LONDON — The British Ministry of Defence has queried arms manufacturers about ways to smoothen a major upcoming acquisition program for a new self-propelled 155 mm howitzer.
Industry executives, who asked not to be named, said companies vying to compete for the key land strike program, had responded to at least four MoD requests for information.
The military’s envisioned Mobile Fires Platform program is aimed at updating artillery capabilities currently provided by the British Army’s aging AS90 155mm self-propelled howitzers.
A formal competition has yet to get underway, but the industry probes were likely aimed at flagging potential program risks ahead of MoD leaders approving the business case and triggering the acquisition process.
Officials involved in the procurement confirmed they had been gathering information aimed at developing a better understanding around the procurement.
“The Mobile Fires Platform project is not in formal procurement process, however, the project team have issued a number of requests for information to industry,” said an MoD spokesperson.
The MoD didn’t detail the nature of the RFIs but the industry executives said at least four had been issued, including query’s about early experimentation opportunities.
The queries’ focus does not appear to be directly related to the platforms themselves but are more slanted towards associated aspects of a new procurement.
Equipment familiarity, tactics and doctrine, safety procedures, training and logistic support were the focus of the questions, said the industry executives.
Expected bidders include BAE Systems with the Archer and Nexter with the Caesar, both offering truck-mounted systems, pitched against Hanwha Defence with the tracked K9 self propelled weapon, and Krauss Maffei Wegman offering a RCH155 howitzer turret mounted on a 8x8 wheeled Boxer.
Updating the current AS90 might be another option.
For now, industry is still waiting for an update of key user requirements from the British Army. That information is expected to determine whether wheels or tracks are the preferred option.
Both options have their supporters and it’s possible the British could eventually operate both types.
KMW earlier this year announced it was developing a tracked version of the Boxer multimission vehicle already ordered in large numbers by the British Army – mainly for armored personnel carrier duties.
Whichever way the British eventually go a contract award for the new 155 mm weapon is expected in 2025 or 2026.
First equipment delivery is currently scheduled for 2028, with full operating capability a decade away.
That might change, though, as the early lessons from the war in the Ukraine point towards artillery capabilities becoming a priority for a British Army currently, with comparable Russian guns firing much farther.
Not long after Russia started its invasion British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace admitted to the Parliamentary Defence Committee in June that a lack of deep-strike capability was a big issue for the Army.
“My main concern is actually our lack of deep fire. We are pretty much over-ranged in our heavy artillery by everyone. Our AS-90 range is about 23 or 24 km. France and everyone else are in 55 km ranges,” he said.
The massive impact of artillery systems in the Russian invasion makes some analysts and others here wonder whether the British might quicken the pace of the Mobile Fires Platform, but there are no signs of that yet.
Writing a commentary in June, Jack Watling , the land warfare analyst at the Royal United Services Institute think tank in London, advocated hastening the program. “Accelerating the delivery of the Mobile Fires Platform seems eminently sensible,” Watling said.
The deep-fires update is not confined to 155mm artillery, it’s part of a wider modernization of British artillery and fires assets which includes recapitalization of the M270 multiple launch rocket system (MLRS) and the expected purchase of Raytheon’s new Precision Strike Missile (PrSM).
Six of the Royal Artillery-operated M270 systems, similar to HIMARS, have been donated to the Ukrainian military.
Norway transferred three out-of-service MLRS systems to the British earlier this year to help restore numbers of Royal Artillery M270′s, and the British are currently pursuing other opportunities to increase fleet size as they move to establish a second MLRS regiment.
The British Army is in the early phases of modernizing its capabilities, having signed a deal with the Pentagon in 2021 on a five-year program to update 44 MLRS launchers, including a new armored cab and upgraded automotive and launch components.
The U.K. is also developing its own specific systems for the launchers, including a new radar, while a new fire-control system is being developed collaboratively by the United States, Britain, Italy, and Finland.
The update work will be carried out under an existing production contract with Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control with the work being undertaken at Red River Army Depot and Lockheed Martin’s facility in Camden, Arkansas.
“The program to upgrade the Army’s MLRS in on track, with the first of the launchers being delivered to Lockheed Martin in the U.S. this autumn,” said a British Army spokesman.
The sharp end of MLRS is also getting some improvements, with an extended-range missile due in service around 2025 that would give the British Army a weapon with a reach of around 150 km, compared with the current 84 km range.
Crucially, the British ground service also intends to collaborate with the U.S. and Australia on the PrSM project.
The 44 updated launchers will be able to fire the PrSM, Lockheed said when announcing the M270 update contract.
A Memorandum of Understanding is expected to be signed with the United States and Australia next year, with a view to collaborating on future capability increments and the purchase of a stockpile of the new 500 km range missiles already being built for the US Army.
A memorandum of understanding between the Australian Army and the U.S. military was announced last year. It includes a commitment to increasing the lethality, range and target engagement of the baseline missile now completing development.
Andrew Chuter is the United Kingdom correspondent for Defense News.