LONDON — Hanwha Defense has signed up Lockheed Martin UK as a member of its team bidding on a key British Army artillery program.
The South Korean defense contractor announced March 21 that Lockheed had become the latest industry member to join Team Thunder, the group bidding to secure an £800 million (U.S. $1 billion) deal to supply 155mm self-propelled howitzers to the Army.
Hanwha is offering its K9A2 howitzer for the British effort likely to attract competition from several rivals. French, German and Swedish systems are expected to join in to fulfill the British Mobile Fires Platform requirement when the competition officially gets underway. The Defense Ministry has said it wants a new 155mm capability in place by 2029.
Answering questions about the program in Parliament on Feb. 25, Defence Procurement Minister Jeremy Quin said the program is still in its concept phase.
“Around £166,000 was spent on the Mobile Fires Platform project between February 2021 and January 2022. As the project is still in the concept phase, the remainder of the £800 million provisioned has yet to be committed to future projects,” he said.
“Along with other Team Thunder partner’s expertise, our advanced systems, specialty engineering, and digitally-enabled production facility will provide the modern capabilities needed to manufacture in-country, bring into service and support the K9A2,” said Lee Fellows, vice president and managing director for Lockheed Martin UK’s Ampthill-based business.
Britain is seeking to update its 155mm artillery capability, as it currently relies on the aging AS90. Analysts say the country is outgunned in quantity and quality compared to Russia.
Industry executives say the MoD is watching what’s happening across the Atlantic, where the U.S. Army is reviewing its own wheeled, self-propelled howitzer requirements before deciding what it will ultimately need.
The K9A2 is not part of the U.S. Army evaluation, but variants of the system are part of export deals with several countries, including Poland, Estonia, Norway, Egypt and Australia.
Lockheed joins an industry team that already includes Pearson Engineering, Horstman Defence Systems, Leonardo and Soucy Defense. Hanwha said it is proposing to manufacture the tracked K9A2 in Britain and create hundreds of new jobs in the country if it secures the deal.
Lockheed’s U.K. arm has a major facility at Ampthill, near London, where it has invested substantial sums of money to design and build turrets for armored vehicles. But the company’s ambition to be a key player in Britain’s armored fighting vehicle industry was severely dented by the Army’s decision last year to ax its program to update the Warrior infantry fighting vehicle. Lockheed was the prime contractor for that program.
Lockheed is currently providing turrets for the Ajax reconnaissance platform built by General Dynamics UK for the British Army. That program could also be in jeopardy, as lawmakers have repeatedly called for the program to cease due to technical shortcomings.
Andrew Chuter is the United Kingdom correspondent for Defense News.