Friday, 3 June 2011

U.K. Army Fears Soldiers Will Be Walking To War

LONDON - British soldiers will be walking to war if the Ministry of Defence fails to deliver a coherent equipment plan as part of its restructuring of the U.K. military later this decade, according to a senior Army officer.

Maj. Gen. Bill Moore, the MoD's director of battlespace maneuver and master general of the Ordnance, singled out the need to fund a planned upgrade of the Army's Warrior infantry fighting vehicle as vital to enabling the British military to maneuver in the post-2015 era.

"While support for operations [in Afghanistan] is the main effort, we need to deliver a coherent Future Force 2020. If we don't get this right and don't get the Warrior [capability sustainment program] funded and maintain the other things in our program, the Army will be walking to war from 2015," Moore told an audience of senior officers and industry executives at a June 2 conference on land warfare, hosted here by the Royal United Services Institute.

The MoD has been in negotiations with Lockheed Martin UK for months to update more than 300 Warriors with a new turret, gun, electronic architecture and better armored protection.

The future of the program has been wracked by uncertainties as a result of heavy defense budget cuts imposed by the British government over the next four years.

The general said there is an enduring need for the Warrior, and the current machine has reached the end of its tether with an obsolete gun, a power-to-weight ratio on operations that is near its limit and other failings. The update would allow Warrior to stay in service beyond 2040.

While Moore may have had his tongue in his cheek over the "walking to war" comment, he said that even if Britain manages to maintain all the programs in the budget, there would still be an issue of being able to maneuver properly in the 2015-20 time frame.

There is a clear budget gap across many of the key maneuver equipment plans post-2015, and he said armored vehicles, support helicopters, air transport, support vehicles, ISTAR and joint fires would all require more funding if Britain is going to develop the Future Force 2020 concept fully.

One bright spot, he said, is the progress on the new armored scout vehicle being developed by General Dynamics UK. The team developing the turret for the vehicle conducted its first live firing with the 40mm case telescoped cannon system integrated in mid-May.

Lockheed Martin is leading the team using a Rheinmetall Landsysteme-designed turret. The tests, conducted in Germany, involved firing 20 rounds. General Dynamics said the milestone was achieved five months ahead of schedule.

Moore said Britain also needs more helicopter lift capabilities, including additional Boeing Chinooks and upgraded Eurocopter Pumas.

AgustaWestland Merlin battlefield support helicopters are being transferred to the Royal Navy for commando operations.

Future Force 2020 is a planned transformation of the British military into a more adaptable, but smaller, expeditionary force by the end of the decade.

The transformation, part of the 2010 British government strategic defense and security review, is sparking increasing debate here on military requirements and how they will be funded post-2015, against what could be a backdrop of continuing economic uncertainty and budget pressure.