LONDON — Britain’s armored fighting vehicle capabilities have been labelled as “deplorable” in a report released by the parliamentary Defence Committee on March 14.
Actually, “deplorable” was one of the kinder terms used by the committee to describe the Army’s reasons for letting its armored vehicle fleet atrophy over the last two decades.
“The recent history of the British Army’s armoured fighting vehicle capability is deplorable,” the committee wrote. “This report reveals a woeful story of bureaucratic procrastination, military indecision, financial mismanagement and general ineptitude, which have continually bedevilled attempts to properly re-equip the British Army over the last two decades.”
Committee chairman Tobias Ellwood said the armored fighting vehicle program has been “plagued with uncertainties, and the decision to invest in fighting vehicles is too often hampered by uncertainties over what the Army wants them for and pitted against the desire to fund other defense priorities. Whilst the defence landscape is certainly shifting, traditional warfare remains a very real and frightening possibility, and one for which we must be fully prepared.”
The committee said heads should role at the Defence Ministry’s procurement arm, the Defence Equipment and Support office, if the problems can’t be resolved.
“Given the large amounts of taxpayer’s money at stake and the importance of such programs for our war fighting capability should deterrence fail, this appalling situation has now become completely unacceptable and must be rapidly reformed, including, if necessary, by senior management changes at DE & S Headquarters,” the committee wrote.
The report comes ahead of the publication of a government defense, security and foreign policy review that is widely expected to ax or at least reduce the size of some key armored vehicle capabilities as part of a wider transformation of the armed forces. The government foresees a pivot from conventional equipment toward greater investment in space, cyber, underwater and unmanned technologies.
The Army is expected to take the brunt of any cuts that come as a result of the review. The service will also likely experience cuts in end strength.
“The Army’s AFV program and capability is now vulnerable when weighed against the desire to fund other priorities such as ‘cyber,’ information warfare and other capabilities,” the report said. The committee added that the failure to provide modern armored fighting vehicles to the Army will pose serious quantitative and qualitive implications on the battlefield.
“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 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 armoured 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 in adequate air defense,” the committee said.
“We are astonished that between 1997 and late 2020 (with the exception of a small number of armoured engineering and Viking protected mobility vehicles) the Department had not delivered a single new armoured vehicle from the core procurement program into operational service with the Army.”
Although not part of the core program, Britain did order thousands of armored vehicles for missions to counter improvised explosive devices, among other duties, during the Afghan and Iraqi campaigns.
The committee’s report focused on four specific armored fighting vehicle programs. Two are under contract to supply new vehicle types, and the other two are for platform updates not currently under contract. Together, the programs are worth billions of pounds.
The two programs not yet under contract — one eying the Lockheed Martin UK’s Warrior infantry fighting vehicle, and the other looking at Rheinmetall BAE Systems Land for a significant improvement package for the Challenger 2 main battle tank — have been the subject of considerable speculation over whether they will survive cuts when the government review drops.
But national media reported March 13 that the Challenger 2 modernization effort will go ahead, albeit with the tank fleet reduced from the current level of 227 to between 150 and 170. Reports also said the long-delayed Warrior update effort, launched in 2011, will not progress to the manufacturing stage, with the planned capability to be completely abandoned.
Meanwhile, deliveries of new Ajax tracked reconnaissance vehicles built by General Dynamics are late but are starting to trickle into the Army’s hands. And Britain has also inked a contract with Rheinmetall BAE Systems Land to supply several hundred Boxer mechanized infantry fighting vehicles. However, the committee said it is “astonished” that the Boxer contract only provides for production of one vehicle a week, and members called for the government’s review to accelerate procurement.