In Part 1 of this series I looked out the disadvantages of having too many types of vehicle fulfilling similar roles and with similar capabilities.
To start off Part 2 I am going to look at a single vehicle type, the GMLRS.
GMLRS is a vitally useful system, highly precise, incredibly effective and with utility in all most spectrums of conflict. We don’t have that many though, so if one throws a track or its engine becomes defective not only is the vehicle out of action, crucially, so is the weapon system.
Modularisation has been talked of for some time and the Danish naval Stanflex system goes some way to achieving it but whilst the ability to quickly reconfigure a ship with one weapon system or the other is useful, in reality, less likely to be used than one might imagine. The real benefit of modularity is in the scenario described above. With a modular payload, another vehicle could be quickly bought to the stricken one and during the recovery process, the weapon element simply swapped. The broken down vehicle goes for repair and the weapon system carries on its way.
Weapons and their controlling systems (UAV’s ground stations for example) are becoming more expensive yet we still insist on physically connecting them to vehicles whose technology has not fundamentally changed in decades. If the cheap vehicle is damaged or breaks down, more likely because if moving and wear components, it impacts adversely, the very expensive system it is carrying. We therefore negate our investment in hi technology weapons and associated systems because of problems with low technology and cheap vehicles.
This approach of splitting the payload from its carrier is epitomised by targeting and recce pods carried by strike fighters like Tornado or F16’s. The rapidly changing and expensive targeting pods can be carried by a number of different aircraft, swapped as needed and sweated for maximum utilisation by the simple expedient of not making them integral to the aircraft.
In pre deployment periods, whilst a force was being assembled, the most effective and relevant modules could be selected from a central location and either mounted onto donor vehicles or simply carried to theatre separately.
Modularity therefore, is a central part of any approach to vehicle coherence.
Start with the modules and build the vehicles around them.
If we are really serious about the concept we can also use the modules in the maritime environment. If we can assemble a CAMM module for use on land, why can’t exactly the same module be carried on a ship?
Part 2, therefore, will look at these modules; Part 3 will look at the vehicles that wrap around them.
To start the discussion on modules should be some consideration of weights and dimensions, in some areas these are critical considerations because they dictate the degree of strategic mobility. If we cannot lift a particular module using a Chinook for example, then is it of any utility. Traditional weapon systems design often tries to create a lightweight system that incorporates BOTH the vehicle and its payload, this often results in compromise so whilst it would not be the default position, systems may be split and transported separately. This of course means 2 very expensive journeys but when taken in the round the payoff between a higher lift cost and utility or effect may be worth it.
The natural starting point for a module would be the ISO container, nominally the 10ft, 20ft and 40ft size. The world’s logistic system is built around these dimensions, roads, ships, railways and means of transport. Being able to utilise existing civilian transport resources in theatre, again, largely configured for moving ISO containers, also provides many advantages including cost, speed and the unrealised potential of disguise.
At the smaller size, the ISO container dimensions might be less than optimal so whilst using the ISO container size as the foundation, we should also be flexible enough depart from these when necessary.
Some modules would be very weight sensitive because of air portability issues so whilst we should use the ISO container form factor, conventional steel construction would not always be the preferred choice. Whatever the construction, any container we develop should still be able to be handled as if it were a standard steel ISO container.
The civilian ISO container handling infrastructure has evolved considerably but is largely based on predictable pathways and favourable conditions. These will not always be available in the kind of austere locations military forces operate in so some consideration must be given to handling, especially the larger containers.
Despite the weight and handling challenges, the benefits on offer outweigh any disadvantages.
I have looked at containerisation and modularity in previous posts on logistics vehicles, ship to shore logistics and the RN C3. The real value with this approach is looking at in an end to end fashion, from the UK to theatre, sustainment and recovery back to the UK. At each stage we should consider the issues of transport, handling and tracking. In some circumstances the theatre in question may be at sea or in the littoral but the value proposition must extend to all services.
There is already an expeditionary camp infrastructure team at the MoD that does excellent work and already has much of this covered.
Modules would consist of 4 types; cargo, accommodation, weapon & complex systems and logistic support, here are a few suggestions…
These are of obviously the simplest of all. Available in 10, 20 and 40ft lengths they would consist of flat racks, standard containers, lightweight containers (possibly including the folding Cargoshell design), curtain side and liquid tanks where there was no metering or pumping equipment. All must be stackable.
Conventional ISO containers are often called ‘Dry Vans’ and beyond the standard 10,20 and 40ft range are also available in high cube and extended length for certain applications.
10 foot; dry weight 1.5 tonnes, length 3.05m, width 2.44m, height 2.89m
20 foot, dry weight 3.25 tonnes, length 6.06m, width 2.444m, height 2.89m, payload 28.65 tonnes
40 foot, dry weight 4.06 tonnes, length 12.19m, width 2.44m, height 2.89m, payload 28.65 tonnes
Refrigerated containers are called reefers and come with integral refrigeration equipment, external and self contained power.
Liquids tank containers are simply a cylindrical steel tank contained within an ISO container compliant framework. By keeping to the ISO container size and configuration they can use exactly the same intermodal transportation resources as conventional containers. In industry, these are used to transport foodstuffs and industrial chemicals and come in a variety of insulated, non insulated and compartmentalised variants. In a military context, the most likely payloads would be water, lubricants or fuels. A typical 20 foot uninsulated tank container can carry 26,000 litres with an empty weight of approximately 3,500 to 4,000kg.
These would be the cheapest of the 4 types but must all be fitted with RFID tracking chips and appear on central logistic management systems.
These are available off the shelf with more or less no integration work and we already have many of them but an increased stock holding of these versatile and adaptable types would be desirable.
It is probably easier at this stage simply to list some of the possible variations;
Stores, i.e. containerised G10, Personnel, Ablutions, Kitchen, Guard tower/Sangar, Washroom and even kennels have been and should continue to be used.
One possible innovative unit would be a self contained multi service unit for forward units. This is not about providing hot and cold running waitress service but a system that can provide small units with basic washing, toilet, shower, battery charging, power generation and hot water production for cooking. We might look at the environmentally friendly solutions on the market because their desire for low or zero water usage and ease of maintenance are objectives that would be compatible with expeditionary camp infrastructure. Using a combination of wind and solar power with backup diesel generation and battery storage will reduce the need for shipping precious fuel to these forward locations. A single 10ft ISO container could service the needs of a single platoon.
Again, we already use many of these;
Medical facilities, water storage, fuel storage and pumping/dispensing, workshops, armoury, ammunition store, power generation, bottled gas store and waste compaction are obvious applications.
Water purification and bottling is a subject we covered in a previous post and these would have obvious dual use for international emergency response.
Extending the concept into bridging and engineering applications like a tipper body, well drilling, aggregate/rock crushing, bitumen and dust suppression will allow a reduction of specialist vehicles
Weapon and Complex Systems
The most radical use of the modular/container concept is in the weapons and complex system realm. Again, we already use containerised image receiving stations for ASTOR as an example of complex systems but these are based on non standard containers that are not as quickly demountable as they might be.
CAMM, Loitering Attack Munition and a GMLRS launcher would be obvious systems to use the containerised concept but we could also extend this to mortar, UAV ground stations, communications, command and control, ECM, NBC recce, weather sensing, air traffic control, radio/TV production and transmission, aerostat, surveillance tower, mine warfare (maritime) and diver support.
The possibilities are endless.
One of the main advantages we could realise is portability between sea and land. Using a containerised GMLRS pod means the same system can be mounted on the back of a truck on land or simply fixed to the deck of a ship to provide long range naval gunfire support.
All the money should go into the weapon system, not its transport.