The British Army has moved a step closer to overhauling its electronic warfare posture via a planned purchase of new vehicles.
The force will acquire eleven new Electronic Warfare (EW) platforms, according to reports in June. These will be based on the army’s forthcoming ARTEC Boxer wheeled armoured fighting vehicles. The British Army is acquiring 528 Boxers for a variety of roles.
This acquisition of these new vehicles is the first major overhaul of the army’s EW posture for two decades. The force’s procurement of mechanised EW to support the manoeuvre force has been fraught with strife.
In 2001 the UK Ministry of Defence (MOD) contracted Lockheed Martin to provide a suite of backpack and vehicular EW systems to support the manoeuvre force under the ill-fated Soothsayer programme. Cost overruns of circa $60 million spelt Soothsayer’s demise in 2009. Soothsayer was followed by Landseeker. This was to have procured a scalable EW architecture to replace all EW systems used by the army’s 14th Signals Regiment. The 14th Signals Regiment is part of 6th (UK) Division. Headquartered at RAF Upavon, southwest England. The division is responsible for cyber, EW and information operations.
14th Signals Regiment uses SC Jackal wheeled reconnaissance vehicles to provide EW support to the army’s 16th Air Assault Brigade. GKN Sankey FV-439 tracked electronic warfare vehicles provide EW support to the manoeuvre force. Both vehicles are believed to use variants of L3Harris’ Broadshield electronic attack system. The Jackal and FV-439 platforms are expected to be replaced by the Boxer EW variants. Electronic warfare support for dismounted operations is provided by the army’s Roke Resolve backpack EW system.
The army has a doctrinal commitment to integrate cyber and electronic warfare as outlined in its Joint Doctrine Note 1/18: Cyber and Electromagnetic Activities document. This stresses that both cyber warfare and EW will be treated as interdependent. The emphasis reflects a broader doctrinal shift throughout the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) converging these two disciplines. Near-peer adversaries like Russia have a deepening dependence on IP (Internet Protocol) data for battle management, and Command and Control (C2). It makes sense for the alliance to exploit electronic attack as a vector for injecting malicious code into hostile C2 networks to support tactical and operational manoeuvre.
The MOD published its Defence in a Competitive Age paper earlier this year. This outlines UK defence procurement priorities. Within the text was a commitment to spend up to $275 million over the coming decade on new EW and signals intelligence capabilities. This money will facilitate “a significant uplift in (the army’s) electronic warfighting capability”.
This $275 million will almost certainly comprise funds to be spent on the cyber and EW capabilities equipping the eleven Boxer vehicles. Regarding these capabilities, the MOD has three options: Procure a home-grown system, buy a system off-the-shelf from an ally or enter into a bilateral or multilateral development programme.
Procuring a home-grown system would arguably be the most expensive and time-consuming option. The Soothsayer programme underscored just how costly such an endeavour might be. Another alternative could be to buy a system off-the-shelf from an ally. The US Army is procuring the Terrestrial Layered System for its manoeuvre force. This will be based on a General Dynamics M1133 Stryker variant armoured fighting vehicle. Given the closeness of the UK-US defence relationship, the British Army might be able to piggy-back on a TLS acquisition for its own forces. That said, the TLS equipment would still need to be configured for the Boxer.
The third option is for the UK to collaborate with an ally, or allies, on a bilateral or multilateral acquisition. The Armée de Terre (ADT/French Army) needs to replace its legacy Renault Véhicule de l’Avant Blindé (Armoured Vanguard Vehicle) EW variants. The UK and France have a tradition of collaborating on major defence programmes and have similar-sized armies. There is every likelihood that the two forces’ requirements could dovetail. The ADT will also have similar timelines to its British counterparts to get this new capability into service.
Armada contacted the MOD to ascertain the status of the Boxer EW acquisition. We also asked if the EW and cyber warfare equipment fit for these vehicles has been decided. The MOD declined to comment. However, sources close to the EW acquisition in the MOD told Armada that the new EW vehicles are should be delivered between 2024 and 2027. This same timetable will see the retirement of the army’s existing EW vehicles. If the MOD has still to decide on the equipment fit for these vehicles then it must do soon if it is to meet these aggressive schedules.
Dr. Thomas Withington