11 January 2010
One of the conundrums that continue to exercise military planners is the importance of equipment commonality. Recent procurements in the field of light protected vehicles have brought such considerations into sharp focus, and it is worth taking a step back to examine the impact of a common fleet from the sometimes contrary viewpoints of user and logistician to identify the arguments for and against commonality.
For the logistician, who is seeking the benefits of whole fleet management, simple training and a small logistic footprint, the theoretical ideal is a fleet of identical vehicles built to the same configuration. For the end-user, though, the picture can be more mixed, as he will tend to place more emphasis on each vehicle being functionally well suited to particular missions. While it is certainly simpler in training and operational terms to be able to climb into a familiar platform reconfigured to meet whatever role it is required to undertake, he would not wish any requirement for commonality to compromise the mission specific application of the platform.
The reality is that there is limited polarisation between these two points of view – there is only a striving for the best compromise. For example, the logistician's focus is likely to be on high usage items and on those areas which may be amenable to common training, meaning that a common drive train and driver's station will be of some importance to him. By contrast, if the platform provides the appropriate mobility and protection to enable a particular mission to be conducted, the user is likely to be far more concerned about the mission equipment. This opens the way for the development of vehicle families with common automotives but mission-specific top hampers.
Two highly successful vehicle families which remain in service with the UK Armed Forces are the CVR(T) and Warrior. In each case, the drivelines and lower hull were largely identical, ensuring that regularly needed spares were common across the fleet, while the upper half of the hull was adapted to the mission role. The outstanding achievement represented by each of these families only becomes evident when we examine the results of later efforts to achieve the same effect. The Future Family of Light Armoured Vehicles (FFLAV) analysed the issue in great depth, identifying 13 roles and 51 sub-roles that the family would be required to undertake, and sank under the combined weight of Options for Change and an unworkable procurement strategy. This represented the ultimate exercise in giving every user a say in what was required, an approach that, while having much to recommend it philosophically, proved impractical. Meanwhile, the MRAV BOXER?programme has met with limited success, but only 20 years after planning began.
One of the great enemies of the common vehicle family is the Urgent Operational Requirement (UOR), which tends to move the equation towards the user and away from the logistician. A vehicle family requires some years to be brought to fruition, conditions that do not pertain during the conduct of rapidly evolving operations. At such a time, the pressure is to deliver requirement-specific solutions rapidly, without necessarily considering the impact on the overall fleet. When such solutions are required quickly, the short-term fix may well be to buy a new dedicated platform, with limited or no commonality with the existing fleet. Although this might fill the user's identified gap wholly or in part, repeated recourse to UORs will tend to drive the procurement of a heterogeneous fleet with no logistic economies of scale. Whilst this poses few problems if a fleet has been procured for a specific purpose for a short defined period, as is reportedly the case with the Husky TSV, when such standalone fleets are moved into the core equipment programme, a full support solution is required and logistic chickens come home to roost.
Currently, the UOR is the MoD's preferred means of introducing new vehicles into service, and it is becoming increasingly apparent that future support is likely to be put under significant pressure. It may now be appropriate to give more thought to adapting vehicles or vehicle types that are already in service to meet such requirements, rather than resorting to the UOR as the procurement route of first resort.