LONDON — Fourteen years after exiting development of the Boxer wheeled armored vehicle, the U.K. Ministry of Defence has opted to rejoin the program with the intention to equip the British Army with the 8x8 starting 2023.
“The U.K. will re-join the Boxer program and explore options to equip the Army with the 8x8 troop carriers to modernize its vehicle fleet and meet the Army’s mechanized infantry vehicle requirement,” the MoD said.
The British left the program in 2003, citing changing requirements as the reason behind the move and claiming at the time that vehicle weight growth made the Boxer too heavy for transport by Royal Air Force C-130s. Germany and a new partner, the Netherlands, have gone on to order several hundred vehicles for themselves and export customers.
The British choice received a boost last month when Australia selected the Boxer for its Land 400 Phase 2 program after a rigorous competition. Slovenia also selected the vehicle last month and Lithuania became the programs first export customer in 2016, with first deliveries scheduled for this year.
The British are now conducting an assessment phase on the MIV program which is expected to be complete next year and is in negotiations with the Organisation for Joint Armament Cooperation (OCCAR) and Artec to rejoin the Boxer program.
OCCAR is a European intergovernmental organization, which manages collaborative armament programs, including Boxer, through their lifecycle.
“The assessment phase, concluding in 2019, will consider the comparable benefits of manufacturing locations and different supply chains for Boxer, as well as value-for-money. Any deal will be subject to commercial negotiation and assessment in 2019. The aim is to have the first vehicles in service with the Army in 2023.
The MoD chose 5:30 p.m. on Easter Saturday to announce its controversial intention not to hold a competition to procure an 8x8 for the new Army strike brigades being forming as part of a wider restructuring plan. Instead, the U.K. will take a significant step towards buying the German-built vehicle in a single source deal.
The move was not unexpected but the timing was — British procurement moves don’t usually get announced in the middle of a four day public holiday with Parliament in recess.
The British Army and others in the MoD have been pushing hard for well over a year for a single source deal with Artec, the Krauss-MaffeiWegmann/Rheinmetall joint venture which makes the Boxer.
Rival suppliers have been waging an apparently unsuccessful campaign for the best part of two years for the MoD to run a competition. General Dynamics, Nexter, Patria, Lockheed Martin and ST Engineering have all expressed an interest in bidding for the requirement.
The MoD said in a statement it had conducted a comprehensive market analysis of mechanized infantry vehicles in-service, entering service and in development. “The Boxer delivered on protected mobility, capacity, flexibility, utility and agility,” it said.
The BBC though quoted Welsh-based Parliamentarian Wayne David saying the process had not been “fair and open” and described the acquisition process as “clandestine.”
“The process should examine value for money and creating as many British jobs as possible,” he said.
“General Dynamics are competent and were confident they could have beaten anything in terms of job creation and competitiveness on price,” said the British lawmaker.
Executives from rival 8x8 makers maintain the failure to hold a competition will result in Britain’s already stretched defense budget taking a hit.
General Dynamics has two factories in south Wales where, among other things, it assembles the Ajax family of tracked vehicles destined to equip the new strike brigades alongside the 8x8s.
The company was originally selected as the preferred contractor by the British to supply its Piranna V 8x8 for the Army as part of the future rapid effects system program but the deal fell through in 2007 when the two sides failed to agree on terms.
One of the rival vehicles it beat in the competition was the Boxer.
Artec, meanwhile, has signed up a formidable list of local partners for the program including BAE Systems, Pearson Engineering, Raytheon U.K. and Thales U.K. to help counter accusations that choosing Boxer will hits British jobs.
The German company says it will assemble the vehicles in the U.K. and could create or sustain at least 1,000 jobs in the British supply chain. At least 60 percent of manufacturing could be undertaken in the U.K., it said.
“As part of the proposed deal, the U.K. is also expected to see substantial inward investment from Rheinmetall…. who signalled their intention to launch a production and integration center for armored vehicles in the U.K. as part of the program. This would represent a significant commitment, which would lead to long-lasting armored vehicle capability in the U.K.,” said the MoD.
One of the British programs Rheinmetall is looking to secure is an upgrade of the Challenger 2 main battle tank. The company is in competition with BAE to upgrade the tank.
Lockheed Martin and General Dynamics would argue Britain already has an armored vehicles capability.
General Dynamics has a facility in south Wales where it is assembling several hundred Ajax family vehicles and Lockheed Martin has invested heavily in building a turret integration factory at Ampthill, southern England where it builds turrets for the Ajax and an upgrade of Warrior infantry fighting vehicles.
Lockheed Martin has been developing the turret for the Warrior for several years and a manufacturing deal on the capability sustainment upgrade awaits the outcome of a MoD defense review expected to be complete this summer.
* This story has been updated to correct the number of years since the U.K. exited the Boxer program.
Andrew Chuter is the United Kingdom correspondent for Defense News.