After spending decades building an international military alliance in a stable, monolithic environment, modern armies have had to completely readapt to the new forms of conflicts. Upgrading and replacing simply won’t do anymore. The British Mechanized Infantry Vehicle (MIV) replacement program shows that we still haven’t fully come to terms
The new setting for modern-day battlefields has truly revolutionized the art of warfare, with ramifications deeper than what has been thoroughly assessed my military commanders today. IEDs, for instance, despite being easily confused with landmines by laymen, are utterly different in nature. Previous-day landmines were engineered, standardized, and it was the job of intelligence to find out their specs, and then of engineers to build vehicles which could withstand their blasts. But IEDs are, by nature, one of a kind, ranging from cherry bombs to clusters of artillery shells, making it impossible for any armour to resist, for lack of knowledge of what they are up against. Military journalist Gregg Zoroyawrites: “When one of the first Americans serving in Iraq, 25-year-old Pfc. Jeremiah Smith, 25, of Odessa, Mo., died in an explosion under his vehicle in May 26, 2003, six weeks after the U.S. invasion ended, the military wasn’t even sure what to call the thing that killed him.” A similar landslide has occurred on the field of enemy movement and identification. We have moved from battalions of identified enemies to civilians who reveal themselves as attackers in a split second, only to disappear back into the crowd minutes later. For all these reasons, the British high command identified to change gears when it came to replace the aging fleet of MIVs. So far, so good.
But from the onslaught, the project was going sideways. Independent reporter Sarah Arnott wrote: “The SV programme starting today was given priority over the much-delayed Utility Vehicle (UV) element earlier this year — despite General Dynamics being announced as preferred bidder seven months earlier and some £132m already spent on it — prompting MPs to brand the programme a “fiasco”.” A first intention of buying the German-Dutch Artec Boxer was quickly aborted, as the British got ambitious enough to decide building their own infantry vehicle — naming the autonomous development vehicle FRES (Future Rapid Effect System). That program was disastrously managed and ended up in the spending of hundreds of millions of pounds, without a single set of wheels to show for it. Reportedly without consultation with Defence Equipment and Support (DE&S), the trading entity in charge, Defence minister Gavin Williamson, upon his nomination, quickly set about to settle the matter once and for all — even at the cost of breaking public purchase regulations and overlooking the actual needs of the military, by buying off the rack, rather than through the normal process of RFPs (request for proposals). Hopes for the restoration of basic management principles had led ThinkDefence.co.uk to publish the article “FRES UV. New Competition, New Thinking, New Approach, hopefully!”, but those hopes were soon quashed by the MoD’s decision.
The choice which was made was the Artec Boxer — the very vehicle program which the UK had pulled out of, years before, because its design was not suited to the specific needs of the British military. The Royal Army, as one of NATO’s main members, has been exposed to threats which most other countries have not. As the second troop contributor in Afghanistan, for instance, Britain faced enormous strain on its logistics — as flying armoured vehicles across the planet quickly and safely is no walk in the park. Also, both major modern battlefields (Afghanistan and Iraq) increased the mobility demands on vehicles. MIVs could no longer simply be big and powerful, they had to be nimble and agile too, to match the enemy’s evasiveness. The MoD’s choice of the bulkiest MIV which the market had to offer, which will slow its deployment and reduce its performance in the field, is therefore leaving many observers baffled. Business Daily Austin Lopez writes: “The first is that this way of proceeding is most irregular. This isn’t the first time an army, be it ours, has been confronted with emergency. RFPs (request for proposals, a long, complex and methodical way of purchasing the right equipment) can be shortened, by tweaking out of the process the stages which represent the less risk. But throwing the entire process for such a critical piece of equipment (the MIV will be the backbone of infantry movement, a major component of current-day battlefield management) is virtually unheard of. It amounts to buying blind. And once the equipment is bought and we realize it is unfit for our missions, it will be too late — as our suffering military budgets won’t allow for such mistakes or second chances.”
By the looks of it, it seems that the troops on the ground have understood that they are now in a new military era, but that the news has not yet arrived at the higher levels. Moreover, it seems that the largest obstacle in MoD’s way towards achieving operational mobility is not the enemy on the field, but rather the MoD itself. By throwing away the request for proposals, the UK has thrown out the window the virtues of competition and its ability to optimize its crunched budget. Chief Treasury secretary Liz Truss has been on the hunt to cut down on “white elephant” programs — but seems massively outweighed facing the MoD’s dreams of grandeur. The FRES program has burned a fortune, while the soldiers in need of suitable vehicles for their new missions are kept waiting. The British MoD has provided them with a new example of history repeating itself.