LONDON — British Army boss Gen. Nick Carter has fired the starter's gun on a program to equip his forces with an eight-wheel-drive 8x8 armored fighting vehicle by telling an audience at the DSEI defense exhibition here in London that a program to supply a mechanized infantry vehicle (MIV)would get underway soon.

Exactly what that means in terms of timescale is unclear but industry executives at the show said nothing would happen until after the publication of the strategic defense and security review at the end of this year.

The last time the British tried to purchase an 8x8 wheeled vehicle, the program, part of the Future Rapid Effects System, fell apart after the MoD and General Dynamics failed to reach an agreement on a contract in 2008 after its Piranha 5 had been nominated as the preferred vehicle.

An MoD official said the new program had yet to enter the concept phase but confirmed there would be a competition for the requirement.

There had been were fears the British could buy the Nexter's VBCI from France's Nexter without a competition as part of a deal between the allies under the Anglo-French defense treaty.

British Defence Procurement Minister Philip Dunne told Defense News in an interview recently that there was a funding line for the vehicle, although some of it will remain uncommitted until a contract is signed. The Army has already starteding assessing vehicles, he said.

Those assessments include the VBCI and the General Dynamics Stryker, said industry executives. A VBCI was in Britain for months on evaluation.

Dunne declined to be drawn on the timescale for introduction of the vehicle, saying when asked today. He said it was a matter for the Army.

The MoD official, though, said the new vehicle was one of the Army's highest priorities.

Contenders for the requirement could include Patria, General Dynamics, Nexter, and possibly the Rheinmetall/Krauss-Maffei Wegmann Boxer.

Officials from Singaporean company ST Kinetics, unveiling their new Terrex 2 eight-wheel-drive 8x8 armored vehicle at DSEI, said they were also interested.

The British Army already operates ST Kinetics' Warthog armored all terrain vehicle.

The winning vehicle will operate alongside the General Dynamics Scout tracked reconnaissance vehicle purchased by the British in a £3.5 billion (US $5.4 billion) production deal last year.

General Dynamics showed the first prototype of the turreted version of the vehicle at the show and officially named the family the Ajax.

The Ajax and the mechanized infantry vehicleMIV will operate together alongside the mechanized infantry vehicleMIV in a new land joint strike force being put together by the Army in the 2020-2025 time frame.