Lots has been written around the politics of a potential single source award to the ARTEC consortium for Boxer to meet the UK’s Mechanised Infantry Vehicle (MIV) requirement, but little of any substance has been written about Boxer itself, its evolution, or how any of these factors could impact a procurement decision.
The actual development history of what, for accuracy, should be referred to as the ARTEC (ARmoured TEChnology) Boxer has most definitely not been detailed as well as it should be. Perhaps even more importantly, the majority of factors from that developmental process that would support Boxer’s promotion as the best solution for the UK’s MIV requirement, have seldom if ever appeared in any developmental overview of the vehicle.
It was approaching 20 years ago that it was first disclosed that ARTEC (previously known as EuroKonsortium) had been selected to design and manufacture a new 8×8 APC that would hopefully meet the combined future requirements of France, Germany and the UK. However, as with pretty much every multi-national defence project ever conceived, the development process that followed was far from smooth. The first major hiccup occurred in 1999 when France left the program to independently develop the Véhicule Blindé de Combat d’Infanterie (VBCI). Hardly a surprise, as the French had previously limited participation in the first production phase to 50 command post vehicles, having a requirement for a turreted infantry fighting vehicle (IFV) variant they did not believe the program would deliver.
Again, hardly a surprise as this move was first muted as far back as 1997. With the Netherlands in place, the ARTEC consortium comprised of Krauss-Maffei Wegmann (KMW) and MaK (now Rheinmetall MAN Military Vehicles (RMMV)) of Germany, Stork NV of the Netherlands, and the then Alvis Vickers of the UK. At this juncture an initial production run of 600 vehicles was planned (200 per user), with informed sources suggesting final production totals might reach 3000, with the UK requiring 1388 of those, and with an in-service date of 2009.
The first prototype of what at the time was referred to as Gepanzertes Transport Kraftfahrzeug (GTK) by the German’s, Pantser Wiel Voertuig (PWV) by the Dutch, and MultiRole Armoured Vehicle (MRAV) by the UK, was unveiled late-1999, with the first prototype (a German APC) rolled out in December 2002. By this stage the name Boxer had been confirmed, but none of the partner nations were contractually committed to buying production Boxers, and the UK was already looking to reduce numbers because of ‘changing operational requirements.’
In 2001 the UK’s doomed Future Rapid Effects System (FRES) requirement was first muted publically, and by the terms of its contract with OCCAR (Organisation for Joint Armament Cooperation) to honour its funding commitments through Boxer’s development phase, these reported at the time to potentially total some £60 million. Boxer, which at this point had a combat weight of 32 tonnes, was considered too big and too heavy for the then emerging all-important rapid deployment roles. The MoD desired a more deployable and lighter platform, and one with a target GVW in the 18-22 tonne range. By way of reference, the US’ GD Stryker 8×8 (selection made in 2000) began with a combat weight of 17.2-tonnes. Not without some deliberation, Germany and the Netherlands opted to press on with the Boxer program following the UK’s withdrawal. In 2008 Rheinmetall acquired Stork PWV BV, thereby increasing its stake in ARTEC from 14% to a majority 64%.
The first production Boxer was handed over to the German Army in September 2009, with the type first deployed to Afghanistan in 2011. The first Netherlands Army Boxers were delivered in 2013, these from the Netherlands production line in Ede. To date, and inclusive of a variety of quantity and configuration changes, the German Army has ordered 403 Boxer, while the Netherlands has ordered 200. Lithuania became the third customer for Boxer with an order placed in 2016 for 88 IFV variants and two driver training vehicles. Lithuanian IFVs will be fitted with a 30 mm cannon armed Rafael Samson Mk2 remote controlled turret. In Lithuanian service Boxer will be known as Vilkas (Wolf).
German and Netherlands Boxers, when armed, are fitted with a KMW/ Kongsberg remote weapon station (RWS) fitted with a 12.7 mm heavy machine gun (HMG) or 40 mm automatic grenade launcher (AGL). Current orders secure Boxer production in Germany (Kassel and Munich) and the Netherlands (Ede) until 2021.
Having withdrawn from the Boxer program the UK struggled on with FRES, and by late-2006 it became clear the first element of FRES procured would be an 8×8 Utility Vehicle (UV). With BAE Systems, IVECO and Patria eliminated, ultimately three contractors would participate in FRES’ so-called ‘trials of truth’ during 2007. These were General Dynamics (GD) with Piranha Evolution, Nexter with VBCI, and ARTEC with Boxer. Piranha Evolution was stated to be a stepping stone to the then underdevelopment Piranha V, this stated to have a GVW of 26- to 28-tonnes. VBCI at 28-tonnes GVW represented the culmination of France’s efforts after exiting ARTEC, while Boxer was the same vehicle the UK had earlier walked away from citing it ‘too big and too heavy’ GD with Piranha V was finally announced as FRES UV’s preferred bidder in May 2008, although by early 2009 it was clear that no FRES UV procurement would be made.
In a third attempt at procuring an 8×8 platform, the UK MoD revived UV through the Mechanised Infantry Vehicle (MIV) requirement announced as part of the 2015 Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR). Little specific information regarding MIV has been released by the MoD, although the limited requirements data so far released suggests required vehicles will be very similar to current Dutch Boxers. Overall quantities of anything from 300 up to have 900 MIV have been touted, but Battlespace sources suggest that around 500 vehicles that could be required for an in-service date of around 2023 is a more realistic figure. An off-the-shelf design will be mandated, and any armament option will be limited to a RWS.
In recent months it has consistently been reported in mainstream media (without explanation as to why…) that the UK MoD could meet MIV with a sole-source Boxer purchase. This is correct, it can, and based on their previous involvement with the program, a sole source selection of Boxer could certainly be a low-risk option for the UK. And while exercising such an option would ultimately deliver vehicles more quickly and save both industry and government not insubstantial competition costs, most Battlespace sources agree that despite an unspoken MoD preference for Boxer, the political and vested interest backlash from any sole source procurement will ultimately lead to a competition being held. In fact, in his interview on pages 30-34 of this issue, Rheinmetall UK’s Peter Hardisty openly states the company is ‘preparing for a competition.’
With an air of dèjá vue about it, competitors likely to line up against Boxer for MIV will almost certainly include Nexter offering the latest VBCI 2, Patria offering the latest AMV, and General Dynamics offering Piranha V – or possibly the latest LAV 6.0. The interesting thing with that selection is that all those designs have evolved considerably in recent years to keep up with requirements for increased payload and protection. VBCI and AMV are essentially second generation designs with automotive and other revisions, while Piranha V is arguably an entirely new design. On the other hand, Boxer, once cited as too big, too heavy, and too well-protected, is little-changed since the first prototype rolled out in 2002. The current A2 standard (only 41 A0 were produced) is little different to the earlier A1, technology upgrades for the A2 based on operational experience and centring around a satellite communications system, a fire suppression system, and a situational awareness suite. While to counter the previously unknown operational threat of IEDs, belly protection was enhanced, as were certain aspects of upgradeable composite ballistic/fragmentation protection. Boxer is constructed from rolled all-welded steel armour, on top of which armour panels are fitted via shock-proof mounting bolts.
Boxer’s GVW in APC configuration has increased by around 4.5-tonnes (14%) to 36.5-tonnes since 2002, but that is essentially the only difference of any significance between a 2002 Boxer and the current build standard. Dimensions, which at 7.9 x 2.99 m (L x W) match those of the latest Piranha V, have remained static, as have all the main automotive components. According to Rheinmetall, a further 2-tonnes growth is possible before any possible requirement for hardware changes emerge.
Boxer – right first time
Boxer’s powerpack, which is exchangeable in 20 minutes in the field, features a military-specific MTU V-8 diesel developing 720 hp, this giving Boxer in current APC configuration a top-tier power-to-weight ratio of 19.7 hp/tonne. An Allison HD4070 transmission with 7 forward and 3 reverse gears and a ZF single-speed transfer case deliver drive to all eight wheels, which with off-road mobility in mind feature ‘outsize’ 27-inch rims. The 405/80 R 27 tyres have CTIS and runflat inserts, while suspension is fully independent coil spring, the double wishbone and associated steering arrangement unique to Boxer and optimised to combine mobility with durability/survivability.
It is it’s continuity of design that is one of Boxer’s greatest strengths, the British responsible in no small part for that. Battlespace sources suggest the British MRAV team were insistent on growth potential, and even back when Boxer dwarfed its contemporaries by 15-tonnes in some cases. British DNA continues with input into the requirement for the >90,000 km of reliability and >90,000 km of durability trials the 12 Boxer prototypes were put through over 12 years. Ultimately, the configuration that participated in those trials is the configuration that went on to see operational in use in Afghanistan, and is essentially the configuration in production for Germany, Lithuania, and the Netherlands today, and will be the mature and combat proven configuration offered to the UK MoD for MIV.
Another strength of Boxer is the types’ unique two-part construction. Boxer consists of two elements, the base drive module and the removable mission module. Agreed, removable mission modules have always been a ‘Marmite’ concept but as budgets shrink while requirements and needs grow, the idea is most definitely showing signs of winning over some previous doubters. Yes the concept can add weight, but in the case of Boxer this is less than 1-tonne. The major benefit of the two-part configuration is that a single drive module can perform a multitude of roles, while taking just 60 minutes to swap modules. In terms of costings, a base mission module in APC configuration costs just 40% of a complete vehicle of comparable configuration, and has no running costs as such.
As demonstrably capable and proven as Boxer may be, political considerations also weigh heavy (perhaps too heavy…) on any modern day defence procurement. To some, local content and local investment are on a level (even above it…) with actual combat capability. And to meet any local content/investment requirements, the ARTEC proposal for MIV looks pretty good with some big names lined up.
ARTEC has already stated a self-imposed intent that 60% by value of each vehicle would ultimately be UK content. 60% is a not insubstantial figure for an armoured vehicle, the powerpack (German/US) the most significant contributor by far to the outstanding 40%.
Should MIV be awarded to ARTEC, Battlespace understands the current plan is that the first 80 or so Boxer would come from existing Boxer production facilities while technology transfer to the UK occurs. Both the drive and mission modules will be manufactured and fitted out/signed off in the UK, and with significant input from several to-be-announced major UK defence contractors. Furthermore, ARTEC has held a supply chain industry day and engaged, in detail, with a wide cross section of the UK armoured vehicle supply base in order to satisfy its demanding UK content target.