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Boxer armored vehicle production sets up tension between rising demand and supply bottleneck

The European led Boxer armored vehicle program continues to rollout new concepts but could be unsettled long term by supplier bottleneck problems (German Army)

IAV 2022 — The strong order book held by Rheinmetall Landsysteme-Krauss-Maffei Wegmann (KMW) joint venture Artec for the Boxer 8×8 wheeled armored vehicle stands out as evidence of growing military demand for the multirole platform but also means it could face pressure related to supply chain squeezes.

Complex parts like steel castings and welded mission modules, for instance, are among items said to be directly linked to the bottleneck scenario.

Artec will expand Boxer assembly lines to five facilities across Europe this year, offering production capacity of 200 vehicles per year, but such a target remains dependent on whether suppliers “can keep the pace” of industrial planning, according to a company official who spoke to Breaking Defense on condition of anonymity.

“The two new assembly lines start assembly later this year and they will deliver vehicles from next year onwards. For the Dutch facility, the focus remains on upgrades and retrofits not new production, but everything is currently ready and equipped so the line can be restarted,” added the official. “The German sites are continuously producing or doing heavy midlife upgrades so soon five assembly lines will be ready. Assembly is not the limiting factor, the bottleneck is in the supply chain.”

A disparity between easy access to and consistent supply of commercial, off-the-shelf items such as gear boxes, compared to less certain delivery of specialized electric parts and the time-consuming process of forging steel castings that require molds to be cooled off, continues to be the main source of production tension.

“Adding, for example, a second shift for steel castings would not make things faster because the [cool off] waiting time does not get any faster,” added the official. “Doubling output would require a second [casting] line as it is effectively already running 24/7, but to do that [a] significant investment in a supplier’s inventory would be needed. Economically that is only feasible if additional funding is paid out across a larger number of vehicles over time, nobody will do that investment for just another 100 vehicles.”

At an overarching level, the European led Boxer program covers 29 variants including infantry carrier, command, specialist and ambulance configurations and is overseen by the intergovernmental Organisation for Joint Armament Co-operation (OCCAR). A group of five European nations from Germany, Lithuania, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and Ukraine have ordered the vehicle, with Australia also holding an export contract.

An OCCAR official noted during the International Armoured Vehicles conference here in London that discussions with the Netherlands are underway regarding a second batch order for new variants, potentially based on lower layer air defense or electronic warfare configurations.

Lithuania has also told OCCAR of a need to fulfill a second batch requirement with a request for proposal currently “being prepared” for industry to define options on a turret or weapons station design, according to the OCCAR official.

Similarly, the European armaments agency has held discussions with the UK based around whether to agree on a new “study contract,” so London can determine which additional variant(s) it may acquire. The Artec official confirmed to Breaking Defense that the additional variant decision from the UK MoD could arrive “soon.”

Besides how current customers decide on future acquisitions, the rollout by Artec of a Boxer air defense concept could spark interest from NATO nations attempting to strengthen counter-UAS (C-UAS) threats in the wake of the Ukraine war showing that drone proliferation presents significant problems for land-based operations.

“[The air defense variant] looks like a complex system [to develop] because considerations around whether it should be missile-based, designed more from a command vehicle perspective or more radar-based, have to be made,” said the industry official.

“For ground-based air defense, customer involvement is required from the outset. Having one prototype or two prototypes, with launchers, is the easy part but networking and connection with other vehicles is much more difficult and is always different from one nation to the other.”

Rheinmetall BAE Systems Land (RBSL) also unveiled a Boxer Overwatch demonstrator in September 2022, designed to carry eight Brimstone precision-guided missiles and based on a standard Boxer drive module. Further development of the vehicle will lead to a first prototype being launched in the future, said the Artec official, declining to comment on a specific timeframe.

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