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ARMY EXPO 23 ~ the Future on Display in London

UK Boxer MIV at ARMY EXPO 2023 [© Bob Morrison]

The three-day ARMY EXPO 23 immersive experience staged in London was intended to illustrate the British Army’s vision for the future, reports Bob Morrison

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Taking place this week at on the parade ground at Wellington Barracks, home for the Foot Guards tasked on public duties in London and almost next door to Buckingham Palace, the event was only open to invited guests but the legion of summer tourists strolling along Birdcage Walk were also able to catch glimpses through the railings. Attendees from across Defence and other Government Ministries and Departments, as well as industry leaders and stakeholders, plus on Tuesday evening the Secretary of State for Defence, were presented with a tableaux intended to illustrate the British Army’s vision for the future.

Visitors listen in to the MACA presentation by military personnel seconded to the NHS during the COVID-19 pandemic [© Bob Morrison]

The tightly choreographed event, with a constant commentary broadcast through headphones, consisted of an introduction while seated inside a marquee, with a recorded welcome from the Chief of the General Staff, and then five distinct consecutive phases through which guests moved as one group. The two hosts, a Corporal and a Captain, set the scenes and then specialists from different aspects of the Army took over the commentaries.

The first phase concentrated on MACA (Military Assistance to the Civilian Authorities) with soldiers who had worked alongside the NHS during the COVID-19 pandemic leading the presentations. One of the UK-based EOD teams, who literally deal with hundreds of suspected and actual explosive ordnance device call-outs every year, was next to present; one of their new GASKET 3 vehicles was there as a backdrop as was a Harris T7 Multi-Mission Robotic System. This was followed by a brief marching musical appearance by the Foot Guards Band accompanied by Guardsmen in ceremonial uniform, before a pair of MAN SV 8×8 trucks parted to reveal the second phase.

Fittingly for Wellington Barracks, Foot Guards provided a ceremonial precence [© Bob Morrison]

With a Challenger 2 main battle tank posed amongst urban rubble as a backdrop and large screens projecting dramatic mix of war zone and training footage, Army personnel mentoring Ukrainian soldiers in the UK under Operation INTERFLEX explained not only how Ukraine has benefited but how the UK has learned from the process. With currently over 750 personnel, from both the British Army and nine partner nations, who bring their own skills and procedures, involved in training thousands of Ukrainian personnel the process is very much a two-way experience.

An 81mm mortar team participating in a multimedia presentation on How We Fight 2026 [© Bob Morrison]

The third phase, tagged How We Fight 2026, was conducted inside darkened marquee, with an infantry squad and 81mm mortar team plus an HQ comms team bringing a uniformed human element in amongst the invited guests while footage from operations and training packages was displayed on a big screen. British Army involvement in the reinforced shielding missions on NATO’s eastern flank, and training for future roulements, featured heavily here before everyone moved onto the fourth phase.

Some of the Army personnel who briefed ARMY EXPO 2023 attendees lined up beside the new BOXER MIV [©Bob Morrison]

Inside the final marquee one of the first UK specification BOXER Mechanised Infantry Vehicles was used as a backdrop as the guests took their seats for cinematic presentations explaining the new Land Operating Concept and the Rapid Acquisitions Programmes process. It was here that the Army confirmed 1RRF, the First Fusiliers, would be the first battalion to re-equip with BOXER MIV in December. Members of X Company, converting from the Armoured Infantry role to the Mechanised Infantry role, explained how they had already visited a BOXER unit in Germany to see understand the tactics the Bundeswehr employs wheeled armoured vehicles for, and they emphasised are also drawing on the experiences of other nations using the Boxer family of vehicle. Incidentally, the BOXER displayed at ARMY EXPO 23 was a Specialist Carrier variant, internally configured as a REME fitters’ vehicle. It was disclosed that British BOXER is currently undergoing trials at Millbrook before moving to Bovington later in the year.

The first AJAX batch should now enter service by the end of this year with IOC forecast for the second half of 2025 and FOC in 2028/9 [© Bob Morrison]

With the last of the presentations complete, guests were next invited outdoors onto the parade ground where in addition to an AJAX, an Apache AH-64E and a Watchkeeper, a number of possible future acquisitions were on display. As JOINT-FORCES was fortunate in having attended last year’s ARMY EXPO on Salisbury Plain before the National Mourning media lockdown, caused by the death of HM Queen Elizabeth II, was announced at the end of Day One we had already seen both the HMT 600 WOLFRAM and the FOXHOUND PPV with its experimental camouflage skin, but the GDLS TRX remotely controlled tracked vehicle and the jet-assisted HYDRA 400 multi-role UAV, both configured for BRIMSTONE, were new to us.

While ARMY EXPO 23 was, by the very nature of its location, a bit more cramped and a lot less dynamic than last year’s event at Copehill Down, it was still highly informative and I’m glad we were invited. The Central London location, close to several Ministries, also ensured that more ‘suits’ than ‘uniforms’ were in attendance this time around. Hopefully this will be a good thing and help raise its profile, as in my opinion over the last quarter of a century the British Army has has tended to be rather backward at coming forward with the result that these days UK Armed Forces are not held in particularly high regard by the general public in the way that we see troops are in many NATO ally nations.

Royal Artillery WATCHKEEPER Unmanned Aircraft System [© Bob Morrison]

Finally, as Defence, Government and Industry attendees mingled at the end of the event Army Chefs provided light refreshment in the way only they can; loved those spicy, cheesy meatballs chef and the samosas were top notch! It never cases to amaze me just how creative soldiers trained to bulk cater in the field can be when asked to rustle something up at a primarily civvy event that will be just right for all present including captains of industry (we chatted to a handful of MDs and CEOs while mingling) plus a three-star general and even a Secretary of State.

[images © Bob Morrison]

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¤ See here for a small album page created specifically for those interested in the new vehicles displayed at ARMY EXPO 2023.

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