23 Oct 02. BATTLESPACE spoke with Nick Prest of Alvis Plc at AUSA and he confirmed rumours spreading around the show that he believed that the best way to bring the UK’s FRES (Future rapid Effects System) armoured vehicle project into service quickly was to create a ‘Programme of National Interest’, which would place the contract in a sole source situation with Alvis as Prime Contractor and BAE SYSTEMS and General Dynamics (UK) Ltd as sub-contractors.
When asked whether Alvis given its capital base would be in a position to prime such a contract believed to be worth £1.3bn he expressed no qualms about this given the time frame of the project and that the initial programme would be a study phased leading up to prototype demonstrators.
Other contractors questioned during the show were not happy with the proposal some saying they believed that signature was a long way off with many hurdles to be overcome. Ken McGinty, Chief Operating Officer of Sika International Ltd the joint Lockheed Martin BAE SYSTEMS Company for the TRACER/FSCS programme gave a guarded welcome to the proposals, “There is a lot at stake here in terms of money, technology pull-through and company egos to be overcome here before a sound project can go forward. We at SIKA have invested $70m of Lockheed and BAE PV money as well as $300m of US and UK Government project money to produce what we believe to be a world beating system. A great deal of the Intellectual property and expertise resides within Sika and we hope to work with Alvis as a major sub-contractor.” McGinty confirmed that $8.5m of bridging money had been requested from the DoD to continue funding g the programme with software, FLIR and band track research being major projects. C3 trials of the vehicle would take place in May next year.
Raytheon remained concerned that the company had invested a great deal of money in EO subsystems which could become subsumed into a BAE solution with little benefit for Raytheon.
General Dynamics Canada told BATTLESPACE that they were surprised by the announcement as they were prepared to offer their 8×8 hybrid drive APC for assembly in the UK. They and the other contractors involved in the original invitation had expended a great deal of money in the project and needed more clarification before making their next move.
Nick Prest believes that pull-through from Haaglunds’ Swedish advanced prototype vehicle will bring huge technology benefit to the UK and Alvis’ UK operations in particular. He has the knowledge base gained by Vickers and Alvis in the Sika and lancer trials but does not have the required C4I expertise within Alvis which will come from BAE SYSTEMS and GD UK. Major shareholder GKN Plc were not available to comment and their reaction will be of interest.
Involvement in FRES is crucial for General Dynamics UK as it will enable the company to continue development of Digitization following the First Phase of trails of the bearer system which take place next year. The possibility of FRES having its own C4I system which may compete with the second stage of BOWMAN was a scenario not relished by GD and the UK MoD.
At first sight this possibility is good news for UK Ltd and Alvis in particular but does the company have the wherewithal to prime such a large programme where the considerable technology pitfalls are huge with the ever growing prospect that numbers may eventually be cut leading to a huge increase in unit cost? To lose the US connection gained with TRACEDR/FSCS may cut the company off from vital vetronics and C4ISTAR capability which it does not possess seeing as the company has not produced a light vehicle since Warrior. On casualty envisaged is the MRAV programme where Alvis had expected to build some 300 vehicles.