Tuesday 14 June 2022

Leader Of The Pack: Lithuania’s Vilkas IFVs

By Stijn Mitzer and Joost Oliemans
As much of Western Europe appears to have finally woken up to the necessity of concrete military power for security, the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania already realised the requirement to prepare themselves to deal with Russian aggression in the Baltic region since Russia's annexation of Crimea in early 2014. Correspondingly, each country has since drastically expanded the size and readiness of its armed forces. Whilst initially mostly purchasing small arms, ATGMs and MANPADS to equip active and reserve forces, further investments have meanwhile paved the way for the acquisition of air defence and anti-ship missile systems, long-range artillery and hundreds of AFVs.

While Latvia acquired some 200 secondhand CVR(T) AFVs and 53 155mm M109 self-propelled guns (SPGs) from the UK and Austria, Estonia has equipped its mechanised forces with 44 Dutch CV9035 IFVs, 37 ex-Norwegian CV9030N AFVs and 18 South Korean 155mm K9 SPGs. Lithuania on the other hand looked to Germany for the acquisition of 91 Boxer IFVs and 18 PzH 2000s SPGs from 2015 onwards. After the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, the Lithuanian Ministry of Defence disclosed its intention to acquire another 120 Boxers IFVs and APCs for a total of 211 Boxers. [1]

Together with the purchase of 300+ Joint Light Tactical Vehicles (JLTV) from the U.S., large quantities of MANPADS and (Javelin) ATGMs, two highly advanced NASAMS-3 SAM batteries from Norway, 18 155mm Caesar 6x6 SPGs and M142 HIMARS systems and the planned purchase of Bayraktar TB2 UCAVs, Lithuania is well on its way to establishing a realistic warfighting capability and a strong deterrent to any future Russian interference in the region. [2] [3] [4] The result of the country's timely investments in its ground forces has been a force that is both qualitatively and quantitively superior to several larger NATO states, despite Lithuania only having a population of some 2.75 million.
The centrepiece of Lithuania's Land Forces is the Boxer IFV, which is designated "Vilkas" (Wolf) in Lithuanian service. The Boxer IFV variant acquired by Lithuania is equipped with an Israeli Samson Mk II unmanned turret fitted with a fully stabilised 30mm Mk44 Bushmaster II cannon, two Spike-LR anti-tank guided missiles (ATGMs) and a 7.62 mm coaxial machine gun. Advanced sighting systems enable accurate targeting during both day and night. Four smoke grenade launchers installed on either side of the turret can be used to temporarily mask the IFV's location.

A Vilkas launches a Spike-LR ATGM.

The Vilkas' most powerful type of armament – and potentially its knockout punch – is the Spike-LR ATGM. Boasting a range of 4km (or 5.5km for the Spike-LR2), the excellent anti-armour penetration capabilities of the Spike-LR enables the Vilkas to engage and destroy enemy armour well outside of the effective range of enemy tank fire. In case the Vilkas does run into enemy armour at close ranges, the 30mm Mk44 Bushmaster II is a potent fallback when equipped with armour-piercing ammunition (AP) munition. Though inferior to the 35mm cannon installed on Estonia's CV9035NLs, 30mm AP rounds proved more than a match for MBTs on multiple occasions, neutralising several Russian T-72s by penetrating their side armour or by knocking out their sighting systems. [5] [6] [7]
A range of turret options were evaluated before the Samson Mk II was declared the winner, including the Puma's unmanned RCT30 Lance turret that has also been selected by Germany for its future Boxer IFVs. The Netherlands on the other hand has trialled the EOS R400S - Mk2 Dual RWS armed with a single 30mm cannon, a 7.62 mm coaxial machine gun and two Spike ATGMs to up-arm a number of its Boxer APCs. [8] Like the R400S, the Mk II has a low silhouette (at least compared to the Lance turret of the German Boxer IFV) and is not embedded into the Boxer's hull, saving significant interior space. That said, Lithuania has experienced several issues with the integration of the Samson Mk II onto the Boxer that still haven't been fully solved as of the writing of this article. [9]

The initial contract for 91 Boxers (worth some €385.6 million) also included two driver training vehicles. [10] The first Vilkas IFVs were formally handed over to the Grand Duke Algirdas Mechanised Infantry Battalion of the Mechanised Infantry Brigade Iron Wolf in early July 2019. [11] In February 2022, it was announced that Lithuania would procure an additional 120 Boxers from Germany that are scheduled for delivery between 2023 and 2024. [12] This second batch will consist of 30 Vilkas IFVs and 90 Boxer APCs armed with a single 12.7mm RWS. These will likely at least partially replace Lithuania's fleet of over 200 M113 APCs. Whether the remainder of the M113s will also be replaced by the Boxer or perhaps a tracked type of APC in due time is currently unknown. The tracked Boxer variant first unveiled in June 2022 could be an attractive option for Lithuania for its high commonality with the wheeled base variant. [13]

A Boxer driver training vehicle in Lithuanian service.

Lithuania's substantive investments in Boxer APCs and the Vilkas are just one testament to the fact that it is gravely serious about its defence. With these platforms the Lithuanian Land Forces seem ready to take on the immediate future and any security threats it may bring. The versatility of the Boxer platform could see the country relying even more heavily on the vehicle, with the purchase of repair and recovery and engineering modules constituting a sensible investment that would simultaneously enhance commonality across the army. If it truly wanted to devote itself to the Boxer, it could even go for wholly novel designs such as the Boxer 120mm mortar module, or the futuristic looking Skyranger 30 SPAAG based on the same platform. When a country is willing to substantially invest in its own security and takes its acquisition programmes seriously, the sky's the limit.

[9] Kas iš tikrųjų vyksta su „Boxer“: pirkome „Vilkus“, o gavome katę maiše ir galime tai dar kartą pakartoti https://www.delfi.lt/news/daily/lithuania/kas-is-tikruju-vyksta-su-boxer-pirkome-vilkus-o-gavome-kate-maise-ir-galime-tai-dar-karta-pakartoti.d?id=90844035 
[10] First Vilkas Infantry Fighting Vehicles officially handed over to Lithuania Vilkas Infantry Fighting vehicles delivered for training https://kariuomene.lt/en/newsevents/vilkas-infantry-fighting-vehicles-delivered-for-training/17971
[12] Lithuania launches talks to buy more than 120 Boxer military vehicles https://www.defensenews.com/land/2022/04/21/lithuania-launches-talks-to-buy-more-than-120-boxer-military-vehicles/

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