R.I.P. FRES UV? BONJOUR UOR? BACK TO BRITISH BULLDOGS?
By Julian Nettlefold
08 Oct 08. Defense News confirmed the concerns raised by BATTLESPACE in our last week’s issue. (See BATTLESPACE UPDATE Vol.10 ISSUE 39, 09 Oct 2008, A SEA CHNAGE IN ARMOURED VEHICLE PROCUREMENT)REGARDING THE CONTINUED FAILRE TO AGREE TERMS BETWEEN GENERAL Dynamics and the MoD on the terms for the supply of the Piranha 5 vehicle for the FRES UV Requirement.
Andrew Chuter said that Britain’s Ministry of Defence is putting a hold on a key element of the Future Rapid Effects System (FRES) armored vehicle procurement until the government completes negotiations on a risk-reduction contract with General Dynamics UK. Failure to agree to a risk-reduction package for a utility vehicle after five months of negotiations means the next phase of the FRES procurement, the vehicle integrator competition, has been put on ice. The competition to become the vehicle integrator should have been settled by March. BAE Systems, General Dynamics, Finmeccanica and Lockheed Martin all submitted prequalification questionnaires last November. That date was missed as the MoD took longer than expected to select a vehicle design for the integrator to take charge of. The MoD subsequently told the parliamentary Defence Committee an integrator or integrators would be selected by the end of this year. That’s no longer the case. General Dynamics was selected in May to become the provisional preferred bidder to supply its Piranha 5 armored vehicle design as the utility element of the program.(Sic: In fact this should read that the design for the General Dynamics Land Systems Piranha 5 was provisionally selected.)
Since then, the MoD’s Defence Equipment & Support arm and the company have been attempting to thrash out a risk-reduction package to resolve commercial, programmatic and technical issues. Negotiations continue. In a statement, the MoD said, “Successfully completing the [risk reduction] work, and providing appropriate commitments to the MoD will be a prerequisite for General Dynamics achieving full preferred bidder status. … Unless and until this occurs we will not launch the next phase of the utility vehicle program; namely to solicit competitive bids from potential utility vehicle integrator or integrators for the demonstration phase.” Nobody is clear how long the negotiations and any subsequent risk reduction contract may take. That, of course, assumes the two sides eventually agree a deal. “We are not going to set a definitive date for the completion of this work other than to say that its duration will be determined by how quickly the company can address our concerns,” the MoD statement said. Analysts here reckon it could be the second quarter of 2009 at the earliest before the integrator competition is revived, 12 months behind the schedule aimed at meeting the Army’s plea to get the utility variant of FRES into service before the end of 2012. That’s looking to be an increasingly challenging date. There is also the question of whether the in-service date will be affected by MoD’s cash shortages. Executives across the industry say they are concerned about the lack of clarity on FRES. They hope an armored vehicle strategy now being worked by the MoD might provide some answers. Many here wonder whether the vehicle integrator role has been parked or is heading for the scrap heap. Others wonder whether the entire program might be rescoped. Often referred to by the Army as its top priority program, FRES originally covered the purchase of more than 3,500 tracked and wheeled vehicles at a cost in excess of 14 billion pounds ($24.7 billion).
Few here think the British will eventually buy the more than 2,000 eight-wheeled utility vehicles envisaged. A chronic lack of cash and increasing numbers of armored vehicles like the Force Protection-built Mastiff and Ridgeback mine-protected trucks purchased for operations in Afghanistan and Iraq will likely put an end to that.