Military Pallets, Boxes and Containers – Part 4 Container and Flat Rack Handling

A detailed study of military pallets and containers, the building blocks of modern military logistics. The post examines container and flatrack handling equipment
Container Handling Unit

There is no point having a load of containers if you cannot move them from the container port, moving them from rail cars and storage yards to the point of need requires various ‘big boys toys’

Container Handlers

The Royal Corps of Transport was always at the forefront of logistics developments and its use of the ISO container was no different.

By the end of the sixties container traffic had exceeded that of other types through the BAOR supply chain.

RCT BAOR ISO Container freight service
RCT BAOR ISO Container freight service

Handling the containers was done with a combination of cranes and container handlers like those from Lancer Boss

RCT ISO Container Handling
RCT ISO Container Handling at Marchwood Military Port

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Lancer Boss RTCH - Image Plain Military
Lancer Boss RTCH – Image Plain Military

With increasing use of ISO containers in general and increasing use away from established hard standing areas like rail yards and storage locations there became a need for an all terrain container handler, we were not alone in this either.

Developed in close co-operation with the US Army, the RTCH is designed to handle containers in extreme conditions. Based on Kalmar’s reach stacker designs, the four-wheel-drive, four-wheel-steer machines can operate in mud, sand and up to 1.8 metres of salt water. CH can pick up two 20-foot railroad shipping containers at a time, or one 40-foot container, as opposed to the inefficient “one by one” method. Containers may be stacked three units high with the RTCH and the total lifting capacity is just over 24 tonnes. It is also surf zone capable and travels from beach to barge; retrieving containers and stacking them on dry land.

In the late nineties the US Army recognised the need to take advantage of civilian containerisation and issued an operational requirements document to which Kalmar, Caterpillar and Liftking Industries responded. The contract was awarded to Kalmar in 2000 with deliveries on the first batch of 346 RT240 Rough Terrain Container Handlers being completed at the end of 2004, other orders followed and it is still in production.

Kalamar RT240 Rough Terrain Container Handler
Kalamar RT240 Rough Terrain Container Handler

The US Third Infantry Division (Mechanized) Operation Iraqi Freedom after action report provided a glowing testimonial;

Vital to the rapid resupply of divisional troops are rough terrain container hand lers (RTCH), as most of the corps and theater logistics pushes arrived on flatbed trailers with containers.

A number of RTCH were obtained under an Urgent Operational requirement for Operation Telic and the National Audit Office report noted that over 9,000 containers were used;

Increasingly, the Department’s operations involve the use of International Organisation for Standardisation specified-shipping containers. Operation TELIC necessitated the use of some 9,103 such containers and exposed shortfalls in the Department’s ability to handle these containers both in the United Kingdom and in-theatre. While the Department procured an additional 20 container handling vehicles, 6 Supply Regiment highlighted thatit had only three container-handling vehicles to deal with several thousand containers

They are vital to operations and have been used extensively in Afghanistan.

Kalamar RT240 Rough Terrain Container Handler 06  - Image Plain Military
Kalamar RT240 Rough Terrain Container Handler – Image Plain Military
LIFT TRUCK - Kalmar RT 240 RTCH 18
LIFT TRUCK – Kalmar RT 240 RTCH 18
LIFT TRUCK - Kalmar RT 240 RTCH 12
LIFT TRUCK – Kalmar RT 240 RTCH
Kalmar RTCH
Kalmar RTCH

LIFT TRUCK - Kalmar RT 240 RTCH 04

LIFT TRUCK ANCILS - Kalmar RT 240 RTCH Fork Set
LIFT TRUCK ANCILS – Kalmar RT 240 RTCH Fork Set

They are relatively manoeuvrable and the extendable boom, rotation and sideshift top handler allow precise placement of the container.

The designers also built in an ingenious system for reducing its height to facilitate transport, by moving the operator’s cab to one side, lowering it and then sinking the boom next to the cab the total height of the container handler is less than 3metres, thus enabling transport in a C-17 aircraft but at 53.5 tonnes it is still a big lift, filling the C17 with its 3.65m width, 15m length and 2.98m height in shipping configuration.

This preparation for air transport can be carried out in less than 30 minutes by one person with no external assistance, and without removing or dismantling any part of the machine.

Kalamar RT240 Rough Terrain Container Handler in Transport Mode
Kalamar RT240 Rough Terrain Container Handler in Transport Mode

Unlike most container handlers the RTCH uses a single tyre arrangement with both axles driven and steered; crab-steer is possible and all steering is computer controlled for precise tracking. The axles are unsprung and two-wheel drive and single-axle steer is possible for road travel.

The ‘retch’ is an impressive piece of equipment but with less than 20 in service relatively uncommon.

For use where the all terrain features are not required, the MoD has a number of Hyster container handlers

Marchwood MOD - Hyster Container Handler
Hyster Container Handler at Marchwood Military Port

DROPS and EPLS

In the early eighties the Army conducted a Battle Attrition Study and Review of Ammunition Rates and Scales for high intensity combat operations and combined with projected usage of Bar mines, a move to self propelled 155mm systems and longer lines of communication as a result of strategic plan changes the results were sobering, the existing ammunition stock and transport capacity would simply not be up to the job, a third of what was required in some areas. It was recognised that 75% of all available lift in BAOR would be required to keep up with the Royal Artillery alone. Although palletisation had made significant improvements in handling times it was still not enough and an increase in vehicles and personnel was not seen as likely, something else was needed.

We can safely say that the British Army pioneered hooklift systems in a military context, a real innovation that revolutionised logistics delivery speed.

By applying commercially proven hooklift systems (Marel Corporation) with a robust multi wheel drive truck and trailer, ammunition turnaround times were reduced by a factor of 6

The Demountable Rack Offload and Pickup System (DROPS) was used mainly in the artillery ammunition supply chain but also used for other commodities and specialist roles (bridging equipment for example)

The Leyland Medium Mobility DROPS were introduced in 1990 using a chassis originally developed by Scammell (of wheel nuts fame!). By the time the sales process had concluded Leyland had been purchased by DAF. The vehicle, called the medium Mobility Load Carrier (MMLC) has an 8×6 drivetrain and a payload of 15 tonnes. An important part of the overall DROPS system is the DROPS trailer that can carry the same payload as the towing vehicle. There were two variants of DROPS trailer, King and Queen, the former being made by King Trailers and the latter, Reynolds Boughton (no, I don’t get it either!). A 16 tonne low mobility version was also introduced in small numbers

DROPS (Image Credit - Plain Military)
Leyland MMLC DROPS (Image Credit – Plain Military)

Four years after the Leyland DAF MMLC came into service the Foden variant was introduced at a cost of £75m. This was obtained in much smaller numbers (400 as opposed to over 1,500) but was significantly more capable off road and designated the Improved medium Mobility Load Carrier (IMMLC). Payload is the same as the Leyland DAF vehicle.

Foden IMMLC DROPS
Foden IMMLC DROPS

Both were a significant increase in capability and have seen service in every operational theatre since their introduction.

The idea is very simple, instead of unloading pallets from a truck you unload the truck from the truck, the video below shows the basics of operation.

Loading and unloading the trailer was also simple but ingenious

And that really is that, such a simple system but one that hard far reaching consequences, everyone uses the system now.

The video below shows the AS90 in action, complete with DROPS

The DROPS flatrack is stackable

DROPS Flatrack
DROPS Flatrack

It also did not take long for the logisticians to start realising the system could also be used for light vehicle and equipment carriage instead of the traditional articulated transporters. Again, this system of moving vehicles and equipment such as generators or equipment shelters has seen much use.

CVR(T) and Foden DROPS
CVR(T) and Foden low mobility DROPS
Foden DROPS and CVR(T) in the Balkans 01
Foden DROPS and CVR(T) in the Balkans
Leyland DROPS and CVR(T) 01
Leyland DROPS and CVR(T)
Leyland DROPS and Bv206
Leyland DROPS and Bv206
CVR(T) and Foden DROPS
CVR(T) and DROPS rack

It is often thought that the Foden and Leyland DROPS trucks cannot lift ISO containers, this is not the case.

An ISO container can be secured to a DROPS flat rack and both lifted simultaneously. Whilst this is possible it is not desirable for obvious reasons. They can also be fitted with the Container Handling Unit but although it was trialled, it was not bought into service. Hooklift compatible ISO containers are available.

DROP Flatrack and ISO Container
DROP Flatrack and ISO Container (Image credit Cold War Warrior)

Leyland DROPS CHU

20ft ISO Container with Hooklift attachment
20ft ISO Container with Hooklift attachment

The fleet had gradually declined until it stood at about 1,700 a couple of years ago and since then numbers have reduced even further, about 500 or so now with very few trailers, and these are all due out of service this year.

For operations in Afghanistan where artillery ammunition expenditure rates were relatively low and operations conducted from fixed locations the traditional role of the DROPS fleet was not required, supplying forward operating bases and general cargo movement was. With much greater use of ISO containers the MoD diverted about 90 HX77 SV’s from the core programme to be converted under an Urgent Operational Requirement called the Enhanced Palletized Load System or EPLS. Some of these have also been used for the REBS bridging system UOR and additional EPLS obtained.

British Army MAN SV Trucks Enhanced Palletised Load System (EPLS) Combat Logistic Patrol Afghanistan 01

A convoy logistics patrol, manned predominantly by members of the Queens Own Gurhka Logistics Regiment, delivers resupplies of rations, ammunition and other life support to A Company, 1 R WELSH at Showal. It is also carrying ISO containers of building materials to create a permanent patrol base for ANA and coalition forces. The speed of build has been incredible; the sangars and hesco walls have been built within 3 days of supplies being dropped off. Sergeant Adrian 'AD' Dixon, acts as Site Manager and keeps the build on track, with a punishing schedule that sees Afghan and Royal Engineers working on a 24/7 basis.Picture credit: Squadron Leader Dee Taylor, RAF
A convoy logistics patrol, manned predominantly by members of the Queens Own Gurhka Logistics Regiment, delivers resupplies of rations, ammunition and other life support to A Company, 1 R WELSH at Showal. It is also carrying ISO containers of building materials to create a permanent patrol base for ANA and coalition forces. The speed of build has been incredible; the sangars and hesco walls have been built within 3 days of supplies being dropped off. Sergeant Adrian ‘AD’ Dixon, acts as Site Manager and keeps the build on track, with a punishing schedule that sees Afghan and Royal Engineers working on a 24/7 basis.Picture credit: Squadron Leader Dee Taylor, RAF
Rapidly Emplaced Bridging System (REBS) (Image Credit - Plain Military)
Rapidly Emplaced Bridging System (REBS) (Image Credit – Plain Military)

EPLS can lift ISO containers without first placing them on a flatrack but in most other respects, EPLS is broadly similar to DROPS. The H Frame or Container Handling system uses ISO locks and can lift 8’0″, 8’6″ and 9’0″ containers with an optional kit for 4’0″ and 3’3″ half height containers.

EPLS can still lift the older flatracks, see if you can spot the difference…

ISO Container and CHU
ISO Container and CHU (Image Credit; Plain Military)
EPLS and 20ft ISO Container on DROPS Flatrack (Image Credit Plain Military)
EPLS and 20ft ISO Container on DROPS Flatrack (Image Credit Plain Military)

As can be seen in the image below the Container Handling Unit can adjust to suit different height containers.

Container Handling Unit
Container Handling Unit

EPLS has been a great success in Afghanistan and will now be bought into the core fleet.

There is still a gap in the Improved medium Mobility category and the non Articulated Vehicle Programme (NAVP), formerly the Heavy Load Distribution Capability (HLDC) programme, will seek to consolidate and replace the Foden and Leyland DROPS vehicles.

They were originally intended to be out of service this year and although there was some desire to life extend until 2020, it does look like 2014 will be the end of the DROPS fleet.

Current and Future Vehicles
Current and Future Vehicles

More on future vehicles later in the series

Rail Transfer Equipment

The logistics review that concluded with a requirement for DROPS also detailed a requirement for equipment to transfer flatracks from railway cargo flats to either DROPS or non DROPS vehicles.

Two versions were introduced in 1990, Rail Transfer Equipment (RTE) and EKA Simple Rail Transport Equipment (SRTE), the principle distinction was one was trailer mounted and the other mounted on a DROPS style flatrack

Simple Rail Transport Equipment Flat rack (Image Credit Plain Military)
Simple Rail Transport Equipment Flat rack (Image Credit Plain Military)
Simple Rail Transport Equipment
Simple Rail Transport Equipment
Rail Transfer Equipment
Rail Transfer Equipment
Rail Transfer Equipment Trailer 02 - Image Plain Military 01
Rail Transfer Equipment Trailer 02 – Image Plain Military 01

Rail Tranfer Equipment 2

These are now out of service, replaced with the RTCH and Hyster container handlers.

The rest of the series…

Part 1 – Introduction and General Principles

Part 2 – Pallets

Part 3 – Containers and Flatracks

Part 4 – Container and Flatrack Handling

Part 5 – Boxes

Part 6 – Air Transport Pallets and Containers

Part 7 – Air Despatch

Part 8 – Issues and Solutions for Pallets, Containers and Boxes

Part 9 – Trucks and Trailers

Part 10 – More Thoughts  on Trucks and Trailers

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