Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Everything must go – the withdrawal from Afghanistan and disposal of MOD equipment

Some newspapers have recently reported that hundreds of vehicles and thousands of ISO containers worth of equipment in Afghanistan could be left behind or scrapped as part of the withdrawal plans to ensure UK forces leave the country by 2015. This has raised eyebrows in some quarters over what may appear to be an example of profligate waste by a seemingly cash strapped department. In reality the authors own view is that is it not only inevitable, but actually rather sensible that not everything in Afghanistan comes back to the UK.

The first point is that all withdrawals of military equipment since time immemorial will result in a detritus of kit being left behind. Things that are too old, too broken or frankly just no longer needed will often be sold on, or scrapped locally, raising a small amount of money into the bargain. One only has to look at the post war drawdowns and withdrawal from various colonies to realise that a lot of equipment is often no longer required once a base shuts down. Its worth remembering that everything is purchased in Defence for a reason, and to meet a specific need, and that if once that need has been discharged, and no other defence use can be found (or funded) then there is no longer any need for the equipment to stay in service. This withdrawal is no different from previous ones, and it is inevitable that there will be kit that simply isn’t needed anymore.

It is of course frustrating to see that a range of what is seemingly perfectly good new vehicles or other equipment are being scrapped, but you need to consider several wider factors. Firstly, a lot of the equipment purchased under ‘Urgent Operational Requirements’ conditions is usually bought purely for use in one theatre only, and is not always suitable for wider use.  Afghanistan is a very specific environment, and its relatively easy to source equipment which can meet the requirements of a hot, dusty and unforgiving climate where the environment is well known and understood. This makes off the shelf purchases much easier. The issue is when equipment is needed to work across the entire range of environments where the UK may operate, from the jungle to the Arctic, and where kit is less usable. There not much point retaining UOR kit in service where it has been purchased to meet the needs of an Afghan environment if it can’t be used as an asset for wider contingency operations.

A lot of these will be needed in the HERRICK withdrawal (taken from

In addition, UOR equipment is very good for HERRICK (or TELIC previously) but there is a significant difference between supporting a small number of vehicles for a specified operation and keeping them in a general usage pool. All of the support costs for UOR equipment is paid for separately from normal defence equipment support funding, which means that the Treasury is essentially paying directly for it to be purchased and maintained. When an operation comes to an end, a decision needs to be taken about whether that equipment has utility in the wider military environment (the so-called ‘bringing equipment into core’ process). If the equipment is to be run on, then the MOD will become liable for funding it as part of the wider equipment support programme – funding all the spares, upgrades and taking what has been a one theatre system and suddenly making it suitable for wider defence use. This is not cheap – don’t underestimate the hugely demanding nature of operations, and how many demands are put on vehicles and equipment. Many of the vehicles will need huge upgrades and refits, all of which comes at a price, and out of an already tight budget.

In the case of Afghanistan, it is probably fair to say that all the UOR equipment purchased has been constantly looked at with a wary eye to decide not only whether it may have potential for long term future use in the UK, but also whether the MOD can afford to do this. There are lots of UOR success stories, and one only has to look at the sort of equipment fielded by troops on HERRICK to realise that the British Army of today, on operations at least, has probably never been better equipped. But its also worth remembering that in terms of numbers, HERRICK has only taken up the best part of 2-3 brigades of troops in terms of equipment (the in use kit plus training elements plus a small reserve). This means that if a decision is made to bring it into core, then suddenly funding has to be found for it, possibly at a cost of other upgrades, and this may reduce funding for other army wide upgrade programmes. Also, there are costs associated with either running on small legacy fleets of equipment, which could at best support a small number of army units, or there are costs associated with funding increased procurement to make vehicles the default standard across the entire Army. Either way, there is a bill associated with bringing UOR equipment into service after an operation.

The state of the equipment is also worth considering too – military assets are worked hard on operations and will often require a vast amount of repair to bring them back up to standard. For UOR equipment, the question is whether it is actually worth funding this, particularly if it is diverting money away from core equipment programme options which could bring new vehicles into service for an army wide solution. Is it perhaps better to consider that disposal will be a more cost effective  means of getting the Army new vehicles into service, rather than relying on a ‘Frankenstein fleet’ of diverse vehicles which were purchased in a hurry and which are not necessarily the ideal solution for all the UKs military commitments?

One final point to consider is the sheer challenge of recovering from HERRICK. It’s easy to forget that the UK (and NATO) will have a major challenge on their hands to recover all the various assets moved into place over the last 12 years. The flow of UK equipment and assets into theatre has been slow and steady, occasionally ramping up for surges in troop numbers. Now though, the UK is going to have to bring out a significantly larger force plus equipment in a very short timeframe (barely two years) and this will place great strain on wider UK logistical capabilities. There has had to be a lot of diplomatic work done to ensure the withdrawal has a range of routes to use to pull out the equipment. The UK will have to use a variety of routes and means of withdrawal and plan to do so in a manner which allows UK troops to continue in combat and mentoring roles for some time to come. This is a really complex operation, and one which once again demonstrates the value of strong logistical capabilities as a force enabler. Each piece of equipment brought home will cost the taxpayer money, and it does seem to be a less than effective use of time and resources to bring equipment home that will only be scrapped on its return. Far better to leave and dispose of it locally if possible. Also, the range of vehicles and equipment in place that may not be required could also provide good opportunities for defence sales to other nations in the region, which in turn may lead to good export opportunities for UK companies to sustain and increase these assets.

An example of UOR procurement at work - the Foxhound armoured vehicle (copyright

So, while it is easy to think that the UK is once again wasting money by disposing of assets in Afghanistan, in reality this is probably the most cost effective solution. It also highlights the value of the UOR system which has allowed the UK to build up a theatre specific force over the last 10 years which has been well equipped with weapons, vehicles and other kit that is designed to meet the unique operational characteristics of Afghanistan. Speaking to peers from other nations, Humphrey has found that many of them genuinely envy the UOR system and see it as a model of success. While it is easy to say that the UK has failed by not providing equipment that could do certain things, the author sees UORs as a very good way of meeting requirements that could not have been reasonably foreseen in advance.

One only has to look at the changing nature of tactics in HERRICK, and the rapidly advancing science of IED protection to realise that much of the equipment used today wasn’t even thought of 10 years ago. Its’ sadly taken a war and incredible courage by EOD operators to develop tactics and equipment now that can meet this threat. The beauty of the UOR system is that it provides a means to support this, which can produce quickly, and which is not hidebound by the usual procurement rules. There are downsides to this (it costs more, support solutions are not always for the long term and it may be very theatre specific), but overall it works well.  A good summary of the UOR process, and just how much has been spent in various areas can be found over at the Think Defence website (

Perhaps the best way to view it is to see the MOD as providing the best possible equipment relative to budgets to ensure the UK is able to conduct initial entry to an environment and then operate for a short period of time. As the operation develops, the UOR process provides a means to develop and procure the theatre specific kit that meets the specific requirements of the operation in question. It’s a good system and one which we should be very proud of – in particular we should be very proud of the civil servants and military staff in the DE&S who are the unsung heros here. They’ve never got the recognition they deserve in working very long hours to bring this equipment into service and deliver it, often in a very short timeframe. We should also be very proud of the ability of British industry to provide technical solutions to many of the UORs out there, and this is a testament to the versatility of the UK defence and scientific sector to deliver.

So, while it may appear to be a strange act at first to dispose of equipment, in reality this seems to be something which makes quite a lot of sense for the MOD and the UK taxpayer as a whole. The withdrawal from HERRICK is going to be a real challenge, and will in time be worthy of accolades for the successful withdrawal of 10,000 troops, much of their equipment and kit, and recovering it from a landlocked country thousands of miles away, to return them safely home. It may not be high profile or sexy in the eyes of some people, but it once again demonstrates some excellent British success stories.  


  1. Equipping the ANA with the means to continue to fight off the Taliban makes sense if the Afghan govt are given the money to continue to maintain the kit, but with the upcoming cuts to the US defence budget I don't see that happening. I can see us hauling Bulldog and Warthog back home because FRES heavy didn't happen. FRES scout will replace Scimitar. Surely there's a case for retaining a wheeled protected patrol vehicle to replace Land Rover?

  2. I agree UOR system is seen as successful, isn't that why MoD are re-evaluating their core equipment acquisition process (quite rightly) ? If only the same efficiency and sense of urgency could be applied!

    1. The recent NAO report on armoured vehicle procurement highlighted some of the successes of the UOR programme. However, the UOR and the Equipment programmes operate from two different basic principles.

      With a core equipment programme, the requirements for the capability will generally be far wider, and the capability bought is required to be a whole-life capability - the procurement has to be funded through assessment and demonstration all the way through to disposal.

      With a UOR programme, the target is to deliver something fast that meets 80-90% of the stated requirement, and most UORs are bought with a limited shelf life - originally, 12 months, although that was extended out to several years when the Treasury finally grudgingly accepted that operations in Afghanistan were likely to last more than 12 months - something they accepted around about 2008. This means that UORs come in with a far less robust support solution - often big initial spares purchases based on best guesswork, manufacturers publications rather than MOD support publications, a lack of codification for items and so on. With the acknowledgement that UORs would be in service longer came a greater emphasis on sustained support, but the research, development, assessment and demonstration of a UOR programme is often 6-12 months, not the 5 years or more of a core programme. That means more problems when the equipment enters service and armed forces personnel find new and interesting ways of breaking it, or where exposure to an operational theatre throws up problems no-one expected.

      There are definite advantages to the UOR approach, and the NAO highlighted some of these; particular attention was given to the procurement of Mastiff, which was delivered in various tranches at three different build standards. Because it was bought as a series of staggered buys, each new buy incorporated the lessons learned on operations from the previously bought vehicles, making each new buy a significant improvement on the one before. It got vehicles into theatre in as little as six months.

      However, it wasn't without problems - the NAO talk about problems with spares, because consumption in theatre vastly outstripped what had been anticipated, particularly when the role Mastiff was used in changed - something I've heard is not uncommon. A vehicle programme with a five year demonstration and assesment phase has time to build up a deep supply chain, something UORs generally don't get to do.

    2. Thanks for some very interesting and thought provoking comments.I would recognise much of what you say from my own experience.

  3. It's worth noting that based on CGS recent comments to RUSI (at least as reported via Wikipedia) some elements of the UOR fleet look to be remaining in service - mention is made of Mastiff and Jackal in some of the Future Force 2020 Army structures - and Foxhound has been widely reported as being a core vehicle purchased via the UOR approach.

    One of the significant problems with bringing UOR equipment into core is that in an era of vastly restricted funding, UORs are up against established equipment programmes for funding. There are always more champions for an EP programme replacing an existing capability than there tend to be for bringing UORs into core, because UORs are seen as competition to the more advanced, capable solutions promised by the EP programme.

    With established core capabilities being cut - or at least, having their funding removed pro temps - it can be difficult to have it acknowledged that new capability gaps exist. The idea that we need new frigates to replace old, that we need a new recce vehicle to replace CVR(T) or a new 9mm pistol to replace the old one are pretty easy to grasp. A lot of the UOR programmes are filling holes that nobody knew existed prior to the threat emerging - you mention counter-IED equipment above - which means no established champions in place to fight at senior levels for that equipment. If it's then suggested that, say, Warthog or Mastiff could replace an element of FRES (UV), thereby replacing the new, uber-capable, incredibly shiny technical wunderkind expected of the new programme with UOR-procured vehicles, champions of the FRES (UV) programme will swarm out of the woodwork en masse to explain why UORs are technically limited, poorly-supported and no replacement for the only true solution - a completely new core procurement.

    1. Thanks for your contribution, it was really interesting - you rightly highlight the challenge of UORs getting core funding, particualrly when pet projects may seem to be under threat.

  4. It can go the other way: having a program deferred as an EP option can have the risk mitigated by "but if Op OH-MY-GOD-YOU'RE-ALL-GOING-TO-DIE kicks off before then, we can rush it as an UOR" to a certain extent.

    However, some UORs become a problem when a "looks tacti-kewl" solution is picked in a hurry, and by the time its lack of actual effectiveness is properly explored, it's been taken into core and pretty much set into stone as the solution not just now but for the next few decades.

    (This doesn't detract from the valid point that some sponsors will fight hard to protect "jam tomorrow" even if we actually need bread today, though)

  5. Do we really need to recover Bulldog? It was a retired system that was brought back as a contingency. I'm not sure what the Uzbeks are getting but the old Fv432's would be useful (if we could raid DfID to pay for them).

    The kit we need to recover are the Warthogs [RM?], Ocelot [sic], Mastiff, etc: Kit that have proven they work in a desert environment where heavy-armour is not required.

    Most of the logistical-support kit will not be required: HESCO is unrecoverable surely? I'd like to see the Jackal/Coyote combo as our expeditionary core but, sadly, I don't think we have serious numbers to retain such a capability.

    Oh, surely no-one is suggesting that we dig-up all those bridges that TD loves posting about. Historically, don't we leave them in liberated countries (c.f. France)...?

    1. It's unlikely that the RM will want to bring Warthog into core, given that the refurbishment of the Viking fleet was announced in the press recently. Warthog seems to be very popular with the armour boys, given comments in the press from the RDG, though.

      The UK MOD hasn't bought Ocelot. Foxhound is apparently based on the Ocelot, but Ocelot is the industry brand name for a vehicle. Foxhound is now a core capability, according to MOD press releases, but one bought through the UOR process.

      CGS' recent RUSI speech talked about having Mastiff, Jackal and Foxhound in various Army formations as a part of Future Force 2020, but given that there haven't been any big announcements yet on what the ARmy will actually look like in 2020, it's unlikely that aything's been set in stone yet.

  6. An interesting article on UORs here:

    I suppose as someone mentioned it all depends on what we decide to leave for the local military forces, what we decide to take with us, and what we decide to destroy.
    Whichever way we go we will be dwarfed by the Americans and what they do with their kit.

    If we had the space and time, I would ask you to draw up a sandbag and I would tell stories about leaving Aden and other parts of the world when our empire shrank to zero.

  7. I would be most interested to know at what cost the UOR assets pass onto the MOD's books. In theory these should be at the lower of depreciated value or net realisable value. I understand that the cost of bringing these assets back falls outside the MOD's core budget, and indeed the ditto 'preparations for sale' / and therefore bringing into core should also fall outside the core budget but I always worry that someone somewhere is somehow inflating a cost because if the above is applied there is a strong argument for the MOD to bring most of the assets back as it will be at minimal cost to their budget opposed to the Treasury's.

    1. The issue isnt so much the cost of bringing the assets back onto the books, but the establishment of an entire support chain and maintenance programme from scratch.
      Many UORs, particularly in the early days had a a hand to mouth existence while they existed on operations, but did not require the wider support or capability development that most UK vehicles / equipment get. What support did exist was paid for by the Treasury directly.
      The difference with going into core is that the department suddenly has to find costs to return, refurbish, update and integrate this equipment into UK wider capabilities. This money is already attributed elsewhere, so questions need to be asked as to whether the money gets spent on UORS, or existing programmes.
      Its a real challenge compared to before as the MOD is essentially having to take a bunch of equipment that has been exclusively employed on one operation for up to 10 years and suddenly start paying for it...

  8. I saw this story somewhere:

    "The UK Royal Air Force has accepted two freshly modified BAe 146 quick change transports, with the pair to be deployed to Afghanistan following the completion of training activities and electronic warfare system trials. Previously operated by TNT Airways, the passenger/freighter aircraft have been brought up to the new C3 operating standard under an urgent operational requirement deal contracted with BAE Systems during 2012. Now in grey service markings, the aircraft carry the military registrations ZE707 and ZE708. "

    I wonder - They kept this very quiet. Why acquire them when we are pulling out of Stan? And why assign them to 32 Sqn? Perhaps a sleight of hand to increase the VIP fleet

    I like a good cynic - lol

    1. Ian - nothing secret about it at all. It was discussed at length on the internet, and also on this site some time ago.
      The reason for the acquisition was partially because there was a lack of UK smaller VIP lift in theatre. This meant that to take smaller parties - say liaison groups to planning conferences, or to take people to a specific location, you were reliant on either taking a C130 and spending hours getting to your final destination as it did a slow round robin around the country or taking a C130 off another task for your own purposes and causing chaos for the air transport plot.
      By getting these two planes, it reduces wear and tear on the 130s, which have seen a lot of fatigue life used up in HERRICK and we need to eke it out a bit longer, and also provides a smaller capability which can go into places the C130 cant always get to (And a bit more discretely too!).
      Finally the reason 32 Sqn uses them is because they are the sole operstors of the 146 fleet and it surely makes more sense to assign airframes to a current operator, which can allocate manpower for servicing and flying them, rather than create a whole new squadron (and thus increase officialdom, which is a bad thing surely!).
      No conspiracy at all, just a sensible plan to make use of taxpayer resources with an available airframe that could do the job, and free up scarce troop lift assets for better roles. At the same time, no point in buying more 130s as there are none on the 2nd hand market, and by the time a new one entered service, we'd have left HERRICK. We're withdrawing the flet in the 2020s and dont have the money to introduce extra ones into service now.
      Hopefully this helps clear the issue up, so you can see there is no conspiracy!

  9. Thank you for that Sir H - now I understand :)

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