Future Rapid Effect System (FRES)
The 1998 Strategic Defence Review assessed that the nature of the threat faced by the United Kingdom had changed from the need to conduct large scale military operations against the Warsaw Pact to prevention of global instability by intervention in trouble spots worldwide. Accordingly, the United Kingdom’s Armed Forces were to be restructured to improve their ability to deploy, increasing the quantity of medium-weight forces and reducing the numbers of heavy forces. A new family of armored vehicles, known as the Future Rapid Effect System (FRES), was envisaged to deliver the medium-weight capability and provide the Department with a force more deployable than heavy forces but have greater firepower and protection than light forces. Coincidentally, there was also a need to replace the existing equipment, including the FV430 and Combat Vehicle Reconnaissance (Tracked) platforms, which were suffering from increasing obsolescence.
In the period from the 1998 Strategic Defence Review until early 2011, a number of significant armored vehicle projects, procured through the Department’s standard acquisition process, were not brought to fruition. No vehicles had been delivered despite spending £321 million on projects that have been cancelled or suspended. The Department has spent a further £397 million funding on-going, but delayed, projects that as of early 2011 were not planning to deliver any vehicles before 2013. Since 2003, the Department has also spent approximately £2.8 billion buying and upgrading vehicles for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Given the expenditure of over £1.1 billion since 1998 without the delivery of its principal armoured vehicles – the Department’s standard acquisition process for armoured vehicles has not been working.
The £14 billion Future Rapid Effect System (FRES) project was intended to replace over three quarters of the Department’s existing armored vehicles with up to 3,700 air-transportable vehicles. Plans were for up to 16 different role-specific types intended to operate across the full range of military tasks, from peacekeeping to combat operations.
To meet the necessary protection levels within tight weight constraints much faith was placed in advanced armor, sensor and defensive systems technology, designed to provide greater protection at lower weight. The overall complexity of the programme increased the time the UK MOD spent refining exactly what the vehicle was designed to do. As the MoD noted to the Defence Committee in 2007: “We accept that the Future Rapid Effect System concept phase was too long, primarily due to inability to refine and stabilise the requirement quickly enough and failure to adopt early the most appropriate procurement strategy.”
There was also the question of whether the protection levels could be delivered within the 25 tonne weight limit at all. While the MoD’s internal review forum considered the requirements to be deliverable, with some ‘trading’, the House of Commons Defence Select Committee was more sceptical, noting in early 2007 that the Future Rapid Effect System requirement was “…unachievable without a major technological breakthrough.” The MoD’s internal processes had also identified tensions between the policy requirements for mobility, protection and the timescale for entry to service. A ‘fleet review’ concluded that to meet protection levels the weight limit needed to be in the range of 25-30 tonnes. The weight limit, and the emphasis on air-portability, was further relaxed in 2008. The requirement for air portability by C-130 was traded to reflect that the A400M would be the principal air transport capability with a correspondingly greater payload capacity.
Changing requirements slowed vehicle development further, rather than accelerating it, as the acquisition process was unable to respond with sufficient agility. The original aspiration for the Future Rapid Effect System was an in-service date of 2008. By the time of the 2006 Utility Vehicle competition, this had been revised to 2012, followed by further slippage to 2015. these factors increased the level of project risk to unmanageable levels and this appears to have been a significant factor in the suspension of the project. In late 2008, the acquisition process for the Utility Vehicle was halted after spending £133 million. As of early 2011 the competition had yet to be re-launched and the projected in-service date for the Utility Vehicle was 2022 at the earliest.
The Future Rapid Effect System (FRES) was intended to provide the British Army with a family of medium-weight, network-enabled, air-deployable armoured vehicles to meet up to 16 battlespace roles. FRES will be the central pillar of a capable and highly deployable medium force which will be able to project power rapidly world-wide, complementing our existing heavy and light forces. The key drivers are the need for a rapid effect land capability, the ability to meet a wide number of operational roles, maximum interoperability with other UK forces and our allies, and addressing the obsolescence of existing vehicles.
As of 2005 the FRES project team was discussing issues of mutual interest with both Sweden's SEP project team and the US' FCS project team. Co-operation during the Assessment Phase is likely to focus on harmonising requirements for interoperability in support of coalition operations and mitigating common areas of technology risk.
It is a challenging project, faced with the conundrum of balancing capability, affordability and early delivery. The In-Service date (ISD) had yet to be firmly set and would only be endorsed at Main Gate. Mention of any particular date at this stage is speculation. The MoD has previously indicated that the UK is planning for the early variants of FRES to be introduced early in the next decade, with later variants being delivered incrementally thereafter.
FRES was expected to be a multi-billion program however, the full Program cost had yet to be established. The Total Fleet Requirement (i.e. the number of vehicles required) will be determined by work planned for the initial Assessment Phase. As of 2005 estimatesd indicate a potential requirement of over 3,500 vehicles. FRES offers the opportunity to replace some of the older armored vehicles. The aspiration was to remove from service at the earliest opportunity the maximum number of older vehicles like FV430, CVR(T) and Saxon/FV430, but the eventual decision on whether any vehicles may remain in service will be a based upon a sensible appraisal of whether retaining any of them would represent better value for money than buying new equipment.
The role that FRES will fulfil is different from that of CR2 and Warrior, which, with appropriate enhancement, will remain the UK's most capable equipment for armored fighting troops for the foreseeable future. FRES, by contrast, is to be a medium weight vehicle, able to be deployed much more quickly to crises and able to exploit information quickly through a digital communications network, so allowing troops to reinforce and support each other more easily. It will make up for being smaller and lighter by using an integrated suite of modern survivability technologies to enhance its protection levels well beyond those of our current medium-sized vehicles, and by needing less support.
The Future Rapid Effect System (FRES) is the UK program to provide the British Army with a family of medium-weight, network-enabled, air-deployable armoured vehicles to meet up to 16 battlespace roles. Armored personnel carriers, reconnaissance, command and control and ambulances are just a few of the roles to be provided. A big advantage for FRES will come from the vehicles being designed to be part of a communications network, able to exchange information quickly and so to reinforce and support each other more easily.
The Future Rapid Effect System will provide the British Army with a family of medium-weight, network-enabled, air-deployable armoured vehicles. FRES will be the central pillar of a capable and highly deployable medium force which will be able to project power rapidly world-wide, complementing the UK's existing heavy and light forces. The UK MoD wants the ability to respond to crises rapidly, ideally by air, with well protected personnel and equipment. Heavy armored forces take time to deploy, since they need to be moved by sea rather than air.
The key drivers for FRES are the need for:
- An armored 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.
The key design features of FRES include:
- A 'System of System' architecture, drawing closely on developments in Digitisation and CBM/ISTAR, designed to ensure optimal situational awareness, operational tempo and force cohesion throughout the battlespace.
- Air portable, to achieve Rapid Effect
- A balanced, modular and integrated survivability package
- Commonality of sub systems and components to improve supportability; reduce the logistic footprint; enable through-life capability sustainment; and reduce cost of ownership.
- An incremental approach to capability acquisition, in particular to the insertion of technologies as they mature, via an Integrated Technology Acquisition Programme (ITAP).
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