LONDON – Lockheed Martin UK executives responsible for modernizing the British Army’s Warrior infantry fighting vehicle have admitted the program is at risk of being axed or reduced in size in an upcoming government review.
The company’s Warrior Capability Sustainment Program (WCSP) director, Keren Wilkins, told reporters during an Feb. 18 online briefing that the project was under threat even though the British Army still saw the vehicle as a key requirement.
“We are vulnerable. I’m concerned,” Wilkins said. “We have talked to the Army, they have told us WCSP is the only capability that meets all of their requirements to provide an infantry fighting vehicle with the capacity for a full section [of troops] in the back, with the main weapon being a 40 mm turret, added armored protection, and other great capabilities.”
The British government is preparing to publish a much-anticipated analysis of its defense, security, foreign policy and international development programs. The review is expected to especially impact Army programs.
Lockheed Martin is in the final stages of negotiation with the Ministry of Defence over a contract to undertake the manufacturing phase of a deal to update the near-obsolete Warrior vehicle with an extensive array of updates, including a new cannon, improved protection and open digital architecture.
The company handed over its business proposals for WSCP manufacture to the MoD’s investment approval committee on Dec. 21 last year.
Defence procurement minister Jeremy Quin confirmed to Parliament on Feb. 1 the business case for WCSP was being considered through the government approvals process.
“All decisions are subject to the ongoing Integrated Review,” he warned.
The review is touted here as the most fundamental transformation of the British defense sector in decades as the military pivots away from conventional equipment programs to cyber, space, unmanned and other cutting edge technologies.
Ben Barry, senior fellow for land warfare at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, said that the MoD faces hard choices around its armored vehicle programs, namely the update of the Challenger 2 tank, introduction of the Boxer armored personnel vehicle and the Ajax armored reconnaissance vehicle.
Achieving the necessary capability improvements with the necessary speed “will probably require hard choices about which of the Army’s current four armored-vehicle modernization programs to pursue. And of those program that are endorsed by the review, numbers and roles may change,” he said.
Publication of the long-delayed review is now expected around the second week of March, to be quickly followed by a defense white paper adding more detail on program and capability changes.
The Warrior update program, signed by Lockheed Martin in 2011 and now years behind schedule, has long been in the firing line when it came to potential capability cuts, according to analysts.
Wilkens said the company was aware that the program was “at risk” and Lockheed Martin had been active across social media to ensure the benefits of Warrior were well understood.
Some 2,000 jobs at Lockheed Martin UK and its supply chain, which is 80 percent British, are at risk as well as the future of a center of excellence in turret design the company has spent some £200 million ($280 million) developing at Ampthill, southern England, over the last ten years.
A KPMG report commissioned by Lockheed Martin said that upgrade work for an assumed 275 vehicles over the next eight years could bring about £1 billion, or $1.4 billion, gross value added (GVA) to the British economy.
Aside from Warrior, the Ampthill site also produces turrets for the General Dynamics UK Ajax armored reconnaissance vehicles being assembled for the British Army in a factory in south Wales.
Wilken’s said interest in the export market was expected to grow once the turret is in service.
A £16 billion ($22 billion) market for medium-caliber turrets over the next 10 years is forecast, she said.
Lockheed Martin UK is already seeking to leverage its WSCP skills and is undertaking conceptual work on future turret developments, including what the company calls an unmanned urban fighting vehicle.
Company officials said future development maintaining British turret capabilities would be unlikely to survive axing of the WSCP.
Part of the push to emphasize the economic and operational benefits of the program included an announcement Feb. 18 that the vehicle had recently completed 80 percent of key field trials and was on course to wrap up the testing work in the next two or three months.
Subject to WCSP avoiding the chop, the expectation has been that up to 275 vehicles will be updated.
Wilkins conceded, though, that the numbers may be cut.
“On the numbers there is a lot speculation. … I wouldn’t be surprised if the number of WSCPs are reduced. ... The first hurdle, though, is making sure the program survives,” she said.
A decision to completely axe the Warrior would significantly impact Army capabilities, argued Barry.
“If the Army dropped Warrior and did not replace it with another IFV that could keep up with and alongside tanks, armored warfare as successfully practiced on Desert Storm and Operation Telic in Iraq would be impossible. Urban warfare and high-end peace support operations like Bosnia would be much more difficult,” said Barry.
“The result would be a further loss of credibility and influence with the United States and NATO,” said the analyst.
Andrew Chuter is the United Kingdom correspondent for Defense News.