Tuesday, 16 October 2012

What should the future of British Ship-to-Shore manoeuvre look like?

The recent announcement of a mid-life service upgrade for the Royal Marines Viking BvS10 vehicles[1] is a reminder not only of these vehicles existence, but also their purpose; and more importantly their life span. When they were procured as replacements for the BV206s, the two primarily envisaged roles for the Royal Marines were fighting alongside the Norwegians to secure NATO’s northern flank and re-taking the Falkland Islands. Since then in true naval service spirit they have served worldwide, only being replaced by Warthogs in Afghanistan after the MOD was forced to admit they really were not designed for that scenario.  They have still proved use, as when they were used in Somaliland[2] - and are the basis of the Royal Marines land based manoeuvre capability.
A BvS10 Viking
Currently there are over 160 Viking’s in service with the Royal Marines Armoured Support Group…of which there are four variants; the Troop Carrying Variant (TCV) capable of carrying 2 crew plus 10 passengers; the Command Variant (CV), which carries 2 crew plus up to 8 passengers with the rear cab being basically a collection of radios/computer screens on tracks, the Repair and Recovery Variant (RRV), carrying 4 specialist maintenance vehicle mechanic crewmen and the Ambulance Variant (AV). The upgrade points towards the possibility of a fifth variant, being able to fire an 81mm mortar out of the rear cab.
These vehicles are going to have to be replaced at some point, probably sooner than the government or MOD would wish; a tender was announced and then withdrawn in 2008. However this surely the raises the question; can Britain in future afford to narrow its choices to vehicles which are excellent on snowy/mountainous or boggy terrain… or should a more general purpose vehicle, which perhaps has its own independent amphibious capability be considered? Should the Royal Marines perhaps have a vehicle with a direct fire version, or should they be limited to infantry fighting vehicles; should it come with a variant which can provide mobile air defence…these are questions must be fully considered before the choice is made.  

The current amphibious manoeuvre situation

The USMC alone is currently developing two vehicles, the Amphibious Combat Vehicle and the Marine Personnel Carrier[3], with the capability of getting from ship to shore under their own power and the proceeding into battle supporting those troops they carry; to replace their current generation of Amphibious Assault Vehicle. The Russians, have the ubiquitous PT-76 and its decedents, the Chinese the Type 63 and its decedents, even the French have a range of such vehicles, the Véhicule de l'Avant Blindé and the Véhicule Blindé Léger – which Russia has ordered 500 of along with the Mistral class LHDs. Yet, Britain has nothing.
Some say this doesn’t matter as Britain led the way at Suez in helicopter base amphibious operations, showed the utility and capability of such a system again in the Falkland’s war, and has a range of helicopters available today plus the ships to launch them. Unfortunately that’s not so, when Ocean was built a Ski Ramp wasn’t fitted, so all that was got was an LPH; when Albion and Bulwark were built, not only were they LPDs, not LHDs like the French Mistrals – the arguably sensible option for a medium power looking for maximum capability from minimum hull numbers, but they had their hangars deleted as a cost saving measure…not to mention the extended gym facilities, medical centre and extra accommodation which would have been on the same deck.
Now leaving aside the fact that having 6 ships(the three Invincible class vessels + the 3 amphibs) which could have been able to operate Harriers + AEW Sea Kings and the effect that would have had on British expeditionary capability, force protection and force projection; Britain is now heading into a new era, with a reduced number of aircraft carriers, and depending again upon a VSTOL aircraft for its organic naval fixed wing air capabilities…surely having the backup option of putting 8 on an LHD version of Albion & Bulwark must have occurred to someone as being a sensible precaution against the unknown…or had the obsession with lean manning and commercialism over ridden any strategy[4]. As it is though this is still not the biggest effect of the decision; the RMs also face a lack of helicopters.
The delays to the Ocean replacement, and lack for thought in the decisions about the concept of Albion & Bulwark means that Britain is looking at the very real possibility of being back in the Falklands War scenario when the only helicopters available to the Amphibious Task Group will be those carried on the flight decks of the LPDs, in the open exposed to the elements, and the hangars and cargo decks of Auxiliaries and Ships Taken up from Trade.  Whilst it must be acknowledged there is in theory the option of using the second Queen Elizabeth class, if one of those is out of action for any reason…and there is a choice between having a carrier to provide Combat Air Patrol/Strike/Close Air Support or an LPH; as with Hermes in 1982 the Royal Marines are going to lose. There is the probability that even if the second carrier is available, there will be the argument between carrying more strike fighters or more commando helicopters…it won’t be an easy decision, but with a reduced air defence escort force (6 rather than 14 Daring’s originally requested or the 12 originally ordered) and a currently theoretical escort based long range strike capability, the arguments for the more fighters are only reinforced. This is all before dealing with the requirements of accommodating aircraft for ASW and AEW, and of course any UAVs which might be needed for the operation.
Landing craft of all varieties are provided for as part of the British amphibious force; they can carry troops, they can carry Main Battle Tanks and of course supplies to shore, but they have a limiting factor. Landing craft can only support manoeuvre as far as the shoreline; in certain cases of course estuaries and rivers will further their level of support… but in the modern manoeuvrist orientated war fighting style this is not enough to provide the required capability profile. So this means that it’s necessary to consider the other options for ship to shore manoeuvre; but this is not the only thing to consider.
The RMs are in form an enhanced elite infantry brigade, this was fine for the world of the 1980s, it was made to work for the 1990s…but time has gone on and as more battlefield ‘hot-rods’ appear, i.e. Russian tanks upgraded with western equipment/engines/hydraulics, and there are fewer RN escorts to provide fire support in the littoral regions then the need and scope for vehicles to provide a base of fire for operations increases. Currently the RM brigade makes use of attachments of light tanks and main battle tanks from the Army, and they are very useful, but the Army (especially a slimmed down one) will always have other calls on its equipment to balance and like the RN of the 1920s, worried about RAF/Air Ministry statements over the war time uses of the FAA, the RMs must worry that they might not have this equipment at the critical juncture….not through any negligence, just through over subscription. Therefore when considering options, the range of capability that those vehicles provide the RMs cannot be only measured in the strict field of amphibious manoeuvre, but must also consider the fire power and range of firepower that range of vehicles will provide.

What would Britain need it to do?

As the operation in Somalia demonstrates, limited intervention/footprint operations are still a requirement of modern warfare; alongside this type of contingency, these vehicles would also provide enhancements for the larger amphibious demonstrations of force…such as those required to deter aggression against allies.
These vehicles though would really come into their own as a force multiplier in war time, when their landing would provide instantaneous bases of fire from which RMs could fight…RMs they have carried to the to shore inside themselves, freeing up the critical landing craft and supporting helicopters for other duties.
Amphibious vehicle/commando combinations could also be used to seize strategic points around the perimeter of the landing zone within the first wave, conceivably preventing the enemy from being able to respond or more problematically (considering the importance of them to the British amphibious capability) firing at the landing craft.
After the amphibious operational phase these vehicles would provide the RMs with manoeuvre and firepower as well as enhanced capability versus enemy armour and dug in positions.

What are the Options? How do they compare?

Well the obvious options are the three USMC systems, simply because they are the best and represent the closest fit with Britain’s view of amphibious operations and their likely scenarios…also because Britain would be jumping on the back of such large production runs it would be fairly cost effective:
The already in service AAV

The AAV, (clockwise from top), Schemativs, USMC coming ashore in Australia, a Revovery vehicle enters the water and USMC on operations.

For a 3D 360° view of it then go to www.marines.com[5], but its Specifications are:
        Weight - 29.1 tons, Length - 7.94 m (321.3"), Width - 3.27 m (128.72"), Height - 3.26 m (130.5"), Crew - 3+25, Armour - 45 mm
        Main armament - Mk 19 40 mm automatic grenade launcher (864 rounds) or M242 Bushmaster 25mm (900 rounds), Secondary armament - M2HB .50-caliber (12.7 mm) machine gun (1200 rounds)
        Engine - Detroit Diesel 8V-53T (P-7), Cummins VT 400 903 (P-7A1)  400 hp (300 kW)  VTAC 525 903 525 hp(AAV-7RAM-RS), Power/weight - 18 hp/tonne, Suspension - torsion-bar-in-tube (AAV-7A1); torsion bar (AAV-7RAM-RS)
        Operational range - 480 km (300 miles); 20 NM in water, including survival in Sea State 5, Speed - 24-32 km/h (15-20 mph) off-road, 72 km/h surfaced road, 13.2 km/h water (45 mph, 8.2 mph)
The envisaged ACV
The intended capabilities according to the US Congressional Report[6]:
        The proposed vehicle must be able to self-deploy from amphibious shipping and deliver a reinforced Marine infantry squad (17 Marines) from a launch distance at or beyond 12 miles with a speed of not less than 8 knots in seas with 1-foot significant wave height and must be able to operate in seas up to 3-foot significant wave height.
        The vehicle must be able to manoeuvre with the mechanized task force for sustained operations ashore in all types of terrain. The vehicle’s road and cross-country speed as well as its range should be greater than or equal to the M-1A1 Tank(about 35mph road, 25mph cross-country and 265miles).
        The vehicle’s protection characteristics should be able to protect against direct and indirect fire and mines and improvised explosive device (IED) threats.
        The vehicle should be able to accommodate command and control (C2) systems that permit it to operate both at sea and on land. The vehicle, at a minimum, should have a stabilized machine gun in order to engage enemy infantry and light vehicles.
The under development MPC
The baseline of the MPC contenders...(Clockwise) Terrex ICV, Patria AMV, IVECO SUPERAV
The intended capabilities according to the US Congressional Report[7]:
        The vehicle must accommodate nine Marines and two crew members and have a “robust tactical swim capability (shore-to-shore [not designed to embark from an amphibious ship]) and be capable of operating at 6 knots in a fully developed sea.”
        The vehicle must be able to operate on land with M-1A1 Tanks in mechanized task forces across the Marine Corps’ mission profile.
        The vehicle shall provide protection for the occupants from the blasts, fragments, and incapacitating effects of attack from kinetic threats, indirect fire, and improvised explosive devices and mines
        The vehicle shall be capable of firing existing Marine anti-structure and anti-armour missiles and should be able to accommodate existing command and control (C2) systems
Whilst there are four bids, there are only three main contenders for this design; the BAE/IVECO SUPERAV, the Lockheed Martin/Patria AMV and the Terrex ICV. All three have versions already in service… all three fit the profile outline in the industry day presentation[8]:
·         Personnel:(Base Vehicle)
o   Manned by a crew of three –Driver, Vehicle Commander, Gunner
o   Equipped with either a .50 cal/40mm RWS or a medium calibre cannon
o   Two MPC-P will carry a Reinforced Rifle Squad
·         Command & Control:(Mission Role Variant)
o   Two MPC-C replace communications capability of one AAVC7
·         Recovery & Maintenance:(Mission Role Variant)
o   Two MPC-R replace one AAVR7 in the T/E due to the greater quantity of MPC in the MPC company
Price / Capability Comparison
Country of Origin
Vital Statistics
Capability Fit
BAE; doing the upgrade
Year base model first tested: ~1971[9]
Range: 300miles, 20nautical miles in water
Speed: 45mph on road, 20mph cross-country, 7 knots.
Capacity: Sea State 5
Weapons Fit: 40mm grenade launcher or 25mm cannon & 12.7mm machine gun.
Personnel Carried: Crew 3, Dismounts 25
USP[10]: Cheap…its second hand
Both these designs are too big really for British requirements… if the aim is to provide the Royal Marines with a deployable capability that maximise the small force that will be deployed then putting such large numbers into individual vehicles would be unhelpful. It is far better when deploying only one squad of troops to deploy them in two vehicles; which will provide the force with double the supporting firepower, vehicle mounted communications, increased flexibility of deployment and of course greater force resilience.
Being Put out to Tender
Year base model first tested: -
Range: -
Speed: -
Capacity: -
Weapons Fit:
Personnel Carried: Crew 3, Dismounts 25 (based on the AAV its replacing)
USP: there is conceivably more of a chance of a ‘buy in’ enabling it to be customised to an extent to British requirements… it is also going to be a tracked vehicle.
 announced options below
Year base model first tested: 2009
Range: 500miles on land, 40 miles in amphibious mode
Speed: >60mph on road, 5.4knots in water
Capacity: Sea State 2+
Weapons Fit:
Personnel Carried: Crew 1-3 (depends on whether it has turret), Dismounts 8-12
USP: Built by BAE…could conceivably therefore be built in Britain…providing for perhaps a long term re-generation of British armoured vehicle manufacture.
In many ways the best fit for British requirements would be either the SuperAV or Patria AMV; fitted preferably with the sort of range of armaments seen on BAE’s CV90[11]. The SuperAV has benefited from the fact that it is the ‘newest’, not that that should detract from others, but it does mean it has be built with rather than improved with the latest thinking on dealing with the mine and IED threat. The fact is these vehicles all offer varying advantages; ultimately if Britain jumped on this program it would be dependent upon America’s choice… although there is another option; all of these options are having their development paid for to an extent by the USMC – the rest will be paid for by the company, unless the British government decide from the USMC’s most likely extensive testing that they prefer one of the others and decide to make that company an offer…
Patria AMV[12]
Lockheed Martin & Patria
Year base model first tested: 2001
Range: 530miles
Speed: >60mph on road, 5.3knots in water
Weapons Fit: ranges from 30mm to 105mm direct fire weapons or even 2 120mm mortars
Personnel Carried: Crew 2-3, Dismounts 8-12
USP: the basic Patria is a very proven design; with range of different versions already existing. More importantly the company is establishing a very good record of delivering orders on time and on budget.
SAIC, ST Engineering & Timoney Technology Limited
USA/ Singapore / Ireland
Year base model first tested: 2004
Range: 500miles on land
Speed: >60mph, 5.4knots
Weapons Fit: 40mm grenade launcher & 7.62mm co-axial.
Personnel Carried: Crew 2-3, Dismounts 8-12
USP: excellent suspension system which when coupled with other systems provides excellent manoeuvrability across soft ground.
General Dynamics
Currently what will be offered has not been officially declared[13]
The Options available, (clockwise) the SUPERAV, the Patria, and bottom the CV90...an example of the variants it offers.


So what is the best fit option for Britain? Well the ideal world is not going to magically appear, and in the real world the options are limited… so to make a decision between those options, a set of criteria are needed to assess the options alongside the non-military factors which will impact it. Below are those selected for the Sea Otter (it seemed an appropriate name…for the Otter which could serve the army subtract those statements listed in blue)[14]:
1)      It needs to be able to operate in Sea State 3 or better…
2)      It needs good cross-country capability… but this should not mean tracks only; it might mean having snow tires – things which are relatively easy to adapt whilst at sea must be acceptable.
3)      It needs to come in IFV, Command, Fire Support, Air Defence and Recovery versions…this means a range of turrets need to be able to be fitted – rather like BAE has done with CV90[15].
a.       It would be good if the IFV had gun + anti-tank/anti-emplacement missile capability to provide its ‘sections’ with fire support.
4)      In IFV form it needs to be able to carry between 8 & 16 troops
5)      It needs a cross country speed of ~30mph, a road speed of around ~40mph and a water speed of 6-10knots (although of course more is always better)
6)      It must have armour capable of protecting the troops inside from IEDs/mines, heavy-machine gun fire and RPG level anti-tank weapons.
7)      It must have a range of >400miles…and be able to swim 25+nautical miles
8)      It must be relatively simple to operate and maintain…
9)      It needs to be cost effective.
In effect the description above is for an amphibious infantry fighting vehicle rather than an amphibious armoured personnel carrier. With that in mind, the MCP program is the better fit for the requirements of Britain out of the options available; however it is not that simple, the wheeled vs tracked debate is every bit as loud and present today in defence circles as it was in World War II. Then for amphibious vehicles it was a competition between the DUKWs and the LVTs; today despite the advances in suspension technology, the central tyre pressure inflation system, run-flat tyres and all the other improvements, tracks are still better cross-country than wheels. But tracks are also more expensive, more difficult to maintain, and if they get damaged immobilise the vehicle…whereas with tyres, on and 8x8 such as the vehicles put forward for the MPC loss of one or even two wheels on either side can be coped with – it will still move; and for amphibious vehicles tyres represent extra buoyancy. The Vikings are tracked; they are excellent at providing mobility for the Royal Marines in the terrain they were bought for… they are excellent for logistics support, and with the upgrade are going to be able to provide mortar support to units. To replace them properly in a perfect world, the RMs would be able to buy a version of the MPC with tracks. A more realistic option would be to just buy enough MPC units to provide the desired capability, and run them alongside the upgraded Vikings so that the Royal Marines would maintain the all-terrain support that those provide whilst gaining the amphibious assault, the fire power and the increased armoured manoeuvrability that the MPC would provide them with. This though is not where considerations will end.
It is not just tactical capabilities and strategic military requirements which will impact upon acquisition… there are other, less uniformed, factors. Which equipment will serve best to strengthen Britain’s strategic relationships, not just with other countries but with the defence companies, the recent collapse of the merger with EADS (something which could have turned into a strategic & security nightmare for the British government, in fact for all the governments involved); a show of confidence by ordering vehicles from BAE could help move that company past the event…alternatively the government might wish to establish a second ‘string’ in case of a future business occurrence, so buying the Lockheed Martin or General Dynamics options might make sense to try to build up diversity in procurement options. These are just two of the more prominent considerations that have to go into the decision making process.
In conclusion the future of British Ship to Shore manoeuvre should include a vehicle like what the USMC are proposing for the MPC to have… but whether it will be the MPC will depend upon the British government of the day – although from the consideration of the likely ally the RMs will be fighting alongside it would seem sensible. The fact is though that whatever is decided upon, an amphibious armoured vehicle is needed, the RMs cannot go on for much longer without some sort of enhanced capability over what they currently operate with. The procurement of such a vehicle could be very much a win/win for all involved, the government enhancing strategic capability in a cost effective manner in a way which improves British industry and the RMs gaining a vehicle and capability which will allow them to continue to be able to go wherever the British government needs just as they have done since their official formation in 1755.
This might have seemed a strange thing to do a post on, for some reading it will look like a piece of super-power envy, of wanting want Britain doesn’t have  - they couldn’t be further from the truth. A couple of years ago, I wrote a piece for the PTT which was supposed to start a series on conventional deterrence…instead it morphed into a starting point for an on-going study and interest which will hopefully lead to a more in depth work at some point in the future. However, one of the planned parts in the series was on equipping for deterrence, and that is where this post comes from; the equipment suggested in this is an exceedingly useful capability for a medium power that has extensive world-wide commitments, and which due to its desire to economise in face of current economic circumstances seek to do more with less.  This capability will allow for a maximisation of the three things which matter in deterrence and modern democracies; force potentiality, force presence and force protection.
I have also got in contact with some contacts in the RMs to find out their opinion, and when I there comments back I will write a follow on to this.

[6] Andrew Feickert, Marine Corps Amphibious Combat Vehicle (ACV) and Marine Personnel Carrier (MPC): Background and Issues for Congress, Congressional Research Service (R42723), September 11, 2012. p2-3
[7] Andrew Feickert, Marine Corps Amphibious Combat Vehicle (ACV) and Marine Personnel Carrier (MPC): Background and Issues for Congress, Congressional Research Service (R42723), September 11, 2012. p3
[8] AAV/MPC/ACV Industry Day, April 6, 2011
[9] There are a range of dates floating around for this, some say 1972…which was the year it entered service, so is unlikely, some say it was a lot earlier,
[10] Unique Selling Point from the prospective of the British Government
[13] However an educated guess, postulated by Solomon (http://snafu-solomon.blogspot.co.uk/2012/08/general-dynamics-i-figured-out-your.html) is that it will be the LAV II… this would seem to make sense and could be a sound choice as it would presumably be a fairly easy transition – however, should the ACV program be cancelled, then it becomes more likely that the bigger vehicles being offered will have the advantage because they will have more scope to be upgraded to cover that roles capabilities. Frankly though it seems unlikely the ACV will be cut, as for the USMC the vehicle type it represents is something of a talisman of their amphibious capability…and better than that, it’s a talisman which is actually useful.
[15] See footnote 11 for more details


  1. It is find space to carry them that is the problem. A USMC MEU has 12 or so LAV. If we just replicated that with SuperAV to provide cavalry and protected manoeuvre we would have to lose something else. And if that something else is being carried, especially in the LPD, you can bet that we need that something else! Shove them back onto the Bay I suppose. We need a larger (faster) LPD to follow CVF around. I think the RN would rather have more Junglies, especially seeing as the Merlin to FAA move looks like turning into a fluster cuck the likes of which hasn't been seen that CH47 buy.

    1. Agreed, the loss of the 4th Bay has made it more difficult to implement, and the decision to take the Hangar, extended medical facilities and all the other things lost with the extra deck from Albion & Bulwark has really but a vice on their capabilities. An LHD (or two), which could in a pinch act as 3rd carrier (i.e. if one was in a deep maintenance cycle, and the other had an accident/enemy action, they could be used to give a measure of Fleet Air Defence and Strike), but would primarily be responsible for amphibious aviation and raiding would do - then the LPDs(plus other LHD (if two had been got) or Queen, whichever was available) could take their time to reach the operations area with the rest of the amphibious task group. It could carry an enhanced commando plus the Super AVs...and support more Junglies...and Appaches, as well as allowing greater force dependability (with 6 ships provide 4 aviation decks and 4 docks between them, meaning in theory/probability RN Global Reach would always have access to at least 2 of each).


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