In the previous post I made the case for innovation and a coherent development programme to equip the armed forces with a single class of lightweight vehicles with ruthlessly enforced commonality to replace a wide range of in service vehicles, everything from the Land Rover 90 GS to the Pinzgauer 6×6.
Moving up the weight scale into the space currently occupied by the Mastiff and Ridgeback and perhaps in the future by a FRES Utility Variant, this vehicle(s) will be the mainstay of the Mechanised Infantry Brigades. There is also the Tactical Support Vehicle programme that compensated for a lack of helicopter lift with a range of logistics support vehicles based on the Jackal and Mastiff platforms, Coyote and Wolfhound respectively, with a new vehicle (Husky) from International MXT. The Wolfhound and Coyote are sensible choices because they match the base vehicles in the units that operate them.
I do not think the 8×8 wheeled combat vehicle like the US Stryker have a future on the modern battlefield because it offers too many compromises for a significant cost, therefore, the FRES UV programme should be collapsed, at least in its current guise and alternatives investigated.
In the short term the existing combination of Bulldog and Mastiff/Ridgeback/Wolfhound/Husky would seem to be a realistic solution. The UOR vehicles can be absorbed into the main equipment programme and any minor enhancements applied on a rolling basis after they have been refurbished. The FRES Recce vehicles will provide an effective supplement to these vehicles in the near future and Bulldog, whilst an old basic design and chassis, is still quite good in its role. Mastiff and Ridgeback are also well regarded and the other UOR vehicles like Husky should also be retained in the short term, the money has been spent.
In the medium term we should be thinking about a family of vehicles for protected mobility, logistics and other specialist roles, and again, I have to reiterate that the UK has enough automotive design expertise to go its own way, even if we are supported by other nations that might have specific experience or technologies.
The gold standard for IED protection is without a doubt the Force Protection Mastiff but its weight and general configuration results in a pretty low level of mobility, it needs its high level of protection because it is road bound. It is also a fuel hog and availability issues caused by the harsh terrain of Afghanistan have continued to afflict the vehicle.
Without necessarily coming off the fence I thought a few options for discussion might be useful.
Option A – Improve the Mastiff/Ridgeback/Wolfhound
We know their faults, primarily around mobility, can these be addressed in a Mastiff Mark 3 development, with new independent suspension like the TAK4 from Oshkosh, or would this achieve only a small incremental improvement?
With this option we would retain Bulldog for the medium term.
Option B – Follow military fashion and buy an 8×8
This would mean the existing Mastiff/Ridgeback/Wolfhound/Bulldog combination would be withdrawn or put into storage to be used for operations with high IED threat and replaced completely with a new family of vehicles. Candidates might include the Artec Boxer, GD Piranha or any other of the hundreds of designs available from various manufacturers. This might mean the UK accepting a higher risk profile for IED threat but that might be mitigated with greater direct attack protection and other capabilities in a trade off. It is probably fair to say that the IED killed of the FRES UV competition so I don’t think this is a viable option.
Option C – Buy into a Vehicle Already or near Maturity
Accepting that the traditional 8×8 or keeping/improving what we have is non starter there are other options available to fill the role.
The BAe RG35 ‘Multi Purpose Fighting Vehicle’ is an interesting design that is said to offer the survivability of an MRAP with the versatility of a conventional combat vehicle and a high level of mobility. It is a compact design, 7.4 meters in length, 2.5 meters in width and 2.7 meters in height.
The basic vehicle weighs 18.1 metric tons and is designed to operate at 26 tons for high-mobility operations and 33 tons when kitted with extra armour for urban combat. Additional features include a modest turning circle 15m, accommodation for a driver and 15 crew, 15 tonne payload, top speed of 115kph and a range of approximately 1000km. An unique design feature is engine placement; the power pack is installed behind the driver, offset to the left, with space for a gun turret and operator on the right, this is said to lower the profile, make maintenance much easier, replacement possible in 30 minutes and improve weight distribution for extra mobility.
Protection to STANAG Level 4 and beyond is possible and the usual range of options and variants is available including protected mobility, ambulance, repair/recovery, logistics and weapons platform.
Although it does not have the heritage of the RG35 there is no doubt it is an innovative concept and from the video looks quite mobile, acceleration, top speed and off road mobility seem good. The more I look at the Ranger the more I like it.
The Ranger is claimed to far exceed STANAG 4 for blast protection and additional protection is available. Survivability is a key design criterion; additional features include a top speed of 107kph, range of over 1000km and a 0-50kph time of 7 seconds.
Able to fulfil a variety of roles the Ranger can also be produced in a 4×4 and 8×8 configuration. Modularity (my favourite subject) means that in the field maintenance and repair is relatively simple. The Ranger design focuses on survivability but also recognises that mobility contributes to this and as such is said to exceed Improved Medium Mobility Load Carrier (IMMLC) characteristics, obviously a good thing although the turning circle is a metre less than the RG35.
The Ranger also has some neat features like an auxiliary powerpack for sensors, communications and charging/power export, the seats can be unclipped to form stretchers and a hydraulic rear door/ramp.
Option D – Think Defence Off the Reservation Option 1
Whilst we all know that Option A is the most likely outcome I think a bit of blue sky thinking is in order!
The next two sections floats a couple of ideas based on existing civilian vehicles and technologies that can be militarised and adapted to meet both the protected mobility and logistics roles, highly survivable and extremely mobile.
The Hover Track ‘New Holland’ and Band Track
Hover Track is a Dutch organisation that specialise in high mobility load carrying solutions for the agricultural, transport, quarry and industrial sector. They have taken a number of existing highly economical commercial base designs and adapted them for a unique set of requirements.
The ‘new Holland’ cab arrangement places the driver on the centreline and high, converted this model to military use would obviously need a deep V hulled shallower cabin equipped with the expected protection elements and tandem seating for driver and commander, maybe a remote weapons station.
Note in the video how mobile the unit is because of its compact dimensions
A standard hook lift system can be fitted that can deliver true modularity by simply dragging onto the chassis whatever module is needed, whether that is a passenger module, ambulance, command, flat bed or anything else. If the module becomes damaged, simply hook on another. There are no reasons why a fully featured intercom facility could not be provided in the same manner as the Viking and Bronco use. In addition to the hook lift system the load bed could also easily be fitted with an articulated trailer interface so the base unit could also meet medium mobility logistics requirements, using a trailer.
Thus we would be able to utilise a single base unit for a wide number of roles, dramatically improving logistics and maintenance overheads.
The videos show the vehicle in relatively benign off road conditions, farms and tracks etc so whilst the loads look large and bulky they are not necessarily heavy so in order to improve mobility in austere conditions for heavier loads the base unit could have the rear driving wheels fitted with another Hovetrack innovation, the track system as shown in the video below.
By having both systems of traction available, wheeled or tracked, we can take advantage of the cost and strategic mobility advantages of a commercially derived wheeled truck chassis yet should the terrain we are operating in require much higher mobility we simply add on the tracks.
Option E – Think Defence Off the Reservation Option 2
The Volvo Articulated Loader
This is not actually a new idea because the Archer and its predecessor have used the Volvo A30 articulated loader as a base vehicle for a self propelled artillery system. The BAe/Hagglunds BVs10 family and ST Kinetics Bronco/Warthog also use an articulated cab concept to achieve extreme mobility.
The Archer uses an extended Volvo A30 6×6 articulated loader because of the length of the 52 calibre barrel so imagine something similar but much shorter. I am not particular fan of the Archer but that’s for another post. This proposal takes that concept and extends it to protected mobility and logistics.
Volvo invented the articulated loader in the sixties and have been continually refining their designs ever since. The Transport Solutions Division provides a design and build capability for non standard applications.
Instead of the 6×6 A30E base model we could use the 4×4 A25E with a low profile and armoured cab like the Archer, this has room for 2 in a protected cell and remote weapon station. As with our suggestion above, a tandem seating arrangement allows one to create a relatively deep V shape for the crew cell for maximum survivability against IED blast and additional protection against other threats could also be provided.
Because the drive unit would be common, any number of articulated sections could be used, a 4×4, 6×6 or extended 6×6 unit for longer loads.
Using common building blocks drives down cost.
Off road mobility is of course excellent but on a road less so although for the A25E there is an add on that provides a very small turning circle, using a drop down steerable rear wheel, this is probably not much use in a combat scenario. Speeds are low and the system is configured for payload and traction, some adjustment to the drive system might provide more balanced off road/on road performance characteristics in return for a lower payload.
When looking at payloads for this mad idea or the Option D mad idea, the means of carriage affords a great deal of flexibility if a set of standard design criteria of established and followed. A hook lift system is in widespread civilian and military use. The UK uses the Foden DROPS and MAN SV EPLS systems for flat beds and containers.
The system was first introduced in the USA by the Marel Corporation in the USA, they also invented the skip loading system.
There are now many other manufacturers of hook lift systems and trailers, a couple of examples including Stronga, Edbro, Swaploader and Stellar Industries. They can be used for specifically hooklift compatible payloads or using a suitable adapter like the Stellar Industries Hooklift Spider, ISO containers without needing a flatrack, this type of system is used on the MAN SV EPLS as currently being hammered in Afghanistan.
For an interesting but old analysis of the military applications of the hooklift system click here
Rather than embedding directly these are links to a number of background information videos about the Volvo articulated loaders.
Finally, just to show where the technology of articulated loaders is going have a look at this video on the Volvo Centaur concept.
Which option would you go for?