In-house rivalry: Boxer, VBCI armored vehicles compete for Qatari attention at DIMDEX

Estimated read time 5 min read

A British Army Boxer 8×8 armored vehicle at DIMDEX 2024, painted with British and Qatari flags. (Agnes Helou / Breaking Defense)

DIMDEX 2024 — Prominently displayed at a stand for the British Armed Forces here at the DIMDEX defense show in Qatar was a Boxer 8×8 armored infantry vehicle with one unusual addition: paint in the image of British and Qatari flags, together.

The vehicle itself, produced in part by the German half of the German-French venture KNDS, is part of an unusual competition: It’s vying for the attention of the Qatari armed forces against the VBCI, made by the French firm Nexter, the other half of the KNDS partnership — amounting to a KNDS in-house rivalry for a potentially lucrative Gulf contract.

In fact it was the Nexter vehicle that KNDS advertised at its own stand here, showing smaller Qatari and French flags on the rear of the VBCI, while Nexter representatives invited curious passersby to sit inside. (A second Boxer, a prototype, was on display at a stand for the Qatari Emiri Land Forces.)

While company officials told Breaking Defense they are open to have production and assembly facilities in Qatar, no deal is signed yet.

“Qatar [is] looking for an 8×8 infantry fighting vehicle platform, and we’re putting forward the British Boxer. But we’re not just offering the platform,” Lt. Col. Hugh O’Neil Roe of the British Ministry of Defence told Breaking Defense. “We’re offering partnership in training, doctrine development, collective training, and all other aspects used to bring a vehicle into service.” Roe is part of the delivery team within the UK’s Defence Equipment and Support procurement arm, responsible for bringing the Boxer into service with the British Army.

The Qatari government does not appear to have publicly announced any new large armored vehicle competition after signing a letter of intent for 490 VBCI vehicles in December 2017. According to Nexter KNDS representatives, that agreement still stands. But the LOI did not lead to a firm order, company officials said, largely because of delays caused by COVID disruptions. So until a final deal is signed, it appears competition is live and well.

Qatari government representatives did not respond to Breaking Defense’s request for comment. Both vehicles have previously undergone testing in Qatar, according to company representatives.

A Nexter-made VBCI armored vehicle at DIMDEX 2024. (Agnes Helou / Breaking Defense)

The UK has so far ordered 623 vehicles, which are due to be integrated into new Armoured Brigade Combat Teams, alongside Ajax armored fighting vehicles and Challenger 3 main battle tanks.

Breaking Defense reported in January that London is also set to order several hundred additional vehicles of new variants, to consolidate a mix of infantry carrier, specialist carrier, command post carrier and ambulance platforms.

Roe explained that a partnership with Qatar could involve sharing data lessons and accelerating the entry and service of a platform.

“We painted the vehicle in Union Jack and Qatari colors, to show our intention to have a stronger partnership with the land forces and maybe use this vehicle as a common ground for our soldiers to train together and work together and learn from each other,” he added.

He assured Breaking Defense that all proposals for this requirement were already sent to Qatar.

“British Boxer would be offered through [ARTEC] Boxer UK. They would be in the front, and supporting them would be KNDS and Rheinmetall and a very extensive British supply chain,” Roe added.

In 2018, the UK rejoined the Boxer Mechanised Infantry Vehicle consortium after leaving it 14 years prior. To order the Boxer, that government consortium enlisted an industry consortium called ARTEC GmbH, which was formed by Rheinmetall and Krauss Maffei Wegmann — what’s now the German half of KNDS. ARTEC Boxer UK is a subsidiary of ARTEC GmbH.

Meanwhile, at the KNDS stand, French armed forces had a captain from a mechanized infantry regiment, who has operated the VBCI in operations in Mali in the Sahara.

Nexter officials highlighted that the operational deployment of the VBCI in desert conditions gives it leverage in fulfilling Qatari needs, considering its own experience with desert operations.

And though KNDS is part of the consortium making the Boxer, in a statement Sunday it said it is offering Qatar the VCBI MkII platform with newer capabilities to the standard French Army version. The MkII is designed with a new T40 turret that integrates the MBDA Akeron MP missile and the 40mm cased-telescoped ammunition (CTA) gun.

The company said the VCBI can offer a vast amount of localization, including final assembly line, maintenance, support, and the production of a variety of ammunition, in order to address Qatar’s national Vision 2030.

“We propose to renew [our] partnership with a state-of-the-art 8×8 infantry fighting vehicle, thanks to the benefit of years of successful evaluation in Qatar, and the lessons learned by the French Army,” said the company statement.

Nextar has previously sold AMX-30 main battle tanks to Qatar, which are expected to be replaced under the current armored vehicle competition.

“The other [vehicles] are not bad, they have their merits also and they are good for transporting people, but this one is the original one, that’s why it’s also the best in this category,” said one KNDS representative, pointing out the smaller size of the vehicle, that gives it “great mobility in all kinds of terrain.”

Meanwhile, local defense development is ramping up and potentially providing another alternative. Qatari government-owned Barzan Holding holds just under half the shares of Turkish armored vehicle maker BMC. Here BMC debuted its own 8×8.

Barzan Holding’s deputy CEO Mohammad Al Marri, told Breaking Defense that BMC’s “new 8×8 is the latest version and generation. There is a huge interest from neighboring countries like Saudi Arabia, UAE, Qatar, and Turkish army.”

He added that BMC is looking to open an assembly facility in Qatar for its armored vehicles.

Breaking Defense’s Tim Martin contributed reporting from Belfast.

Boxer armored vehicle at Qatar Emiri Land Forces stand in DIMDEX 2024. (Agnes Helou / Breaking Defense)