When Force Protection Europe (FPE) entered the bidding for the contract to design and manufacture Foxhound, the British Army's new light protected patrol vehicle (LPPV), it was one of 26 companies vying for the work. According to FPE, one of the USPs that secured preferred bidder status was a key focus on UK suppliers and, in particular, a focus on UK SMEs. Speaking at a presentation at the recent Subcon exhibition, held at the NEC Birmingham last month, supply chain director Russell Smith said the MoD's decision was based on the modular design of the vehicle, the experienced leadership team and minimised supply chain risk, thanks to a dual/multiple supplier strategy for key components. The British Army's LPPV Foxhound programme is a derivative of the Ocelot vehicle (Ocelot is the generic family name of the vehicle in global markets), and its design is quite something. High protection (no one has ever died resulting from a direct hit on a Force Protection vehicle), low weight (7.5 tonnes carrying maximum payload) and long life (25 years) are three of its outstanding features. These are coupled with a 12 m turning circle, which is believed to be a world first for a vehicle in this category, four-wheel steer, a 375-mile capacity fuel tank and a top speed of 70 mph. There is also the unique V-spine/hull undercarriage that deflects mine blasts out and away from vehicle occupants. Arguably, it's most eye-catching innovation, however, is its modularity. The composite pod can be lifted off and replaced in 90 minutes, changing the variant of the vehicle to fire support, patrol or protected logistics to suit specific missions. Similarly, for ease of repair or maintenance (even in a forward operating base), it is possible to lift out and replace units such as the power pack and gearbox, again in about 90 minutes. In its role as the full through-life prime contractor for the Foxhound LPPV programme, FDE had to deliver on its promise of a largely UK-based supply chain. Here, the key driver for supply chain decisions was minimised risk. As a result, the decision was made to use as many commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) components as possible. This would reduce risk by using technically proven parts, offering short time to market. A total of 41 of the 92 suppliers used on Foxhound fall into the COTS category (predominantly OEMs), representing 45% of total spend. MCOTS (modified commercial off-the-shelf) suppliers on Foxhound constitute a mix of SMEs and OEMs. There are 18 MCOTS suppliers on the project, representing 20% of total spend, while the remaining 35% is shared among 33 suppliers of bespoke technologies. These are largely represented by SMEs supplying unique design parts of the LPPV, such as the composite pod. "The traditional MoD supply chain is inefficient, costly and slow, with many programmes taking 4-6 years to reach maturity," says Mr Smith. "To go from blank sheet of paper to production in 18 months, we needed suppliers with proven capabilities, but who were small and agile enough to work with us in development. "The aim was to create a supply chain model, based on a modern, commercial automotive solution, and provide the speed of delivery required for a UOR (urgent operational requirement) programme." So what's what when it comes to COTS, MCOTS and bespoke Foxhound parts? Well, a good example of the first is the gearbox, which is actually the same one used in the BMW X5, a ZF 6-speed automatic 6HP28, albeit with different software. MCOTS are parts such as seating, wheels, HVAC, ABS and the engine. On the latter, Mr Smith wanted to make a point (Cummins, take note). "We tried very hard to source our engine from a UK supplier, but no one could meet our specification requirements," he said. "Although we found an excellent Austrian supplier in Magna Steyr, I found it personally disappointing that UK options weren't available." The selected engine for Foxhound is a Steyr-Daimler-Pugh six-cylinder, four-stroke turbocharged diesel M160036-A (160 kW). Bespoke parts the V-spine, the composite pod, ballistics panels, wiring harnesses and the bonnet assembly. SINGLE LARGEST PROJECT "Foxhound is the single largest military UOR vehicle for the past 6-7 years and probably the last for a while – everything was geared towards finding a best-in-class supply and manufacturing solution," said Mr Smith. "We had to reduce the lead-time through a parallel, lean manufacturing process across strategic suppliers, as well as use dual/multiple suppliers for key components to minimise risk." A good example is the three laminators engaged on Foxhound for production of the composite pod (over 45 blast tests were carried out to prove the survivability of the composite materials deployed). The three suppliers are: URT Ltd of Bognor Regis; Christchurch-based Beagle Technology Group; and Global Technologies Racing Ltd of Arundel. Note that all are located in the south of England and little more than 70 miles apart. This is by design, not luck. From here, the laminated composite pod makes its way to Formaplex, a specialist composite machining company, based in nearby Havant. Formaplex won its supplier status on Foxhound, based on a flexible and fast culture supported by 24/7 resources and an ongoing programme of investment in the latest manufacturing technologies, such as 5-axis machining, anti-collision detection software, shrink-fit tooling and RTM (real time machining) CNC programming (see also Machinery article http://bit.ly/iFUYkT). Next, QinetiQ fits the ballistic protection modules to the pod before the Defence Support Group (DSG) takes care of pod integration, including electronics from Thales. The final technology integrator (including test and inspection) is Ricardo, which provides customer handover of the vehicle ex-works. FPE is under contract to provide 200 Ocelot/Foxhound vehicles and an initial spares package to the MoD by spring 2012. Of the 92 suppliers used on Foxhound, 81 are from the UK, representing 88% of total spend – the remaining 11 are all from Europe. Interestingly, 10 key suppliers equate to 67% of the core vehicle cost. The story is even more remarkable, considering FPE was only established two years ago. When Mr Smith joined in January 2010, he was the fourth person on the payroll. Today, the company employs 140, while the Foxhound programme sustains 750 UK jobs in total. In further good news, the vehicle has also been down-selected for Australia's Land 121 light protected patrol and support vehicle (phase 4, stage 1), with trials currently ongoing. Perfectly formed Formaplex is no ordinary machine shop. Established in 2001 by Dave Shooter and Ian Wilson (both time-served apprentices), the pair sold a 48% stake in their company in 2008 to private equity house Dunedin, for £9 million. Some of the money raised by the sale has been invested in new or additional machine tools, such as two YCM NSV 66A high speed vertical machining centres from YMT Technologies (01935 428375), and a Gruppo Parpas Famu Active 5-axis milling machine from Matsuura Machinery (01530 511400).