MPs have accused the Ministry of Defence (MoD) of “throwing away its bargaining position” by announcing a German armoured personnel carrier as its preferred choice to equip strike brigades without holding a competitive tender.
The Boxer eight-wheeled vehicle has been chosen by the MoD as preferred candidate without a competition, angering the manufacturers of rival vehicles.
During a hearing of Parliament’s Defence Committee, chair Julian Lewis asked army chiefs: “Haven’t you rather thrown away your bargaining position by making it so clear to the company that they are in pole position, they’ve got the contract and yet you haven’t yet specified the price that the government is going to pay?”
Lt Gen Paul Jaques, the MoD’s chief of materiel (land) said there was still a significant amount of negotiation to take place.
However committee members also asked minister for defence procurement Guto Bebb if there would be any prospect of the competition being reopened if they failed to reach agreement with the Boxer’s manufacturer on price.
While acknowledging that the ministry needed to get value for money, the Bebb acknowledged that such a change would be “challenging”.
Jaques and Bebb defended the choice of the vehicle before lawmakers, saying it was the “standout performer across a range of requirements and a worthy choice for the British Army”.
Jaques said there had been no need for a competitive tender because such a wide range of date was available on other possible choices to fill the role.
Additionally the Australian government has recently committed a detailed and expensive competitive tender and had selected the Boxer.
“The Australians have opened up all the data from the competition to us, which gives us a mine of information. It cost them a lot of time and money to come to the same conclusion as us,” said Jaques.
Detailed information on the vehicle’s combat performance was available from the German army, which had used it in Afghanistan.
Among the factors which made it the standout candidate were its power to weight ratio, which was the best of any of the vehicles evaluated, its mission reliability, and the high level of protection it offered passengers, said Jaques.
Bebb said the MoD was due to make a final decision on whether to buy the vehicle in the fourth quarter of 2019. The MoD is anticipating purchasing 500 Boxers, which are made by the German company Artec.
The first Boxers are due to enter service in 2023.
Bebb was also questioned why the MoD announcement favouring the vehicle was made over the Easter Bank Holiday while Parliament was in recess.
He described the timing of the announcement as “unfortunate” but said it was not deliberate and said the MoD wanted to keep to its pledge to make a decision before the end of the financial year.
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