FRES – THE KING IS DEAD?
By Julian Nettlefold, Editor, BATTLESPACE
17 Nov 07. The abrupt resignation of procurement supremo Lord Drayson after the IAB, reported to be on the FRES Procurement, puts the spotlight on the reason for his resignation. But, whatever the reason for his resignation or the choice of the Utility Vehicle due at the end of the month, the FRES Programme, as planned by the DPA at the ouset, died when the realities of the threat and the need to protect troops today came to the forefront of military thinking.
For some time observers have suggested that the French Nexter was the favourite from the very start and a ‘shoe-in’ for a joint BAE-NEXTER deal. Indeed one of the losing FRES contenders told BATTLESPACE at DSEI that they were not concerned about losing the selection as, in their opinion, the choice was already decided and the Trials of Truth were very easy and the least rigorous trials the company had encountered across the world.
In our BATTLESPACE ALERT Vol.9 ISSUE 14, 07 June 2007, U.K. MoD ANNOUNCE FRES DOWN-SELECT, we said, ‘We still see Nexter as the strongest contender.’
Again in our BATTLESPACE UPDATE Vol.9 ISSUE 25, 22 June 2007, from the Paris Air Show we said, ‘Sources at Paris suggest that the Government-to-Government deal on VBCI suggested in our issue last week is becoming more of a reality with the possibility of the French military buying the Terrier engineer vehicle from BAE with any top hamper equipment developed for the Titan and Trojan vehicle to be mounted on LeClerc. This may be a BAE spin to keep Newcastle in the news but it looks like some deal is progressing.’
Was it a coincidence that Lord Drayson was going to Paris to meet his counterpart the day after the IAB and to visit NEXTER on the 12th of November? There was also some increased advertising activity from NEXTER in that week.
Lord Drayson made FRES his key Programme as stated at the time of the down-select “My highest priority is to ensure that our Forces have the equipment they need to achieve success on operations today, tomorrow and in the future. FRES has a vital part to play in the future of the British Army. I signalled my commitment to the FRES programme last year and this announcement provides tangible evidence of progress. The selection of these designs for inclusion in the utility vehicle trials is a part of the competitive acquisition strategy developed to ensure that we deliver the best solution for the Army.”
However as we suggested in earlier issues of BATTLESPACE Update, latterly, the Treasury in particular appears to favour the Artec Boxer vehicle as not only has £380m of taxpayers money been spent on the Project, thuds securing access to valuable IP but also that the vehicle is the only fully NATO-compatible vehicle given the other NATO customers Holland and Germany. Boxer is believed to have a strong following in parts of the MoD and the Treasury.
It was also obvious that Drayson relished the C4I element of the Programme rather than the dull metal bashing of the vehicle itself. His decision to announce the winner of the SOSI from the PQQ, a unique move which angered many bidders, was proof in itslef that this is where Drayson saw the value of FRES. Indeed the heart of his DIS lies in technology not metal bashing, thus he appeared quite content to give away vital metal bashing activities to retain his cherished C4I activities. But, as the MoD has discovered recently, metal bashing is now a black art that requires considerable skills. This became clear earlier this year when the MoD up-armoured the Warrior fleet with steel which was welded onto the aluminum hulls. Cracks rapidly appeared and the existing armour was degraded. Indeed ABRO has told BATTLESPACE that one of the pitfalls with regard to the UV selection was finding a contractor with the required expertise to manufacture the hulls, particularly for the VBCI which is aluminum. WFEL is one UK firm with considerable expertise in