Is Germany Ditching Boxer Infantry Vehicle & Leaving The UK With Expensive & Fruitless Supply Chain?

Guest Post By Nicholas Peterson 

German industrials have been involved in both the Lynx and the Boxer programs, the latter as part of a consortium designed to promote intra-European defense cooperation and the former as a standalone initiative.

After a short period of promotion for the multilateral program, Germany is now focusing its efforts on its own platform. Berlin could profit much, selling the Lynx, but would have to leave its partners, the United Kingdom included, with an expensive, fruitless, and idle supply chain on their hands.

Parallel Programs 

With the resurgence of the threat of war in Europe, many armies are rearming quickly. One crucial piece of military equipment is Infantry Fighting Vehicles (IFVs), armored platforms designed to enhance the firepower and mobility of infantry troops.

Germany, as one of the main players in the defense market, produces these vehicles through its two main contractors, KMW and Rheinmetall.  

The Boxer APC/IFV is the multilateral one. Run by the Organization for Joint Armament Cooperation (OJAC), the Boxer program coordinates the resources of member countries, including the UK, in a long-haul attempt to integrate the defense market in Europe.

OJAC was painstakingly developed over the years as nations varied their level of participation and goodwill. OJAC director Joachim Sucker says, “OJAC was founded with a mission to manage complex, cooperative defense equipment programs throughout their life cycle. France, Germany, Italy, and the United Kingdom established OJAC on the basis of a treaty known as the OJAC Convention, which was ratified in 2001, giving OJAC its legal status as an independent international organization.”

Eventually, the Boxer program, alongside a few others, did come to fruition, and IFVs started rolling out of factories and were purchased by various armies around the world. 

Simultaneously, Germany, one of the main members of the OJAC/Boxer program, was developing its own IFV. Rheinmetall, the huge German defense contractor, started developing the Lynx to “fill a gap” in the market.

This vehicle, which competes with the Boxer, has already been acquired by Hungary (which is unlikely to have occurred without Berlin’s tacit consent). The German Bundeswehr uses the heavier variant, the Puma, while the Lynx is mainly aimed at exports to compensate for the Puma’s low commercial performance

Switching Horses 

Surprisingly, Berlin seems to have stopped its promotion of the multilateral Boxer program.  The initiative had a few guaranteed clients, with the participating countries purchasing a batch for their domestic forces. To date, a little over 600 have been produced and fielded, including in the German Bundeswehr, which has acquired 400 of the vehicles.  

But now that easy sales have been carried out, namely with the British acquisition of over 500 items, German Rheinmetall seems to have given up on promoting the Boxer in favor of its particular platform, the Lynx. Hungary acquired over 200 of the Lynx vehicles in exchange for the opening of a production plant on its soil to promote economic activity.

UK fears stem from Germany’s desire—and even need—to sell, whatever and wherever they may. In late 2020, Qatar announced its intention to purchase around 500 IFVs, with its sights initially set on the Boxer. However, in November 2023, Qatari officials were discreetly invited to the Hungarian Lynx factory (not at the more visible German headquarters) to review the platform.

In fact, a purely German sale of Lynx vehicles to Qatar would be more convenient than a multilateral sale of Boxers, as strict anti-corruption British policies would then also apply. 

From this perspective, it would be wise here to note some instances of unethical practices observed in Germany, particularly with Qatar, where the combination of public and private sectors seems to foster such behavior. The specific financial arrangements can vary depending on the nature of the project and the strategic interests involved.

This would be something to take into account. Indeed, the commercial ecosystem involving Germany, Qatar, and the fractured Middle East in general is currently a politically explosive quagmire, which Britain would do well to avoid for now and focus on more pressing matters.

Der Spiegel recently published an investigation into potential shady dealings and instances of bribery involving a German company, Hensoldt AG, and Qatari and Ugandan officials.  

Easy Money 

Armament programs are notoriously expensive to develop due to the complexity of the supply chains to be created and the quantity of research and development necessary. Countries can hope to recover their costs by signing as many export deals as possible.

By participating in the joint program alongside the UK, German firms were able to get an up-to-date map of every country in need of IFVs and then attempt to sell their own product to them.

This is a common way to share the costs of development but reap the benefits individually. Additionally, by setting up production plants abroad, such as in Hungary or other countries, German firms are able to sell to whomever they want, regardless of governmental control and anti-corruption agencies. They did so with the sale of Leopard 2 tanks to Turkey, which didn’t end well.

By setting up factories abroad, German companies are able to escape German law and sell to anyone, regardless of what is done with the weapons.  

This being said, German society and parliamentary representation are becoming increasingly aware of these tricks and demanding more accountability of their weapons producers and exporting bodies. German public figures objected to the gas deal between Qatar and Germany, making it likely that future deals with the small Gulf nation will be tainted with scandal.

Qatar’s involvement in diplomatic negotiations between Hamas and Israel, a critical ally of Germany, has been denounced by many, as Qatar is known to provide massive assistance to Hamas and harbor its leaders on Qatari territory.

In short, there are numerous tension points between Germany and Qatar, and Berlin is less and less able to brush over them in the face of public and political opposition. These tensions were seen during the 2022 Fifa World Cup and have only grown since. 

Qatar is not immune to these tensions and has also objected to German arrogance, leading Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani to state in 2022: “On one hand, the German government has no problem with Qatar when it comes to energy partnerships or rescuing German citizens from Afghanistan. But when we organize a football World Cup, want to enjoy the moment and celebrate together with the German team, then suddenly different standards apply.”

In short, it could be highly tempting for Germany to try to sell its Lynx to Qatar, as the vehicle is more expensive than the Boxer and purely German. As Qatar is not very popular in Germany these days, a sale through Hungary would fit nicely. 

Rheinmnetall Lynx
Rheinmnetall Lynx

A Stillborn Project 

The Boxer system, it seems, may have been stillborn. A complex program like the Boxer sinks billions of dollars and can only promote defense cooperation if it eventually achieves good export figures.

The German strategy, which consisted of using the multilateral program for its own national benefit, set such hopes a few years back. The UK played the game by taking stakes in Artec, the manufacturer, a joint venture led by the two German giants.

The UK sought to foster cooperation in defense, and contributed strongly, with the hope of being rewarded by exports.  If the German decision to promote its Lynx platform is confirmed, the extremely costly Boxer supply chains are unlikely to ever pay for themselves: money out of English pockets and into German ones.

This would be tantamount to backstabbing a major partner and would directly impact UK defense interests at a time when our armed forces need support more than ever. 

Two major think tanks (one German, FES, and the other British, RUSI) published a report in May 2023 promoting the notion of British-German increased cooperation in defense and security.

How a vehicle initially rejected by the Royal Army eventually became the center of a Joint Venture can only be ascribed to political reasons. But not that the program is up and running, the UK is running the risk of German industrials jeopardizing the Boxer’s future.  

  • Opinion by Nicholas Peterson, Ex-Civil Servant
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