By Nicholas Drummond

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Boxer Infantry Carrier Vehicle. (Photo: Nicholas Drummond)

Contents

01.  Introduction
02.  You wait 20 years for an 8×8 then 508 turn-up at the same time
03.  UK Boxer specifications
04.  Additional variants needed by the British Army
05.  A high quality, low-risk acquisition

01.  Introduction

The acquisition of an 8×8 multi-role wheeled armoured vehicle is one of the most important programmes in the British Army’s extensive equipment plan. Our preferred choice of vehicle, the ARTEC Boxer, will provide mechanised infantry battalions with a true expeditionary capability and in doing so will offer exceptional levels of protected mobility. If such a vehicle had been introduced as originally intended, in 2010, it would have seen service in Iraq and Afghanistan and would have undoubtedly saved lives. More than just providing enhanced survivability, Boxer will fundamentally transform how the Army operates, allowing large formations to self-deploy over long distances and arrive ready to perform a variety of mission types, from low intensity peacekeeping to high-end peer-to-peer war fighting.

 02.  You wait 20 years for an 8×8 then 508 turn-up at the same time

Back in 2018, I was critical of the Army selecting Boxer without a competition. I thought the absence of alternative bids would result in us paying whatever ARTEC wanted to charge us. This will not be the case. Through the UK’s previous involvement in Boxer’s development, when we were a member of the ARTEC consortium,[1]we possess a deep knowledge of the cost of every Boxer component. The DE&S Team responsible for MIV has spent the last 24 months comparing its own cost estimates with those of Rheinmetall and KMW. They’ve haggled over the cost of every last nut and bolt to ensure that the final Boxer price passes HM Treasury scrutiny. The signs are that negotiations have reached a successful conclusion, meaning that the programme is ready to advance to the next stage: production.

ARTEC also needs a pat on the back for being flexible and reasonable in agreeing to deliver what the Army needs for the budget it can afford. The UK Minister for Defence Procurement, Ann-Marie Trevelyan, is expected to green-light the programme soon, with an announcement expected before the end of 2019 and irrespective of ongoing Brexit planning. The first vehicles should start rolling off German and British production lines within 24 months of contract signature. The Army says that 66% of Boxer content will be UK sourced.[2]With the Government concerned about F-35B costs and whether the Type 31e frigate will be a credible warship, it can be sure that Boxer will deliver a world-class capability without breaking the bank. It has already been successfully deployed in combat, when the Bundeswehr sent it to Afghanistan in 2011. No German soldier was killed or injured in a Boxer. Boxer’s maturity and proven performance have allowed the UK’s Mechanised Infantry Vehicle programme to be accelerated with a timeline that is in stark contrast to the glacial processes and indecision that plagued previous quests to bring this class of vehicle into service. The head of DE&S Armoured Vehicle acquisition deserves particular credit for realising that, having spent so long trying to acquire an 8×8 capability, we didn’t need to re-invent the wheel. We begun the process to introduce an 8×8 vehicle in 1998. More than 20 years later, and after the failure of MRAV and FRES UV, Boxer is finally about to arrive and, having established itself as one of the best vehicles in its class, it will definitely be a case of third time lucky.

03.  UK Boxer specifications

What makes the Boxer design unique in its class is its mission module approach. A common driveline platform can accommodate a wide variety of detachable crew compartments offering unmatched adaptability. This makes procurement easier as well as combat operations. To ensure flexibility down the road, the UK has opted for an improved Boxer driveline which allows future platform weight growth to 38.5 tonnes.[3]It uses the same MTU engine as the Ajax reconnaissance family, reducing through-life support costs through commonality of spare parts. The vehicle also has a beefed-up suspension, an electronic backbone with UK generic vehicle architecture (GVA) and other UK-centric tweaks, including blast proof seating for 95th percentile troops, a Bowman C4I fit, and the Kongsberg Protector remote weapon station (RWS). Should we decide to acquire the artillery variant of Boxer in the future, the upgraded driveline means that any Boxer within the fleet would be able to carry the heavier 155mm howitzer mission module.

All Boxers will mount either a 12.7×99 mm heavy machine gun or 7.62×51 mm medium machine gun in a RWS. It is hoped that all infantry section vehicles will have a 30×113 mm chain gun plus twin ATGM launchers. This light cannon, which is also used in the Apache AH-64 attack helicopter, combines the accuracy and rate of fire of a heavy machine gun with the explosive content of a 40 mm grenade, making it ideal for supporting infantry or defeating light vehicles at distances to 2,000 metres and beyond.

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Northrop Grumman M230LF 30 x 113 mm chain gun, shown here mounted on a Patria AMV Xp. (Photo: Nicholas Drummond)

Boxer will replace our MRAP fleet, including Mastiff, Wolfhound and Ridgeback, but it will also replace the FV430 / Bulldog, which is approaching 60 years of service. Many people have praised FV432 for its longevity and utility. Having used it in BAOR in the 1980s, I can say that it has been one of the Army’s greatest armoured vehicles. Correspondingly, my knowledge of Boxer convinces me that it is a worthy replacement; although, however good it proves to be, I hope it will not stay in service for the same amount of time.

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Boxer Ambulance. (Photo: Bundeswehr)

The Army plans to acquire 508 Boxers initially, spread across four variants.[4]These are:  (1) Infantry Carrier Vehicle, (2) Specialist Vehicle (essentially the same as the ICV but with a re-configurable interior), (3) Command Vehicle, and (4) Ambulance. The Army presently has 893 Bulldogs, 410 Mastiffs, 164 Ridgebacks, and 124 Wolfhounds. This means it will ultimately need 1,591 Boxers to fully replace all of these legacy platforms. In fact, if Boxer is used to equip reconnaissance, artillery, engineer, signals and other units that need protected mobility, as it should be, then the final total would need to be closer to 2,000 units

To suggest that the Army needs so many 8×8 vehicles may be a bit difficult for some people to accept, especially those brought-up on tracked APCs and IFVs. As a retired UK infantry officer with BAOR experience and someone who previously worked with Patria, an 8×8 manufacturer and competitor of Rheinmetall and KMW, my view is that 8×8 combat vehicles are the future. They have the tactical mobility to go anywhere a tracked IFV can, but they also have operational mobility, the ability deploy independently, getting to wherever they are needed without relying on transporters. This is transformational. Equipped with 8×8 Mechanised Infantry Vehicles, a whole brigade can literally get in, go anywhere and do anything. Some soldiers will need to see this to believe it, but when they do, it will drive a sea change in how the British Army fights. It will also create an insatiable demand for increased Boxer numbers and additional versions.

04.  Additional variants needed by the British Army

Once Boxer is established in UK service, orders for additional variants can be be expected to follow. The Specialist variant will be used to carry dismounted 81 mm mortar teams, reconnaissance teams, mortar / artillery fire controllers, anti-tank teams, engineer recce sections and REME fitters. In time, these variants are likely to be supplemented with dedicated vehicles for each role. We can also expect Boxer to become much more than just an infantry vehicle. 

Boxer CRV used already
Boxer CRV with Rheinmetall Lance 30 mm turret. (Photo: Ian Bostock / DTR magazine)

The most important missing variant is a cannon-equipped fire support variant to equip wheeled reconnaissance regiments. Britain could simply follow what Germany is doing and acquire the Australian CRV in an identical configuration, which has a 30 mm cannon in a Lance 2.5 turret plus twin ATGM. The work carried out by the Australian Army to perfect this vehicle makes it a low-risk choice. Alternatively, we could fit the same CTAI 40×255 mm cannon that fires cased-telescoped ammunition in the turret being developed by Lockheed-Martin for Warrior; however, this is still under development and both cannon and turret are not yet fully mature or free of risk. Whatever we select, four infantry battalions equipped with the Boxer ICV supported by two reconnaissance regiments with Boxer CRV would give us highly credible Strike Brigades.

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Patria NEMO 120 mm breech-loaded mortar system shown here on Patria 6×6 APC.              (Photo: Nicholas Drummond)

The second missing variant is a dedicated mortar vehicle. Given the speed with which 8×8 formations move (up to 1,000 kilometres in 24 hours) and the limited 5,000 metre range of our existing 81 mm mortars, there is a risk of out-running our fire support assets. For this reason, a 120 mm mortar is now needed. If we were to acquire a Boxer equipped with Patria’s NEMO 120 mm breech-loaded mortar (which also has a direct fire capability) we would not only have significantly increased range and firepower, we would only need six vehicles per mortar platoon, instead of eight, reducing manpower requirements and operating costs. Given that NEMO is fired from a turret under armour, it provides significantly greater protection than a mortar firing through an open roof. It also has health and safety benefits in terms of operators no longer being adjacent to the mortar tube when it fires, which presently limits our 81 mm mortars to Charge 3.

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Boxer RCH 155 mm L/52 howitzer with revised turret design. Both gun system and driveline are proven reducing the risk associated with acquisitions. (Photo: Nicholas Drummond)

Another missing variant is a 155 mm howitzer. Some within industry have suggested that the UK should acquire a gun-on-a-truck (GOAT) like Caesar or Archer. There is no doubt that these offer increased utility versus towed artillery systems, such as the M777, but we need a self-propelled howitzer that can keep pace with Boxer infantry battalions. Why do artillery units need to keep pace with infantry? For A2/ AD missions, where Strike Brigades conduct raids to neutralise such things as enemy air defence systems, infantry will be used to protect artillery while units manoeuvres to within shooting range of the desired targets. KMW has developed a Boxer 155 mm L/52 self-propelled artillery mission module, the RCH155. This is utilises the Boxer’s proven driveline, but also the same proven Rheinmetall cannon and autoloader that are used in the PzH. 2000. It carries 40 ready rounds of ammunition plus 140 charges.[5]Although the RCH155 is expensive, it is no more so than a new tracked self-propelled gun. AT DSEI 2019, KMW displayed a model of their revised RCH155, which has a more compact turret and can fire without stabilisers across a 360 degree arc. It gets into action within 20 seconds, fires up to eight rounds in a minute, and can then move positions within a further 20 seconds. No GOAT can do likewise. No GOAT has the same level of protection. In a world where artillery is acquired as soon as it has fired, the ability to ‘shoot and scoot’ is essential to battlefield survivability.

MBDA Boxer Future indirect Fires Concept
Boxer with ground-launched Brimstone missile pods. This new version of the Brimstone missile has an NLOS capability that gives it a 40+ kilometre range and the ability to defeat armour and other protected targets. (Photo: MBDA)

In terms of raiding, further Boxer artillery variants equipped with ground-launched Brimstone or Spear, providing a 40-50 kilometre NLOS precision capability against a range of targets would complement a 155 mm area capability. Furthermore, mounting HIMARS on a Boxer module with a mix MLRS/ GMLRS rockets and a Deep Fires missile with a 499-kilometre range, would be equally devastating. Strike units would manoeuvre to an engagement point, neutralise their targets, and then fight their way out of contact. Assuming a Strike Brigade could effectively destroy enemy GBAD units, this would theoretically facilitate air superiority or parity, enabling large-scale destruction of enemy armour from the air.

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Rheinmetall Oerlikon 35 mm Sky Ranger GBAD module. This combines a high rate of fire        with fragmenting ammunition for excellent lethality against missiles, aircraft and drones.           (Photo: Rheinmetall Oerlikon)
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Rheinmetall Oerlikon 35 mm AHEAD ammunition for Sky Ranger GBAD cannon has an airburst round that creates a cone-shaped cloud of tungsten pellets. (Photo: Nicholas Drummond)

Ground-Based Air Defence is further area that merits consideration. The existing Stormer CVR(T)-based air defence vehicles equipped with Starstreak HVM are obsolete, like Bulldog. Therefore, there is a need to mount the same missile system on a new platform. One option is to acquire a Boxer mission module with a 35×228 mm anti-aircraft cannon, such as the Oerlikon Revolver gun Mk 3. This has advanced air burst ammunition with a 35 mm projectile that fragments to form a cone-shaped cloud of tungsten pellets. These decimate incoming missiles, aircraft and drones. Alternatively, the 20×102 mm Phalanx CIWS used by the Royal Navy could also be used. Phalanx ammunition doesn’t fragment, making pinpoint accuracy harder to achieve even though it has a higher rate of fire than the Oerlikon system. 

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Boxer Recovery Module. This can lift and remove mission modules and power packs. The  module can also operate independently from a Boxer driveline. (Photo: FFG Flensburg)

With a mission module approach, the possibilities are endless. The German heavy engineering firm, FFG, recently invested in a Boxer Recovery Module.[6]This can swap mission modules in the field as well as changing power packs, dramatically improving forward support of the fleet when deployed. A common platform able to accept multiple module types means that Strike Brigades can be configured and re-configured according to the mission at hand. By having more mission modules than driveline modules, you reduce the cost of the whole capability set. If we need to add new weapons or other systems, we can simply acquire new modules and fit them to our existing fleet. Finally, when the Boxer driveline module is re-engineered to incorporate new technology, e.g. hybrid electric drives, we will be able to attach our existing mission modules to the revised driveline, further reducing system lifecycle costs.

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Boxer Bridgelayer concept with 100 tonne bridge able to bridge a 14 metre gap.                      (Photo: Nicholas Drummond)

05.  A high quality, low-risk acquisition

Should any unforeseen situation require Britain to deploy the Army in an emergency, Boxer will enable it to generate a highly mobile, high-impact force quickly and efficiently. Boxer can self-deploy by road. It can be carried by an Airbus A400M. Or an entire brigade of Boxers can be transported by sea via Littoral Strike Ships or RoRo ferries. When boots are deployed on the ground the very nature of warfare means they are exposed to significant life-threatening risks. Regardless of mission, it is totally appropriate that they should be given a vehicle that offers the highest possible level of protection – especially since Army personnel have borne the brunt of casualties suffered by UK Armed Forces during recent deployments. No armoured vehicle can offer complete protection against kinetic or blast threats, but the increased survivability offered by Boxer will do much to reduce the hazards, ensuring our troops return home safely. For all these reasons, Boxer will be a massive win for the Army, but equally for the Government that supports its introduction.

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Boxer Command variant. (Photo: Bundeswehr)

 

 

 

 


[2]British Army, DSEI, September 2019

[3]ARTEC/ KMW

[4]Source: UK Ministry of Defence / Defence & Equipment Support

[5]ARTEC / KMW

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