WFEL, Krauss-Maffei Wegmann’s UK-based subsidiary, will be producing “a significant portion” of the UK's Mechanised Infantry Vehicle (MIV) fleet, according to a 5 February press release from the company. The first vehicles are to be delivered by 2023, the release states. At long last, the UK seems ready to update its relationship status with the BOXER from 'It's complicated' to 'Married.'
BOXER is to equip the mechanised infantry battalions of Bitain’s STRIKE brigades, a new and innovative formation that is aimed at being able to self-deploy over long distances, and fight in a dispersed fashion against state and non-state actors with equal aggression and effect. The only problem is that BOXER, as procured by the UK, cannot really do either of these things. In short, it is too heavy for an assault landing carried in an A400M, which is limited to a 25t payload for austere landings. This requires the vehicle to be divided into its two component parts, which then need to be transported separately. With a dismount capacity of eight per vehicle along with a driver, gunner and commander, a battalion of 500 men would require 45 vehicles. A standard armoured infantry battalion currently consists of 732 men, however, according to a website reflective of contemporary thinking in British military circles. This leads to a total of 67 vehicles being required (assuming all are simple APCs) and the need for some 134 A400M sorties to transport a single BOXER battalion – not to mention the 50 additional sorties required to bring AJAX into theatre, along with however many the attendant logistics train may demand.
Secondly, BOXER has no punch to speak of. The UK procurement programme paves the way for the appearance of the Mohammed Ali of vehicle fleets, but insists that Ali lets somebody else do the punching for him, whilst he circles the ring desperately hoping he will not be discovered by a KORNET guided missile or 2S19 152mm howitzer. The infantry inside are undoubtedly well trained and will provide reliable capability once deployed: that is unquestioned. The vehicles themselves, however, are essentially unarmed and face the deeply unappetizing prospect of engaging BMD-4Ms – armed with 100mm guns and guided missiles – with only a 12.7mm heavy machine-gun. An alternative scenario posits a terrorist force toting KORNETs, 23mm cannon and anything else it has managed to gather from its opponents’ armouries. STRIKE's answer to this will be AJAX – assuming it can get there – and in all likelihood a heavy reliance upon rotary-wing air support.
The question haunts the room, how, exactly, will MIV strike? It is clear that the British MoD has some work to do before the STRIKE concept – as it applies to the vehicle – meets any of the ambitions that it has set itself. Perhaps the UK’s Mobile Fires Platform will make up for the lethality, and the strategic airlift requirements will be reconsidered. Even then, it remains to be seen how British soldiers will be able to project force in a modern battlespace, where armies of terrorists capture cities and maul modern conventional armies over the course of several years. These are the same spaces in which Russian forces can deploy well-armed vehicles by parachute, along with organic artillery and electronic warfare assets, all at 24 hour’s readiness. In either scenario, STRIKE does not seem to offer the solutions that it originally promised.
This analysis is ultimately binary in nature; there are many elements to a battlefield beyond the merits and disadvantages of a single vehicle type that cannot be considered without discussion in far greater depth. But it does not follow that STRIKE will be able to perform as promised without modification. The prospective threats, as currently foreseen, are simply too well-equipped to be confronted by a vehicle carrying only a heavy machine-gun.
Miles Quartermain in London for MON