LONDON — The program to replace the British Army’s aging AS90 self-propelled artillery has hit at least a two-year delay, with the forthcoming howitzer not expected to reach initial operating capability until the first quarter of 2029.
The decision to defer the Mobile Fires Program was taken to allow the Ministry of Defence to address key technical risks and meet requirements in the government’s integrated defense, security and foreign policy review expected around the end of the year, according to sources with knowledge of the program.
Britain’s new heavy artillery had been due to gain initial operating capability in the fourth quarter of 2026, but the MoD confirmed that has now been put back to the first quarter of 2029.
The howitzer procurement delay means the current date for decommissioning the AS90s has also gone back two years. A portion of the howitzer force will now remain operational until 2032.
Revised timelines for a new procurement process are currently under development by the MoD.
An initial request for information was sent to industry in April 2019. The MoD issued revised key user requirements in January 2020 with a deadline for industry responses set for Feb. 17.
Britain’s BAE Systems, South Korea’s Hanwa Defense, Israel’s Soltham Systems, France’s Nexter and Germany’s Rheinmetall are among the companies that expressed interest in the program, an industry executive told Defense News on condition of anonymity.
Late last year, the Royal United Services Institute think tank in London blasted the British military for its lack of artillery firepower compared with a country like Russia.
“The UK’s ground forces are comprehensively outgunned and outranged , leaving enemy artillery free to prosecute fire missions with impunity”, RUSI analyst Jack Watling wrote in a report. “If conventional deterrence is to remain a key component of the UK’s national security strategy, then the modernisation of its fires capabilities should be a top priority.”
The integrated review, run by Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his advisers, is expected to be announced this year. Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said in a July 26 op-ed in the Sunday Telegraph that the review would pivot the military away from conventional arms and toward space, cyber and sub-sea capabilities.
As the MoD shuffles resources to fund the change in focus, land forces are expected by some to be a target for cuts.
Andrew Chuter is the United Kingdom correspondent for Defense News.