Having not been to the former GKN Defence plant at Hadley Castle site since the visit to drive the Warrior APC in 1985, the changes seen on March 27th, were remarkable and showed the drive by RBSL to develop this site to its former glory as the centre of armoured vehicle manufacturing in the UK. Ironically, the two Boxer Prototypes were manufactured here by AlvisVickers prior to the UK pulling out of the Boxer programme.
During the Warrior drive, the Editor was told to take his foot off the accelerator, but it slipped and the vehicle speeded up, sending a shower of water over the late great Simon O’Dwyer Russel, whose large tall frame was, drenched from top to toe! We won’t broadcast his expletives through the microphone!
Rheinmetall BAE Systems Land (RBSL) is a UK-based joint venture business between Rheinmetall and BAE Systems. RBSL has a long-standing relationship with the British Army having designed and delivered many of the Army’s existing combat vehicles under different business names, including the Challenger 2.
RBSL continues to provide in-service support for British Army vehicle fleets and, in addition to the Challenger 3 programme, is one of the major manufacturers of the Boxer Armoured Fighting Vehicle under the UK MOD’s Mechanised Infantry Vehicle programme.
The last time a platform started manufacture at the Hadley Castle Works site was in 1986 with the production of the Warrior fleet, which is still in service today. Manufacture of the first Terrier production hull began in January 2010 at the company’s former Scotswood Road site in Newcastle.
RBSL has invested £40m in its 29-acre site, transforming it into a world-class manufacturing facility so that the business can deliver next generation military vehicles and essential in-service support. This includes the installation of system integration labs which will support both Boxer and the British Army’s Challenger 3 Main Battle Tanks through life with updates and upgrades; new cranes, welding equipment and surface treatment facilities and new test facilities, including a 1.6km test track and a turret test rig – the largest in Europe.
Manufacturing begins on the British Army’s Boxer vehicles at Rheinmetall BAE Systems Land (RBSL).
The ‘M Day’ visit on March 27th was laid on by RBSL to celebrate the start of Boxer manufacturing at Telford.
“Over the last two-and-a-half years, our employees have been working hard to prepare us for ‘M Day’ – Manufacturing Day. We have developed new manufacturing capabilities, state-of-the-art facilities, tools and IT infrastructure, and we have invested heavily in our people through recruitment, specialist training and development, ensuring we have the right, high-performing team to deliver our future. “ RBSL Managing Director Colin McClean said.
“RBSL has a proud heritage of working with the British Army and remains the Design Authority for almost all of the UK’s in-service armoured vehicle fleet. The Boxer MIV Programme builds on that relationship and marks a new chapter in vehicle manufacture for the UK defence industry. This is truly an exciting time to be part of RBSL.
“We are all looking forward to seeing Boxer vehicles running down the production lines and then around the test track, whilst we continue to work closely with our industry partners and customers to deliver this much-needed capability to British soldiers and their allies. Together we are one team, with one mission.”
(Caption: Colin McClean)
The MIV programme
The overall £2.3bn Mechanised Infantry Vehicle (MIV) contract was announced in November 2019 between the UK MOD and ARTEC – a joint venture between Rheinmetall Landsysteme, Rheinmetall Defence Nederland B.V, and Krauss-Maffei Wegmann. The contract is delivered through OCCAR which the UK is part of, thus no VAT is applicable.
Work to fabricate key components of the Boxer Mechanised Infantry Vehicle (MIV) officially started on March 27 at RBSL’s manufacturing facility in Telford, a team of specialist welders in the Bay 1 area performed the first Boxer weld. The steel armour plate from Sweden comes into Hall 1 onto the welding decks and travels down the plant until the Mission Module is fabricated in Hall 2.
The Drive Modules from WFEL in Stockport come into the plant at the other end and are mated to the Mission Module in Hall 3, where they go through a process of painting, EMC testing and spall liner assembly before the finished product goes to the next stage of test and evaluation prior to delivery.
The Mission Modules have 12 bolts to fix to the chassis which, along with ducting and cabling, takes 20 minutes to mount on the chassis.
The Rolls-Royce MTU engines with the Allison gearbox and Renk transfer box, are delivered as a module for assemble into the Drive Module chassis
RBSL expect to produce one vehicle a week of the current total of 300 Boxers from the 628 for the British Army jointly manufactured between RBSL and WFEL. The first 30 Boxers are being built at the Rheinmetall plant in Germany where RBSL and WFEL staff are undergoing training to build the vehicles.
RBSL and WFEL are responsible for the Infantry Carrier and Command Vehicles whilst WFEL will build the 50 specialist Ambulance variants which requires a higher roof to enable the medics to perform delicate procedures on wounded soldiers.
The first Boxer will be finished in March 2024 prior to delivery to the British Army by the end of the calendar year.
Colin McClean, RBSL Managing Director said, “RBSL is proud to be regenerating this armoured vehicle capability and contributing to the Land Industry Strategy, marking a new chapter in vehicle manufacture for the UK defence industry. Not only will the delivery of Boxer provide the British Army with a complete step-change in capability to meet their MIV requirement, it will also protect vital engineering and manufacturing skills as a sovereign capability to the UK and we are incredibly proud to be a part of this milestone, alongside our partners in WFEL.”
The Boxer programme will deliver more than 600 vehicles to the British Army. Production has been subcontracted equally between RBSL and Stockport-based WFEL. Both companies will undertake fabrication of the armoured vehicle structures together with assembly, integration and test of the complete vehicles at their respective facilities. Current orders are delivered on one shift, with additional capacity for further orders and export.
On May 10th 2021, Rheinmetall won a pioneering land forces order of pan-European and NATO-wide significance. The British Ministry of Defence contracted with Rheinmetall, the Düsseldorf-based technology group to modernize the British Army’s main battle tank fleet. In all, 148 Challenger 2 main battle tanks will be upgraded with the 120mm smoothbore main armament from Rheinmetall, together with a completely new turret structure, including a state of the art digital system architecture. Forming part of the British Army’s Challenger 2 Life Extension Project, or LEP, the modernization programme is poised to convert this tried-and-tested tank into the new Challenger 3, keeping it in service for decades to come. The programme will take place during the 2021-2027 timeframe, the contract is worth around €770 million (£665 million).
The latest generation L55A1 smoothbore gun from Rheinmetall will place the modernized Challenger at the forefront of NATO tank technology. The gun fires subcalibre KE projectiles and programmable multipurpose ammunition. Delivering enhanced accuracy and penetrating power, the gun system features state-of-the-art fire control technology.
The Challenger 3 will be a network-enabled, digital tank featuring unsurpassed lethality and greatly improved survivability on the battlefield. It will be able to fire current and future Rheinmetall 120mm kinetic energy rounds and programmable multipurpose ammunition. Combined with the latest fire control technology and sensor systems, this will significantly boost the vehicle’s combat effectiveness, resulting in remarkably accurate firepower.
Armin Papperger, chief executive of Rheinmetall AG, said, “We’re proud to be taking charge of one the United Kingdom’s most important army technology programmes here in the cradle of the British tank industry. In technological terms, the upgrade will put the British Challenger tank on the cutting edge of NATO’s armed forces. To make this happen, we’ve amalgamated the longstanding expertise of RBSL with Rheinmetall of Germany’s unsurpassed know-how in large-calibre weapon systems, digitization and advanced turret solutions.”
John Abunassar, head of Rheinmetall’s Vehicle System’s division, said, “The British Army is getting a world-class capability. At the same time, we’re celebrating the return of top-notch tank technology to the British Isles, because the bulk of the work will take place in the UK and involve the inclusion of numerous local suppliers. This announcement comes after years of hard work and collaboration with our customer, especially in the recent extraordinary circumstances brought about by COVID-19.”
RBSL will be working together with subcontractors from all over Britain, giving an economic boost to their various locales. Work will be directed from the RBSL factory in Telford, with technical support from the company’s heavy armour specialists in Telford and at the RBSL facility in Washington near Newcastle in the northeast of England. The modernization programme will maintain existing high-grade industrial jobs in Britain and create numerous new ones. A new turret structure including improved survivability systems assures maximum crew protection. The main optical sights improves the target acquisition and tracking capability of both the commander and gunner. Moreover, thanks to the new physical, electronic and electrical architectures, this solution provides additionally significant growth potentials for the next decades.
The Challenger 3 Assembly Halls are in Halls 5 & 6, again using the Hall 3 where they go through a process of painting, EMC testing and spall liner assembly before the finished product goes to the next stage of test and evaluation prior to delivery.
RBSL receives the Turret Assembly from Pearson Engineering in Newcastle and it is fitted on the production line, where they go through a process of painting, EMC testing and spall liner assembly before the finished product goes to the next stage of test and evaluation prior to delivery.
One Challenger 3 will be built a week out of the 148 on order, in a single shift as per the Boxer Line. The Challenger 3 Critical Design Review has just been approved.
(Caption: Boxer with Rheinmettal Lance Turret)
“Do you envisage other variants of Boxer and will they be manufactured here?” The Editor asked.
“Very much so,” Colin McClean said. “We expect several more variants to be added from 2027 including a specialist Recovery Variant, a turreted variant, as used by Germany, Lithuania and Australia and possibly the RCH 155 Howitzer, under the Mobile Fires (Protected) (MFP) Programme.”
RBSL showed some Private Venture variants including 81 and 120 turreted mortar variants and the Brimstone fit as shown at DVD, developed with MBDA.
RBSL unveiled the Boxer Overwatch, a Brimstone missile-equipped variant of the Boxer vehicle developed in collaboration with MBDA, at DVD, Millbrook in September 2022.
RBSL, in co-operation with MBDA, completed the system design concepts and physical integration activities of Boxer Overwatch in response to British Army’s need for a Mounted Close Combat Overwatch (MCCO) capability, part of its future anti-armour needs known as Battle Group Organic Anti-Armour (BGOAA).
(Caption: Boxer with Brimstone)
The challenges of the modern battlefield increasingly demand that tactical land forces have the organic capability to engage peer threats of today and tomorrow with precision at range with mass. Boxer Overwatch creates an unmatched anti-armour capability that when used within a combined arms capability, can deliver both Overwatch protection to manoeuvring and advancing forces, or operate as a screening capability to disrupt advancing forces. The rapid and effective engagement of Boxer Overwatch is a key capability of the Heavy Brigade Combat Team.
Brimstone, leveraging significant investments by UK MOD into this state of the art anti-armour weapon system, offers ‘one missile, multi-platform’ versatility and is designed to be integrated onto land vehicles as well as helicopters, fixed-wing aircraft (including fast jets), naval platforms and UAVs. Brimstone’s non-line of sight (NLOS) capability, removes the need for the missile to be mounted on a turret and launched directly at a target. The integration by RBSL and MBDA provides next generation anti-armour coverage to the battle group.
(Caption: KMW/WFEL Boxer Bridgelayer)
Capitalising on the modularity of Boxer, a dedicated Boxer Overwatch provides the tactical commander with the capability to deliver precision anti-armour effects at long ranges. There is no modification to the Boxer drive module, no reduction in platform mobility and the low profile silhouette is key to survivability.
The salvo launch enables it to achieve co-ordinated effects on multiple targets during a single mission, with an all-weather fire-and-forget capability. Meanwhile ‘true dual-mode’ seeker performance provides the ability to engage single targets with low collateral damage in restrictive engagement scenarios. Brimstone possesses best-in-class insensitive munitions-compliance, fulfilling all mandatory user safety requirements and ensuring greater survivability of platform and operator.
Colin McClean, Managing Director of RBSL, said: “Our collaboration with MBDA demonstrates UK land business working together to deliver as one team for the benefit both of the British Army and the UK Value proposition. As such it is one example of accelerating the realisation of Future Soldier and the recently published Land Industry Strategy. Furthermore it highlights once again the benefits of Boxer modularity and the platform’s excellent digital architecture to enable multiple mission systems to be integrated. I am very much looking forward to delivering this capability at pace to British soldiers.”
Chris Allam, Managing Director of MBDA UK, added: “This collaboration with RBSL is a great example of how we can partner to quickly provide the British Army with a UK sovereign capability that can be spirally developed further to meet the needs of Op MOBILISE and to advance Future Soldier.”
RBSL has demonstrated the ability of a BOXER Mission Module to successfully integrate and fire a mortar from the BOXER vehicle. This firing demonstration took place on Salisbury Plain and was the first time in which a mortar has been fired from a BOXER.
(Caption: Boxer with Brimstone)
The integrated system demonstrated the BOXER vehicle, the Mortar Mission Module, a fully-automated aiming capability and the Mortar Weapon System (MWS) which has been developed by Rheinmetall Norway. On this occasion multiple 120mm mortar rounds were fired, demonstrating the ability of the BOXER to accommodate an updated capability for those users with smaller calibre in-service systems such as the 81mm mortar currently used by the British Army and many of her allies around the world. Whilst no 81mm mortar rounds were fired on this occasion the system is multi-capable, allowing either of the calibre weapons to be used as dictated by the operational requirement.
Overall system design and integration was conducted by RBSL engineers based in the company headquarters in Telford and the rapid production of this capability was made possible by close collaborative working with a number of industry partners. Manufacture of the mission module was also conducted at Telford by welders preparing for the serial production of those BOXER variants already on contract to the British Army under the ongoing Mechanised Infantry Vehicle (MIV) contract.
The need for mechanised infantry to have organic fire power is critical to mission success. This BOXER system delivers automated target acquisition and a high rate of fire (16-18 rounds/min) with rapid into and out of action – shoot and scoot. A semi-automatic mortar system can be fitted with a variety of mortar calibres and designs, enabling customers to use their current mortar systems or select their preferred future capability. The crew of four are able to operate in both day and night in all weather conditions, with a 270 degree rear firing arc. The Mortar System itself has also been demonstrated on light and medium vehicles enabling fleet wide commonality and reducing training and support burden.
The system can fire High Explosive, Smoke and Illumination ammunition, while the compact system design provides increased storage space for ammunition in the vehicle. The MWS also allows the mortar system to be dismounted and fire from the vehicle should the operational situation dictate it of should there be a requirement to revert to back-up functionality in the event of any system failure: in this way assured fire support can be delivered for soldiers.
Developed at Telford, the BOXER mortar module can also serve as an example of the creation of sovereign intellectual property as part of Rheinmetall’s strategic vision in support of the UK MoD and wider economic prosperity agenda. The mortar capability, combined with BOXER’s battle-proven design, also provides a valuable opportunity for UK exports – driving prosperity for the UK.
(Caption: Boxer with Mortar)
RBSL Managing Director Colin McClean said: “This Boxer Mortar Mission Module, which was unveiled at DSEi last year, has been a UK lead design and development programme. We are really excited about the international interest in this new BOXER capability and look forward to working with customers to meet their individual needs.”
“We have deliberately added extra facilities here, such as specialist workshops, EMC Chambers and the Test Track, where we can work with Partners such as MBDA to develop PV variants, the IP will reside here at RBSL. Our aim is to provide everything here from Assembly through test and evaluation to lifetime support and training. The MoD has yet to sign the Support Contract.”
The Assembly Hall was populated by a number of other armoured vehicles such as Terrier, Titan, Trojan, FV432 and CVR(T) to demonstrate the ability of RBSL to manage the whole British Army fleet; RBSL is the Design Authority for the fleet.
“Telford is the heart of engineering in the UK where the first Iron Bridge was built with the original GKN production capabilities spanned armoured vehicles, wheels, telephone boxes and tractor cabs, stretching over many acres. We are actively recruiting specialist engineers and have a large Apprentice programme.” Colin McClean said.
RBSL employs 700 people at Telford, 100 in the Newcastle Technical Centre, there are two facilities in Bristol and one in Bovington. The Challenger programme will maintain some 200 members of staff, including 130 highly skilled engineers and 70 technicians. Furthermore, during the next five years, RBSL will offer employment and training opportunities to more than 60 trainees.
“The programme secures the UK’s national capabilities base in terms of defence technology and engineering expertise and offers the prospect of new product developments and further export opportunities. By working with a vibrant UK supply chain, the MIV programme is helping support economic growth and level-up regional economic opportunity. The MIV programme aims to support and enhance the UK supply chain, including SMEs. It is also ensuring the UK has, in country, the skills and expertise to support the vehicles throughout their operational life.” Colin McClean said.
Hadley Castle Works
Established on ground said to have been the site of the original Hadley Castle (hence the name Hadley Castle Works), the site was recorded in 1804 as being the location of The Castle Iron Works, established due to its rich geology and an abundant source of coal.
Throughout the 19th century, Castle Iron Works produced 100’s of tons of bar iron under various company identities such as Thomas Jukes Collier & Company and Nettlefold & Chamberlain. The Iron Works sadly closed in 1888 when the current owner Benjamin Talbot was declared bankrupt.
The site laid dormant and its building unused until G F Milnes & Co Ltd revived activity in 1900, reopening as The Castle Car Works and beginning production of early tramcars, bringing much needed employment to hundreds of people. Within their first year of operation they built in excess of 700 vehicles as they benefited from the rush of orders as horse and steam tramway systems were converted to electric traction. Sadly however, and after such a huge success, the order book began to thin by the start of 1903.
Eventually and almost as fast as it started, Castle Car Works went bankrupt in September 1903, eventually becoming part of the United Electric Car Company in June 1905.
United Electric Car Company sub-leased the works to the Metropolitan Amalgamated Railway Carriage & Wagon Company although by 1908 falling orders once again forced yet another closure.
It was a desperate time for the local area although most of the Castle Works employees found uses for their skills in the fledgling car industry based in and around the Birmingham and Coventry area.
After a short period of disuse, local company Joseph Sankey & Sons acquired the Castle Work in 1910 and opened it as the renamed Hadley Castle Car Works.
Truck wheel manufacturing
The company initially manufactured pressed steel panels for car and charabanc bodies, along with steel wheels for cars and trucks. It was hard work but they found a strong and capable local workforce.
Within a few years, Sankey’s transferred their main automotive bodywork manufacturing activities to the Castle Car Works as well as their production of the laminations used in dynamos, electric motors and transformers.
During the First World War and in addition to their automotive products, numerous and varied components were also manufactured including aeroplane parts, bombs and military field kitchens. All manner of fabrications and castings were undertaken for mine hemispheres, mortar bombs, rifle grenades, anti-submarine bodies and shell bodies. They even made a large quantity of air raid wardens helmets.
Post war, the company chairman George Sankey lost interest business matter and eventually sold the business to John Lysaght & Company on 3rd December 1919. The two companies had forged close links during the construction of an extension to the Steel Wheel facility and Sankey had become close friends with Lysaght’s Chairman Henry Seymour-Berry.
Seymour-Berry in turn wanted to seek close ties with another local firm, Guest, Keen and Nettlefolds and in January 1920, John Lysaght & Company, along with the Sankey Division, became subsidiaries of Guest, Keen and Nettlefolds – now better known as GKN. In addition to its range of automotive components and steel furniture, the Hadley Castle Works (as it was now known) developed numerous subsidiary product lines during the 1930s.
These included steel barrels for the palm oil trade in Africa, steel roofing sheets which it supplied to the Rubberoid Company for decking and various metal trim pieces and steel pulleys for industrial machinery. GKN Sankey became one of the iconic names within the British engineering industry.
Despite being a subsidiary of John Lysaght, itself now a subsidiary of GKN, Joseph Sankey & Sons retained not only their individual trading identity but also a high degree of autonomy in the practical running of the business.
Whilst Directors of the overall GKN holding company sat on the board of GKN Sankey, it was very apparent that the Sankey family still developed most of the strategic plans regarding the Hadley Castle Works.
Before the outbreak of World War II, some 1,500 people were earning their living at Telford.
During the conflict, the Hadley Castle Works contributed greatly to the war effort with the production of Spitfire fuselages ready for final assembly at Castle Bromwich, some 40 miles away on the outskirts of Birmingham.
At the end of the war a new Wheel Shop was built at the Hadley Castle Works during 1946 which made GKN Sankey the largest producer of steel wheels in Europe.
By 1947, a full range of agricultural implements were being manufactured at the works including farming ploughs, seed drills, tractor bodies and trailers. With the upturn in business, expansion at the site continued and it was extended further between 1955 and 1959.
By that time production of armoured military vehicles had begun under the banner of GKN Armoured Vehicle Division.
The vehicle range included the FV432 Armoured Personnel Carrier and latterly, the MCV 80 armoured car which formed the basis for the Warrior infantry fighting vehicle, both widely used by the British Army.
Incidentally, alongside the production of armoured fighting vehicles sat a small production line for the works manufacture and assembly of specialist mobility vehicles for people with disabilities. More vehicle design work had been promised but the venture with Jaguar failed when the car company were taken over as part of British Leyland.
During the late 1960s, the works diversified into many product lines in order to survive as the level of orders fell away and the work force was drastically reduced from a high of 6,250 in 1978 (the largest employer in the area) to just 2,550 by 1982.
The Hadley Castle Works was reorganised yet again into four main operating units comprising;
• Light Fabrications, supplying telephone kiosks
• Agricultural Products, supplying tractor cabs for Ford and Massey Ferguson
• Engineering Products, producing car components
• Wheel Division concentrating on tractor and off Highway wheels.
However, the decline in business continued and in 1988 GKN’s Armoured Vehicles Division was sold to Alvis PLC, who had recently acquired the Swedish concern Hägglunds Vehicles AB a year earlier.
Although the name of the business was retained as GKN Engineering Products, this too was eventually changed to GKN Auto Structures in 2001.
After expanding further with the acquisition of Vickers Defence in 2002, a new identity was launched as Alvis-Vickers although this period of the history of the Hadley Castle Works was short-lived.
The newly formed BAE Systems had acquired a 29.9% stake in Alvis-Vickers in 2003, a stake previously owned by GKN and the following year, General Dynamics made a bid to take-over Alvis in September of that year.
In June 2005, BAE Systems acquired United Defense and reorganised its land systems businesses into BAE Systems Land and Armaments, with Land Systems and Land Systems Hägglunds as subsidiaries of this U.S. based operating group.
Hadley Castle Works remained part of the BAE Systems group until 2019 when it became headquarters for a new joint venture between BAE Systems and Rheinmetall – RBSL Ltd.