Is there a true off-the-shelf vehicle?
The recent announcement by the UK MoD that it wants to buy a commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) vehicle to meet its Protected Mobility Vehicle Programme (PMVP) requirement highlights that there is not really a true off-the-shelf acquisition completed in modern militaries.
The full requirements are yet to come out, but looking at the guidelines put down by the MoD it appears as if they are trying to fit everything (mobility and protection) on to one COTS platform and then modify it beyond recognition. This increases costs and some capability will be lost.
Under PMVP the MoD wants a Multi-Role Vehicle – Protected (MRV-P) and a Future Protected Battlefield Ambulance (FPBFA). But both have very different requirements as each of these two types will have sub-variants as well.
Once again it is the question of balance but it has been proven time after time that squeezing light and heavy requirements into a single vehicle leads to just a heavy vehicle and a gap in the light spectrum.
To meet its PVMP requirement the UK MoD is calling for STANAG Level 2 ballistic and blast protection and has removed the need for it to be transportable underslung from a helicopter. It wants to have a single base platform weighing about 14,000kg that will be the Troop Carrying Variant (TCV) of the MRV-P and this will be modified to allow the addition of capabilities to create the other vehicle variants.
The mix of different types of vehicles will mean that it will be hard for one contractor to provide everything. It is likely that once the full requirement specifications become known some companies will drop out of the running and more teaming arrangements will appear. A team offering a mix of the heavier and the lighter protected vehicles will have more chance of success as it will bring in expertise from both ends of the spectrum.
But it still stands that the MoD wants a vehicle with wide ranging scope of mobility and protection requirements, a big ask for one vehicle and compromises will have to be made. This is why military vehicles are of different sizes and shapes – because of different requirements.
For some this is a repeat of the UK’s Operational Utility Vehicle System (OUVS) programme. It basically wanted to replace all vehicles from quad bikes up to 8t trucks and achieve some commonality. Unfortunately there were too many requirements and they struggled with the cost parameters so by 2011 it was cancelled.
With the PVMP it seems OUVS has been revived somewhat. The latter called for a light and heavy split, the same vehicle variants of required and similar industrial contenders are lining up, etc. But how to avoid similar mistakes?
Buying a COTS vehicle does not necessarily mean lower costs. Across the world, individual country requirements mean that existing vehicles and chassis have to be altered to such a degree that the amount spent to bring it into service in the way the armies want them mean it will be at an inflated price.
For example the UK bought the Cougar vehicle of the shelf. It was converted to meet UK-specific requirements and brought into service as the Mastiff. Although this was to meet the need for additional protection, NP Aerospace practically had to rebuild the vehicle and the amount spent was high.
For PMVP the heavier General Purpose vehicle seems to indicate the need for a larger JLTV-type design to meet that requirement. But it remains to be seen how the programme will turn out with the protection parameters and numbers changing as they go. The key here is the level of protection needed as that will largely dictate the kind of base platform that the MoD will select.
If cost is an issue the UK could do worse than buy the 600 vehicles it wants off the US JLTV production line. With the amount of vehicles the US Army and USMC are buying, 600 vehicles would be a drop in the ocean. If you put that vehicle next to the others acquired by UOR it would probably sit well and give a good spread.
Furthermore Oshkosh, which supplies JLTV to the US, already have a supply line into the UK with their heavy trucks so it would not take much to introduce and support a new vehicle like this. But to ensure costs remain low the UK would have to limit the modifications applied.
The UK’s plan is to rationalise its protected mobility fleet, but the British Army already has a number of PM vehicles bought under UOR that it is bringing into the core fleet, so one could question whether the army is justified in buying more of the same.
It is one thing to suggest that you need more PM vehicles because the existing ones do not meet requirements; but to then buy one single off-the-shelf platform that will be extensively modified to meet several requirements again runs the risk of leaving a gap if it does not effectively provide the capabilities needed. The UK MoD needs to tread carefully or it could be a case of same-same but different.