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

Conclusions and recommendations

The developed of UK armoured vehicle capability since the Cold War

1.Even in the sorry recent history of the Army’s attempts to procure Armoured Fighting Vehicles, MRAV—now Boxer—stands out as a stark example of how shifting priorities and indecision about requirements lead to increased costs and failure to deliver new capabilities. (Paragraph 18)

2.The Ministry of Defence and the Army embarked on a series of overly-ambitious procurement programmes which were too reliant on the development of nascent technologies in order to deliver viable capabilities; within these programmes; and, there was a reluctance to trade off capability requirements (such as vehicle weight) leading to programme cancellations and vacillation around decision-making. This was compounded by the desire to adapt requirements to concurrent operational experience. Too often the Ministry of Defence has aimed to deliver the 100 per cent solution tomorrow, rather than the 80 per cent solution today. (Paragraph 23)

3.Procurement practices and skills were frequently found wanting; in 2011 the NAO concluded that the failure to introduce any new vehicles since 1997 indicated that, “the Department’s standard acquisition processes for armoured vehicles was not working”. Subsequently the Committee of Public Accounts concluded that “there [was] poor accountability for long-term equipment projects”. This process is, self-evidently, still not working a decade later. (Paragraph 24)

4.We are concerned that the Ministry of Defence, and in particular Defence Equipment and Support may not have sufficient technically qualified staff and capacity to manage effectively the multiple armoured vehicle procurement and upgrade programmes that are currently underway. Given both the large amounts of taxpayer’s money at stake and the importance of such programmes for our war fighting capability should deterrence fail, this appalling situation has now become completely unacceptable and must be rapidly reformed, including, if necessary, by senior management changes at DE & S Headquarters at Abbey Wood. (Paragraph 25)

The UK’s armoured forces today

5.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. (Paragraph 27)

6.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. (Paragraph 38)

7.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). (Paragraph 39)

8.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. 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. (Paragraph 42)

9.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). (Paragraph 44)

10.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 (Paragraph 47)

11.The first vehicles were originally due to be delivered to the British Army in April 2017, however this was delayed. 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. (Paragraph 50)

12.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. (Paragraph 51)

13.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. 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. (Paragraph 54)

14.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. (Paragraph 57)

15.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. (Paragraph 60)

16.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. (Paragraph 61)

17.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. (Paragraph 65)

18.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. (Paragraph 72)

19.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. (Paragraph 76)

20.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. (Paragraph 77)

21.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. (Paragraph 78)

The future of UK armoured capability

22.We share Brigadier Barry’s concern about the message that any reductions in the Army’s ability to conduct high-intensity warfighting in defence of NATO may send to both our allies and adversaries. Whatever the specific conclusions that emerge from the Integrated Review, the Army must retain (or perhaps regain) its credibility. From the evidence provided we doubt whether, currently, the Army has sufficient armoured capability to make an effective contribution to NATO deterrence. We have agreed this report before publication of the Integrated Review: in its response, the Department should set out what effect any reduction in the Army’s headcount as a result of the Review will have on delivery of armoured vehicles and on the Army’s ability to deploy them. (Paragraph 89)

23.The lack of a credible short-range air defence system for our land forces, especially in light of the rapidly increasing threat from unmanned aerial vehicles, is of particular concern. We have already noted in Chapter 3 that the Army is also overmatched in terms the artillery firepower available to our likeliest peer adversary and lacks the ability to fire anti-tank missiles from under armour. The Ministry of Defence must ensure that these capability gaps are filled as a matter of urgency. (Paragraph 90)

24.We share the concerns of our witnesses and our predecessors. It appears that, as part of the Integrated Review, there is a risk that the Army’s current armoured capabilities (albeit in need of modernisation) are at risk of being denuded on the basis of promises of technically advanced ‘jam tomorrow’. Experience has shown that these technologies have a long gestation period and may not be realised within useful timescales (for example the ‘electric armour’ concepts proposed in the late 1990s). It would be unacceptable for the Army to give up its heavy armoured forces only to be faced with a repeat of the FRES fiasco, followed by the need to urgently procure a new batch of vehicles to meet a sudden crisis. The Department should not place its faith in a ‘big bang’ type development of its armoured capabilities, but rather should focus on the incremental development and experimentation approach aligned with our NATO allies. (Paragraph 96)

25.The Department must ensure that Project Morpheus is adequately resourced with technically qualified staff to facilitate coordination and integration with its current and planned armoured vehicle programmes. Based on the Department’s track record in the Land sector we are concerned that the programmes necessary to deliver the capability described above will not be delivered in a timely manner and, given the pace of technology development in this field, may be obsolete before it is delivered. In order to retain a shred of credibility the Army must set out the programmes that comprise the capability described above along with a statement on whether each will be delivered in time to provide the capability described and how obsolescence will be avoided. Based on the Department’s track record in the Land sector we are concerned that the programmes necessary to deliver the capability described above will not be delivered in a timely manner and, given the pace of technology development in this field, may be obsolete before it is delivered (Paragraph 98)

26.We support the Ministry of Defence’s initiative to develop a Land Industrial Strategy. The LIS should place the land sector on an equal footing with the Air and Maritime sectors, providing industry with certainty for the coming decades and ensuring the Army has access to the technical and manufacturing base that will facilitate the development of new technologies as armoured warfare capabilities evolve. The Strategy should also make clear sustaining capability relies on co-operation with allies. (Paragraph 103)

27.We agree that it is important the Ministry of Defence maximises the collaborative opportunities offered by the recent investments in the UK’s armoured vehicles sector. The Department should ensure that it leverages these advantages by making a clear decision about its participation in the Main Ground Combat System. A repeat of the MRAV/Boxer debacle would be unacceptable. (Paragraph 105)

28.We trust the creation of and adherence to the proposed Land Industrial Strategy will improve the UK’s competitiveness in this sector. The Ministry of Defence, the British Army and their Industry counterparts must work together to map out the coming decades for the armoured vehicle sector. (Paragraph 107)


29.This report reveals a woeful story of bureaucratic procrastination, military indecision, financial mismanagement and general ineptitude, which have continually bedevilled attempts to properly re-equip the British Army over the last two decades. Even on the MoD’s own current plans (but subject to the Integrated Review), we are still some four years away from even being able to field a “warfighting division”, which, itself, would now be hopelessly under-equipped and denuded of even a third combat brigade. (Paragraph 108)

30.Were the British Army to have to fight a peer adversary—a euphemism for Russia—in Eastern Europe in the next few years, whilst our soldiers would undoubtedly remain amongst the finest in the world, they would, disgracefully, be forced to go into battle in a combination of obsolescent or even obsolete armoured vehicles, most of them at least 30 years old or more, with poor mechanical reliability, very heavily outgunned by more modern missile and artillery systems and chronically lacking in adequate air defence. They would have only a handful of long-delayed, new generation vehicles, gradually trickling into the inventory, to replace them. (Paragraph 109)

Published: 14 March 2021 Site information    Accessibility statement