British Prime Minister David Cameron walks past Mastiff armored vehicles in Afghanistan last month. Besides purchasing new vehicles, UK defense officials plan to add the Mastiff and other armored vehicles to the military's core inventory after they come home from Afghanistan. (Getty Images)
LONDON — Britain’s future protected support vehicle lineup is starting to emerge as the Defence Ministry moves forward on acquiring four different armored machines. The move comes as the MoD confirmed that about 2,000 protected mobility vehicles will be brought permanently into the Army’s core equipment program, having been purchased for the war in Afghanistan.
The MoD has officially advertised its intention to begin issuing requests for information early this year as part of a market survey effort, as the four operational support vehicle programs enter their early stages.
Starting with a lightweight recovery vehicle that the MoD’s Defence Equipment & Support organization said it wants in service by 2016, the British military is looking at adding a multi-role vehicle-protected (MRV-P), a protected battlefield ambulance and a vehicle able to carry a protectable palletized load system by 2020.
Only the MRV-P program is big enough to qualify for what is called a Category A program, with a value of £400 million (US $660 million) and above.
The fourth machine, a lightweight air-portable recovery vehicle, which will need to be able to wade ashore in support of Britain’s commando forces, is in the assessment phase and replaces the elderly Bedford-based machine.
The military has been mulling its options for the vehicle types for some time, but last month’s notice in the MoD Contracts Bulletin signaled progress.
The MRV-P requirement has been around in one guise or another for years, initially as the operational utility vehicle systems (OUVS). That program eventually came off the tracks in part due to urgent requirements for protected support vehicles in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The MoD said in a statement that MRV-P, the battlefield ambulance and the palletized load system are all in the concept phase.
“If the projects continue after the concept phase, they will have an assessment phase that will examine the potential solutions to meet this requirement. There will be an investment decision point before the demonstration and manufacture phases,” the MoD said in the statement. “The target introduction to service date for these projects is 2020”
The checkered past of tactical support vehicle requirements has left some industry executives here skeptical about the future of some of the programs.
“Armored vehicles are no different to any other requirement. Past experience with OUVS, continuing pressure on the defense budget, changing requirements possibly prompted by the next strategic defense review and a new government [both in 2015] all provide potential pitfalls for any new program over the next two years or more,” said one executive, who asked not to be named.
While core funding is in place for the concept and assessment phases of all four vehicle types, program officials will have to return to the thorny problem of budgets to move beyond that.
“Funding for the demonstration, manufacture, in-service and disposal phases of these projects is currently subject to further funding approvals,” the MoD acknowledged.
Despite the doubts, the requirements are likely to draw interest from European and US companies, and maybe elsewhere.
On MRV-P, Lockheed Martin with the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle, Oshkosh Defense with something like the M-ATV, local vehicle builder Supacat with the SPV400, and General Dynamics-Force Protection Europe are among industry players who say they are interested in the MRV-P program.
Industry executives, though, said an MoD decision must be made on exactly what might be offered.
Vehicle numbers and budgets are constrained by what is likely to be an enduring austerity effort at the MoD over the next few years, as well as the fact that some of the requirements can be met by parts of the nearly 2,000-strong fleet of vehicles purchased as an urgent operational requirement (UOR) for Afghanistan. The British Army has opted to bring the vehicles into its core fleet as combat operations in Helmand province end.
The MoD announced recently much of its fleet of serviceable, protected mobility vehicles will be pressed into service on their return from Afghanistan.
The fleet includes 400 Mastiff vehicles, 160 Ridgebacks and 125 Wolfhounds — all British variants of the Force Protection-built Cougar. General Dynamics-Force Protection Europe’s Foxhound patrol vehicle also is being taken into the Army’s core program.
Other UOR vehicles becoming a permanent feature in the British military include 325 Navistar Defense-supplied Huskys, 100 ST Kinetics-built Warthogs, 400 Jackal patrol vehicles and 70 Coyote tactical support machines built by Supacat.
The MoD is running a number of upgrade programs on the various vehicle types, with contracts likely to start being let in the next six to eight weeks.
Executives here said work is largely focused on bringing individual fleets up to a common standard and ensuring the vehicles are in line with the latest standards for UK roads, rather significantly enhancing performance. Deliveries of reworked vehicles to Army units will get underway this year.
The Husky, Mastiff and Ridgeback will be issued to protected-mobility infantry battalions, while the Jackal and Coyote are destined for use by some of the new light cavalry units being set up as part of Army restructuring. ■