In the British defense minister’s recent surprise decision to choose the Artec Boxer as the new Royal Army IFV, military observers have been studying the way the new-generation combat vehicle has been designed and thought out. Flexible and imaginative, it is a marvel of engineering, which was planned to answer all the needs of the infantry. Alas, by chasing too many rabbits at once, the Boxer runs the risk of catching none.
An Unusual way of Purchasing
Gavin Williamson’s decision, which is yet to be confirmed, to choose the Boxer as the much-needed replacement option for British Infantry Fighting Vehicles British (IFV), surprised many, and on several grounds. The first of course, because the choice was made with no RFP, and the British army, therefore, didn’t test or negotiate, as is usually done. By law, large public purchases have to be processed through Requests For Proposals, to make sure public money is optimized. By buying off-the-shelf, Britain relinquished its ability to negotiate and reduced its options. This choice and this purchasing method are all the more surprising since the decision was necessarily validated by Liz Truss, Chief Secretary to the Treasury, who can hardly be accused of slapdash financial management.
Reporter Dan Brooks writes: “Army chiefs had been planning to spend £1.3bn refurbishing up to 380 Warrior armored vehicles. But the standard procurement process, the RFP, is said to be interrupted shortly, by the decision of Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson, who is considering the direct purchase of the German-Dutch version of IFVs, the lightly-armed Boxer.” In addition to this, the Boxer had been rapidly eliminated in the previous IFV-replacement programs, as Britain had decided to leave the Boxer program and go solo. Nonetheless, the Artec IFV shows, once again, the type of quality the German military industry is capable of producing.
In every aspect of the Boxer’s design, the German-Dutch IFV is a modern military vehicle. Much like the concepts of the F-22 and F-35, the Boxer is designed as a multi-role fighter, with a common platform for all devices and a removable payload container for each task. The Boxer can be adapted with 11 different kinds of turrets and shells, ranging from repair vehicles to command cars. In between, the IFV version itself has two versions: a two-man gunner station, or remote fire station. The combined firepower of the 30-mm cannon and the co-axial .50 machine gun will provide excellent support to the 8-man section carried within. Hull armor has been optimized, to afford protection for IEDs (with a sloped hull and thickened armor plates) and to grant the driver maximum visibility while remaining under armored protection. And yet, the decision is proving unconvincing to military observers, who fear the worst for the British army, such as Bdaily News reporter Austin Lopez, who writes: “In the wake of recent revelations, according to which General Nick Carter plans to cut through the standard process of bidding for proposals to replace its Mechanized Infantry Vehicle (MIV), and buying Artec’s Boxers straight off the shelf, the military environment is still assessing the consequences of such a sudden and unusual move. Globally, they’re not good. The way these vehicles would be purchased, if the chief of staff has his way, will cast dark clouds of our national military industry and army.”
Jack of all Trades and Master of none
The modular hull which was designed to adapt to all battlefield needs is a result of the global tendency in modern armies to address all threats and perform all functions with one vector. Since the 20th century, the number of specialized branches and vehicles has greatly expanded, causing military budgets to be stressed, with almost a dedicated supply chain for each type of equipment. However, this strategic desire to simplify is being frustrated, by the engineering inability to match the performance levels of specialized vehicles.
The US Army is facing a trillion-dollar budget, covering the design, production, and maintenance of the planes, but is now confronted with embarrassing and mounting proof that its state-of-the-art fighter’s performances are easily outdone by the F-15, a 4th generation fighter from the 1970s. Much in the same way, the Artec Boxer, by attempting to cram all functions into one vector, seems to have lost sight of an IFV’s primary role: providing infantry with increased mobility, in all circumstances.
The necessary complexity of the vehicle, which must shoulder all tasks, makes it expensive, heavy, and fragile. The 4.5-billion-pound price tag which the Germans demanded their vehicle will only cover about a third of the fleet’s replacement and still strain the impoverished British defense budgets. The weight of the vehicle will reduce its mobility, both on the terrain and in its long-range deployment. Once deployed, the complexity of the vehicle will cause an increased malfunction rate and eventually reduce the infantryman’s mobility.
The tech reviewer, despite singing the technical praises of the IFV, concedes its neither-here-nor-there design: “In some respects, its opponents would argue that Boxer is like all compromises: neither all bad nor entirely satisfactory. It’s also true that the removable payload container is a complex and heavy system, and rarely utilized to its full potential by armies that operate Boxer”.
The Artec Boxer, while being a beautifully designed vehicle, and a proud representative of German quality, the British may be following suit in the current trend of making one-size-fits-all vehicles, and the ensuing difficulties. The oversized, overweight, and overpriced vehicle which will likely be chosen to protect and transport infantrymen will probably be outnumbered, outrun, and, out of order, on the next battlefield.