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On 19 December, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced a four-year funding deal under which the UK Ministry of Defence (UK MoD) would get an additional GBP16.5Bn budget allocation, with the biggest winner expected to be the Royal Navy.

Additional details of who gets what are expected to be announced early in 2021 with the British Army hoping to finally move ahead with the CHALLENGER 2 Life Extension Programme (LEP) and the delayed WARRIOR Capability Sustainment Programme (WCSP) which will provide the teeth of the the British Army’s two Armoured Infantry Brigades.

The other major element of the British Army’s future force structure, are the two Strike Brigades due to be equipped with the BOXER (8×8) Multi-Role Armoured Vehicle (MRAV) being manufactured in the UK by Rheinmetall BAE Systems Ltd (RBSL) and Williams Fairey Engineering Ltd (WFEL).

CHALLENGER 2 LEP demonstrator fitted with a new turret armed with a Rheinmetall 120 mm L55A2 smoothbore gun, showing new gunner’s sight and new commander’s panoramic sight, built at the end of 2018 (Photo: RBSL)

RBSL is owned 51% by Rheinmetall and 49% by BAE Systems while WFEL is owned by Krauss-Maffei Wegmann.

The other major British Army armoured fighting vehicle (AFV) programme is the General Dynamics Land Systems UK AJAX family of vehicles (FOV) which, after some delays, is now in production with the first batch of six ARES armoured personnel carrier (APC) delivered in the third quarter of 2020, later than expected.

A total of 589 AJAX FOV have been ordered, which are the replacement for the remaining members of the Combat Vehicle Reconnaissance (Tracked) SCORPION FOV.

In mid-2020 there was much speculation in the UK media that the UK would divest itself of heavy armour, including the CHALLENGER 2 main battle tank (MBT) in order to invest in future high technology assets, but as of early December 2020, the threat of this happening is understood to have receded.

In late 2020, Gen Sir Nicholas Carter, UK Chief of Defence Staff, stated “We are charting a direction of travel from an industrial age of platforms to an information age of systems.”

CHALLENGER 2 LEP

The CHALLENGER 2 MBT was designed and manufactured by the former Vickers Defence Systems (VDS) with production undertaken in Leeds and Newcastle-upon-Tyne with 386 units delivered by 2002. In addition, Oman took delivery of 38 CHALLENGER 2 MBTs optimised for use in the high ambient temperatures of the Middle East.

Today the design authority (DA) for the CHALLENGER 2 MBT is RBSL in Telford, who are also the DA for the CHALLENGER Armoured Repair and Recovery Vehicle, TITAN Armoured Vehicle Launched Bridge and the TROJAN breacher.

The Rheinmetall 120 mm L55A2 smoothbore gun fitted to the CHALLENGER 2 LEP demonstrator is based on the L55A1 already installed in the latest German LEOPARD 2A7 MBT and fires a complete suite of advanced MBT ammunition. (Photo: RBSL)

A small number of CHALLENGER 2 MBT’s were upgraded under Urgent Operation Requirement (UOR) funding for deployment to Iraq with improvements such as additional protection including explosive reactive armour (ERA), electronic devices to counter improvised explosive devices (IED) and a remote weapon station (RWS) at the loader’s station.

After a number of false starts, the UK Defence Equipment & Support (DE&S) organisation ran an international competition with BAE Systems and Rheinmetall Defence awarded Assessment Phase (AP) contracts for the CHALLENGER LEP with RBSL winning the competition.

Their solution features a hull overhauled by Babcock at Bovington, fitted with a brand new turret developed by RBSL, with the integration of the hull/turret taking place at Telford with the CHALLENGER 2 then being designated CHALLENGER 3, or CHALLENGER 2 LEP+ as it is also referred to.

The current CHALLENGER 2 MBT is armed with a former Royal Ordnance 120mm L30A1 rifled gun with a 7.62 mm L94A1 coaxial machine gun (MG) and a 7.62 mm MG at the commander’s station. The 120 mm ammunition is of the separate loading type which includes projectile, charge and primer.

The new all-welded steel turret includes advanced armour and is armed with the latest Rheinmetall 120 mm L55A2 smoothbore gun which fires a complete family of ammunition including DM63A1 armour piercing fin stabilised discarding sabot – tracer (APFSDS-Tracer) and the more recent DM11 programmable high-explosive (HE).

Late in 2018, unmanned test firings of a CHALLENGER 2 MBT demonstrator fitted with the 120 mm L55A2 high pressure smoothbore gun took place in Germany. RBSL emphasised that the CHALLENGER 2 MBT was built during the AP and a prototype will emerge at the end of the Development Phase.

In mid-2020 it was revealed that firing trials had taken place with a CHALLENGER 2 hull fitted with a new turret armed with the Rheinmetall 130 mm smoothbore gun which fires APFSDS ammunition, with a significant increase in armour penetration characteristics. This combination is referred to as the Advanced Technology Demonstrator Tank with a 30mm turret by Rheinmetall.

The 130 mm gun is a candidate for the Main Ground Combat System (MGCS), being developed by France and Germany but with the potential for other countries to become involved.

Gun Control Equipment (GCE) for the CHALLENGER 2 LEP is all-electric with commander and gunner each provided with Thales UK stabilised day/thermal sights including a laser range finder. The commander’s panoramic sighting system allows hunter/killer target engagements to take place, in which the commander acquires the target and then hands over the target engagement to the gunner.

A computerised Fire Control System (FCS) allows stationary and moving targets to be engaged under almost all ambient weather conditions when the platform is also moving.

All crew members are provided with flat panel displays (FPD) and a generic vehicle architecture (GVA) allows for easier upgrades such as the installation of an active protection system.

The Royal Armoured Corps took delivery of 386 CHALLENGER 2 MBTs but this has already been reduced to 227 units; it is expected that around 145 units will be upgraded to the CHALLENGER 3 standard to extend its out of service date to 2040.

The assessment phase of the CHALLENGER 2 LEP has concluded and is being considered for a main investment decision before the end of 2021.

WCSP Trials Well Underway

The WCSP consists of an upgrade platform fitted with a brand new turret developed by Lockheed Martin UK, armed with a 40mm CTAS and 7.62 mm coaxial MG. (Photo: Lockheed Martin UK)

GKN Defence (now part of RBSL) built 789 WARRIOR infantry fighting vehicles (IFV) and variants. The DESERT WARRIOR variant was developed especially for the export market with Kuwait taking delivery of 254 of these units, including some specialised versions.

Part of the WARRIOR fleet has been upgraded several times, especially under UOR funding as well as installation of the General Dynamics BOWMAN digital communication communication system and with the Thales Battle Group Thermal Imaging (BGTI) system.

All UK WARRIOR IFV are fitted with a two-person turret designed by the then Vickers Defence Systems, armed with a slow firing and unstabilised 30 mm RARDEN cannon and 7.62 mm L94A1 coaxial MG.

After many false starts, in November 2011 Lockheed Martin UK (LM UK) were awarded the contract for the WCSP, which aims to extend the life of the WARRIOR out to 2035/2040.

This contract covered two major elements, demonstration and manufacture.

The total value of the WSCP is approximately GBP1.3 billion, which includes Government Furnished Equipment (GFE) such as the CTAI 40 mm Cased Telescoped Armament System (CTAS), which is also installed in the AJAX reconnaissance vehicle and the French JAGUAR (6×6) reconnaissance vehicle and – in the future – the Belgian Army JAGUAR (6×6).

The WFLIP includes the WARRIOR Fightability & Lethality Improvement Programme (WFLIP), WARRIOR Enhanced Electronic Architecture (WEEA) and WARRIOR Modular Protection System (WMPS).

The WFLIP includes a new turret of aluminium armour designed by LM UK with appliqué passive armour, armed with a 40 mm CTAS fed by a linkless magazine holding 70 rounds of ready-use ammunition and a 7.62 mm L94A1 MG mounted co-axially to the left.

The weapons are laid onto the target through a computerised FCS with commander and gunner having stabilised day/thermal sights and laser rangefinder.

The WEEA allows for easier upgrades as technology evolves, while the WMPS uses a framework on which the armour package can be rapidly fitted to provide a high level of protection, depending on where the vehicle is being deployed and the threat it faces. Actual armour packages are not part of the WCSP.

Commander, gunner and driver are provided with blast-attenuating seats while the turret hatches have been configured to afford both head out protection as well as optimising casualty evacuation. They are larger than the original WARRIOR hatches.

The WCSP also includes an integrated environmental control system and enhanced local situational awareness including ‘slew to cue’ functionality.

To support the WCSP LM UK have invested over GBP23M in a new facility at Ampthill where production of the two-person turret for the AJAX reconnaissance vehicle is also undertaken.

For this programme LM UK are a subcontractor to GDLS UK.

For the WCSP demonstration phase, LM UK has delivered 11 WCSP for the demanding Reliability Growth Trials (RGT), being carried out by British Army crews at the Armoured Trials and Development Unit (ATDU) at Bovington, southern England.

These 11 units consist of six FV520 WARRIOR section vehicles, two FV521 WARRIOR IFV command, one FV522 WARRIOR repair, one FV523 WARRIOR repair and recovery and one FV524 WARRIOR artillery observation post vehicle. The last three variants are not fitted with the two-person turret.

There have been numerous delays to the programme for a number of reasons including electing to go for a new turret rather than upgrading the original. A major contract re-negotiation took place in 2017 to prevent further cost growth and ensure the contractor meets its obligations.

In a statement to ESD in mid-December, the DE&S organisation stated “The WCSP project is currently in the Demonstration Phase. The Invitation To Negotiate (ITN) for the Manufacture Phase was released to Lockheed Martin UK in June 2020 and it would not be appropriate to comment further on this ongoing commercial activity.”

The original In Service Date (ISD) was March 2020 but this has now slipped by at least four years with a cost growth of about GBP227M according to a letter sent to the Chair of the Public Accounts Committee in early 2019.

By late November 2020, the WCSP was two thirds of the way through trials and had completed 79 battlefield missions, ahead of schedule, which are made up of a combination of qualification and verification activities. According to Lockheed Martin “the programme continues to perform well and is running to schedule.”

One of the prototypes of the FV520 WARRIOR IFV upgraded by Lockheed Martin UK being demonstrated at Bovington prior to the start of Reliability Growth Trials (RGT). (Photo: Lockheed Martin UK)

In a statement LM UK said “The new capability on offer will continue to be rigorously tested and put through its paces as it continues to progress through RGT, by the end of which the vehicles will have covered 29,000 km and fired thousands of rounds of ammunition. Once fully demonstrated the capability will be ready to enter service and help deliver an Armoured Infantry that is more capable, with significantly enhanced lethality, upgraded situational awareness, better integration and improved combined arms co-operation, thereby providing a battle winning contribution to the Divisional Warfighting capability”.

In June 2020 an Invitation to Negotiate (ITN) was issued to LM UK and the company expect to receive Design Acceptance in Q3 2021 with the contract award to follow in late 2021, from the DE&S organisation.

It was originally expected that up to 380 WARRIOR IFV and variants would be upgraded under the WCSP, which would be issued to six armoured infantry battalions.

The latter has been reduced to only four so the number to be upgraded has been reduced to around 275/290 units.

Three of the 11 WARRIOR delivered for RGT fitted with a brand new Lockheed Martin UK turret armed with 40 mm CTAS, lined up on the firing range (Photo: Lockheed Martin UK)

It was originally expected that the former Defence Support Group (now Babcock) at Donnington would do a base overhaul of the WARRIOR platform and fit the turret supplied by LM UK who would then sign off the completed vehicle to WCSP standard, but according to the company WCSP and conversion and final assembly are currently under negotiation.

In 2020 LM UK commissioned a report from KPMG to look at the potential benefits of the WCSP production contract to the prosperity of the UK, including economy, exports, jobs and skills.

According to the independent analysis, a production contract for an assumed 275/290 WCSP units upgraded between 2023 and 2028 could deliver:

  1. About GBP1Bn Gross Value Added (GVA) to the UK economy.
  2. A high number of jobs with employment supported – this would vary each yea linked to the scale of activity on the contract taking place and range from 100 Full Time Equivalent (FTE) jobs to almost 2,000 annual FTE jobs through direct and supply chain employment when activity reaches its peak.
  3. Highly skilled jobs – GVA per FTE job is more than four times the UK national average (GBP251,621 compared with GBP59,802).

Leveraging production of turrets for AJAX and WARRIOR, LM UK have also invested in developing turrets for the export market, where there is significant potential.

Christopher F Foss