NEWS IN BRIEF
17 Dec 08. Britain’s Future Rapid Effects System armored vehicle project has been labelled the most disastrously managed program in the history of defense by the chairman of the Parliamentary defense committee. The rebuke from Chairman James Arbuthnot came Dec. 16 as new Procurement Minister Quentin Davis and top officials from the Ministry of Defense gave testimony on the state of the defense equipment program here. Arbuthnot’s attack on the competence of the MoD to run the £16bn($24.7bn) FRES program came after the government’s decision last week to abandon long-running talks with General Dynamics UK over the supply of its Piranha V wheeled armored vehicle design to meet the utility vehicle element of Britain’s key army program because the two sides failed to agree on commercial terms. Instead, the Ministry said it was changing its priorities to bring into service “as quickly as possible” the tracked scout version of the FRES family and an upgrade of the Army’s Warrior infantry fighting vehicle.
“Is this [FRES] not the most disastrously managed program in defense industry?”
the committee chairman asked Davis and his officials.
Amyas Morse, the commercial director at the MoD, could only respond by saying
that he “wasn’t in a position to make that relative judgment.”
Arbuthnot had earlier reminded Davis and his officials that a 2006 committee report into FRES had criticized the MoD, saying the program was a “sorry story of indecision, constantly changing requirements and delay.
From the outset, General Dynamics had said it wouldn’t agree to pass over its
design without some guarantee of additional substantial work on the program.
Asked why the MoD had agreed to nominate General Dynamics even though it was noncompliant, Davis said the MoD had thought the company would “come around to
agreeing to work under the principles of the contract.”
The government’s convoluted acquisition program for FRES utility includes the
appointment of a Thales/Boeing team to aid the MoD as the systems of systems
integrator, a vehicle designer and a vehicle integrator.
The integrator program would have pitched BAE Systems, Lockheed Martin and a
General Dynamics team into competition for the work.
Now the government is reconsidering how and when to proceed with the utility
requirement. It says General Dynamics can compete again for the program at a
later date. That looks unlikely unless there is a change in the acquisition process by the MoD. That appeared possible, with the MoD acknowledging in a statement released Dec. 16 that it was looking at how to proceed with the integrator role.
“The MoD is considering how best and when to take forward the utility vehicle
program. This will include consideration of the way forward on the utility
vehicle integrator competition.”
On the scout vehicle front, the ministry said the “FRES Specialist Vehicles,
which includes Scout, is currently in its assessment phase. An announcement on
the procurement strategy for FRES Specialist Vehicles will be made in due
The MoD has been working for months on a new armored vehicle strategy.
Industry executives expect to see a strategy that retains competition between
legacy land systems supplier BAE Systems and other players such as General
Dynamics, Lockheed Martin and the state-owned Defense Support Group.
Arbuthnot asked Davis whether in the light of the FRES utility vehicle decision
it was the MoD’s intention to award General Dynamics work of some kind to keep
its core armored vehicle team together.
The procurement minister didn’t rule it out but said he hadn’t had discussions
with General Dynamics and it was premature to ask that question.
General Dynamics, along with BAE, Thales and others, are already undertaking
assessment phase work on the FRES scout vehicle. Both BAE and General Dynamics
have possible contenders for the scout requirement.
Davis also made it clear that the go