LONDON — The British Army is looking at how it can increase the firepower of its new Boxer mechanized infantry vehicles to compensate for the decision to ax the more heavily armed Warrior armored vehicle from its lineup.
“The Army is conducting an analysis on potential lethality enhancements of Boxer vehicles. As outlined in the recent Integrated Review, modernizing our armored capabilities is not replacing ‘like for like’ but integrating our new technologies and ways of operating,” a Ministry of Defence spokesperson told Defense News.
The government brought the shutters down on a program to update hundreds of Warrior infantry fighting vehicles late March as part of its defense, security and foreign policy review, leaving the Boxer armored personnel carrier to help fill the gap left in the armored forces inventory.
“We will no longer upgrade Warrior but it will remain in service until replaced by Boxer, which we expect to happen by the middle of this decade,” the MoD said in a March 22 “Command Paper” announcing the changing shape, size and capability of the military as part of the Integrated Review.
That change in direction has left Britain with some issues to resolve.
Leaving aside the debate over tracks versus wheels — the Warrior has tracks while the Boxer is an eight-wheel drive platform — the biggest disparity between the two vehicles is probably lethality.
A key part of a wider Warrior update program secured by Lockheed Martin UK in 2011 involved installation of a harder-hitting CTA International-made 40mm case, telescoped cannon to replace the slow-firing, unstabilized 30mm gun currently in operation. CTAI is a joint venture involving BAE Systems, Nexter and KNDS.
The update program is years late and over budget. That’s partly due to issues with the government-mandated use of the unconventional CTAI weapon.
The update, known as the Warrior Capability Sustainment Program, has been brought to a close with development and testing virtually complete, but before a manufacturing contract was signed.
Lockheed Martin UK also produces at its Ampthill, southern England, manufacturing site a turret fitted with the same CTAI cannon for the General Dynamics UK-built Ajax tracked reconnaissance vehicles, now being delivered to the Army. Ampthill employs about 900 people, of which some 30 percent work in the turret business.
The future of the turret operation, where Lockheed Martin says it has invested £23 million (U.S. $32 million) building a center of excellence, is now under scrutiny by the company.
Lockheed officials said one program that could potentially provide work is the British Army’s requirement to boost its 155mm howitzer capability.
“We are tracking the Mobile Fires Platform program very closely despite the initial operating capability date slipping to the end of this decade. We believe there will be a requirement from the MoD to maximize U.K. workshare on the program,” a spokesperson said. “Whilst Lockheed Martin does not have a 155mm solution to offer into the program, we believe that our unique systems design, integration and manufacturing facilities at Ampthill will be critical in ensuring the successful delivery of the capability into service.”
The British Army is in the early stages of the Mobile Fires Platform procurement. Updating the current AS90 tracked howitzer is one option; mounting a 155mm gun on Boxer is another. But there is plenty of other interest from foreign companies like South Korea’s Hanwha Defense with the self-propelled K9 vehicle already bought by Australia.
That’s for the future, though. A more immediate priority appears to be giving Boxer a heavier punch than it has at the moment.
The Boxer variants purchased by Britain — in a £2.3 billion deal in 2019 to supply an initial 508 vehicles from Germany’s ARTEC joint venture between Rheinmetall Landsysteme and Krauss-Maffei Wegmann — have much less firepower but were designated for a different role than the Warrior.
Rheinmetall BAE Systems Land — the Rheinmetall-BAE Systems joint venture leading the local Boxer production effort — announced in February it awarded the U.K.-based Thales business a contract to supply 500 Kongsberg Defence and Aerospace-developed Protector RS4 remote weapon stations with a heavy machine gun as the main armament.
Most of the vehicles being purchased by Britain are in an infantry carrier configuration, with ambulance, command and specialist vehicles making up the remainder. The number of vehicles purchased is likely to change. The expectation has always been that Boxer numbers would substantially increase as the platform replaces other vehicles and as new requirements (like the 155mm howitzer) are created.
The Army is working on a detailed analysis to determine the future size, shape and structure of the Boxer fleet.
The Boxer’s rapidly swappable mission modules give the vehicle the flexibility to change roles without necessarily buying matching numbers of platforms.
Part of the solution to more hitting power might be to increase the number of Boxer reconnaissance variants fitted with anti-tank guided missiles. For the moment, the number of reconnaissance vehicles purchased by Britain stands at 50, but the Army is conducting an analysis to determine if more Boxer vehicles within the force should also be fitted with ATGMs.
There are other lethality options as well. ARTEC managing director Stefan Lischka was reluctant to talk about possible British firepower solutions, but he did note that existing customers helped the company develop plenty of options.
“The proven and certified solutions for the U.K. to choose from for the [mechanized infantry vehicle] in order to de-risk and keep pace are increasing, as we have a growing basket of various configurations gained out of the cooperation with other nations operating Boxer,” Lischka said. “Be it firepower or recovery capabilities already contracted, or be it a broad spectrum of mature prototypes for artillery or bridge-laying, Boxer [has an answer].”
The German company has several cannon and missile options available in manned or unmanned turret configurations that could interest Britain.
Australia, with whom the British have close defense ties, is nearing verification of the design of a manned turret with a 30mm cannon installed on a Boxer combat reconnaissance vehicle variant as part of its Land 400 Phase 2 program.
A second export customer, Lithuania, has both a missile and a 30mm cannon on its Boxer variant, known as the Vilkas.
The British MoD has no plan to do so, but it might even be possible, albeit politically risky, to fit the CTAI cannon to a Boxer.
In written evidence late last year to the parliamentary Defence Committee’s inquiry into progress — or rather more accurately a lack of progress — in delivering the Army’s armored vehicle program, Lockheed showed a picture of a turret fitted with a CTAI cannon on a Boxer platform for a potential export customer.
Some analysts think that even if the Warrior update program had gone ahead, Britain would eventually come around to replacing the Boxer’s heavy machine gun with a 30mm cannon to match potential adversaries.
Meanwhile, the Army is also looking at accelerating the production rate of the Boxer, which is currently slated to involve roughly 50 Boxers a year for 10 years — a rate the Defence Committee said was astonishingly slow.
Early vehicle will come off the production line in Germany, but sites in the English towns of Telford and Stockport are set to take over assembly work as local capabilities grow.
As things stand, the first production vehicles are forecast to enter trials and training in 2023 for an initial operating capability by 2025. There is, however, work underway to try and speed that up.
Britain is now aiming for full operating capability by 2030, bringing this forward from 2032.
Andrew Chuter is the United Kingdom correspondent for Defense News.