LONDON — BAE Systems has teamed with General Dynamics UK and several other industry partners to compete in a program to breathe new life into the British Army's Challenger 2 main battle tank fleet.

The companies said they have joined with Leonardo-Finmeccanica, Moog Inc., QinetiQ and Safran Electronics in a partnership called Team Challenger 2 to respond to a British Ministry of Defence (MoD) request for proposals to undertake a life extension program on the tank.

The British extended the out-of-service date of the tank by 10 years to 2035 in last year's strategic defense and security review, and the planned life extension program is required mainly to address obsolescence issues on the aging vehicle, although there is the possibility to install some capability enhancements.

Some 227 British Army vehicles are set to go through the life extension process.

Oman, the only export customer for the tank, is keeping an eye on program developments even though its 37 vehicles are not part of the core program.

Bids for the MoD program are scheduled to be submitted by July 14.

Two competing contractor teams are expected to be selected around the end of October for a two-year assessment phase.

CMI Defence, Krauss Maffei Wegmann, Lockheed Martin and Ruag have also previously expressed an interest in the program.

Lockheed Martin UK confirmed it would be submitting a bid, but the other potential rivals either could not be reached or did not immediately respond to Defense News' inquiries in time for this article.

"Given our successful involvement in the Ajax program as turret provider and Warrior capability sustainment program as prime contractor, we are in a strong position to compete for the project with a proposal that demonstrates strong UK industrial participation involving a wide-ranging supply base. We plan to announce further details of our proposal in due course," a Lockheed Martin UK spokeswoman said.

The UK arm of Lockheed Martin is scheduled next week to formally open a new facility at Ampthill, north of London, where it plans to undertake the Ajax and Warrior turret integration work.

General Dynamics was also expected to be a bidder but opted instead to throw in its hand with BAE, the Challenger 2 design authority.

"We have formally withdrawn as a prime. The reason we are partnering with BAE and others is the teaming arrangement basically gives the lowest cost, lowest risk, both from the customer perspective and the business perspective," said Kevin Connell, the vice president of land systems at General Dynamics UK.

General Dynamics is already under contract with the MoD to assemble a fleet of Ajax scout armored vehicles starting 2017 at a new manufacturing facility in Merthyr Tydfil, South Wales.

The plan is to update Challenger 2 at the same site if the BAE-led team secures a manufacturing deal.

Connell said there is sufficient capacity at the factory to run the two programs in parallel.

The General Dynamics executive said the team was hoping to find logistics, training, electronic-architecture and other synergies between Ajax and the new program to help drive affordability.

General Dynamics Mission Systems is also part of the partnership and is expected to supply the fire control computer and other equipment. BAE will prime the bid and undertake certain systems-integration and engineering roles.

Jennifer Osbaldestin, a managing director at BAE Systems Land (UK), said BAE designed and built the Challenger 2 and the teaming "gives us access to capabilities and facilities that will sustain Challenger 2 through life and offer a value-for-money solution."

The partnering agreement, which has been under discussion since last year, is quite a departure for BAE and General Dynamics.

The two leading land-systems companies have previously been used to trying to knock lumps out of each other on various competitive bids for British Army armored vehicle requirements.

The British government's open-door policy on armored vehicles procurement has enabled both General Dynamics and Lockheed Martin to establish a significant armored vehicles footprint here, largely to the detriment of local supplier BAE.

Selection of a winning contractor and a decision to move into production is expected in 2019, according to the MoD.

Team Challenger 2 promotional material showed most of the key elements of the life extension program were turret systems.

Thermal imaging, commander's primary sight, fire-control systems, gun-control equipment and electronic architecture are among the items to be replaced with updated technology.

Capability enhancements are also a possibility, with lethality, survivability and power pack areas all likely to be the subject of studies in the upcoming assessment phase, officials said.

Andrew Chuter is the United Kingdom correspondent for Defense News.

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