The three finalists for the FRES Utility Variant competition are the Nexter Vehicules Blinde de Combat d’Infanterie (VBCI), the Mowag Piranha V and the ARTEC Boxer. Britain was one of the original partners along with France (which later quit) and Germany when the Boxer project was launched in the late 1990s but withdrew from the project in 2002 after investing £57 million when the army decided the vehicle “would not be ideally suited to the type of operations envisaged”.
From the start Boxer 8x8 APC was designed to provide a high level of protection against direct fire weapons, artillery fragments and anti-personnel mines with a steel hull and an appliqu” layer of passive armour. With an empty weight of 25 tonnes and a maximum weight of 33 tonnes the Boxer is designed to be carried by the Airbus Military A400M and this influenced the British decision as the army’s original FRES concept was for a vehicle of no more than 20 tonnes that could be carried inside the Lockheed Martin C-130 Hercules. However, operational experience in Afghanistan and Iraq has changed priorities as the Ministry of Defence noted earlier this year: “The question of the relative priority of force protection in theatre and air deployability has been resolved. Whilst both are important, protection in theatre is a higher priority than air deployability by A400M/C17”.
The Netherlands later joined the Boxer project and a joint production contract was signed in 2006 to deliver 272 vehicles for Germany and 200 for the Netherlands. Ultimately the German Army is seeking 1,000 vehicles to replace its tracked M113 and wheeled Fuchs Tpz 1 vehicles while the Royal Netherlands Army wants 257 Boxers to replace wheeled YPRs and tracked M577s. The Boxer design incorporates changeable mission modules and the 12 prototypes include five mission configurations - APC, command post, ambulance, repair and cargo vehicles. Germany’s production batch will be 125 APCs, 65 command vehicles, 72 ambulances and 10 driver training vehicles while the Dutch will initially receive 55 command vehicles, 58 ambulances, 41 engineers vehicles and 46 cargo vehicles in two configurations. In Dutch service the Boxer will support the army’s new BAE Systems Hägglunds tracked CV9035 IFVs. ARTEC has carried out feasibility studies for other variants including IFV, rocket launcher, mortar vehicle, ordnance disposal and engineer vehicle.
The Boxer is a cooperative European design project aimed at producing the next generation of armoured utility vehicle. The project was originally started as a joint venture between Germany, Britain and France, but France left the programme in 1999, later to pursue their own design, the VBCI. However, in early 2001 the Netherlands signed a Memorandum of Understanding and joined the project. In July 2003, shortly after the start of the Iraq war, the UK Ministry of Defence announced its intention to withdraw from the Boxer programme and focus on the Future Rapid Effect System (FRES). Each partner in the programme (including the UK) was to receive four prototypes by July 2004.