FRES – WHAT A MESS?
By Julian Nettlefold, Editor, BATTLESPACE
12 Sep 06. At the BAE SYSTEMS presentation of a cheque to the Tank Museum there was marked frustration from the BAE FRES Team as to the lack of progress on the project. Some observers suggest that all is well and the Project is limping towards Main gate albeit at a slower pace than Procurement supreme Lord Drayson would like. He is believed to have taken personal command of the project to drive it forward. But beneath the surface there are rumblings in the form of UORs and changes in protection requirements which could derail the whole process.
Who is to blame? Is it the Government and the DPA/MoD who are keener to destroy the industrial base than create jobs? Is it Atkins which has never built an armoured vehicle or is it PSI-designate BAE Land Systems who are found wanting on a number of key points.
Before we examine the players in this tragic comedy, we must ask a question. What is FRES?
FRES is the Future Rapid Effects System, a curious name in itself for an armoured vehicle project! What on earth does Future Rapid Effects System mean!?
The Atkins web page describes FRES as, ‘The Future Rapid Effect System (FRES) is 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. The key drivers for FRES are the need for:
An armoured Rapid Effect land capability
Wide operational utility
Maximum interoperability with other parts of deployed forces, other components and allies
Addressing the obsolescence of existing fleets
These drivers are closely aligned to the Army’s strategic development themes of Agile Forces, Effects-based Operations and Directed Logistics.
A Systems House (SH), independent of product or manufacturing capability and appointed via competition, will lead the initial Assessment Phase (iAP). The SH contract was placed with Atkins on 16 November 2004. The broad aims of the Assessment Phase are: To further define the FRES capability required within the developing medium-force and network-enabled operational concepts and thus develop a series of affordable options for meeting the FRES requirement To develop optimum procurement and support strategies for future phases in order to present a robust case at Main Gate To manage technology and supplier risk to acceptable levels.’
I am no clearer than anyone else as to how this translates into a useable vehicle fleet for replacing the ageing fleet, are you? Atkins states that the fleet is to be ‘networked enabled’ whilst the MoD has made it clear that this is a ‘vehicle-replacement programme’ not a cousin of FCS. As it stands there is the requirement for an electronic architecture but no software radios which can enable NCW?
Quite clearly all the above is consultant speak. What on earth does ‘An armoured Rapid Effect land capability,’ mean!
I represented Krauss-Maffei in its bid to replace the British Army’s Main Battle Tank fleet with Leopard 2. That requirement was quite clear as stated, ‘A Main Battle Tank Replacement Programme.’ After a great deal of deliberation, trials and money spent, Mrs Thatcher pushed through the requirement which eventually was made in Vickers’ favour, quite a simple exercise really! The British Army got the best tank in the world on time and within budget.
But with FRES not a single bolt, nut or piece of steel has been put together to resemble a vehicle or even a sub-assembly, there are more FRES offices opened by various contractors than anything else! In our view FRES is an exercise in how not to run a Programme which has people at the top who haven’t clue what they really want.
Let’s start afresh and change FRES to: ‘The Programme to replace a fleet of clapped out armoured vehicles which because of Government policies and Army ineptitude over the years has been neglected in favour