Wednesday, June 9, 2021

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly of the BOXER purchase

 

A Written Answer has finally provided interesting details about the british purchase of BOXER vehicles. Minister Jeremy Quin, on 9 June, said:

 

Details of the variants of Boxer currently on order by quantity can be found in the table below. The Department is looking to enhance and uplift the size of the total UK Boxer order as we work to implement the Integrated Review. This may include new variants and partnering opportunities with industry and our Allies.

 

First, the Good: the Minister gives up new hopes that an expansion of the order might still happen. For a while, MOD talk had pretty much killed off any hope in this sense, but the answer is pretty univocal in suggesting that there will be adjustments.





The list offers many surprises because so far we had been given very little reason to believe there would be such a wide range of sub-variants. An Engineer Section vehicle was expected, but nothing had so far been heard about a Mortar Carrying vehicle. A Repair sub-variant is also an interesting semi-surprise.

It is interesting to note that the “Command Post” is expected to come in a significant number of sub-variants as well, including OPV (a surprisingly old fashioned definition) for Fires direction; an Electronic Warfare & SIGINT sub-variant and a BLOS comms carrier.

The inclusion of these sub-variants is, for the most part, Good. How good, we will only know when the effective mission fit becomes known. The mortar carrying vehicle, for example: will it an APC giving mobility to a L16 81mm mortar team? Will it at least have a turntable and roof port for firing from inside the vehicle, or not even that…? Or maybe there is scope to finally adopt a turreted, heavy mortar…? Unlikely, but it would be a great capability boost and, for the moment, we just don’t know what might or might not happen.

The “Recce / Fire Support Vehicle” is probably the APC “up-gunned” with JAVELIN on the RWS. Around 50 such enhanced fits were expected, and the removal from service of WARRIOR has given new impetus to attempts to further improve the otherwise pretty dismal firepower of MIV.

A notable aspect is that several of these sub-variants will bring entirely new capabilities that the BOXER family, at present, does not offer. The development of the relevant modules should happen in the UK, according to know commercial agreements, and there could be some genuine export potential as well, if the resulting product is valid. 


While it remains dubious, at best, that BOXER's modularity will ever have a usefulness in terms of "on the battlefield re-roling", the possibility of developing mission modules in isolation from the base vehicle should greatly ease the creation of new variants and sub-variants 

The Bad is undoubtedly the tiny number of Infantry Carriers, an incomprehensible 85. Even assuming the Fire Support Vehicle is effectively an upgunned infantry carrier despite being counted in with the “Specialists”, the combined number of 147 vehicles is still insufficient to equip 4 infantry battalions.

They are numbers more appropriate to just 2 battalions… which is what Army 2020 Refine needed, since the plan specifically called for the ability to deploy only one of the 2 STRIKE brigades at a time. 1 Brigade, 2 battalions.

 Indeed, this might be the explanation for the tiny number of ICVs in the order.

The loss of WARRIOR means that such a plan no longer makes any sense, and adjustements are indispensable.

And this leads us straight to the Ugly side of this list: the overlap / confliction with AJAX.

Until a short time ago, the UK was of course planning to equip 2 armoured brigades and 2 STRIKE brigades on top. Although AJAX itself was going to be in the STRIKE Brigades for the most part, it appears clear that the support variants of the family (ARGUS for the engineers, ATHENA command posts, ARES, APOLLO, ATLAS) were primarily destined to units aligned with the tracked, armoured brigades.

ARGUS would work alongside TITAN and TROJAN in the two heavy engineer regiments, for example, with BOXER ESV working with the 2 engineer regiments of the STRIKE brigades instead.

Now, however, there will only be 2 heavy mechanized Brigade Combat Teams in total, with the other two BCTs being Light Role. Clearly, you are not going to put the engineers in BOXERs while the infantry of the brigade moves, at best, in FOXHOUND with JACKAL for fire support.

This means, effectively, that the 52 ARGUS and the 60 BOXER Engineer Section Vehicles are now virtually overlapping directly, as there are only 2 Engineer regiments of this weight class to re-equip, not 4. The OPV variant, similarly, is increasingly overlapping with the number of AJAX to be kitted for Joint Fires direction.

The sum of 112 ATHENA command posts and 123 between BOXER command posts and command-utility vehicles also leads to a frankly absurd situation in which the UK will have a Command Post vehicle virtually for every single Infantry Carrying vehicle in service army-wide (up to 147 BOXER, as discussed earlier, plus 93 ARES, vs 112 + 123 command posts). A 1:1 ratio is clearly insane.  

I think it unavoidable that this overlap will need correcting, somehow.

We have all been following with increasing despair and rage the embarrassing situation of AJAX and it is hard not to muse about the implications of these sub-variants. if there are only two “heavy” regiments to equip, you suddenly only need one of the two sub-fleets, not both. In practice, if AJAX was to be cancelled, the loss of ARGUS would not be an immediate issue.

This generates unpleasant thoughts.




A more optimistic way of looking at it is that, if AJAX survives and the BOXER sub-variants are acquired in these numbers,  the Army then “only” needs to procure more Infantry Carriers to get back in a position in which it can properly mechanize all 4 Brigade Combat Teams. The 2 armoured brigades would keep the AJAX-based support variants, for obvious reasons, while the “Light BCTs” could be progressively uplifted with BOXER to become fully-wheeled formations.

Third option: the current balance of variants and sub-variants is modified, drastically reducing the number of BOXERs to be used as “Command Posts” and Engineer Section Vehicles, in favor of more ICVs / FSVs.


One thing is clear: this is the Army's position in regards to BOXER at the moment 


Judging from the list, an increase in the number of ICVs is both urgent and unavoidable. What’s left to be discovered is what adjustments will be adopted to make that increase possible.

 


9 comments:

  1. Hi Gabriele,
    Thanks for that update;
    1. Boxer, Yes I think a mortar variant is essential.
    But I was pleased, if a little sceptical to hear about more Boxer’s.
    2. Ajax, I am assuming that there has no change to the original order yet?
    Therefore, like Boxer only 2 Ajax units were actually going to get vehicles under strike?
    Even though, there is some spare now that 1 CR2 and 4 warrior units no longer need 8 vehicles each for close Recce troops/platoons, there can’t be enough to equip 4 cavalry regiments?
    3. As I understand the current army plan, BCT’s will be integrated self contained groups,
    Therefore they will have there own artillery observers? Why therefore, does the artillery brigade need 2 Ajax regiments?
    Phil (the cynical ex pongo)

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    Replies
    1. AJAX order is unchanged, for now, in broad terms, but the sub-variants have effectively disappeared to save money. The Joint Fires variant, for example, is no more, replaced by no better defined equipment being integrated on AJAX vehicles destined to the Royal Artillery in a more modest fashion; the Overwatch variant has disappeared but might return via the new Battlegroup Organic Anti-Tank capability programme. Ground Based Surveillance, i don't know but i'm not holding my back for anything truly specific. At best they'll have a rack for the new portable battlefield surveillance radar being sought for adoption from 2023 to replace MSTAR, for how things are going...

      With 245 AJAX with turrets in the order, and 93 ARES, it should be more than feasible to have 4 regiments, i don't anticipate issues there. 245 is a "sweet spot" for a 4 regiment force; it was for quite a while the number of WCSP turreted vehicles as well, destined, again, to 4 battalions.

      The Artillery brigade getting two cavalry regiments is due to A) making permanent a structure of Divisional / Corps level recce and deep strike already seen on Deployment in the Gulf War
      B) Not having a better place where to put those AJAX.
      not having a better place to put those AJAXs

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  2. Thanks for the swift reply Gabriele.
    Am I correct in saying that, currently only 3 regiments have Scimitar?
    The extra 4th Ajax unit coming from a Challenger Regiment?
    Ajax regiments will mirror Scimitar in there structure?
    How do you see air defence and drone defence fitting in with Ajax and Boxer vehicles?
    Phil (the cynical ex pongo)

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    Replies
    1. The 4th AJAX regiment should indeed be the King's Royal Hussars, which will give up CHALLENGER. In STRIKE, 2 regiments were going to basically mirror the SCIMITAR/SPARTAN structure, while the other two were expected to resemble / mirror the Tank regiments.

      Now i think the basic structure for all four will be the Cavalry configuration Scimitar/Spartan.

      C-UAS defence at first could follow the German and French efforts to integrate radars on some vehicles, connected to the RWS, in particular if armed with the GMG and 40mm airburst grenades. Very short range, but a good intimate layer of defence against basic threats and some loitering munitions / suicide uavs. In theory "something" should happen by 2023; we'll have to see what it is.

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  3. Gabriele,
    As you mentioned in your article, there are only enough Boxers for 2 infantry battalions.
    Given that there is limited production capacity and there is also a need for extra variants,
    In addition to enough vehicles for another 2 battalions.
    I was trying to think of how to stretch the Boxers on order.
    Hence my questions on Ajax, which I thought could be used by the close Recce platoons.
    But I think the Ajax fleet is already stretched, about 250 needed for the 4 cavalry units,
    Plus engineer, Medical, artillery, units and training and BATUS.
    However, could use be made of the protected vehicle fleet?
    Jackal for close recce, Mastiff as an ambulance for instance?
    Even as a temporary measure to be replaced when Boxers become available.
    I guess one could say that as BCT we be operating so closely,
    Is there a need for a close Recce platoon?
    I hope we hear in the autumn that BCT training will start soon,
    Even if it’s using other vehicles, as the strike training had done.
    And that somehow BGT will be operational before the next change of mind.
    Phil (the cynical ex pongo)

    ReplyDelete
  4. From MikeW:

    Hi Gaby

    Another fascinating post. I would like you, if it is possible, to resolve a question which has been puzzling me. You say in one of your answers to Phil: “AJAX order is unchanged, for now, in broad terms, but the sub-variants have effectively disappeared to save money...... the Overwatch variant has disappeared but might return via the new Battlegroup Organic Anti-Tank capability programme.”

    Has it really disappeared or is the answer to its future contained in the second half of your sentence? Otherwise, I can find no rhyme nor reason in the development of an “Overwatch” demonstrator,funded by General Dynamics and MBDA. Has there been little or no liason between the British Army as customer and the manufacturers or, will the vehicle now possibly be part of the Army’s new Heavy and Deep Recce Brigade Combat Teams?

    You also say that, if if AJAX was to be cancelled, the loss of ARGUS would not be an immediate issue. However, you qualify this by adding: “A more optimistic way of looking at it is that, if AJAX survives and the BOXER sub-variants are acquired in these numbers, the Army then “only” needs to procure more Infantry Carriers to get back in a position in which it can properly mechanize all 4 Brigade Combat Teams. The 2 armoured brigades would keep the AJAX-based support variants, for obvious reasons, while the “Light BCTs” could be progressively uplifted with BOXER to become fully-wheeled formations."

    That would seem to me a better solution (if the problems with AJAX are solved, of course) Actually quite a few of the AJAX family appear to have been built already! How do we get around that one?

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    Replies
    1. Well, a proper Overwatch sub-variant was once supposed to happen, but the way i understand it, it became no more than an ARES with a rack inside for holding JAVELIN for the dismounting team. Maybe, with some luck, a JAVELIN on the RWS in the very best case.
      The new programme is going to put into service an Overwatch capability, but it'll take new money to do so and it might well not be based on an AJAX hull at all. Considering how AJAX is doing, in fact, i'd say it'll be on anything but AJAX...

      Demonstrators are a way to try and sell your product. They also had the ARES Bridgelayer demonstrator. But it doesn't mean they are going to be necessarily purchased.

      Solving the AJAX problem is going to be difficult. I don't know what is going to happen there. I fear that, right now, nobody knows, and this is the scariest part.

      As for the demonstrator, in

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  5. From MikeW:

    Hi Gaby

    Thank very much for your reply. Yes, I now do remember the original plan to produce a proper sub-variant Overwatch vehicle 0n the ASCOD 2 Common Base Platform. As you say, a proper Overwatch sub-variant was once supposed to happen, but the way you understood it was that, “it became no more than an ARES with a rack inside for holding JAVELIN for the dismounting team” I thought that the original plan was to produce 34 Formation Reconnaissance Overwatch vehicles on the Ares variant)

    One the reasons I am writing in, I suppose, that I fully expected the Overwatch vehicle to be fitted with the Brimstone missile, produced by MBDA (in the UK?) I believed that because it was expected that the Apache E attack helicopter would be fitted with the same anti-tank missile but now it has been decided that it should be The Joint Air-to-Ground Missile (JAGM) for the new AH-64E Future Attack Helicopter. Any reason for that?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Apart from the Army not wanting to face the expenditure and complexity of integrating BRIMSTONE on the APACHE, it's hard to find any. At least from what we know from outside, the BRIMSTONE is a superior weapon system. But the British Army always has to leave you confused, i guess...

      Delete

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