Saturday, June 30, 2012

The Multi Role Vehicle (Protected)

The Specialist and Logistic Project Team (SLV PT) is the MOD authority following the Multi Role Vehicle (Protected) requirement, which is, in itself, the name with which the cancelled Operational Utility Vehicle System (OUVS) has been resurrected. 
OUVS was a long-running programme (it was launched in 2003) which looked at many different vehicles for finding a replacement for vehicles such as Land Rover and Pinzgauers, RB44s and others. In 2008 the UK and the US formed a joint work group for the UK to enter the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle program of the US Army and USMC, but barely a few months later it was decided that the JLTV was not the right direction to go for the British Army, albeit exchange of informations continues. 

Among the vehicles considered under OUVS we find the General Dynamics's Eagle IV and DURO IIIP, general purpose variants of the Iveco "Lince" LMV that forms the base of the Panther CLV, the G wagon from Mercedes, the Sherpa from France's Renault and the Thales Australia Copperhead, which is the Single Cab Bushmaster Utility variant. The name Copperhead has since fallen out of use. 
In 2009 the Navistar MXT, which the UK acquired the same year as UOR for Afghanistan naming it Husky, was also shortlisted for OUVS.   

By then, OUVS envisaged two families of vehicles, OUVS Small and OUVS Large: the first had to deliver vehicles with a payload of 1 to 2 tons (then incresed to 2 to 3 tons), and the OUVS Large had to deal with loads from 3 to 5 or six tons. The MXT was selected for evaluation in both classes. 

Bushmaster Single Cab utility vehicle

In any case, in 2011 the NAO Major Projects Report let us know that the MOD had effectively cancelled OUVS. 

The requirement for Operational Utility Vehicle System was reviewed in 2007 by the Army, as lead user, when the need for vehicles with enhanced protection, capacity and mobility was identified. The Single  Statement of User Need stated that ‘Operational Utility Vehicle System would provide a robust, easily  supported system, comprising operational utility vehicles that are able to carry light cargo (up to six tonnes) or small groups of personnel, integrate as many special-to-role systems as possible and which can operate in diverse climatic and topographical conditions worldwide, in order to support and contribute to land (including land air) and littoral manoeuvre operations’. This capability would be a key supporting enabler for offensive combat operations providing the following roles; unit level logistic cargo vehicle, systems carrier, mobile command, liaison and personnel transport.

Mainly aimed at replacing Pinzgauers and Land Rovers in their many variants, OUVS had actually been suspended well before PR11, mainly because (despite trialing well-protected vehicles such as Bushmaster and Eagle IV) in its original form OUVs mandated pretty much no protection for the new vehicles.
OUVS indeed called for 8500 new vehicles pretty much as like-for-like replacements for Land Rover and Pinzgauers: soft skinned, cheap (97.000 pounds each desired price) vehicles with no mine/IED protection.
Already during 2010 it was realized that such an approach was unacceptable and clashed with the reality of modern operations, and protection requirements were added, even if this of course meant the cost increased fivefold and the number of vehicles to be procured dropped significantly. A 2-years deferral was also imposed.

Prior to PR11, OUVS was expected to be resurrected in 2012, for an entry in service not later than 2018. However, Planning Round 2011 actually removed OUVS from the programme altogether, "re-scoping" the requirement, with the outcome of the work done on OUVS up to that point forming the basis for the Multi Role Vehicle- Protected Programme. 
The NAO report said that it was planned for Multi Role Vehicle - Protected to commence Concept stage during Financial Year 2015/2016.
Luckily, the Pre-Concept trials and activities have actually already begun, and we can hope for an earlier, faster progress of this important program, which will have its own Initial Gate and Main Gate approvals in the coming years.

The SLV Team has been already conducting trials on several vehicles at Millbrook, with a study and comparison of candidate platforms planned for "the week after DVD 2012" which took plane on 20 and 21 June. If there have not been changes to the schedule, the comparative trials should have already happened, but unfortunately at the moment i've been unable to get a confirmation: there's not much publicity around this program yet, which is both a good and a bad thing. The trial was/is meant to determine the range of candidate vehicles, in the 5 to 15 tons range, that offered the desired protection and mobility levels and sufficient modularity to be suitable for the realization of the multiple variants the Army needs. Another important requirement is that the vehicle should have an Unit Price Cost of 250.000 pounds.
This activity is an early phase, a "pre-concept" study. Indeed, Multi Role Vehicle Protected does not expects to reach Main Gate before 2016, so we are at a starting point.

According to the MOD, the MRV(P) is not going to be employed for Rapid Reaction Forces, namely the Airborne Task Force and Commando amphibious brigade, which will need a vehicle which is lighter and more agile. However MRV(P) would support the rest of the formations, which means the thick of the Army. The vision is for one vehicle to fulfil all roles, using plug-and-play communications and flexible seating layouts, so to give birth to all variants needed, which include:

- Command and communications post vehicle,
- Command and liaison vehicle,
- General purpose vehicle – cargo,
- General purpose vehicle – pax,
- Light gun towing vehicle.

Other variants, such as the Future Protected Multi-Role Battlefied Ambulance, would be based on the same mechanics if possible.  
The presence of a Command and Liaison variant is significant: the Panther CLV covers (in theory) this role, so the Army might be intentioned to retire it early if MRV(P) progresses successfully.

Although there are not yet Key User Requirements (KURs) listed for the MRV(P), as the final list of requirements has still to be agreed and published, the MOD's list of current indicative wishes is the following:

- Base Vehicle, Passenger Carriage Variant: crew of 3 (Driver, Commander, Gunner) and 6 passengers
- Base Vehicle, Cargo Variant: crew of 3 and payload greater than 2500 kg, with good towing capacity and 20% growth margin
- Unladen mass inferior to 14.000 kg, less than 10.000 if C130 air-portability will be required (unlikely)
- Turning circle inferior to 17 meters
- Width < 2.5m Medium Mobility
- Power to weight ratio > 20 hp/t at the wheels Medium Mobility
-  Ground pressure < 450Kpa Medium mobility
-  Ground clearance > 240mm Medium Mobility
- Ballistic threshold protection (Stanag 4569) ? level 2 Objective level 3
- Blast threshold protection (Stanag 4569) ? level 2a/2b Objective level 3a/3b
- Growth Potential. The platform design must incorporate adaptable vehicle architecture to allow the following capabilities to be integrated into the platform:

— Open architecture communication information system,
— Generic vehicle architecture level 2,
— Fitted for electronic counter measures,
— Fitted for bowman,
— Fitting of protect weapon system.  

They are not trivial requirements, especially considering the desired unit price. What might be the competitors? 

The Navistar MXT might have some cards to play, depending on how the Army is satisfied by its performances. The fact that 327 are in service as of June 2012 (out of orders placed for at least 351: battle losses?) is a relevant factor, and the Army might well decide that sticking with something that's already around is budgetarily the most acceptable solution. The Army already has an Ambulance Husky, a Command Post and an Utility variant, and now Navistar has added a Light Recovery Vehicle variant which the British Army might soon order, for supporting not just Husky, but Jackal and Foxhound and other vehicles in that weight range as well. 
Navistar offers an "APC" variant with rear-doors and seating for 10 men as well.  

When it was acquired, Husky was indeed hailed as a product of OUVS, even though it was procured effectively as UOR. 
It does not exactly meet the requirements outlined above, but it is far from automatically out of the game. Being already part of the Army might prove a big, big advantage.

For sure, Supacat has sent in Millbrook their SPV400 vehicle for trials and evaluation. They already proposed the vehicle for the Light Patrol Protected Vehicle requirement The SPV400 is a 4x4 vehicle carrying a crew of 2 plus 4 dismounts, on an architecure very similar to that of Foxhound, but Supacat has already been working on a 6x6, three axle variant, which could provide a suitable mechanical base for all what MRV(P) asks.

Penmann's suitably named Multi Role Vehicle Protected family of vehicles, in 2 and 3 axle configurations, are also likely to be aiming very seriously to selection for the MOD's requirement.
Foxhound would appear to be out of the competition, if not for other reasons then because of price: with the LPPV costing 270 million pounds per 300 vehicles, even if the amount includes an unspecified amount of spares, it is hard to imagine how variants developed from it could ever fit in the 250.000 pounds unitary cost.

Another defeated Foxhound rival might return for a second try at a MOD Contract, in the form of the Zephyr vehicle, from Creation UK. They have already produced and demonstrated a 12 tons 6x6 vehicle which is more than suited for being kitted out for all needed roles, offering a overhead weapon position and a 4 tons payload. Seating for 12 men can be provided. Protection levels are, in theory, compliant to at least the threshold requirement, and improvements are not to be excluded.

The Zephyr 6x6 is already a solid reality.
From outside the UK, a potential bidder is Thales Australia, with the Bushmaster vehicle, which indeed was a very serious contender for the Operational Utility Vehicle System (OUVS) requirement that was the earlier incarnation of MRV(P). Bushmaster is a proven vehicle, developed in many variants, used actively on the battlefield by now by several years, and it is not unknown to the UK armed forces, as 24 Bushmaster Infantry Mobility Vehicles were acquired under a UOR requirement for use by the SAS in Iraq.  

Over 800 Bushmaster vehicles have been acquired by Australia alone, in several variants: troop transport, Mortar mobility (the mortar is not fired from inside the vehicle, it has to dismount, but up to 5 men and 50 bombs and the mortar are easily carried), Direct Fire (transports a fire support section with HMG, Carl Gustav recoilless rifle, Javelin AT missiles and/or other weaponry), ambulance, engineer vehicle and Command Post. Some 100 more have been acquired by the Dutch.
An IED variant with rummaging/interrogating mechanical arm has also been prepared, along with 2 logistical variants. A variant specifically kitted for transport of a 4-man Air Defence section with RBS70 missile firing point is also available. An ISTAR variant with mast-mounted sensors was also showcased.

The Bushmaster was very much appreciated by the MOD during OUVS trials: so much so that, effectively, one of the two logistical variants was developed specifically for the UK, by Thales in collaboration with the MOD. This is the Utility Dual Cab variant, which comes with a large cabin with four side-opening passenger doors and seating for 2 crew and up to 6 passengers, while still having at the back a 5 square meters payload bed for 3 tons capacity. This variant would be pretty much perfect as L118 Light Gun Towing vehicle, as it would be able to sit the whole gun crew under armor, tow the gun and carry at least one ammunition pallet. 

Bushmaster Dual Cab
The other logistic variant is the Single Cab, which seats a crew of 2 and has a 9.4 square meters flatbed for a payload of over 5 tons which can be fitted with container hoist to take a "two-thirds" ISO container. It can be fitted with a tipper loadbed, or with a crane for self-loading. Thales offers many options.
Changes for accommodating a baseline crew of 3 should be possible.    

The Bushmaster is good at towing, too, so much so that the Australians have procured at least 184 8-tons trailers compatible with the Troop Carrying variant. It can pull and recovery vehicles up to 15.000 kg in weight. 

The command post seats 6 men including driver and optional seat for 7th man. It has additional radio racks, mapboards, space for cryptographic units, a generator and provision for exploitation of external energy source for long-term operations. 

Photos of the various Bushmaster variants, including shots of the insides, are available here.

A well loaded Bushmaster troop carrier with trailer, RWS on the front and GPMG pintle mount at the rear hatch.

The Ambulance variant, in addition to driver, commander and medical attendant positions, accommodate one permanent stretcher position with loading mechanism and four walking wounded patients, seated, each with their own drip, oxygen and regulator.
Alternatively the four walking wounded positions can be field converted in minutes to another stretcher position. Both stretchers are protected and isolated so well that a patient even severely wounded will survive even a mine blast.

The engineering/Pioneer vehicle is essentially a mobile workshop with workbenches, trays, a pulldown awning, and a generator to support the operation of power tools. It carries 5 men, with a 6th seat as optional. One man is the driver. 

The vehicle is a large 4x4 with V hull and good protection levels, with an overall length of 7.18 metres, width of 2.48 metres (within the requirement, albeit barely) and height of 2.65 metres. Track is 2.1 metres and wheelbase is 3.9 metres. A C-130J can airlift a single Bushmaster, while up to eight Bushmasters can be carried by a single C-17. Ground clearance is 430 mm under hull, and the vehicle can ford water depths of 1.2 meters without preparation; the vehicles handles a gradient of up to 60 per cent, an approach angle of 40 degrees and a departure angle of 38 degrees, more than meeting "medium mobility" requirements. The 300 liters fuel tank gives a 800 km autonomy on road. 

To improve blast protection, a 270-litre water tank is mounted internally, beneath the floor for added protection and to lower the vehicle’s centre of gravity. Armour-protected energy absorbent seats provide additional protection against spinal injuries, and multi-point seat belt harnesses are provided
to specific customer requirements. 

The Troop Carrier comes with a large hatch on top, in the front, which can take a Protected or Remote Weapon Station, while in the back two large rectangular hatches are provided for top cover and situational awareness, with pintle mounts available to install further manned machine guns for self defence and fire support. Unladen, the Bushmaster weights between 11.000 and 12.500 kg depending on the variant, again fitting within the indicative requirement.
Turning circle is 17.7 meters, so it goes over the requirement, but perhaps something can be done about it, or the requirement can be relaxed. 

A Bushmaster on operations shows the CROWS RWS on the front hatch and a GPMG pintle mounted on the side, at one of the two rear hatches. Another mount can be installed on the other side.
The Bushmaster ISTAR with mast-mounted sensors.

The Bushmaster is a very interesting vehicle family, with a solution (already developed) for pretty much all needs of a full spectrum military force. Hopefully it will be given proper consideration again as part of MRV(P), as it seems to be a very attractive solution. The cost of the Bushmaster is relatively low for a vehicle of its class at between 500 and 650.000 australian dollars depending on the variant (ambulance seems to be the most expensive), but not quite cheap enough to meet the 250.000 pounds wish of the MOD without some very real difficulty. Still, there's good chances that a Bushmaster offering would be quite advantageous in terms of cost nonetheless, because i have a lot of doubts on the possibility of anyone managing to meet the requirements for just 250.000 pounds apiece, sincerely. 

For sure, the Multi Role Vehicle (Protected) is a very important programme for the army's future, and one to keep surveyed as things progress.   

Friday, June 29, 2012

I bet you heard of it, but do you know what Falcon is?

The NAO introduces the Falcon’s history as:

Increment A of the Falcon programme gained Initial Gate approval in July 2002, following an extended Concept Phase that considered two key options: buy off the shelf technology (Bowman and Cormorant) or buy new capability. It was concluded that a new capability was required.
Marconi Selenia (now Selex) and BAE Systems Insyte were selected for the 15 month Assessment Phase contract and to compete for the Demonstration and Manufacture Phase prime contract for Increment A. The Assessment Phase contracts concentrated on reducing the risk in the proposals for the Demonstration and Manufacture phase, including demonstration of components and subsystems to achieve an acceptable, affordable, low risk solution. In addition, Whole Life Cost estimates were refined. Bidders’ proposals for the Demonstration and Manufacture phase were submitted on 31 March 2004.

The procurement strategy endorsed at Initial Gate comprised four increments: Increment A provided for High Readiness Force (Land) and the Allied Rapid Reaction Corps; Increment B for UK divisions and brigades under armour; Increment C for Royal Air Force deployed operational bases; and Increment D for littoral warfare and deep support, including higher mobility. Increment D was then an unfunded aspiration.

During the later stages of the Assessment Phase in 2004/2005, a savings option removed funding from the first two years of the Demonstration and Manufacture phase, resulting in a review of the incremental procurement strategy. Two options were considered. The first was for a single programme that effectively would have combined all three funded increments. This would have necessitated the project returning to pre-Initial Gate status and delayed the ISD by up to four years.
This option was adopted as the planning assumption and reflected in MPR 2005. The second option was for the delivery of “early capability” that would provide for one medium scale deployment by 2010.
It would utilise the savings option funding profile and exploit the existing contractor bids for Increment A. This option was explored and found to be viable.

In July 2005, approval was given to the further in-depth exploration of the second option and the selection of BAE Systems Insyte as the preferred bidder for Falcon Increment A. A programme was developed in conjunction with the preferred bidder that was affordable within the available funding.
Falcon Increment C achieved Main Gate approval in July 2007 and was added as a Falcon Increment A contract amendment in September 2007.

Following Main Gate approval for Increment A in March 2006, the Demonstration and Manufacture contract was awarded to BAE Systems Insyte. The majority of the system has been developed to a high degree of maturity and the system validation and verification process started, but there have been delays to the voice telephony sub-system and the cryptographic sub-system, which have had a consequential delay to the whole contract. The Equipment Acceptance Trial, a key milestone in the system’s development, was completed successfully and reported as a pass with caveats in November 2009

Under the Director Information Systems and Services, Falcon is being considered as a potential candidate to satisfy an element of the technical architecture of current operations. This initiative has resulted in a joint MOD/BAE Systems Insyte study as to the feasibility of Falcon to satisfy this requirement.

Falcon Increment A and Increment C will deliver secure one-to-one voice and wideband data networks to deployed forces, including Headquarters Allied Rapid Reaction Corps, Divisional and Brigade Headquarters and unit level command posts and Deployed Operating Bases. Without this capability Land and Air Forces will be unable to execute effective command and control. In addition, Falcon Increment A and Increment C will also provide wideband data coverage for vital intelligence gathering platforms such as Airborne Stand Off Radar, Land Environment Air Picture Provision and Watchkeeper. Without the wideband data network delivered under Falcon this intelligence information will not be delivered to the key decision makers in a  timely fashion. Falcon Increment C will also support the increased data requirements of new aircraft such as Typhoon and will allow them to operate from Deployed Operating Bases.

Let's take a closer look at what Falcon is and at what it does. 

The UK’s Falcon programme is designed to replace the legacy Ptarmigan system now in service. BAE Systems is the prime contractor for the new system. Like many programmes it is designed to be fielded in four increments. Increment A was due to be fielded by 2010 with NATO’s Allied Rapid Reaction Corps with Increment C due to follow it in 2011 which will provide the Royal Air Force with updated HCLOS links at deployed bases. Times ended up being longer than planned, as often happened.
These two increments provide light, containerized and soft-skinned equipment which is easily air transportable and is mounted on MAN HX60 4x4 trucks for mobility, with 107 trucks having been acquired for FALCON role. In its early days, in 2005, there was talk of putting Falcon on Supacat platforms, but the plan was abandoned and it is indeed hard to see how a 6 tons Falcon module could have been squezeed on the little Supacat platform. 
The majority of Falcon systems go, of course, to the Royal Signals, but the Royal Air Force 90 Tactical Communications Wing in RAF Leeming gets its share under Increment C.

Two further Increments are planned. Increment B will extend Falcon to manoeuvre forces and it is expected that this will mean developing a Falcon suite to be mounted on a more mobile, more survivable armored vehicle, possibly FRES SV or UV. Increment D will use technologies that support remote users and maritime users. B and D increments have been folded under the voice “Future FALCON” in 2010 and are not yet ongoing, while increment A and C are entering service.
Increment A will enable the ARRC to deploy and sustain an high-intensity war effort, while Increment C is sized to support two medium-size RAF deployments at once, one of which enduring in nature.
It is now planned that Falcon will also replace Cormorant, a system which reportedly did not deliver what it promised, and which seems destined not to live a long and glorious career.

In 1970, when Ptarmigan entered service, voice telephonic communications were the norm, and made up 90% of the load on the network, but now things have changed, with the voice requirement overall stable, but with the requirement for the transmission of Data having increased immensely, and continuing to grow, so that now it is not exaggerating to say that 10% of the traffic is voice, and 90% is data, ISTAR imagery and other.

All these “Data” applications are Internet Protocol IP-based, so the Army decided that it made sense to roll out an IP trunk system which would use IP also for the transmission of voice, in Voice-Over-the-Internet protocol (VoIP). Not a trivial challenge, since just ten years ago the transmission of voice over the internet with IP was still just an idea and little more. 

Falcon is an all-IP complex system with Local Area System (LAS) and Wide Area System (WAS) with a communication subsystem. A variety of installations make up the Falcon system, which is completed by a Management element and, of course, the related maintenance and support component.
Exploiting the IP principle, Falcon breaks down traffic, be it voice or data, in packets which then find each their way through the Network up to their intended destination. The system actively reacts to the loss of nodes, with the packets finding an alternative route: this makes the communication system survivable, as the loss of a node (to Electronic Warfare, physical destruction or simply due to a Falcon station packing up and moving to follow forces on the move) does not impede the continuation of transmission.

Voice, Data and Video communication is secure and encrypted to four different levels, from UNCLASSIFIED to SECRET. Falcon connects with Bowman and Cormorant, and for satellite communications it relays on the Reacher ground stations of the Skynet 5 satellite constellation of the MOD.

At its lower level, Local Area System, Falcon works with Ethernet Switching Technology. The LAS provides the interface to the staff user’s terminal equipment. Save for telephones and fax, these are not directly provided by Falcon itself, but are normally part of the Defence Information Infrastructure (DII) and relay on Falcon for access to the Wide Area System network.
The LAS works in Command Post Support role, enabling an HQ to connect into the network its telephones, faxes and terminals. The CSP post can have its own Management Terminal or be managed over the network from a Remote Management Installation.

There are various CSP levels and related installations: CSP 1 is a small palletized installation supporting a single security domain using a WAN bearer of opportunity, so it is only used for small HQs. CSP 2 and 3 are for larger staff quarters and provide more LAS equipment and radios.  

The heart of Falcon is the WASP (Wide Area Service Provision), which uses IP technology to transmit packets of data over the net towards other WASP nodes, towards the CSPs or towards other networks: Falcon comes with its radios, but as said earlier it can put data on the Reacher/SKYNET 5 satellite network, or communicate with other NATO networks, or even make use of civilian radios and satellite services when these are provided.  

Falcon comes with its own Trunk Line of Sight (LOS) radio bearers for Wide Area Network connectivity between nodes: two kinds of radios are provided; the Ultras AN/GRC-245 typically operating at 8 Mbps and the Thales TRC-4000 at 34 Mbps, with COTS technology supplied by Cisco, additional telephony IP infrastructure by Selex and gateway servers from L-3.
Depending on the node installation type, up to six radio links can be anchored by one node: CSP 2 and 3 will have a few, while a WASP node can have up to 6. So the Falcon can offer 34 Mbps transmission over 10 to 40 km range, 8 Mbps on the 20 to 50 Km range and can achieve between 64 Kbps and 34 Mbps on an external bearer of opportunity.
All WASP mission modules are actually the same, but differ for the Complete Equipment Schedule: not all of them will be fitted to maximum capacity, so there is flexibility to re-role nodes as needed.

CSP and WASP modules all contain a Wide Area Router Assembly (WARA), with appropriate provision of link hardeners, encrypters and radios, meaning that installations, regardless of type, are switching nodes capable to transfer and re-direct IP packets, conferring to the system its inherent survivability.
The WASP has a secondary role as a Command Post Support unit, and can provide communications to co-located staff if necessary.

Each Wasp mission module comes in a container with all equipment, generators, and full environmental conditioning unit allowing operations in hot and cold climates. The 3-man crew is provided with supplies for 72 hours of operation.
The mission module comes with up to 6 mast-antennas from 12 to 18 meters tall, with one being a quick-into-action mast mounted vertically on the first bulkhead, allowing the module to start being operational in 20 minutes once the truck stops. The HX60 truck provides seating for the whole crew, so there is no support vehicle. A Bowman HF radio is provided for tactical control and situational awareness during deployment. The Mission Module containers can all be demounted from the trucks for air transport, and the WASP can be airlifted in theatre by a Chinook: however, its weight approached the 6 tons, so it presents challenges, and it is not expected to be that common to see a Falcon module underslung from a CH47. 

A WASP module deployed and ready.
Falcon modules have a local management assembly, so that the crew can manage independently their own detachment, while overall control comes from container-mounted (or palletized) Falcon Management Installations (FMI). A number of FMIs, cleared to different levels of control, will be able to re-direct traffic between WASPs, perform remote monitoring and fault detection, and even override actions taken at the lower levels.

A number of Communication Support Vehicles are provided: these are, again, HX60 trucks mounting special containers with test equipment and remote monitoring and diagnosing. The support teams working from these modules will be able to monitor the network nodes and detect most faults remotely, sending the Forward Repair Teams ahead already informed on the intervention needed and already provided with the spares potentially necessary.
Defective equipment will be returned to BAE system and repaired/replaced under the terms of the long term support contract. Exchange Points (XP) Army/BAE are to be set up at Blandford, Stafford, RAF Leeming and Elmpt, in Germany.  

Falcon comes with its own telephones and fax systems. Users can pick up any Falcon telephone and put in their ID and pass code, so that each user will know to who is talking, and the system will warn users in conversation of the lowest level of security clearance mandated for that call. Warning tones are provided to make sure that no breaches can happen. The Management Installation can in any moment override an action done on a Falcon network telephone. 

Falcon also has a Legacy Terminal Adapter to dialogue with older systems which do not work in the suitable IP frame.   

Falcon rushed to Afghanistan

With the Army in difficulty with establishing proper communications in Afghanistan, putting up, largely with UOR material old and new, two separate networks in order to sustain a “RED” domain for UK SECRET information and a “Black” domain for RESTRICTED communications, an anticipated deployment of Falcon, with its ability to provide 4 domains at once, was immediately deemed absolutely attractive. Investigations in the possibility of using Falcon on Herrick was started in 2008, and by early 2009 it was clear that getting it in theatre would represent a huge leap forward.
In March 2010, a 55 million UOR for a Falcon Theatre Entry Standard introducing a number of modifications and improvements was rolled out, so that the Falcon delivery programme was modified to include delivery of an operational and a training fleet for the support of Afghanistan operations.

The medications include an expansion of the Falcon’s capability to use “bearer of opportunity”, enabling it to provide more Encrypted IP Wide Area Network output, and at increased speed of up to 100 Mb per second. This is for making the best possible use of the extensive UOR-procured civilian satellite bandwidth and commercial high-speed IP radios that are available in Afghanistan.

A modification in Ethernet fibre interfaces makes it possible to have single-mode connections over distances much greater than the 2 km of the standard Falcon multimode fibre connection.

Commercial standard Ethernet switchers have been fielded, as it is kind of a waste to use valuable ruggerized equipment in bases where, instead of hastily set up tents, people can work into Tier 2 or 3 permanent accommodation.
Gigabit Ethernet switches have also been procured for use, and the Falcon management infrastructure has been adapted to be able to control the new features.
Falcon is used in fixed bases and installations, with Bowman and portable satellite terminals staying with the troops on the move, out on patrol.   

The validity of Falcon

Falcon represents a dramatic improvement for the British Army, a true generational leap. However, it risks being obsolete already now, when it is not entirely in service yet.  

An Australian Army study provides a comparative table showing the British notional plan for the provision of communications services to a Brigade HQ with Falcon and Reacher.
Unfortunately, the availability of traffic for battalions and brigades is low: the communications trunk is currently inadequate to support a constantly growing need for file transfers, and it is, moreover, severely limited in its ability to support forces on the move.

Future Falcon is indispensable for the true modernization of the Army. Provvision of high volumes of traffic to a brigade HQ on the move, and provision of data communications down to lower echelons, at the very least down to battalion level, is absolutely crucial for the future effectiveness of the Army. Currently, Falcon provides good support for a Brigade HQ, but British Army communications on the move and down to battalion and company level are absolutely inadequate.

Falcon Increment B, and the adoption of a new, software-definined personal role radio for the soldiers on the ground are both indispensable, and must be accorded the highest possible priority in the Army modernization plans, a situation acknowledged by the Army itself in documents such as the Agile Warrior 2011 exercise report and the Future Land Operating Concept, which underline the need for better communications and C2 on the move.

It is not a case that one of the very few elements of the US Future Combat Systems to have survived the 2009 cancellation is the Network and communications trunk. The US are expending a huge amount of money on Army communications and Command and Control, and this includes On-the-Move capability.
For this, they are heavily investing in Software Defined Radios, systems that can, thanks to their software, select automatically the channel on which they should work to transmit their message, between VHF, UHF, HF, Satellite or one of the new VoIP channels that the US Army is adopting, using frequencies above the 2 GHz. This way, the radio can switch from a channel to another if it loses contact during transmission: for example, a vehicle crew speaking in Line of Sight will be able to continue speaking as the radio, once lost the LOS contact, automatically switches to another mean of contact, for example the satellite.

The US Army is adopting a series of Software Defined Radios (SDR) that will enable On-the-Move communication from at least Company level upwards. The soldier’s personal SDR radio will be able to connect to more powerful vehicle-mounted node radio systems, which enable the message to move forwards and up the echelons as needed.
Part of this system is, of course, the effort to make available to the army a huge bandwidth, using satellites, but also Beyond Line of Sight Radios (BLOS) and TROPO (Tropospheric Scatter Radio), which can transmit some 19 Mb per second over a 100 miles distance and have been obtained with modem upgrades on already existing radios (AN/TRC-170).
Another node is constituted by the installation of an Highband Networking Waveform payload on the Gray Eagle UAV of the Army, providing a line-of-sight communications relay system flying above the battlefield and allowing radios to easily overcome hills and obstacles.

The British Army cannot, clearly, match the level of ambition and expenditure of the US, but arguably it does not need to, either, as it is much smaller, and its needs different. However, the Army needs significant bandwidth, reliable and secure communications, capable to work also on the move, and a data transfer capability that allows the troops to make best use of info such as Watchkeeper imagery and other data.
Interesting thinking has gone into this field at times: the small, ultra-light, world-beating Qinetiq Zephyr solar-powered drone, which holds the world record for in-flight endurance, was for example test-flown with a MOD Communications Relay pod, and this high-flying, long-endurance drone represents a cost effective alternative to more satellites.
The launch of an additional SKYNET satellite, the participation in theUS AHEF satellite effort, the low-cost acquisition of an ex-NATO communications satellite (taken over for free in 2011 when NATO considered dumping it on a dead orbit, this UHF satellite has added two more channels to those available to troops in Helmand already), are also very good moves, but more will have to be done in the future.  

Future Falcon is a name I hope to hear a lot more frequently in the near future: the modernization of the Army’s communications is a fundamental, if unglamorous, component of Army 2020. Information is, today more than ever, the key to battlefield superiority. The communications network is what enables the army to build, maintain and share an updated picture of the situation on the ground.

Additional info, with even more detailed overwiew of the Network workings, available here:

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Some assorted news

COBRA retired. Even with a declared focus on ISTAR and battlefield surveillance, the MOD has decided that the COBRA has to go, and without a replacement, at least in the short term. The Artillery Locating radar will be gone by December this year, leaving in service the sole MAMBA, a short range system actively used in Afghanistan. and composed by the ARTHUR B radar, mounted on BV206 vehicle base. 4 such systems are available.
The replacement for both systems is the Common Weapon Locating Radar program, which has identified its solution in the acquisition of 12 ARTHUR C radar systems plus training solution. Excellent choice, but with a problem: delays. The In-Service date will now be 2014 at the earliest.

ARTHUR Mod C has a larger antenna (60 cm taller than MAMBA’s), it can detect a mortar bomb at 55 km, shell at 31 km and MLRS-like rockets at 50 - 60 km depending on their size. It can locate targets at a rate of 100 per minute, with a storage capacity of 10.000 targets, with a CEP 0.2% of range for howitzers and rockets and 0.1% for mortars. It expands the field of view from 90° to 120°.

The radar uses closed-loop liquid cooling, that also delivers the cooling of the crew cabin, keeping the whole cycle closed to keep dust and dirt out of the circuitry. The liquid cooling is important for ensuring that the radar continues to operate at its best even in Middle East scenarios: earlier systems are simply air-cooled, but while this works very well in Europe, it causes troubles in the hot climates.

The ARTHUR Mod C can be fitted in a self-supported container weighting less than 4200 kg and portable by a DROPS/ELPS truck, or fitted to any vehicle with 2500 kg payload and suitable volume available. The UK system might find installation on the Viking or Warthog vehicle. It can be carried by a C-130 or slung under a heavy lift helicopter such as a Chinook. Its air mobility allows it for use by light and rapid reaction forces such as airborne and marine units.
For training, the ARTHUR radar has a built-in simulation mode, and a Classroom Trainer fitted at the main base can work to simulate a major operation involving 3 or more radars. 

Oto Melara 127/64 for the Royal Navy? Carlo Alberto Iardella, managing director of Oto Melara, has exposed himself considerably in a speech during an event in La Spezia, announcing that the company is close to selling its product, for the first time, to the last major navy that never used a Oto Melara gun: the Royal Navy.
He said that negotiations are "very advanced", although the american concorrence is still dangerous, as it has "huge political weight" even though the american offer is for a gun system considerably less advanced.

The Oto Melara gun in question is the 127/64 mm LightWeight, that Oto Melara, teamed with Babcock, is pushing for the Type 26 frigate and, almost certainly, for subsequent retrofit on the Type 45.
The american offer is the BAE/United Defense MK45 Mod 4 127/54 gun. The Mod 4 was developed specifically for using a long-range ammunition that was then cancelled. It has an automatic loader with capacity for 20 rounds and fires at a rate of around 20 shells for minute, which is less than the MK8 Mod 1 of the Royal Navy, which overs at 22/26. 

Oto Melara is justified in saying that its own gun is more advanced, as the 127/64 has a slightly longer barrel, better range, an advanced feed system with four rotating drums holding 56 rounds ready-to-fire of different, selectable type, and can fire 35 rounds per minute. The 127/64 is also attractive due to the Vulcano long-range ammunition, which is close to entry in service with the Italian Navy in its early variants and is being completed in the GPS/Semi Active Laser variant, which aims for 120 Km range and pin-point accuracy. 
The 127/64 has been already chosen by Germany for the F125 frigate program, with 5 systems (4 for ship use, one for land training installation) on order for 70 million euro. 
The 127/64 system weights 29 tons: this is more than the United Defense system (around 25) and MK8 Mod 1 (22.5), but is around the same weight of the previous MK8 Mod 0 which originally armed ships such as Type 42s and Type 23s, before the upgrade. The Type 45 was fitted with the Mod 1 at build, after the 127 mm from United Defense was considered, but not financed. 

If Iardella is not being over-enthusiastic, we can assume that the Royal Navy is deadly serious on going 127 mm this time around, and the long (very long) age of the MK8 might be heading towards its conclusion. 

227 Challenger II, as planned, but 89 AS90...? An up-to-date (in theory) list of the vehicle holdings of the British Army entirely misses the Jackal, still includes 160 Vectors (the hell...? That's supposed to be gone, and from quite a while!), lists 168 Ridgback (howdy, some more have been ordered without it being publicized, evidently: the original order was for just 157...) and 359 Mastiff. 
Another oddity is the voice "FV430 (MK2 and Bulldog) - 895".     

I'm quite surprised (horrified...) to know that the MK2 is still going on. The number is also very inconsistent, when we consider that in 2006/07 the MOD spent some serious money on upgrading 900 MK2 vehicles to MK3 standard, with a share receiving the full armor package for use in Iraq. These were known as Bulldogs, even if it seems that the name caught up and is now quite loosely used to indicate all of the MK3, creating considerable confusion. The MK3 upgrade involved replacing engine and transmission, while the 'Bulldog' package properly said adds gunshields (or RWS for some 30% of deployed vehicles), and reactive armor as well as IED jammer antennas, bringing protection in line to that offered by the Warrior. As far as i'm aware, around 124 vehicles received the full package and were sent in Iraq to form a Mechanized Battlegroup some 800-strong. The other MK3 vehicles have not the full package, but still got the new engine, gearbox and other big improvements. Initially, only the 432 (APC) and 434 (Recovery/Repair) variants were modified, it is not clear if other variants were then added to the program for upgrade as part of the second order for 400 vehicles. (the upgrade was contracted in 2 tranches, of 500 and 400)

It is possible that many of the FV430-series vehicles in special roles have been left to MK2 standard, with all the inefficiency and unreliability that this implies, while an ungodly amount of APCs were upgraded and then quicky removed from holding. This would explain the number (inconsistent, if all MK3 were still around) and the mention of the MK2. 
So we have lots of APCs which were upgraded and then dumped, and lots of much-needed specialist variants spread all over the Army still in the old standard and unreliable old mechanics. Well, beautiful.  

The FV432 MK3 is used by the Army's 3 Mechanized Infantry Battalions since 2006. The Army 2020 announcement perhaps will tell us what will happen to the vehicle and battalions in the future. 

In 2006, after all, the Bulldog was presented as a stopgap, with FRES UV arriving from 2018 onwards. Now FRES UV won't arrive before 2022 at the earliest. 
And the old FV soldiers on. 

The 227 Challenger 2 was no surprise, as i had learned of it long ago and already written of it on this blog. The new number is due to the SDSR cuts. 
The surprise is with the AS90 howitzers, since last year the Royal Artillery said there would be 95 of them, and instead there's been a further reduction, albeit small, thankfully.

MBDA refines the SPEAR Block 3 design. Looks like SDB II, mates... SPEAR is progressing well, but Capability 3 is looking more and more like the Raytheon Small Diameter Bomb II. We're heading for a twin-rail, four weapons pylon carrying missiles combining turbojet engine and gliding for achieving a range of minimum 100 km (earlier the figure was 180, and hopefully this is what we'll get: 100 km is severely uninpressive, particularly for a powered cruise missile). 

Firm decisions have yet to be made on the final Spear configuration, but MBDA says it will be about 2m (6.5ft) long, carry a multi-effect warhead and use a multimode seeker. The high subsonic-speed weapon will also feature INS/GPS guidance, and be able to receive mid-course updates via an onboard datalink.

The basis of the concept is now in an assessment phase study for the UK Ministry of Defence's Spear Capability 3 requirement. This activity is due to conclude in 2014 with an airframe and propulsion system demonstration using a representative weapon design.

Previously released information says that SPEAR 3 is intended to be a stand-off weapon capable to engage fixed, mobile, moving and relocatable targets. Thus the need for the multimode seeker, which almost certainly will include millimetric radar and laser, and possibly IR Imaging. 
Just like the Raytheon Small Diameter Bomb II, the american, unpowered bomb with the same general mission and architecture. 

Are we sure the UK needs to re-invent something that already exists and could arrive and be integrated on F35 by US money, making it a very good deal...? It looks like all what SPEAR adds is speed (high-subsonic): if that's it, it might not be a very cost-effective path to follow. 
Demonstration of airframe and propulsion are planned for 2014. 

The F35's two weapon bays will each be capable to take a quadruple SPEAR 3 pylon and a Meteor air to air missile, even if MBDA admits that working with the shorter bays of the F35B presents challenges.
MBDA is also already showing images of Typhoon loaded with multiple SPEAR 3 racks, for a total of 16 missiles, an impressive loadout, especially as it includes 3x 1000 liters fuel tanks, 4 Meteor and 2 ASRAAM. Picture-candy via Flightglobal: 

Boys, it really, really looks like SDB II...
The Raytheon Small Diameter Bomb II

 CVF progress: tomorrow will see LB03 winched forwards down the No 1 dock in Rosyth to meet the "super-block" formed by joining up LB02 and LB01. The two massive sections will be finally joined together, waiting for LB04 to arrive later this year. 

LB03, to the right, is complete with top blocks and sponsons. LB02, bottom left corner, has now been fitted with the first top block. Tomorrow, LB03 will be winched forwards so the two blocks can be connected. 

LB02, completed with LB01, the bulbous bow. 
The first CB02 unit is put in position: it gives the idea of the hangar's size.

Cargo aircrafts: the 2 BAE-146 being converted in tactical military airlifters should be in service by March next year. 
The first A400 Atlas cargo aircraft for the RAF will arrive in 2014 and will be the 16th A400 produced. The airplane will be in SOC1.5 standard: this means that the airplane will be fully capable and cleared for the airdrop role, and will also be ready for use as air tanker. 
However, the A400 Atlas will be fully capable of low-level tactical flight and special forces missions in 2018, with SOC3, which will start with the airplane MSN133, first unit of the Belgian order. The other A400s will have to be retrofitted to be brought to complete mission capability, as is unfortunately the norm for modern airplanes. 

France will receive the first A400 already late this year (MSN7): this will be a preliminary release with a logistical transport IOC. SOC1 will be released in 2013 and will include initial airdrop capability. Part of the SOC1 block will be MSN9, the first airplane for Turkey. 
Germany deliveries will start in 2014, with MSN 18, with Spain getting MSN46 in 2015. 

A total of 174 airplanes are on order. The UK currently intends to acquire 22 airframes, out of a once-planned buy of 25. The 3 airframes "removed" from the order remain as option which could be exercised in future.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Delaying Prince of Wales and closing Portsmouth's shipyard...?

The controversity about the Portsmouth shipyard is continuing. BAE, owner of the yard, is expecting to have the installation without any ship to build when work on the sections for the CVF carriers is completed by 2018, and they have no intention of keeping the yard open but idle until work starts on the Type 26 frigates.
They have signalled that, if a solution can't be found, the yard will be closed, with the potential loss of some 3000 jobs and the downgrading of Portsmouth to a sole maintenance and support hub, where RN ships would be refitted. Indeed, there have been open calls to make it the sole maintenance center, and base there all of the future Type 26 frigates, effectively a punch in the face for Devonport and the city of Plymouth.

The first question i feel i must ask is: does this "gap period" actually exist? 

If the Type 26 is not delayed again, the first new frigate should hit service in 2021, and this means starting the build process two or three years earlier, almost certainly, at least for the first in the class. Portsmouth is not suited for building the vessel, as the yard is constrained by the size of slipways and by the depth of water available, but if the Type 26 is built in modules like the Type 45 and CVF, Portsmouth could certainly build one or more blocks of it. And indeed this seems to be the idea, but BAE is worried that the work on Type 26 won't start in time for saving the yard.

This is worrisome for many reasons, since up to late last year we've been told that work could and would start even earlier than 2018. DefenseNews reported in October last year:

The schedule envisions the MoD's approval of the business case for manufacture of the Type 26, known as Main Gate, in late 2013 [or possibly in 2014, i will add, but this is the expected period], formal go-ahead the following year with the first steel cut in 2016 and launch in 2018 or 2019, Johnson said. [Brian Johnson, who directs business development at BAE Surface Ships]
The first vessel, an ASW variant, should be commissioned around 2021, about 20 years after the Royal Navy received its last new frigate, the Type 23 HMS St Albans.
Main Gate is still expected around 2014, and if the rest of the schedule outlined above is maintained, Portsmouth might well be busy in a constant succession of work contracts.
The suspect is that Type 26 got silently but effectively delayed and we do not yet know it. I'm sadly starting to wonder if we haven't already moved from a 2021 desidered in-service date to a first steel cut not earlier than 2020. That seems to be what BAE fears, and if theirs is not strategic scaremongering, something bad has happened to the programme in Planning Round 2012. 
But we might not know until the 10-years budget plan is released.  

If the Type 26 is not the answer, for whatever reason (delays, building strategy not on Blocks but in dock at Govan or something) there should still be yet another possibility, the MCM, Hydrographic and Patrol Capability. This cheap, 3000-ton globally deployable vessel, heir of the C3 concept of the Future Surface Combatant tribulation, is supposed to replace the current minesweeper fleet and survey ships such as Echo and Enterprise. In 2011, a minimum number of 8 hulls was envisaged and a 1.4 billion pounds budget was the expected allocation. In the SDSR document, the MHPC was specifically mentioned:

The Sandown and Hunt-class mine countermeasures vessels will remain in service [in number of 15 at least for now, 8 Hunt and 7 Sandown, reducing to 14 later] and start the transition to a future capability from 2018 as part of the Mine countermeasures, Hydrographic, Patrol Craft (MHPC) project.

The MHPC programme to replace these vessels continues.

Now, assuming that the 2018 date is maintained, if it means "entry into service of the first vessel", work will start well before CVF work is completed, and if Portsmouth is involved, the issue is easily solved.
Even if it only means "cutting the steel for the first vessel", it is still good.

But let's assume that Type 26 and MHPC, for whatever reason, can't work as saviors. Philip Hammond reportedly commissioned former Chief of Defence procurement Admiral Sir Robert Walmsley to provide his opinion on what the MOD should do.
According to the press, the report says that Portsmouth should be closed down, and the cost of closure should be met by delaying the building schedule of HMS Prince of Wales by 2 years, delivering her in 2028 instead of 2016, keeping the other yards busy and closing the gap. 
Same cost, no additional capability (indeed, less of it), jobs lost and yard closed. I mean, seriously...?

This is shaped by the obligations contained in the TOBA (Terms Of Business Agreement)  agreement signed in July 2009 by the MOD and BAE, as a way to ensure the survival of shipbuilding in the UK. According to the MOD's own explanation, the TOBA

provides MOD guarantees to BAE Systems of a minimum level of ship build and support activity of around £230 million/year. This level of work was independently verified as the minimum level of work possible to sustain a credible warship building industry in the UK. The TOBA has been designed to incentivise major reductions in the size of the industrial base on a managed basis to minimise the rationalisation cost for which MOD was already liable under historical Yellow Book rules.

The TOBA can be cancelled at anytime. Cancellation crystallises the extant rationalisation costs, leaving MOD liable for remaining industry closure costs and compensation to BAE Systems for their lost investment. During the SDSR, cancellation of the TOBA would have been expected to cost in the order of £630 million. A key element of the TOBA is that it ensures that this figure reduces year on year against an agreed formula and bounds MOD's liabilities.

According to the Agreement Terms, there is no way to come out of it without paying the cost. If shipbuilding capacity was sacrificed and no longer considered a strategic sector to protect, the MOD could opt out of the TOBA, but would incurr significant short term expenditure.
Staying in the TOBA, on the other hand, comports costs and responsibilities of its own, which already in other occasions have been met in not very intelligent ways. The main example being the Astute class SSN: as the NAO notes in its 2011 report:

As a result of the delay to Successor and to further save costs in the short-term, the Astute build programme was slowed to avoid a production gap in the submarine construction industry. The Review therefore extended the build time for the seven-boat Astute Class submarine programme by a further 96 months, including the 13-month deferral to boat four noted in paragraph 4. This has resulted in an average deferral to the Astute Class over the past three years of 28 months per boat. By extending the Astute build programme, the Department will have to use older boats beyond their out-of-service dates, work the smaller fleet of Astute submarines harder, or reduce scheduled activity for submarines. Therefore, the Department is currently reporting that the Astute Class submarines will not meet the Royal Navy’s requirement for sufficient numbers of submarines to be available for operations over part of the next decade.

Extending construction time of the Astute Class submarines also added a further £200 million in-year to the forecast cost to complete the Astute programme for approved boats (boats one to four). In total, these decisions have added nearly £1 billion to forecast costs to complete all seven boats in the last three years. The cost increase rises to over £1.9 billion when technical difficulties and capability changes made since the original approval for boats one to three was taken in 1997. In procurement terms, this equates to substantially more than the cost of acquiring a further boat.

The regrettable short-termism in management of the MOD programmes has cost the country and the Royal Navy dear. In absence of a reserve of money for facing in-year needs, the MOD has, in the last decade, constantly chosen to delay its programmes for saving (normally relatively small amounts of) money in-year, only to pay several times as much in the long term.
That's the case of the aircraft carriers as well, for example, which saw 405 million pounds of expenditure delayed in 2008 by the Labour Government, which have become a 1.56 billion net increase in the cost of the programme, entirely caused by political stupidity.

Had the MOD had a reserve of money to draw from, at least part of this disaster could have been avoided. Money could have been committed in-year, and effectively recovered later by costs staying stable and more capability being delivered.
Short-termism has cost the MOD money and capability: had money been committed when it was supposed to be, the carriers would cost 1.5 billion less, would be significantly closer to delivery, and there would be an 8th Astute (for which the First Sea Lord in 2007 and 2008 fought as hard as he could, knowing full well that 7 boats won't really be enough to meet the missions he's assigned by the government) on order. For less money expended.
And while it is fair to point out that more boats means sustaining more running costs, we should be under no illusion of this being in any way less desirable and/or more expensive than delaying, delaying, delaying. The Iraq and Afghanistan wars (funded from the core defence budget, pretty much entirely the first and for a significant part the second) caused the MOD budget to run hot from the early 2000s, and made it impossible to deliver the modernization and equipment promised by the SDR 1998, because the money went away from procurement and into the budget for operations, but the delays to the equipment programmes that were used as "solution" to the problem have contributed even more to the formation of the infamous budget black hole.  

Now that we are told that the next ten years of MOD budget include 4 billion pounds of reserve and 8 billion pounds yet to be committed, every effort must be made NOT TO repeat the same stupidity all over again. With all due respect for Admiral Robert, his suggestion, if the press is right, is exactly more of the same damaging, abused, god-damned delaying. Shifting chairs on the sinking Titanic's deck, once more.
If Hammond is not lying and there is uncommitted money, there are much better solutions to the problem. 

There are at least two more programmes that could help bridge the gap in work in Porsmouth shipyard between 2017/18, thus potentially ensuring to the yard many more years of life, if they were launched in the right timeframe.
I'm talking specifically of the Future Force Protection Craft and of the Fast Landing Craft. The first has lead to the well known loan of CB90 combat boats from Sweden, with the Royal Marines trialing the vessel for informing the final list of requirements for the FPC, of which the Royal Navy said last year:

A total of twelve craft are planned with the first anticipated to enter service in 2016.

The Fast Landing Craft was confirmed in the SDSR, and for it the Royal Marines extensively trialed the PACSCAT prototype during last year, demonstrating a record 19 knots speed with a Challenger 2 on board, and nearly 40 knots when empty. An In-Service Date for this capability has so far not been indicated.

While i do realize that none of these two programmes qualify as "complex warships" and certainly do not go close to working on blocks for carries, destroyers and frigates, I'd very much have Portsmouth building these small boats in the "gap period", instead of adopting our good Admiral's plan, that shreds 3000 jobs in a moment of economic downturn while making the CVF programme even more expensive by delaying it, just for BAE to get the money it is bound to get under the TOBA agreement.
Since that money is bound to be spent in a way or another, no escaping this truth, for once we could expend it on actual capability, at least, eventually delaying the go-ahead order for the Force Protection Craft (if it has not been done already, wouldn't surprise me...) and then getting something useful and substantial, instead of nothing but scorn for the "expensive" carriers being made artificially even more expensive.

If rationalization is invitable and effectively desirable, perhaps the two small programmes can bless Portsmouth with a "gentle" death, gradual and less traumatic for the town, the economy and the workforce. While delivering to the Navy what it needs, for one last time in its so-long history. Still a gain.
If, instead, these two programmes can bridge the gap and give Portsmouth a chance to be involved in the bigger items planned for later (MHPC, Type 26), there might easily be at least a decade more of life for the shipyard, gained for the same price it would cost to close it (plus the additional cost of operating the LCU MK11 Fast Landing Craft and the FCP, but since the first would essentially replace the current LCU MK10 and the second would replace part of the LCVP MK5s i don't think it would be anything substantial).

So, please, let's look at all options with honesty. The short-termism of delaying, delaying delaying needs to end. If it ended right now as i write this, it would still be late.