On an unprepossessing site in a leafy part of Bedfordshire, a team of engineers are working hard on a project that will deliver vital improvements to a piece of equipment that is widely recognised as the workhorse of the British Army.
The Lockheed Martin facility on the outskirts of Ampthill is where the Warrior armoured fighting vehicle is being upgraded, giving it more firepower and better protection, as well as providing a more comfortable environment for the soldiers who are transported in it.
Warrior has been in service since the 1980s and has seen action in Bosnia, Kosovo, Iraq and Afghanistan. And, bearing in mind that the new £642 million package of work will extend the vehicle’s life until 2040, the army is relying on Lockheed Martin’s engineers to make it the very best it can be.
“Warrior is core capability. It has been pretty much everywhere the British Army has been for the past 30 years,” says Bob Armstrong, product team leader for the Warrior capability sustainment programme within Lockheed Martin UK. “Our challenge, therefore, is about improving the capability of an existing legacy platform. And that means using technology to deliver significant fightability, lethality and survivability improvements.”
What that military jargon translates to is an upgrade to major systems in the turret and hull, including a 40mm cannon with fire-on-the-move stabilisation, an advanced, modular armour system, blast-resistant crew seating, and an environmental control system that means infantry troops won’t have to suffer the extreme temperatures of up to 70°C that have been encountered in the rear compartment of Warriors in service in Afghanistan.
“The improvements to firepower and electronics will put Warrior at the heart of the British Army’s combat capability for at least another 25 years,” says Armstrong. “The upgrade comprises a package of work – including mechanical, electrical, software and materials engineering – that will come together to transform the capability of the vehicle.”
About 700 Warriors were built in the 1980s by GKN Defence. With a driver seated in the front hull and a gunner and commander seated in the turret, the vehicle’s primary role has been to transport up to seven infantry soldiers under protection to the frontline.
Since the vehicle’s introduction, the turret has been armed with a non-stabilised, 30mm cannon. A crucial part of the current upgrade is the replacement of this cannon with a more powerful 40mm weapon, which will be fitted with a new digital fire control system to improve accuracy. A series of sensors and gyros provides auto-stabilisation for the turret, so the cannon can be fired while the Warrior is travelling on bumpy ground. Armstrong says this is a huge advance.
“The 30mm cannon has limited capability,” he says. “Historically, it has been used to spray lead around to keep people’s heads down rather than to engage with targets and do any significant damage.
“The new stabilisation sighting system will give the Warrior fire-on-the-move capability. While driving over cross-country terrain, it will be possible to hold the gun on the target and fire, irrespective of the movement of the vehicle. It turns the Warrior from being an infantry fighting vehicle into something more like a medium-sized tank.”
The cannon will also have an improved type of ammunition. The projectile will be encased in a single cylinder, with the propellant packed around it, rather than being separated as two distinct compartments. This arrangement cuts the length of the round by 50%, says Armstrong, effectively compensating for the increased space requirements that are required for the more powerful gun.
The cannon will be fed by a new auto loader system developed by Meggitt Defence Systems. This auto loader can be fed with scores of rounds, with the ammunition handling contained behind armour and physically separated from the crew. This, says Armstrong, is a far safer and more efficient approach than that currently installed.
Increasing the protection given to the soldiers is another important aspect of the Warrior upgrade. The conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan have been characterised by troops coming under attack from improvised explosive devices. Lockheed Martin’s engineers have attempted to provide additional protection against such threats by developing a modular appliqué armour system for the turret and a modular armour mounting system for the hull.
The system permits the modular fitting of a variety of armour options to address specific missions. It consists of lightweight hull fixings and standardised mounting plates for modular armour solutions, including passive armour, explosive reactive armour and bar armour. They can be rapidly fitted, replaced or entirely removed by the vehicle crew using simple tools. Consequently, the armour can be tailored for each mission.
“The strap-on armour that Warrior originally took into deserts was designed in three months as an urgent operational requirement but ended up being continuously fielded in various operations ever since,” says Dave Brundle, hull systems integrated project team leader at Lockheed Martin. “The system had fundamental limits due to the time it took to design.