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By Julian Nettlefold, Editor, BATTLESPACE

The FRES contenders, in the latest stage of the Army’s programme for a new force of battlefield armoured vehicles, were unveiled by Minister of State for Defence Equipment and Support Lord Drayson on Tuesday 31 July 2007. The Utility Vehicle design competition is a key element of the FRES acquisition strategy announced in November 2006. The FRES programme will equip the UK Armed Forces with over 3,000 new medium weight armoured vehicles.

The candidate vehicles are the Boxer, produced by the Dutch-German ARTEC consortium; Piranha, a Mowag design presented by General Dynamics UK; and the VBCI (Véhicule Blindé de Combat d’Infanterie, or “Armoured vehicle for infantry combat”) produced by the French company Nexter. The trials have involved the candidate vehicles being evaluated by technical experts and soldiers.

Lord Drayson said, “These trials are a significant step forward in a vital programme which is at the centre of the future of the British Army. I made clear in February that MoD intended to take forward the FRES programme at pace. Today’s event is tangible evidence of that commitment being put into practice, and I look forward to announcing the winners of both the trials and the System of Systems Integrator competition in November.”

The cautious approach Lord Drayson took to describing the bones of the FRES Requirement at his Open Day on Tuesday August 2nd spoke volumes. Firstly he quietly cut the total FRES Requirement from 3700 to 3000 vehicles and then would not confirm the overall value, previously believed to be £12bn with an ISD of 2012; neither would he would not confirm numbers of Utility Vehicles.

FRES supremo Lt General Dick Applegate, Chief of Material Land, stood at Lord Drayson’s side trying to look optimistic when answering journalists’ questions, but his demeanour said it all! Had he had an opportunity to say that ‘FRES was the Project to provide the required protection to the British Army against the current IED threat and its early Procurement would save lives,’ he would have earned brownie points form the Dailies in particular. But, in true non-New Labour style and true to his Service, he stuck to the script, FRES is a Requirement for a Battlefield Utility Vehicle which will support the Armoured and Infantry on the Battlefield. In short it is not an MRAP vehicle designed to protect against mines and IEDs. This is probably why ABRO did not show its 250th Bulldog because that vehicle is designed to defeat these threats and is where the bulk of the Armoured Vehicle Budget is going!

Later, Brigadier Chris Deverell said, “FRES represents the equipment heart of the future Army”.

The Systems House, Atkins is supporting MoD in running both the SOSI and UV competitions; one of Atkins’ Directors reports directly to FRES IPTL and is leading the SOSI/UV selection programmes with around 30 Atkins staff along with MOD IPT staff in the team. As such, Atkins is continuing to deliver successfully as the Systems House and will not be bidding the SOSI role.

FRES Background

Previous MoD Cost Plus Procurement policies required the introduction of new vehicles in an immature form which, through trials, exercises and combat experience were upgraded using the Mk. system. A prime example is the Chieftain MBT which suffered mechanical and reliability problems throughout its service career. To outline this process, we show the various Mks in the development of this tank:
Mk 1, 40 training vehicles for 1965/1966.
Mk 2, First service model with 650 hp engine.
Mk 3, Extra equipment fitted giving rise to several submarks.
Mk. 4-5, Final production variant, with upgrades to the powerplant and NBC protection system.
Mk.6-9, Incremental upgrades to earlier Marks of tanks, including addition of Clansman radios.
Mark 9 upgrade, addition of Stillbrew Crew Protection Package to the turret front and turret ring.
Mark 10/1

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