classed as the Panther command and liaison vehicle—”and looking further ahead, the ambitious FRES armoured fighting vehicle programme, which will modernise the armoured vehicle fleet and form the basis of the medium-weight capability. These enhancements will directly improve the ability of the Army to deploy, support and sustain itself on the range of operations that we envisage. That can only be achieved as the result of the planned reduction by four in the number of infantry battalions, which will release around 2,400 posts for redeployment across the force structure.”—[Official Report, 16 December 2004; Vol. 428, c. 1796.]

In an article published on 27 August 2003 in Jane’s International Defence Review, Rupert Pengelley said: “FRES exists mainly in the minds of the planners, and has evinced numerous conflicting opinions and interpretations as to its significance. These may be summarized as ranging from ‘an elephant giving birth to a mouse’, to ‘a revolution in UK land warfaring.'”

On its website, Atkins describes FRES as: “the UK Ministry of Defence (MOD) programme to provide the British Army with a family of medium-weight, network-enabled, air-deployable armoured vehicles to meet up to 16 battlespace roles.”
It goes on to say that the key drivers for FRES are the needs for: an armoured rapid effect land capability; wide operational utility; maximum interoperability with other parts o

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