UK scouts out deal14 July 2015
It was a long time coming, but the UK Ministry of Defence has made an order for almost 600 armoured fighting vehicles. James Lawson looks at the making and the development of the Scout specialist vehicle and the capabilities it offers.
It's a boom time for armoured vehicle investment. As well as green-lighting programmes such as the £1-billion Warrior upgrade, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) recently placed the biggest single UK order for an armoured fighting vehicle (AFV) in 30 years. Signed last September, the £3.5-billion Scout contract covers 589 AFVs, with deliveries starting in 2017.
The Scout SV (specialist vehicle) grew out of the troubled Future Rapid Effect System (FRES) programme. Described by the Commons Defence Select Committee in 2009 as "a fiasco", FRES was part of a wider failure in AFV procurement over the past 20 years. By 2011, the delayed, suspended or cancelled FRES SV, FRES UV, TRACER, MRAV, Terrier and Warrior CSP programmes had cost £718 million, without a single vehicle going into service (National Audit Office).
FRES originally aimed to develop utility-vehicle as well as SV variants, but was restructured in December 2008 to prioritise Scout. In November that year, the MoD awarded assessment-phase contracts to BAE's CV90 and to the ASCOD SV from General Dynamics UK (GD UK).
GD UK became the preferred bidder in March 2010, with the demonstration-phase contract signed in June following a valiant but unsuccessful rearguard action by BAE. The MoD describes Scout SV as a "modified off-the-shelf platform", and its proven ASCOD antecedent is currently in service with the Spanish and Austrian armies as the Pizarro and Ulan, respectively.
"The MoD worked hard to mature the army's requirements for Scout SV, determining the best method of delivering the capability and preparing industry for the competition," says an MoD spokesman. "The modified ASCOD design offered the best value through life."
Just as different consumer car models share a common floorpan, so all the Scout variants are built on a single common-base platform. This features seven pairs of tracked road wheels on each side, with an 816hp MTU turbo diesel engine, Renk 256B automatic transmission and a top speed of 70km/h.
Sharing the same power pack and drivetrain, along with many other systems and components, has obvious cost, manufacturing and servicing benefits, as well as supporting easier through-life upgrading. Other design elements, such as open, scalable general vehicle architecture (GVA) Gigabit Ethernet networking, also allow easy subsystem plug-in. Modularity extends to the appliqué armour, which can be tailored as required and can have the latest armour upgrades fitted as they become available.
The £500-million demonstration-phase contract covered seven prototypes in addition to the common-base platform. "The demonstration phase will ensure that the vehicle solutions are sufficiently prepared for the two subsequent phases of the acquisition process, manufacture and then in-service support of the vehicles," says the MoD.
Although delayed and subjected to many changes as the needs and priorities of the army shifted, Scout SV has nonetheless achieved success over the past five years. Here, the MoD's recent approach of breaking complex projects up into smaller stages and approving them incrementally has worked well.
In July 2011, the first test version of the critical reconnaissance variant (confusingly also named Scout) began to take shape with the successful joining of the Experimental Demonstration Unit (EDU) turret to an ASCOD-based PT3 'mule' development platform five months ahead of schedule.
By then, Lockheed Martin UK had built the development turret, integrating the 40mm CT40 cannon system and test firing it. The cannon uses cased telescoped ammunition, allowing lighter, smaller rounds that are easier to handle and store.
"The cannon is stabilised, enabling accurate firing on the move, and the ammunition gives an increased variety of effect options and significantly greater power," says an MoD spokesperson.
The design's large 1.7m turret ring increases internal space, and this is further boosted by placing the main ammunition feed under armour outside the turret crew compartment. This not only offers greater crew comfort, but frees up room for future extra systems.
Operational and tactical mobility trials began in June 2012, along with accelerated life testing using the pre-prototype Mobile Test Rig (MTR). Various MTR trials continued through 2013, including cold-weather testing.
Representative mock-ups constructed in 2012 confirmed the modular design's validity: building the Ambulance, Command and Engineer Recce versions would simply involve installing different sub-systems on the turretless Protected Mobility Recce Support (PMRS) variant.
The programme passed its first major milestone, the Preliminary Design Review, in December 2012. In the background, a number of variants such as the Medium Armour and Joint Fires Command dropped down the priority list while projected order numbers decreased. The MTR made its public debut at the August 2013 DSEi exhibition, and the common-base platform completed its critical design review (CDR) that December.
This smooth progress was interrupted by a spat between GD UK and Lockheed Martin UK. Defense News reported that GD UK agreed to pay millions of pounds in compensation after it failed to stick to a timetable to provide a complete set of requirements for the development of the turret.
The PMRS variant passed its CDR in June 2014 and the first pre-production prototype appeared at the Defence Vehicle Dynamics event that month. Scout's final weight and size is notable, certainly compared with the 8t Scimitar it will replace.
With add-on armour, its baseline weight of 34t increases to about 38t, taking it closer to its maximum design weight of 42t. Although still air-transportable by the A400M, it is no surprise that the earlier requirement to use C-130s was dropped.
Support for Scout was reinforced in the 2012 Defence Equipment Plan and, with the Main Gate 2 milestone achieved in August 2014, that commitment opened the door to manufacturing. The original FRES SV programme envisaged three order blocks totalling 1,010 vehicles.
The delivery contract the MoD signed with GD UK last September covers a single fleet of 589 vehicles, plus training systems, add-on armour and in-service support for the first two years. Options exist for additional vehicles, including the ambulance variant, but further orders look unlikely.
The army will get 244 of the turreted Scouts in three variants: 198 armoured cavalry Reconnaissance and Strike versions; 23 Joint Fire Control models, which are used by forward artillery observers; and 24 Ground-Based Surveillance variants, equipped with a man-portable radar system.
These will replace the CVR(T) Scimitar, in service since 1971. As well as the cannon, the turret mounts a 7.62mm co-axial machine gun and electrically operated grenade launchers.
The remaining PMRS-based models include 59 armoured personnel carriers, 112 command and control types, 34 formation reconnaissance overwatch variants and 51 engineer reconnaissance variants. REME will receive 88 Scouts: 38 recovery models able to lift and tow damaged vehicles, and 50 repair vehicles for field support.
Protector remote weapons stations from Norway's Kongsberg Protech Systems will be fitted to some PMRS turretless variants, allowing small and medium-calibre weapons to be operated safely from within the vehicle.
Lockheed Martin signed a £618-million contract in October 2014 with GD UK to manufacture, integrate and test 245 turrets for the three reconnaissance variants, helping to safeguard 880 jobs at its Ampthill site in Bedfordshire. Back in 2009, GD UK said that winning the FRES SV contract would secure close to 11,000 UK jobs, along with 80% of the manufacturing value. Today, those figures are 2,400 and closer to 60%.
Major subsystems designed and assembled domestically include the day-night sensor systems (Glasgow), the electronic system architecture (Hastings) and add-on armour packs (Midlands). The first 100 vehicles will be assembled in Spain's General Dynamics Santa Barbara Sistemas plant, with the remainder's assembly location yet to be decided.
GD UK recently completed the CDR for the flagship recce variant. That first pre-production prototype will arrive later this year, along with the first prototype turrets.
"The Scout programme has already passed several of its key milestones, including the live blast trial," says Philip Dunne, minister for defence equipment, support and technology. "This latest achievement shows great progress, with Scout vehicles well on their way to being ready for army user trials in 2017."
With initial operating capability planned for July 2020, the first converted brigade will be ready at the end of 2020. Full operating capability arrives in 2025, when three brigades will be Scout-equipped.
Compared with the ancient CVR(T) family it will replace, Scout undoubtedly offers greatly enhanced capabilities in almost every area. For the army and, most of all, the crews who will train and fight in these vehicles, Scout's debut can't come soon enough.
Maximising ISTAR for Scout
Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition and Reconnaissance (ISTAR) has been a Scout development priority. Multiple search, detection and tracking sensors for tasks such as acoustic shot detection allow Scout to locate helicopters, unmanned aerial vehicles and decoy systems while collecting various types of data, including video and still images. The vehicle's ultra-quiet auxiliary power unit permits quiet, concealed loitering.
Thales UK will provide a full Orion optronics suite, including sights for commander and gunners, reconnaissance and targeting, and short-range sensors for situational awareness. "Scout SV has a world-leading sighting system that will double the range at which all types of target can be detected from the ground," says an MoD spokesperson.
Crews share intelligence via the integrated BOWMAN digital communications system, as fitted to the Challenger 2 Main Battle Tank.
This and other onboard C4I systems enable secure transmission of data to other allied forces such as the US Army.
"Scout SV will be able to collect and collate unprecedentedly large volumes of information, processing it into intelligence and disseminating that intelligence to the force in groundbreaking time," says the MoD.