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FRES – MEA CULPA?

FRES – MEA CULPA?
By Julian Nettlefold, Editor BATTLESPACE

21 Nov 06. is it a coincidence that Lord Drayson used an FT feature to launch major changes to the FRES Programme just before the Defence Select Committee takes evidence? It looks very much as if the Government has got in first and laid the blame at BAE’s door again! As we said in earlier articles, the blame can be spread to all participants in this meesy Project, BAE, the MoD and the Government. (See: BATTLESPACE UPDATE Vol.8 ISSUE 37, 15 September 2006, FRES – WHAT A MESS?)

Alex Ashbourne, a Westminster-based defence analyst, told the FT, “It strikes me that this new approach is just the MoD deferring having to make a difficult decision on the programme’s budget.”

The decision made by Lord Drayson will open FRES to international competition, as the government attempts to revitalise a military equipment programme bogged down by delays. But, if this is the case, does this leave the Defence Industrial Strategy Land Systems Segment in tatters because this placed BAE Systems as the custodian of the ‘A’ Vehicle fleet that would include all of FRES.

Certainly Boeing, Lockheed Martin and General Dynamics have made no secret of the fact that they wish to become major players on FRES with the latter two working closely already on the TDPs. GD and Boeing have established FRES offices with Boeing majoring on its PSI role on FCS in the USA. Lockheed has extensive expertise through its Sika TRACER/FSCS Project and at the lighter end, HMT, where the MoD is believed to be looking directly to Lockheed rather than Supacat to fulfil some of the OUVs requirements. Lockheed is involved on two FRES TDPs, the EA-TDP and the Electric Armourin addition, the company is also heavily involved in WLIP with its Insys Division offering a turret solution. Sources also suggest that Lockheed is working closely with Patria on its Utility vehicle offering.

OUVs, the project to renew the light and medium soft skinned vehicle fleet has been given a new lease of life by the MoD and a full Requirement document will be issued in September next year with a major announcement believed to be made during DVD 2007, June 27-28.

The FT said thjat BAE Systems, Britain’s biggest weapons maker, has been told by the Ministry of Defence that it remains “well placed” to play a key role on the project, depending on continued improvements in its domestic armoured vehicles business. Will this be enough to save the Newcastle Plant which is running down after work on Trojan, Titan, Terrier and Panther is finished in 2008-9, Election Year! BAE is pushing hard to maintain Land Systems work through the Bulldog 430 Upgrade, although the MoD is believed to be unhappy with some of its pricing and has also offered the prospect of Terrier with another wheel station to meet some of the FRES Utility Variants. But BAE will have to mend fences with GD in particular having beaten it to the draw over Alvis Vickers which some see as a poisoned chalice for BAE given the lack of orders resulting from optimistic forecasting.

However, the government’s decision to follow the US procurement model and hire a “systems of systems” integrator to put together the vehicles will spark fierce competition from leading US and European defence -companies, all eager to take the lead role on one of -Britain’s biggest weapons programmes.

Lord Drayson, the minister in charge of the £16bn annual military equipment budget, is relaxed about foreign companies owning defence assets or running large projects, as long as key intellectual property stays in the UK. However, the minister’s defence industrial strategy, published a year ago, sought to establish long-term -partnership deals with BAE to upgrade and maintain fighter jets, warshipsand armoured vehicles, offering some protection to strategically important -sectors.

The MoD will run three separate competitions for the programme: one for the “systems of systems” integrator, one for

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