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By Julian Nettlefold, Editor, BATTLESPACE

21 Feb 07. After our considerable coverage of the FRES Programme, the results of the Defence Committee Report on FRES came as little surprise to BATTLESPACE, £188m spent and not one vehicle built! We will not rehearse the history of the matter which has been aired many times on these pages.

The U.K. Government attempts to update the UK’s fleet of armoured vehicles have been “a sorry story of indecision, changing requirements and delay”, MPs have said.

The Commons defence select committee said a need for “medium-weight armoured vehicles capable of deploying quickly” had been identified nine years ago.

But this remained “nothing more tangible than a concept”, with millions of pounds being wasted, it added. The government said “rapid progress” was now being made.

The requirement for a new fleet of medium-weight vehicles was identified in the 1998 Strategic Defence Review. The Future Rapid Effect System (FRES) programme was supposed to deliver 3,000 battlefield vehicles capable of being rapidly deployed to trouble spots around the globe. The committee warned that it may simply be “unachievable”, while the Ministry of Defence had had to buy “stop-gap” vehicles for troops fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. Our soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan are expected to make do with a mix of old vehicles and stop-gap purchases

Experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan had shown the vulnerability of existing vehicles to attack by roadside bombs and rocket-propelled grenades.

And the need for better armament meant the planned weight of the vehicles has risen from 17 tonnes to between 20 and 27 tonnes – raising questions over whether they will be too heavy for RAF aircraft to transport, the committee said. It warned that the FRES programme could be caught up in a “vicious circle of delays” as the requirement was continually revised. The report said: “This is a sorry story of indecision, constantly changing requirements and delay.

“We are concerned that the FRES requirement may simply be unachievable without a major technical breakthrough.” The report disclosed that initially the MoD spent a total of £188m on two collaborative projects with the US and Germany, both of which had been abandoned at the concept stage. The MoD has acknowledged that the original in-service date of 2009 has slipped to “the early part of the next decade”. But Atkins Defence, a “systems house” brought in to help manage the project, has warned that it is unlikely to be ready before 2017.

The committee’s chairman, Conservative MP James Arbuthnot, said: “It has been agreed for almost 10 years that the Army needs a new generation of armoured fighting vehicles, capable of being deployed overseas.

“But the MoD has still not decided what it wants, let alone placed contracts for delivery of the vehicles.

“Meanwhile, our soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan are expected to make do with a mix of old vehicles and stop-gap purchases.” The committee would “expect to see some decisions taken”, he added. Defence Procurement Minister Lord Drayson acknowledged FRES had taken several years to reach its present stage and that the requirements had changed in the light of the experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“We are now making rapid progress on the FRES programme – candidate vehicles will undertake proving trials run by the Army this summer and the winning vehicles will be selected in November 2007,” he said.

“It is essential to carry out this detailed assessment and drive out risk before the major investment decision is taken.”

The MoD responded to the FRES Report

Defence Procurement Minister Lord Drayson gave his reaction to the Defence Select Committee report.

Lord Drayson said: “In all Defence procurement

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