After completing an initial 20 battlefield mission tests, Lockheed Martin's upgrade to the Warrior IFV for the British Army is getting closer to entering service.

LONDON — Negotiations are underway on a production contract to update the British Army’s fleet of Warrior infantry fighting vehicles, according to the Ministry of Defence official running the program.

“We are now talking about how we go forward on production,” Marcus Bruton, the MoD’s Warrior upgrade director, said during an interview at the DSEI show on Sept. 10.

Bruton said the two sides were probably 18 months away from a contract allowing Lockheed Martin and its supply chain to start upgrading the Warrior.

The effort to progress the long-running Warrior capability sustainment development program into the manufacturing phase has come on the back of Lockheed Martin successfully achieving 20 battlefield mission assessments — a key milestone in the reliability growth test program now underway.

The MoD said in March it would open negotiations for a manufacturing contract once the department is satisfied with progress on reliability trials.

In late August, Lockheed Martin achieved that milestone. The company said that in cooperation with the British Army’s Armoured Trials and Development Unit, it had fired thousands of rounds from the new CTAI-developed 40mm cannon, driven more than 5,000 kilometers and achieved the battlefield mission assessments with flying colors.

Lockheed Martin’s Warrior program director, Lee Fellows, expects a deal in the latter half of 2020. The company is keen to get the production contract signed and sealed, but “we need to get it right, so it will take as long as it needs to," Fellows said. "Getting it done at pace and quality are equally important.”

Quantities, the mix of variants and affordability are among the items due to be discussed.

Discussions on how to overcome issues of design authority ownership is also reportedly part of the buildup to a production contract. BAE holds the design authority on the existing legacy Warrior, but Lockheed Martin holds the approval for the extensive upgrade — particularly the new turret.

“The expectation is there will be a collaboration with BAE. We are talking with them already, that’s part of the negotiations,” Fellows said.

Neither the government official or the industry executive would comment on the upgrade numbers the British Army wants. Roughly 740 vehicles were delivered to the British Army starting in 1988, but a number were destroyed in Iraq and Afghanistan. A number of vehicles have been earmarked for battlefield support duties that don’t require a new turret.

At one time the number of hulls to be updated was in the region of 380, but suppliers at a company briefing in March said that as the British Army downsizes and budgets become more challenging, the figure slipped to around 265 or lower.

Fellows said that the next 18 months or so will bring further reliability growth trials, but that the major risks have been removed and testing had not unearthed any significant problems.

The update is considered one of the Army’s top priorities alongside other vehicle programs, including the Challenger 2 tank upgrade and procurement of the Boxer mechanized infantry vehicle from German company Artec.

Lockheed Martin was awarded a development deal to upgrade Warrior vehicles 2011, but the program has been dogged with problems that slowed progress toward a production deal by several years.

The update program includes a new turret fitted with the CTAI cannon, electronic architecture, a modular protection system and other enhancements.

It’s a much-needed update for the armed service. The current vehicle’s inability to fire on the move is just one of a number of shortcomings deemed to make the Warrior obsolete by current battlefield standards.