Is the British Army’s Approach to Armour Right?

The United Kingdom Parliament’s Select Committee for Defence has announced it’s opening an inquiry into the British Army’s approach to delivering its armoured vehicle capability. There is clearly frustration with the delays and extensions to the programmes set to renew much of the armour in the Army’s fleet. The list of schemes covered by the inquiry is substantially and even the briefest view shows the reason for the concerns.

  • AJAX: Delivery delayed from May 2020 to some point in mid-2020.
  • Warrior Capability Sustainment Programme: Running since 2011, half the budget (of £800 million) spent but no contract let.
  • Challenger 2 Life Extension Programme: Revised scope.
  • Mechanised Infantry Vehicle: Delays throughout the programme so far.
  • Multi-Role Vehicle (Protected): On hold while the US Army reviews its own programme.
Boxer vehicle painted like the UK flag in a bid for the British Army (photo courtesy of Rheinmetall)
Boxer vehicle painted with the UK flag in a bid for the British Army (photo courtesy of Rheinmetall)

Mentioned only briefly is the AS90 self-propelled gun that has been in early-stage review for some years. The Committee, rightly or wrongly, identifies the improvements in the Russian Armata tank and suggests that the British Army is lagging behind in innovation in this area. As such, they determine that it is not ready to engage in a peer-to-peer conflict (sometimes just called conventional warfare).

Much of the commentary from the Committee is critical of the approaches taken and this specific review builds on its previous work on the Equipment Plan, to which it summarises:

The Committee has previously noted that any repeat of past failures will “seriously impair, if not fatally undermine” the Army’s ability to deploy the warfighting division as envisaged in the 2015 Strategic Defence and Security Review and the Army’s new Strike Brigades.’

The Committee has raised a number of specific questions that critique the Army’s ability to achieve its 2015 Strategic Defence and Security Review aspirations – such as the Strike Brigades and an armoured division. It also raises questions that challenge the structure and process of the Army’s programmes for the replacements, such as whether there should be sovereign capability to produce vehicles? Are upgrades appropriate? What gaps have been missed?

Pictured is the new AJAX prototype shown near its future assembly site in Merthyr Tydfil, Wales. (MoD)

For those interested in armour and armoured capability, this review should be an interesting one ahead of the Government’s own defence review that’s in progress. We’ll be keeping an eye on developments and report back.