Obsolescent and outgunned: the British Army’s armoured vehicle capability Contents

3The UK’s armoured forces today

27.The preceding Chapter’s summary of the development of UK armoured capability since the end of the Cold War makes for depressing reading. It is clear that the Ministry of Defence and the British Army repeatedly failed to procure the range of new armoured vehicles required by our Armed Forces. This resulted in the spending of at least £321m on programmes that were subsequently cancelled and a further £2.8 billion on filling an urgent capability gap. We are astonished that between 1997 and late 2020 (with the exception of a small number of armoured engineering and Viking protected mobility vehicles) the Department had not delivered a single new armoured vehicle from the core procurement programme into operational service with the Army. It is clear that the Ministry of Defence’s armoured vehicle programmes requires independent scrutiny. We ask the National Audit Office to revisit this issue to establish the costs incurred since its 2011 report, progress in delivering current programmes, current armoured capability gaps and the coherency and delivery realism of the Army’s current portfolio of armoured vehicle programmes, particularly in the context of the forthcoming Integrated Review.

28.Partly as a consequence of this failure, British Army personnel were inadequately protected on operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, and some of those currently on deployment in Estonia are equipped with lightly armoured (for example the open-topped Jackal) or obsolescent (FV430 series) vehicles in the face of a significant potential peer threat from Russian forces.

29.Since the Cold War, the British Army’s armoured forces have contracted significantly. The assumed removal of the Soviet threat and the requirement to reduce public spending on Defence have led to the Army moving from maintaining three warfighting divisions in the 1980s to struggling to meet a requirement to deliver a single division by 2025.

30.While the scale of the Army’s tasks and resources have changed dramatically since the 1990s, a good deal of its armoured equipment capability has remained static. This currently comprises a mix of vehicles introduced to service between the 1960s and the 1990s, alongside some of the Protected Patrol Vehicles procured for the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. For comparison, the Table below shows when the four current primary armoured vehicle types were introduced.

What was happening when the Army’s vehicles first came into service

This chart shows what was happening when the Army’s vehicles first came into service.
			In 1962 the FV430 series was introduced to service, the latest RAF fast jet-in service was the English Electric Lightening in service (1959-1988), the latest Royal Navy warship commissioned was the Leander Class Frigate (1962-1994), the most popular selling car was the Morris 1100 and the Christmas No 1 was Elvis Presley’s Return to Sender.

			In 1970 the CVR(T) was introduced to service, the latest RAF fast jet-in service was the Hawker Siddley-Harrier in service (1969-2010), the latest Royal Navy warship commissioned was the Type 21 frigate (1971-1994), the most popular selling car was the Ford Cortina and the Christmas No 1 was David Edmunds’ I hear you knocking.

			In 1984 the Warrior IFV was introduced to service, the latest RAF fast jet-in service was the Pavina Tornado (1979-2019), the latest Royal Navy warship commissioned was the Invincible-class aircraft carrier (1980-2005), the most popular selling car was the Ford Escort and the Christmas No 1 was Band Aid’s Do they know it’s Christmas.

			In 1998 the Challenger 2 was introduced to service, the latest Royal Navy warship commissioned was the Type 23 frigate (1987-current), the most popular selling car was the Ford Fiesta and the Christmas No 1 was Spice Girls’ Goodbye.

Copyright: FV430 series, Crown Copyright; CVR(T), Crown Copyright; Warrior IFV, public domain; Challenger 2, Rheinmetall BAE Systems Land; English Electric Lightning, Alan Wilson via Flickr; Hawker Siddeley Harrier, fair use; Pavina Tornado, Crown Copyright; Leander Class Frigate, HMS Apollo; Type 21 frigate, public domain; Invincible-class aircraft carrier, open government licence; Type 23 frigate, open government licence; Morris 1100, Riley via Wikicommons; Ford Cortina, Charles01 via Wikicommons; Ford Escort, Rudolf Stricker via Wikicommons; Ford Fiesta, M 93 via Wikicommons; Return to Sender, fair use; I hear you knocking, fair use; Do they know its Christmas?, fair use; Goodbye, fair use

31.The Ministry of Defence and the British Army have been aware for decades that some of the Army’s current vehicles require replacement. For example, in evidence to this inquiry Francis Tusa noted that: “In 1991 (the first Gulf War), one absolutely critical lesson had been learned: Warrior needed a stabilised cannon. The other one was the recce vehicles. They were listed as being close to lethal”.30 Programmes such as FFLAV, TRACER, MRAV and FRES (see paragraphs 16–20) were intended to replace the FV430 and CVR(T) vehicle families. The failure of these programmes means some of the current vehicles are either already obsolete or increasingly obsolescent, having been retained in service for much longer than planned. This obsolescence impacts on the overall capability and combat power of the Army, particularly in the face of a potential peer adversary such as Russia. Furthermore, the Department and the Army now find themselves in a position where a wide array of critical equipment need replacement or upgrade. As Nicholas Drummond told us: “in terms of modernisation, successive governments have kicked the can down the road to the point where the Army is now facing block obsolescence across a broad array of capabilities. This includes armoured vehicles, but also artillery and communications systems”.31

32.We have not undertaken an in-depth review of the capability shortfalls across the full range of the Army’s current vehicles; however, a summary of the key issues may be helpful.

Main Battle Tanks

33.Main Battle Tanks (MBTs) are the heaviest, best protected vehicles, equipped with a large calibre gun designed to destroy a range of targets including other MBTs via direct engagement on the battlefield. Modern MBTs are highly mobile, well armoured and equipped with advanced fire control, sensors and increasingly, active protection systems which can defeat anti-tank missiles.

34.The Challenger 2 is the British Army’s sole Main Battle Tank. Introduced in the late 1990s, it may have represented the peak of evolution of UK tank design and production since 1945. Its predecessor (Challenger 1) performed well in the 1991 First Gulf War and, with some environmental modifications. Challenger 2 repeated this during the 2003 invasion of Iraq. However, since its introduction in 1998 the vehicle has not undergone any significant capability upgrades. In the wake of Russian intervention in Ukraine in 2014, and its development of a new generation of main battle tank (the T-14 ‘Armata’), along with improved armour for in service Russian tanks, concerns emerged about the ability of the Challenger 2 to meet this new threat.32 The lack of upgrades mean the tank is also less capable than its NATO counterparts such as the German Leopard II and the American Abrams. The Ministry of Defence is clearly aware that our armoured capability is falling behind that of our allies and potential adversaries. In a speech in 2019 the then Defence Secretary said:

“ … .we must be competitive. We have not been. Challenger 2 has been in service without a major upgrade since 1998. During this time the United States, Germany and Denmark have completed two major upgrades, whilst Russia has fielded five new variants with a sixth pending … Warrior, is even more obsolete, and is twenty years older than those operated by our key allies. Since Warrior’s introduction in 1988 the United States and Germany have conducted four major upgrades and Russia has invested in three new variants”.33

35.To address this widening capability gap, the Ministry of Defence has proposed the Challenger 2 Life Extension Project (LEP) to address specific obsolete features of the tank. The original scope excluded a new 120mm L30 Rifled Main Armament, but it did include a provision for the Assessment Phase contractors to undertake a Lethality Study. It has been widely reported that the scope of the LEP has been expanded such that the Demonstration and Manufacture Phases will include a new 120mm smoothbore gun (similar to that used by Germany on the Leopard 2A7).34 As a consequence of this broadened scope the LEP’s estimated whole life cost is £1.3bn.35 If approved, the upgrade of the tank will be carried out in the UK by Rheinmetall-BAE Systems Limited (RBSL). A decision on whether to proceed with the upgrade project was due to be taken in late 2020, but it appears this has been postponed as a result of the delay to the publication on the Integrated Review, now expected in Q1 2021.36 It is not clear how many of the current 227 Challenger 2 vehicles would be upgraded as part of this project, but media reporting has suggested it may be as few as 148, with the remainder being placed in storage.37

36.Our inquiry heard arguments both for and against the Challenger 2 LEP. In its written evidence, the contractor RBSL stated that “[t]he Challenger 2 Life Extension Project … will create the most capable Main Battle Tank … in NATO” and that it was wrong to suggest newer vehicles are available from NATO allies, rather that platforms such as Leopard II had benefited from years of incremental upgrades.38 The Ministry of Defence concurred with this view, noting that:

“once in service [Challenger 2] will be comparable–and in certain areas superior–to the latest version of Leopard 2 and Abrams. It will have the same level of lethality, better survivability, similar levels of mobility and more capable surveillance and target acquisition systems”.39

37.In contrast, Nicholas Drummond (a consultant for RBSL competitor Krauss-Maffei-Wegmann) suggested that given armoured vehicle programmes typically take 10 years to implement, by the time the Challenger 2 LEP was completed the vehicle would be close to its projected end of service life (2035–2040), and therefore would not represent value for money. Mr Drummond offered the alternative view that the UK would be better to purchase off-the-shelf the latest variants of Leopard II or Abrams as a bridge to the development of a next-generation main battle tank in the 2040s.40

38.We do not propose to recommend which course the Ministry of Defence should take (on the assumption that the Integrated Review concludes that the UK should retain heavy armour). We note that the Department’s recent experience of upgrading older vehicles with new weapons and turrets has been difficult, resulting in additional costs and delays in delivering the required capability. The Challenger 2 LEP calls for the integration of a new digitised turret and main gun, along with other upgrades, within an existing hull. When making the decision on whether to proceed with the programme, the Department must ensure that it has reduced such risks as far as possible and fully weighed the options between upgrade and an off-the-shelf replacement. The Department should also provide us with a timetable for the programme and explain what alternatives have been considered. We also believe that the Department should examine the possibility of fitting Challenger with an automatic loader.

39.We do not want to see the Army forced to ensure a lengthy capability gap as a consequence of emergent technical and integration issues. The Department should confirm to us that the UK’s main battle tank capability is currently fit for purpose and will remain so until Challenger 2 LEP reaches Full Operating Capability (assuming this project is approved later in 2021).

Armoured Infantry Fighting Vehicles

40.Armoured Infantry Fighting Vehicles (AIFVs) are heavily armoured vehicles designed to carry infantry sections into close combat with enemy forces and are typically equipped with light guns and a canon that can fire missiles to support the infantry and protect themselves from enemy vehicles, as well as to support tanks.

41.The Warrior Infantry Fighting Vehicle (IFV) was introduced to service in the late 1980s, designed to carry, protect and support infantry into close combat within the context of a high-intensity conflict in Western Europe. Built by GKN Defence (subsequently acquired by Alvis and later BAE Systems - now RBSL), 759 Warrior variants were manufactured. It performed well in the Balkans and Iraq, but was less suited to operations in Afghanistan, proving vulnerable to large, buried improvised explosive devices. A key vulnerability for the vehicle is its inability to fire while moving (it lacks a stabilised gun), and the vehicle has not received any significant upgrades for decades.

42.In 2009 the Army began the Warrior Capability Sustainment Programme (WCSP) to upgrade the weapon and turret of the vehicle, as well as enhancing armour protection and the vehicle’s electronic systems. The contract for WCSP was awarded to Lockheed Martin UK in 2011. Despite having spent around 50% of the allocated budget (£800 million), the programme has yet to place a manufacturing contract. The programme has a current in-service date of 2024 (originally planned for 2017) and is some £227 million over budget.41 After a decade of effort, this abject failure to deliver against both cost, (with an overrun now totalling over a quarter of a billion pounds of public money) and timescale (ISD seven years late) is clearly totally unacceptable. Nevertheless, it is symptomatic of the extremely weak management of Army equipment programmes, by both DE & S and the Army Board itself, in recent years.

43.The Warrior CSP has experienced significant technical problems, notably around the integration of the new turret and a 40mm Case Telescope Weapon that was mandated by the Department into the existing hulls, in part driven by Ministry of Defence specifications and delays in providing components to the contractor.42

44.In addition to multiple previous problems with the integration of the new turret and cannon, there have been suggestions that the associated ‘caseless’ ammunition is extremely expensive. The Ministry, which mandated this weapons system, should therefore now be fully transparent about the cost of this new, highly specialised ammunition and its implications for the full life-cycle costs of the vehicle (and indeed for Ajax, which utilises the same weapon system).

45.As part of this inquiry, we specifically asked whether, in light of its challenges, it made sense to continue with the Warrior CSP particularly in the context of anticipated changes arising from the Integrated Review. The Ministry of Defence told us that the case for the programme had “recently been reviewed and confirmed as the recommended best value for money route to enduring competitive advantage out to 2040” and that the upgraded vehicle “will provide a genuine close combat advantage against current and future adversaries, especially when teamed alongside [the upgraded] Challenger [2]”.43 Further to this, Lockheed Martin UK stated that: “[a]rmoured infantry fighting vehicles support all mission types, including high intensity warfighting, peacekeeping, peace enforcement, counter insurgency, conventional deterrence, and the deterrence of sub-threshold activities”.44

46.Nicholas Drummond made the point that if the Warrior upgrade was to be cancelled (effectively retiring the vehicle from Army service), this “would not change the need. The Army still needs an infantry fighting vehicle. It will be 380 vehicles short if it does not get Warrior. If you do not have that vehicle, that means you have to send troops into combat without protected mobility and that will put lives at risks”.45

47.We note the significant delay and expenditure on the continuation of the Warrior CSP and that, after nine years and over £400 million in sunk costs, the Department has still to decide on the placement of a production contract. We would expect the Department to assess carefully the merits of continuing with the programme against both the potential for further technical challenges and whether the upgraded vehicle is still the best option for the Army in light of the Integrated Review. The Department should set out what steps it is taking to ensure there is no capability gap.

Armoured reconnaissance vehicles

48.Armoured reconnaissance vehicles are typically lighter armoured vehicles, either tracked or wheeled, equipped with a range of optical devices and sensors which enable them to locate, track and report on enemy forces and positions.

49.The Combat Vehicle Reconnaissance (Tracked) (CVR(T)) is a family of light armoured vehicles which entered service in the 1970s. The series includes reconnaissance vehicles (Scorpion and Scimitar), armoured personnel carriers (Spartan), command vehicles (Sultan), ambulances (Samaritan), anti-tank missile launchers (Striker) and armoured recovery vehicles (Samson). Scorpion and Striker have been withdrawn from service, but the remaining variants still play an important role in the Army’s mechanised forces.

50.The Ministry of Defence’s chosen replacement for CVR(T) is the Scout/Ajax programme (at a value of £4.6 billion),46 designed to replace the Army’s armoured reconnaissance vehicles. Ajax is a family of six variants and represents some of the technology investment resulting from the Army’s failed Future Rapid Effects System (FRES) programme. The Army expects to procure some 549 variants of these vehicles by the mid-2020s, being manufactured in Wales by General Dynamics Land Systems UK (GDLSUK). The first vehicles were originally due to be delivered to the British Army in April 2017, however this was delayed.47 In May 2020 it emerged that the delivery of the first batch of Ajax vehicles was to be delayed further as they were found not to be ready to be accepted into service. It is not exactly clear what caused this delay but, in its evidence to the inquiry GDLSUK stated that delays had occurred in agreeing requirements and challenges with the integration of the 40mm weapon system mandated by the Ministry of Defence - similar to the issue on the Warrior programme.48 The first six Ares (non-turreted variant) vehicles were subsequently delivered to the Army in July 2020.49 In November 2020 the Secretary of State for Defence told us: “[f]or Ajax, there is currently a slight pause in the area around the turret. We are trying to sort out some issues with the turret. That has caused a delay”.50

51.The Ajax programme, which is now also seriously delayed, is yet another example of chronic mismanagement by the Ministry of Defence and its shaky procurement apparatus. This is particularly worrying, as Ajax is fundamental to the establishment and deployment of the Army’s new Strike Brigades, which are intended to be a key part of its future order of battle. As the Ministry materially contributed to delays to both Warrior and Ajax—by insisting on a complex, new generation 40mm cannon, when other tried and tested alternatives were available—they should now publicly justify why this decision was taken and by whom in Main Building, on the Army Board or at DE & S and what urgent action is now being taken, to mitigate its obviously deleterious effect.

52.In their submission to the Committee, GDLSUK stated that Ajax would be “ the British Army’s most sophisticated armoured vehicle, a transformational reconnaissance platform and the first of a new generation of Digital Platforms, able to respond rapidly to changes in threat and new technologies”.51 This was supported by the Ministry of Defence, which stated Ajax would contribute to the “creation of highly advanced, digitised, sensor enabled systems connected to an operational picture via secure fast networks” and that “in the longer term upgraded, digitised and networked AFVs will be a critical link to the ‘autonomous’ future of armoured capability through human and machine teaming. They will transform the way we operate and fight”.52

53.Some commentators have raised doubts about the suitability of the Ajax vehicle in a reconnaissance role, specifically regarding its weight and size and ability to deploy rapidly.53 Nicholas Drummond echoed some of these concerns in his evidence to the inquiry; he noted that with the proliferation of increasingly sophisticated sensors deployed on aircraft and unmanned drones, there was doubt that a dedicated reconnaissance vehicle was necessary, and that at 43 tonnes Ajax was “anything but stealthy and agile”.54 (In fact, Ajax, which is essentially a reconnaissance vehicle, is now heavier than most variants of the Sherman battle tank, used extensively by both the U.K. and US armies in World War Two, over 70 years ago, and much heavier and less air-transportable than the 7.8 tonne Scimitar it is intended to replace.) He also pointed out that the Army’s intent to use Ajax in its planned Strike brigades was problematic as these tracked vehicles would struggle to keep with the wheeled Boxer mechanised infantry vehicles and would be difficult to deploy without increased investment in Heavy Equipment Transporter vehicles.55

54.We note that difficulties with the Ajax programme have again arisen in part as a consequence of the Army’s desire to develop a bespoke vehicle capability (albeit one based on an existing but modified ASCOD 2 hull), with a plethora of complex requirements, and the need to integrate a novel weapon system technology. We welcome the assurances from General Dynamics Land Systems UK that the challenges facing the Ajax programme have been largely resolved and look forward to these new advanced vehicles being delivered to frontline units as soon as possible. The Ministry of Defence must ensure that there are no further delays to this expensive programme. We also note that there may be potential synergies between Ajax and a revised requirement for an armoured infantry fighting vehicle. In the event that the Warrior Capability Sustainment Programme does not proceed the Army should explain how that Infantry Fighting Vehicle role would be fulfilled and if a further AJAX variant may be a potential candidate, with the associated benefits of in-service support.

Armoured personnel carriers

55.Armoured personnel carriers (APCs), also referred to as mechanised infantry vehicles (MIVs), are more lightly armoured vehicles, designed to enable the movement of troops while providing a degree of protection from artillery fire and small arms. They are typically not intended to engage in direct combat with enemy armoured forces.

56.Currently the British Army’s primary mechanised infantry vehicle is the FV430 series. Some 2,500 of these vehicles were introduced to service from 1962, the most common variant being the FV432 armoured personnel carrier. This vehicle family has been the workhorse of the British Army’s mechanised units for 60 years, and repeated failures (see paragraphs 18 to 20) in procuring replacement vehicles have required their retention for much longer than originally envisaged. In 2006 the Army signed an £85 million contract to update at least 500 of the FV430 vehicles to a modernised version (the Mk3 or ‘Bulldog’ variant, including improved armour, a new engine and upgrades to other automotive components) and these upgraded versions saw operational service in both Iraq and Afghanistan. During our inquiry we challenged the Ministry of Defence on the continued use of these obsolete vehicles. Lieutenant General Tickell told us that:

“We need to replace Bulldog, no question. There is a programme called the Armoured Support Vehicle that will replace Bulldog. That will come online at the back end of this decade. In an ideal world, if I had a magic wand, would we do it sooner? Yes, but, frankly, there is continued need to prioritise. Actually, the Bulldog is very cheap to run and delivers people to the right place at the right time, and it is therefore right that we prioritise programmes such as Challenger, Warrior, Ajax and Boxer, but we absolutely recognise that we need to get after Bulldog sooner rather than later”.56

57.When we asked if the FV430 series was suitable for contemporary warfighting operations, Lt Gen. Tickell responded “its key limitation is the fact that it will not be able to link into the digital spine as our new platforms are able to do. That is why we want to replace it”.57 We recognise that the Army must prioritise its equipment spending to specific areas of capability, but consider it unacceptable that the replacement of the FV430 series may not be in service until the 2030s, meaning that this vehicle will have been in service for some 70 years. We urge the Department to seek options to bring a replacement for the FV430 series earlier than currently planned. The Army should update us on the status of the programmes that will provide the ‘digital spine’ referred to by Lt. General Tickell.

58.The Boxer Mechanised Infantry Vehicle will form the backbone of the British Army’s long awaited medium-weight capability. As previously noted (see paragraph 18), the UK was originally a member of the joint venture to develop this vehicle (MRAV) but withdrew in 2003 as the Army decided the vehicle was too heavy. In 2007 it was a competitor in the ultimately abandoned FRES Utility Vehicle programme, in which the General Dynamics Piranha V was named as the preferred bidder.58 Boxer will be used to equip the mechanised infantry battalions in Strike brigades, alongside Ajax-equipped reconnaissance regiments. In 2019 the Ministry of Defence signed a £2.8 billion contract with OCCAR59 to procure 508 of these vehicles from ARTEC,60 comprising personnel carrier, ambulance, command and specialist carrier variants. These are scheduled to begin delivery to the Army in 202361 and will span nine years, with only one vehicle being delivered per week. When challenged on this Air Marshal Richard Knighton, Deputy Chief of the Defence Staff for Military Capability, told us:

“The programme of delivery will be determined partly by the capacity and capability in the facility at Telford, and there’s really very little opportunity for us to accelerate that, over the next few years. But we are considering, through our planning as part of the spending review and integrated review, what the options and opportunities might be to accelerate the production rate and delivery … One is that that will help the British Army to make the transition to use of Boxer, which we think is going to be really important for the kind of operations that the Chair talked about earlier”.62

59.A clear benefit offered by the Boxer family of vehicles is the sharing of single chassis type, offering commonality of components and spare parts, simplifying logistic support and vehicle maintenance, although the benefit for in -service support has not been publicly quantified by the Army. Rationalisation of the large number of different vehicle types used by the Army would bring similar benefits. As the Department’s written evidence to this inquiry put it:

“We need to look at a number of other variants of vehicles across the piece in order to reduce the range of vehicle types that we have, thereby gaining the efficiencies of the investment that we have made so far in programmes such as Boxer. That is an area that defence will be looking at going forward into the future. Another course would bring benefits in terms of savings to defence, if we can rationalise down to a lesser number of basic platforms”.63

60.We welcome the decision to procure the Boxer armoured vehicle for the British Army, albeit more than ten years later than would have been the case had the UK stayed in the original multi-national consortium. As part of the Integrated Review and associated funding decisions, the Department should seek to accelerate the procurement of Boxer to ensure the Army receives this new capability as soon as possible. In particular we are astonished that the current contract only provides for production of one vehicle a week. In parallel, the British Army, while exploring the range of options Boxer may offer, should learn the lessons of previous failures and avoid adding additional requirements while it is being delivered. Once the vehicle is in-service options to incrementally add upgrades or extra capability may be pursued.

61.We believe that commonality of platforms and modularity of capability such as sensors and weapon systems will be an essential element in maintaining an effective and capable Army. The Department should ensure that future decisions around procuring new vehicles give greater weight to the undoubted benefits offered by both commonality of vehicle hulls and the modularity of equipment and weapons systems. It should be a matter of course that weapon systems and, for example, refrigeration units for vaccines, can be moved easily between platforms, even if produced by different manufacturers.

Overmatching the threat

62.In its written and oral evidence to this inquiry, the Ministry of Defence told us that British Army armoured forces, and in particular the deployable warfighting division (which the 2015 Strategic Defence and Security Review stated should be available by 2025)64 would be able to ‘overmatch’ the threat posed by potential peer adversaries, however the Department’s evidence did not make clear if this was currently the case:

“The MOD would always seek to ‘over-match’ threats, rather than match them, (both physical and virtual) by seeking asymmetric advantage, potentially via novel offset strategies and by the development and co-ordination of a whole range of capabilities”.65

63.In its written evidence the Ministry of Defence disclosed for the first time that the Army would be unable to deploy the full warfighting division as set out in 2015:

“By 2025, the Army will be able to field a war-fighting division… consisting of a single Manoeuvre Brigade (Armoured Infantry) and an interim Manoeuvre Support Brigade (from Strike and Light Infantry)”.66

64.The figure on page 45 shows the difference between the 2015 and the new division, together with the size of a Russian division. The Department explained this shortfall of a full armoured infantry brigade thus:

“The 2015 SDSR, and subsequent planning round decisions, did not fully resource the Army to achieve this output within this timeframe. In the face of ongoing departmental financial challenges, subsequent programming decisions have kept the modernisation programme alive but placed it under increasing pressure and resulted in an inability to fully meet the 2015 SDSR ambition”.67

65.We are alarmed by the revelation to this inquiry that a core aspect of the plans set out in the 2015 SDSR will not be met. In its response to this Report the Ministry of Defence should provide a detailed explanation of the specific shortfalls (equipment, logistic support, personnel et cetera) that have led to this situation, setting out when these were first identified, and what plans exist to rectify this in a given timescale.

66.We asked the Minister for Defence Procurement, Jeremy Quinn MP, about the ability of UK armoured forces to meet a peer adversary threat:

Derek Twigg: “Minister, in 2025, will a British warfighting division be capable of overmatching the forces of a peer opponent such as Russia?”

Jeremy Quin: “Absolutely. Our objective is to ensure we have a high-end and extremely capable warfighting division, and that comes from a layered approach. We are learning the whole time about what is going on in other theatres, such as in Syria, in Ukraine and, sadly, right now in Armenia and Azerbaijan. We need to understand how to ensure that we have the very top capabilities. ..As the General was saying, it comes from investment in ISTAR and deep strike. Absolutely, we will ensure we are in a position, alongside our NATO allies, take on adversaries wherever the threat should come. However, we are asking far more of the Army than that … The answer to your question is yes.”68

We note that the Minister stated that our forces will be capable of overmatching a peer adversary such as a Russian armoured force by 2025.

67.Brigadier (retired) Ben Barry, Senior Fellow for Land Warfare at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, cast doubt on the Ministry of Defence’s assertions on the ability to overmatch peer adversaries, both now and by 2025:

“Since the Russian threat to NATO’s eastern states is heavy in armour, NATO requires a credible land armoured warfare capability to deter and if necessary, defeat Russian armoured forces. Evidence suggests that the British Army expects to play a major role in any such war … The most challenging peer adversary for the 3rd Divisions’ capability is Russia. To match Russian tank or motor rifle formations, in 2025, the division will need to exploit its strengths, but find ways of overcoming its weaknesses”.69

Brigadier Barry’s analysis of the reduced warfighting division the Department now expects to be able to deliver by 2025 suggests that it will not be able to overmatch a modern Russian armoured division, and rather it would find itself overmatched.70 The figure below illustrates this analysis, highlighting a severe imbalance in terms of armoured forces and anti-armour capability with the posited reduced UK division versus a Russian counterpart.

This chart shows combat equipment and units in Russian and British divisions. It is split into three sections.

			The first section shows the 4th Russian Tank Division, comprising of two tank regiments, a motor rifle regiment, and an artillery regiment. It shows 227 tanks, 232 armoured infantry fighting vehicles/ medium armours, 90 self-propelled artillery, 18 multi-barrel rocket launchers, 540 anti-tank guided-weapon launchers and 45 infantry platoons.

			The second section shows the 3rd UK Division (required by SDSR 2015) comprising of two armoured infantry brigades and a strike brigade. It shows 116 tanks, 370 armoured infantry fighting vehicles/ medium armours, 24 light artillery, 48 self-propelled artillery, 24 multi-barrel rocket launcher, 120 anti-tank guided-weapon launcher, 54 infantry platoons.

			The third section shows the Reduced UK Division (declared by MoD for 2025), which assumes an armoured infantry brigade, and an interim mechanised brigade including an Ajax-equipped regiment, with a Boxer-equipped mechanised battalion and a Foxhound-equipped battalion. It shows 59 tanks, 170 armoured infantry fighting vehicle/ medium armour, 24 light artillery, 24 self-propelled artillery, 24 multi-barrel rocket launcher, 75 anti-tank guided-weapon launcher, 36 infantry platoons.

68.Brigadier Barry explained the implications of this imbalance:

“The reduced UK division basically has half the anti-armour capability, only 30% of the tanks of a Russian tank division, two-thirds of the armoured infantry fighting vehicles, 20% of the anti-tank guided weapons and 15% of the self-propelled artillery. It would be very difficult for that reduced division to stop a Russian tank division. A Russian tank division would seriously overmatch the reduced Third Division. “Overmatched” is a very polite, clinical way of saying “could be defeated”.71

69.The Russian armed forces have undertaken a wide-ranging programme of modernisation, particularly with regards to its land forces. IISS analysis has highlighted the investment Russia has made in improving its land forces’ capability:

“Russia’s Ground Forces are today smaller and more capable than they were in the mid-1990s. Elements of these forces are held at a high state of readiness and have had recent combat experience… The inventory of the Ground Forces, certainly the manoeuvre formations, will in the immediate future consist of some wholly new equipment types, as well as a large number of modernised platforms, such as the T-72B3. [T]here has been particular progress in improving artillery and missile capabilities … These hold the potential, when combined with new command-and-control systems and unmanned aerial vehicles, to improve the ability of Russia’s forces to find, fix and strike adversary formations at greater range than before”.72

70.These observations appear to be supported by other analysis. The RAND Corporation has noted that while Russia’s ground forces have received a relatively small amount of funding, they:

“draw heavily on adapted Soviet-era platforms, such as the T-72, BMP-2, and BTR-80/82. These platforms can be made almost as effective as new platforms with the addition of new components, such as fire control or active protection systems at a fraction of the cost. Since 2013, the proportion of tank forces has grown within the Ground Forces, and the size and capability of [manoeuvre] ground forces in Western Russia has expanded … These developments have significantly increased the capabilities of Russian Ground Forces, for example around the Ukrainian border”.73

RAND’s analysis makes it clear that while Russia is modernising its ground forces, it cannot afford wholesale replacement of its legacy vehicle fleets. However, it has allocated a good deal of resources into ground combat system research and development and, through upgrade programmes has “closed some of the quality gap with the United States and NATO with relatively small investments because most countries have been minimizing expenditures on expensive heavy [armour]”.74 Ben Barry noted in his written evidence that an important element in Russia’s modernisation efforts has been the ‘disruptive’ development of active protection systems, designed to defeat anti-tank guided missiles, which would reduce the effectiveness of NATO missile-based anti-armour capabilities, increasing the importance of tanks in this role.75

71.As we have noted earlier in this chapter, efforts to address the obsolescence of the Army’s primary armoured fighting vehicles have met with repeated delay, indecision and technical obstacles. It appears that the UK’s current armoured capability may find itself both quantitatively and perhaps qualitatively overmatched by a peer adversary. The current Enhanced Forward Presence battlegroup is equipped with non-upgraded Challenger 2s, Warriors, obsolete FV430s and lightly protected, open-topped Jackal vehicles. As Francis Tusa noted in his evidence:

“The Russian threat … is the one that represents a serious threat to this country today … You could, for the sake of argument, send people in Jackals and Land Rovers to counter the Russian threat, but not if you want them to come back … I wonder whether sometimes people try to overplay the fact that we can use [Jackal] in peer-on-peer warfare. Lack of overhead protection strikes me as a significant problem.”.76

72.While we welcome the ongoing efforts to modernise the fleet, new vehicles will only trickle into service over the next four years, and it seems unlikely that they will do so in sufficient numbers to make a material difference by 2025. For example, the Ministry of Defence does not expect to contract for the upgrade of Challenger 2 until later this year (assuming the Integrated Review concludes that heavy armour should be retained). Given the recent history of UK armoured vehicle programmes, it seems unlikely that enough upgraded vehicles will have been completed, tested and brought into service within four years.

Addressing other capability gaps

73.As the Ministry of Defence noted in its evidence, the capability of the warfighting division will be developed through the layering of multiple assets and resources, not just its armoured vehicles. The Department’s evidence acknowledged that there are a number of other capability gaps relating to its armoured forces:

“The current assessment of armoured vehicle capability gaps includes the requirement for a Mobile Fires Platform, a Future All-Terrain Vehicle (a multinational collaboration alongside the German, Dutch and Swedish armies), a mortar variant and a repair (crane) variant of Boxer and an Armoured Support Vehicle (to replace a number of platforms including Bulldog which has been in service since the 1960s)”.77

Other witnesses to the inquiry support this view and noted other gaps that needed to be filled. Nicholas Drummond told us:

“That speaks to the missing capabilities that the Army needs to invest in … The first is artillery. It needs to do a wholesale renewal of its artillery systems … it needs to have the ability to fire anti-tank missiles from under armour. It does not have that ability. It urgently needs that. The third missing capability is air defence. We are woefully short, and we would get absolutely spanked if we went to war without investing there”.78

Ben Barry concurred:

“Another firepower differential is the capability to fire ATGW from underneath armour. In the Cold War, the British FV 438 and Striker AFVs could fire Swingfire ATGW from under armour… Between 1991 and 2005 these capabilities were all abandoned… So, when British [armoured forces] are attempting to manoeuvre against the enemy, the only way of rapidly firing Javelin ATGW will be for crews to stand in open vehicle hatches. This will be slower than if the British had ATGW equipped turrets and the operators will be much more vulnerable to enemy fire … With its aviation brigade due to receive 50 new AH64E Apache helicopters, the British Army will have a powerful rotary wing ATGW capability… But the aviation brigade’s effectiveness will be limited by two “inconvenient truths”. The first is that the Russian Army has a much greater air defence capability than the British army. Secondly, enemy AFVs fitted with active protection will be much less vulnerable to Hellfire missiles … Russian indirect fire is likely to outgun, outrange and outnumber indirect fire available to UK and NATO formations … This will place their opponents at a considerable disadvantage, increasing the chance of artillery fire damaging AFVs, and destroying light armoured vehicles. This increases the importance of replacing the remaining FV432 and CVR(T) vehicles in the Army. It also increases the importance of modernising the Army’s artillery, an enhancement that does not appear to be funded.”79

74.We note that a key lesson that has emerged from the Russian intervention in Ukraine since 2014 (and more recent conflicts in Iraq, Syria and Nagorno Karabakh) is its use of artillery combined with surveillance capabilities such as unmanned drones, allowing its forces to strike targets within minutes of spotting them.80

75.Russian military doctrine has traditionally placed great emphasis on the value of artillery, as the “God of War.” Modern Russian missile and rocket artillery systems, such as the “Smerch” 300mm rocket artillery system, are designed to rapidly obliterate enemy formations unless they are adequately protected, including protection under armour. During the Russian incursion into Eastern Ukraine in 2014, some Ukrainian military formations, once located and then very rapidly subjected to intense, highly-concentrated, Russian artillery and rocket bombardment, simply ceased to exist within a matter of minutes.

76.In response to this very potent threat, the British Army has now retired most of its Multiple Launch Rocket System (MLRS) regiments from front-line service. Instead, it now relies mainly on a limited number of AS-90 self-propelled howitzers which, as well as being some 30 years old, and mechanically unreliable as a result, are now both outranged and outgunned by their Russian equivalents. An “artillery duel” between a modern British and Russian division would now only be likely to end one way—and not necessarily to the British Army’s advantage.

77.The AS-90 self-propelled howitzer is the British Army’s only large calibre (155mm) tubed artillery piece. This vehicle was built in the early 1990s from Vickers Shipbuilding and Engineering (now RBSL), with some 179 being procured. It has not received any significant upgrades during its life and by 2017 the number of vehicles in service had been reduced to 110. The AS-90 is out-ranged by many potential adversaries and its of ammunition suite has not been refreshed since it entered service. The AS-90 is currently scheduled to leave service in 2030, with work underway to identify a replacement (the Mobile Fires Platform requirement). We share our witnesses’ concern that, considering recent experience in Ukraine and elsewhere, UK armoured forces may find themselves at a serious disadvantage in terms of artillery capability and air defence when facing a peer adversary. The Ministry of Defence must urgently pursue options to address shortfalls in artillery, air defence and anti-drone capabilities.

78.It is alarming that for at least the next several years UK armoured forces may find themselves overmatched by their most challenging peer adversary. During the Cold War, the British Army and its NATO counterparts sought to offset the numerical advantage held by the Warsaw Pact through the superior quality of its equipment, training, and people. While we do not believe Army personnel have diminished in their capability and motivation, it does appear that our heavy armoured equipment has fallen behind in terms of both quantity and quality.

30 Oral evidence: Progress in delivering the British Army’s armoured vehicle capability, HC 659,Tuesday 6 October 2020, Q1

31 Drummond, N. Written Evidence to Support HCDC Inquiry: “Progress in Delivering the British Army’s Armoured Vehicle Capability”, para 1

32 Flannigan, W. ‘Has the T14 Armata changed the game?’, The Wavell Room, 11 December 2018, accessed 2 February 2021

34 Written evidence submitted by the Ministry of Defence, AVFF0016, para 11

35 Armour MBT 2025, MoD Government Major Projects Portfolio data, 2020

36 Ripley, T. ‘UK delays programme decisions on armoured vehicles’, Janes Defence News, 12 January 2021

37 Cranny-Evans, S. ‘UK to reduce operational Challenger 2 tank fleet’, Janes Defence News, 23 April 2019

38 Written evidence submitted by Rheinmetall BAE Systems Land (RBSL), AVF0013, paras 15–16

39 Written evidence submitted by the Ministry of Defence, AVFF0016, para 11.

40 Nicholas Drummond Written Evidence, para 11

42 Written Evidence submitted by Lockheed Martin UK, AVF008, para 11

43 Written evidence submitted by the Ministry of Defence, AVFF0016, para 7

44 Written Evidence submitted by Lockheed Martin UK, AVF008, Executive Summary

45 Oral evidence: Progress in delivering the British Army’s armoured vehicle capability, HC 659,Tuesday 6 October 2020, Q8

46 Outside of the Defence nuclear enterprise, Ajax is currently the single largest procurement contract by value within the Defence Equipment Plan.

47 Armoured Fighting Vehicles, Question for Ministry of Defence, UIN 52582, tabled on 11 November 2016

48 Written evidence submitted by General Dynamics Land Systems UK, AFV0011,

50 Defence Committee Oral evidence: Defence contribution to the UK’s pandemic response, HC 357, Tuesday 24 November 2020, Q131; the Infrastructure and Projects Authority has reported that there were some safety operating clearance issues with Ajax’s turret, requiring remedial engineering, resulting in a delay; it also noted that General Dynamics Land Systems UK had been late in producing safety cases, also resulting in delays to delivering vehicles to the Army (Source: MoD Government Major Project Portfolio data, September 2019)

51 Written evidence submitted by General Dynamics Land Systems UK, AVF0011, Executive Summary

52 Written evidence submitted by the Ministry of Defence, AVFF0016, para 1

53 Hookham M & Collinridge, J. ‘Tanks too heavy to fly in one piece’, The Sunday Times, 5 February 2017; Richardson, H. ‘Equipping the UK STRIKE Brigades’, European Security and Defence, 25 June 2020, accessed 4 February 2021.

54 Written evidence, Nicholas Drummond, para 2c

55 Written evidence, Nicholas Drummond, para 2c

56 Defence Committee Oral evidence: Progress in delivering the British Army’s armoured vehicle capability, HC 659, 20 October 2020, Q108

57 Defence Committee Oral evidence: Progress in delivering the British Army’s armoured vehicle capability, HC 659, 20 October 2020, Q110

59 Organisation Conjointe de Coopération en matière d’ARmement, or the Organisation for Joint Armament Cooperation is a European intergovernmental organisation that manages collaborative armament programmes through their lifecycle between the nations of Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, and the United Kingdom.

60 ARTEC a Joint Venture between Rheinmetall MAN Military Vehicles and Krauss Maffei Wegmann (KMW).

61BOXER for the British Army’, British Army, 5 November 2019, accessed 5 February 2021

62 We understand production will also take place at WFEL in Stockport. Defence Committee Oral evidence: Progress in delivering the British Army’s armoured vehicle capability, HC 659, 20 October 2020, Q128.

63 Defence Committee Oral evidence: Progress in delivering the British Army’s armoured vehicle capability, HC 659, 20 October 2020, Q134

64 SDSR 2015 called for a warfighting division which could call on two armoured infantry brigades and two new Strike brigades to form a division of three brigades. HM Government, ‘National Security Strategy and Strategic Defence and Security Review 2015 A Secure and Prosperous United Kingdom’, Cm 9161, 2015 Para 4.48

65 Written evidence submitted by the Ministry of Defence, AVFF0016, para 6

66 Written evidence submitted by the Ministry of Defence, AVFF0016, para 2

67 Written evidence submitted by the Ministry of Defence, AVFF0016, para 2

68 Defence Committee Oral evidence: Progress in delivering the British Army’s armoured vehicle capability, HC 659, 20 October 2020, Q99

69 Written evidence submitted by Brigadier (Retired) Ben W. Barry OBE Senior Fellow Land Warfare International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), AVF005

70 Barry, B. ‘British Army heavy division comes up light’, Military Balance Blog, IISS, 8 January 2021

71 Defence Committee Oral evidence: Defence contribution to the UK’s pandemic response, HC 357, Tuesday 24 November 2020, Q161

75 Written evidence submitted by Brigadier (Retired) Ben W. Barry OBE Senior Fellow Land Warfare International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), AVF005. See also Dr Karber, P. ‘RUS-UKR War Lessons Learned’, Potomac Institure, Conference Paper, July 2015

76 Oral evidence: Progress in delivering the British Army’s armoured vehicle capability, HC 659,Tuesday 6 October 2020, Q20

77 Written evidence submitted by the Ministry of Defence, AVFF0016, para 12

78 Defence Committee Oral evidence: Progress in delivering the British Army’s armoured vehicle capability, HC 659, 20 October 2020, Q33

79 Written evidence submitted by Brigadier (Retired) Ben W. Barry OBE Senior Fellow Land Warfare International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), AVF005.

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