LONDON — Seven years after the British Ministry of Defence abandoned its attempt to buy an eight-wheel-drive 8x8 armored vehicle for the British army, the requirement is back in play with a pledge from the chief of the General Staff, Gen. Sir Nick Carter, that a new competition will get underway shortly.
The British had previously attempted to buy an 8x8 as part of the Future Rapid Effects System (FRES) requirement and got as far as selecting General Dynamics as the preferred supplier with the Piranha V, but the MoD axed the utility vehicle program in 2008 after the two sides failed to reach agreement on contractual issues.
The expected launch of the mechanized infantry vehicle (MIV) is one of a growing number of significant armored vehicle programs now starting to gather momentum in the UK.
Included in that list is a Challenger 2 main battle tank life extension program, the multi-role vehicle — protected requirement and a new all-terrain platform to replace BAE built Bv206s used by the Royal Marines.
Carter’s statement during a speech at the DSEI defense show in London Sept. 16 that he was looking to kick off the MIV program added a slice of good news for the host of armored vehicle suppliers at the DSEI defense show in London. Carter made the comment during a Sept. 16 speech at the show.
Candidates for the 8x8 program include General Dynamics, Iveco, Nexter, Patria and ST Kinetics.
BAE, the once dominant armored vehicle builder in the UK, is another company that might be able to offer a solution, possibly as a local partner for an overseas bidder.
One major 8x8 supplier that won't be in the competition though is Krauss-Maffei Wegmann. A spokesman said the company, in the throes of merging with Nexter, will not pitch its Boxer platform.
Details of the timing and level of funding for the new MIV are scarce.
One potential supplier said the way ahead would likely become clearer when the government' strategic defense and security review is wheeled out around the end of November.
Executives here reckoned the most likely inservice date would be around 2021 or 2022 in order to play a role in the modernization program planned by Carter for the first half of the next decade.
One executive wondered whether there was funding for a MIV buy in the next few years given the level of expenditure to acquire new vehicles or keep existing platforms, like Challenger 2, viable.
British Procurement Minister Philip Dunne told Defense News the cash for the MIV program had been was earmarked.
"There is a funding line within the Army element of the equipment program but some of it is uncommitted. It is uncommitted until they have chosen a vehicle and committed to a contract," he said.
Carter said the MIV would operate alongside the General Dynamics Scout reconnaissance vehicle, renamed Ajax at the show, in a land joint strike concept being developed by the Army.
The first production prototype of the Ajax made its debut at DSEI and first deliveries are expected later in the decade.
A MoD official at the show said the MIV program was one of the Army's top priorities. He said the new program had yet to enter the concept phase but confirmed there would be a competition for the requirement.
At one stage there had been were fears the British could buy Nexter’s VBCI without a competition as part of a deal between the allies under the Anglo-French defense treaty.
Nexter lost out to the Piranha V in the FRES Utility completion but has since invested money and effort in modifying the vehicle to overcome British objections.
France sent over a Nexter vehicule blindé de combat et infanterie (VBCI) to the British Army for a "trial" which ran from October last year to May 2015. Some 130 British soldiers went through a training course on the fighting vehicle.
"We would be very keen to participate in that [program]," said Mike Duckworth, Nexter director for international affairs.
Nexter sees its VBCI as "very well suited" to meet the key requirements of protected mobility and low maintenance.
Aside from the VBCI evaluation, British Army officers have also been to the US to assess the General Dynamics Stryker platform.
ST Kinetics officials also confirmed they are interested in pitching the new Terrex 2 at the requirement. The Singaporean company already supplies Warthog all terrain vehicles to the British Army.
Pierre Tran contributed to this report.