Active Suspension for Armoured Vehicles

BAE have a news story doing the rounds today (H/T Sol) about incorporating their active damping suspension system into the CV90 armoured infantry fighting vehicle and how this is a first for any armoured vehicle.

The reporting focusses on the benefits of F1 motorsport inspired active suspension in keeping the platform stable during high speed rough terrain travel and how this will translate into improved situational awareness and reduced fatigue for the crew whilst reducing maintenance costs. The top speed is said to increase by 35% vehicle pitch reduced by 40%.

All good stuff as they say, but is it really a first?

I suppose we should think about the many different forms of active suspension but the general term is taken to mean prediction of terrain and control of suspension components to improve ride based on this prediction.

In the early 1970’s the Military Vehicle Engineering Establishment (MVEE) started research work into active suspension systems at about the same time it was working on the hydrogas suspension system for the Challenger Main Battle Tank and built the Suspension Research Vehicle (SRV) based on a CVR(T). Initial work made use of Citroen gas springs and an early electronic controller. Lucas supported the project with a different active controller but the overall system was too complex to be adopted.

It is perhaps fair to say the materials, electronic and computing systems available limited actual performance.

In 1980, MVEE looked again, this time with Lotus, also using a CVR(T). The trials Scorpion made use of a digital controller which provided much improved reliability and performance than the MVEE and Lucas units trialled a decade or so earlier. Other projects in conjunction with Horstman developed a greater understanding of utilising hydrogas suspension in smaller armoured vehicles resulting an an unusual vehicle called the Sprung Idler Test vehicle (SITV) that was a CVR(T) Striker in a reverse configuration with rear mounted engine and drive sprocket. The next phase of these two projects was to develop an active terrain prediction system linked to the suspension.

Sadly, like much of the promising research work at this time, taken no further.

TRACER was a joint USA/UK project for a scout/reconnaissance vehicle that would have replaced Bradley M3’s, M1114 HMWWV’s and CVR(T)’s in service with the respective nations. Active suspension was proposed for both the LANCER and SIKA competing consortia but as we know, the project was cancelled in favour of FRES for the UK and FCS  for the USA.

LANCER TRACER with sensor mast
LANCER TRACER with sensor mast

The LANCER TRACER vehicle made a brief appearance in the UK in 2005 to demonstrate the joint Horstman/L3 Electronically Controlled Active Suspension System (ECASS) that provided significant improvement in rollover protection and offroad capability. ECASS was a significant development that smoothed bumps and controlled roll at speed. Suspension actuators acted as both motors and generators compensating by adding or removing energy. Energy storage was handled by a combined battery/capacitor unit that also had the beneficial side effect of reducing the heat build up normally associated with conventional shock absorbers and springs.

Fiendishly cunning stuff

Electronically Controlled Active Suspension System (ECASS)

Electronically Controlled Active Suspension System (ECASS)

Reportedly, ECASS went like a greased weasel, but the technology was not adopted in any UK or US production armoured vehicle although the US Marine Corps did test it with a HMMWV as the video below (I think) shows

A 2009 Frontline Defense article covered the USMC trials, click here to read.

The Swedish Defence Materiel Administration (FMV) Tgb30 tactical vehicle programme also showed some interest in ECASS.

Anyone speak Swedish?

It was probably technology maturity and an aversion to risk that saw the system fail to achieve production status but Horstman persisted and in 2013 purchased the suspension and vetronics assets and intellectual property of L3 in Canada.

Horstman Systems Inc. a wholly owned subsidiary of HW Machinery Limited, a UK Corporation is pleased to announce it has purchased the assets and intellectual property of the Suspension and Vetronics product line from L-3 Communications Electronic Systems Inc. in Toronto, Ontario Canada. The acquisition includes the Intellectual Property together with the engineering and design team for the Suspension and Vetronics Product line. HW Machinery, is the owner of Horstman Inc (US) and Horstman Defence Systems Limited ( UK) which is a world leader in military and specialty vehicle suspension systems.

With the confirmation of the Canadian Controlled Goods registration; the newly formed company, Horstman Systems Inc. located in Toronto will become the Center of Excellence for the acquired suspension product line which includes Scalable Suspension, Electronically Controlled Active Suspension (ECASS) and other technologies. This business will be integrated into Horstman’s expanding organization which is a global leader in advanced suspension and other automotive solutions for military and specialty vehicles.

Hostman is another one of those UK defence manufacturers that no one has ever heard of but make absolutely world class products in widespread use.

BAE offered a semi active suspension system as part of their FRES SV bid but they lost to General Dynamics with their ASCOD development for the subsequent SV Scout requirement.

The video below was uploaded to YouTube in 2010

And this one seems to be floating around with the story

Call me a cynic, but they look awfully similar.

No news on whether any of the existing CV90 users will upgrade either.

It is interesting that BAE mention the F1 provenance of their new CV90 system, I wonder if it is connected to the Horstman/L3 system or something completely new?

Click here to read about the fully active Horstman system.

The links between motorsport and armoured vehicle manufacturers is not new, as we know from the MVEE Lotus work in the eighties, but Lord Drayson when he was in charge at DE&S created a programme of collaboration that resulted in a number of important upgrades for existing vehicles, the Warrior carbon fibre disc brakes fitted as part of the TES(H) upgrades for example.

It is a complex subject but I think this also shows that sometimes, an idea comes before its time, but eventually gets there one way or the other.

Am also left wondering if with the size of the European CV90 user base whether future upgrades to this platform will be comparatively cheaper than the UK specific General Dynamics SV Scout fleet?

To the question of ‘is it the first vehicle to be fitted with active suspension’

I guess I would reply with;

What do you mean by active?

:)

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