by J. Kasper Oestergaard, European Correspondent, Forecast International.
In a scathing March 14 report released by the U.K. Parliament’s Defence Committee, the British Army’s armored fighting vehicle capability is called deplorable, obsolescent, and outgunned. In fact, “deplorable” was one of the kinder words used in the report, which comes ahead of the publication of a wider government defense, security, and foreign policy review that is expected to call for the termination of, or at least a reduction in the size of, several key armored vehicle capabilities.
The British Army’s vehicle fleet includes the following platforms:
- Challenger 2 main battle tank
- Warrior infantry fighting vehicle
- FV 430 family of armored vehicles (command vehicles, troop carriers, 81mm mortar carriers, ambulances, and recovery vehicles)
- Stormer tracked vehicle – a mobile platform for the Starstreak High-Velocity Missile (HVM)
- Protected Patrol vehicles (called MRAPs in the U.S.), including the Foxhound, Husky, Mastiff, Panther, Ridgback, RWMIK, and Wolfhound
- Reconnaissance vehicles, including the Coyote, Fuchs, Jackal 2, Scimitar, Spartan, Samaritan, Sultan, and Samson
- Engineering equipment: wreckers, recovery vehicles, mobile bridges, etc.
- A wide range of logistics vehicles
According to the report, the British Army has struggled to define its role in the post-Cold War world. Most of the blame for the present state of the armored fighting vehicle capability is placed on the Ministry of Defence and its procurement arm, Defence Equipment & Support (DE&S). The reasons for the failure include bureaucratic procrastination, military indecision, financial mismanagement, a lack of stable funding for programs, a desire to have the latest (unproven) technology, and general ineptitude. According to the committee, between 1997 and late 2020, not a single new armored vehicle – with the exception of a small number of armored engineering and protected mobility vehicles – was delivered into operational service with the Army. Moreover, the report called the management of the British Army’s equipment programs “extremely weak.”
“In 1990 the UK had around 1,200 main battle tanks in its inventory, today has 227, and those that remain are in urgent need of modernisation,” the committee wrote.
In one of the more scathing paragraphs, the committee stated: “Were the British Army to have to fight a peer adversary – a euphemism for Russia – in Eastern Europe in the next few years, whilst our soldiers would undoubtedly remain amongst the finest in the world, they would, disgracefully, be forced to go into battle in a combination of obsolescent or even obsolete armored vehicles, most of them at least 30 years old or more, with poor mechanical reliability, very heavily outgunned by more modern missile and artillery systems and chronically lacking an adequate air defense. They would have only a handful of long-delayed, new-generation vehicles, gradually trickling into the inventory, to replace them.”
Furthermore, the committee is concerned that the DE&S may not have sufficient technically qualified staff and capacity to effectively manage the multiple armored vehicle procurement and upgrade programs that are currently underway. These programs include the four armored fighting vehicle programs listed below:
- Acquisition of new Ajax tracked reconnaissance vehicles built by General Dynamics (the program is behind but vehicles are starting to trickle into the Army’s hands).
- Acquisition of around 500 new Boxer mechanized infantry fighting vehicles from Rheinmetall BAE Systems Land.
- The long-delayed upgrade of the Warrior infantry fighting vehicle – Lockheed Martin UK (not yet under contract).
- The Challenger 2 LEP modernization effort – Rheinmetall BAE Systems Land (not yet under contract).
There is currently uncertainty about whether the two upgrade programs listed above will be given the go-ahead; however, British media reported on March 13 that the Challenger 2 LEP modernization effort will move forward. The tank fleet will, however, be reduced from the current level of 227 to between 150 and 170. It has also been reported that the Warrior upgrade effort, initially launched in 2011, will not progress to the next stage and that the planned capability will be completely abandoned.
The report also provides a number of key recommendations and requirements, as follows:
- The situation must be rapidly reformed, including, if necessary, by senior management changes at DE&S.
- UK armored vehicle programs must undergo independent scrutiny.
- It must be confirmed that the U.K.’s main battle tank capability is currently fit for purpose and will remain so until the Challenger 2 LEP reaches full operating capability.
- A timetable must be provided for the Challenger 2 LEP program, and the possibility of fitting the tank with an automatic loader must be examined.
- It must be ensured that there will be no further delays to the Ajax tracked reconnaissance vehicle program.
- The procurement of Boxer mechanized infantry fighting vehicles must be accelerated to ensure the Army receives this new capability as soon as possible.
- The merits of continuing with the Warrior CSP upgrade program must be carefully assessed.
- Options must be sought to bring a replacement for the FV430 series of armored fighting vehicles earlier than currently planned.
- A clear decision must be made about participation in the Main Ground Combat System (also called the European Main Battle Tank, or EMBT – a project by France and Germany to replace currently deployed Leclerc and Leopard 2 main battle tanks).
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Based in Denmark, Joakim Kasper Oestergaard is Forecast International’s AeroWeb and PowerWeb Webmaster and European Editor. In 2008, he came up with the idea for what would eventually evolve into AeroWeb. Mr. Oestergaard is an expert in aerospace & defense market intelligence, fuel efficiency in civil aviation, defense spending, and defense programs. He has an affiliation with Terma Aerostructures A/S in Denmark – a leading manufacturer of composite and metal aerostructures for the F-35 Lightning II. Mr. Oestergaard has a Master’s Degree in Finance and International Business from the Aarhus School of Business – Aarhus University in Denmark.