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Whatever happened to elevating sensor masts?

LANCER TRACER with sensor mast

A question for you red of trouser types.

Not so long ago you couldn’t move for vehicle concepts that had elevating masts combining electro-optical, thermal imaging and radar sensors.

VERDI Warrior
VERDI Warrior
Stealth Recce Warrior 1998
Stealth Recce Warrior 1998
LANCER TRACER with sensor mast
LANCER TRACER with sensor mast

A few non-UK vehicles also entered service.

Coyote Recce
Coyote Recce (Canada)
SNĚŽKA Reconnaissance Vehicle (Czech Repuplic)

All the operational analysis for TRACER seemed to point to them offering significant survivability benefits in addition to increasing flexibility and overall capability


A few concepts have emerged recently like the C-Quad, Blighter Scout and ISTAR Jackal

Blighter Scout
Blighter Scout
ROTAS on Jackal ISTAR 01

And not forgetting the TALISMAN Mastiff that was developed for use in Afghanistan in the route clearance role

But what about SV Scout?

SV Scout
SV Scout

No mast.

Why did they fall out of favour?

Are we expecting high definition video and SAR from airborne platforms like Watchkeeper and Sentinel to be always available, is there a downside to putting your very expensive sensors on long unarmoured masts, or is it something else?

Anyone have any ideas why the elevating sensor mast went the way of flares?

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29 Responses

  1. Drones?

    I know a mast with a data cable is essentially unjammable but you could always have a fibre optic wire-guided drone that only flies up a hundred feet and hovers directly over your vehicle. Drone software is getting very good, now, so the platform could autonomously guide itself without the user having to check. And if you went this route, the commercial sector has basically done all the development for you. Potentially very cheap. Just buy green paint. (Or should it be blue?)

    Only problem would be how quiet it could be, and whether the cable could power the drone without making the cable so heavy that the drone needs bigger and noisier motors to lift it, plus the surveillance payload.

    Or it could just be that ideas for a mast exist, but will be procured as a separate contract for a modular, bolt-on system and that only a few such systems will be purchased for use on deployed vehicles, only. So, same old, same old.

  2. I guess its either as you say, perhaps a lightly armoured box on an un-armoured stick was considered not worth the effort ? Maybe its doctrinal – Scout SV Recce is meant to fight for info in a fast moving “cavalry” approach to information gathering, not a “park and raise mast” surveillance model ?

    Or, far more likely in my cynical mind – it just added more cost to an already very expensive platform ?

  3. Could simply be down to the actual end user application, and the mechanical limitations of long masts. For Scout SV to be able to “fire on the go”, the sensor suite (day camera, thermal and LRF) needs to be aligned with a very tight mechanical datum(s)/optical boresight with complex stabilisation control feedbacks so you don’t just fire “somewhere over there” when required. Plus SV will have two of each sensor aforementioned installed (commander sight and driver sight) in such a way, maybe a third via an extendable mast just wasn’t viable. Finally, the sensors in the SV vehicles will be “protected” by a stabilised mirror, the thought being that should an object hit the sight, a mirror is far quicker and easier and cheaper to replace than a damaged sensor(s), this wouldn’t be possible with an extendable mast where the sensors would be more vulnerable to attack.

    Hopefully shed some light on your questions, my first post too ;-P

  4. Welcome to TD Steven

    When you look at the systems on the older vehicles above, they were not an ‘either or’ thing. The elevating stuff was always as well as gunner and commander sensors so nothing to do with firing on the move.

    If you look at that Blighter Scout, radar and a ROTAS sensor, off the shelf, not hugely complex or costly, wonder how difficult it would be.

    I tend to think we have got far too used to a lack of air threat and total air dominance and this is manifest in the apparent discarding of all the operational analysis done on TRACER/FCS which was done in an environment that didn’t expect any of the former advantages

    Am with Jed, think it is just a cost thing

  5. I think it was more of a maintenance and effort thing. An electronics mast might be a real pain to maintain, I sure as hell don’t want to do any maintenance on it, I’m already busy enough with my hand held TI and NVB/NVGs. If you want to do maintenance down at the user level, all your tankers are going to have to be electronics specialists as well. As for what you can get out of it, not much. You get the same effect with a 2 man OP deployed forward of your vehicles with the added advantage of not having a pole sticking above a hill to give away your position. It’s much harder to spot 2 men in the bush or dug in than to see a pole in the sky, so those elevated masts were in effect a solution looking for a problem that was already solved.

  6. TD – not necessarily just cost. If the elevating unit is to be fitted to armour then it either has to be entirely outside the armoured envelope or the armour package needs to be formed around the mast & sensor. Even compact masts will be a couple of feet or more in height; when added to the height of the sensor these will be maybe a metre (mixed units proves I’m British you know) tall. Either the sensor sits above armour or a location of greater than a metre height would be needed. Assuming the vehicle is turreted then the hull is unlikely to offer a useful location not swept by the gun barrel, so a location in the turret is pretty well mandated. So either the sensor mast is dropped into the ring so there’s adequate height or its in the turret corners outside the ring at which point height is an issue. But putting it inside the ring means its taking out person and breech space. More important if its enclosure is armoured and sealed to suit CBRN needs. A mast can be a very awkward bit of kit to fit. In my case I failed to find a compact robust elevation system and had no option but to design one from scratch. Its much more complicated than a typical pneumatic mast like Clark make, but it has other advantages. One of which is a greater ratio between collapsed height and extended height.

    The point is that (as with all engineering design) there are compromises required – some easy and some really unwelcome – if something like an elevated sight is required. My guess ref Scout is that they couldn’t engineer a suitable mast into the parts of the turret that were available.

  7. @Observer
    “It’s much harder to spot 2 men in the bush or dug in than to see a pole in the sky”
    You would have to be careful where you raised the mad to prevent skyline silhouette etc. The human scouts though are surely vulnerable to spotting by thermal imagers, more so than a mad head? I like the idea of a tethered drone pulling its power from the vehicle ( or dismountable power pack? ) There would be weather limitations I guess but being able to soar up to possibly a hundred meter’s plus could give a significant advantage in viewing over hills , v high trees , mist banks etc.

  8. There was originally a SV variant with an elevated sensor mast, but it was always near the bottom of the variants list. Perhaps we’ll see one in the future, but I’m not sure you’d ever see one on Scout (turreted), unless it was a modular bolted on the back.

    @Mike R – An alternative to a UAV would be an aerostat. However you would have a trade off of a larger visual signature.

  9. monkey, TI has an effective range of only 150-250m, you’ll spot any vehicle convoy long before then. I used to have that worry as well, but after I looked over the technical specs and we had an SOP change, it isn’t such a worry any more. Of course, it is a big difference if you were standing out in the open, but in cover, the TI detection range drops massively.

  10. TD – thanks for the reference; I hadn’t seen their masts but they like Clark do not have the advantages my slightly unusual approach provides.

    As for the TRACER designs they were unmanned turrets, weren’t they? I think they both were anyway. Which means the mast can be fitted within the ring and extend down into the basket, also as an unmanned area the turret may not have been within the CBRN boundary. Even so, their turrets were tall and the sensors even taller. (Here I must admit I always thought those two vehicles were the products of a vast amount of rigorous systems engineering process and zero vehicle design common sense; neither looked good solutions to my eyes.)

    As for the Scout personnel compartment, if my assessment is right the 40mm CTA sweeps over every bit of roofplate and some, so for unrestricted traverse the mast has to go in the turret. Or on a very long arm out of the rear of the vehicle if you prefer.

    As for all the other examples you list, with the exception of CV90-OPV they have no turrets – things get much easier if there’s just a pintle-mount or small calibre RWS with which to compete for space. The CV90 has its mast through the rear deck, ensuring when the mast is deployed 360 degree traverse is not possible.

  11. Chris, I think the TRACER mast elevated through the rear deck, not turret

    But regardless of the design, the desirability of a mast was pretty well researched and modelled.

    So whatever the practicalities, what changed between then and now, or maybe it was the practicalities that trumped the desirability!

    Anyway, plenty of other vehicles seem to manage having one, even with a turret, like the CV90 and ASLAV and Coyote

  12. I don’t think either of them were necessarily combat ready!

    I read a paper ages ago about the challenges of the Lancer TRACER mast, it was quite detailed, but for the life of me I can’t find it :)

  13. PHilE’s glimpse to the past (the link) is quite interesting: from the later blocks only the engineering recce made it to the actual order? And the speculative order for converting the kind of number mentioned for (lighter) bridgelayers, using Warriors for the conversion, never materialised.

  14. I’m sure I’ve seen a trailer-mounted mast surveillance system before, but can’t track down the link. While compromising mobility it would enable you to deploy the mast separately from the vehicle (survivability) or leave it at the FOB (flexibility).
    Maybe it’s just that mini-UAVs are filling this gap

  15. Richard, there goes the noise problem, solved. I wonder if Scouts have an APU to maintain power, like MBTs? They do have a back door from which to swing one of those drones out, and the reel for its cable. Doing it all on batteries would take quite a pack, I assume? 8 hrs in one go we are talking about. But then again, isn’t the armoured box packed full of all kinds of gadgetry even now.

  16. May be a simple quick release sensor head fitting on the Terrier backhoe arm. Not sure how it would be powered but cable could be clipped to arm.

  17. Solves a problem akin to kite flying: how to get it up without being caught in the branches (in wooded terrain, otherwise preferable for cover)

  18. Having seen some of the computer models used for the TRACER research, the real benefit comes when the mast is linked to some form of ATGW system, allowing a disconnect between the sight and the launcher (a la Swingfire). Then you can hide on the reverse slope of a hill and observe/fire from concealment, protecting your expensive vehicle and crew.

    Might be connected to the complete lack of any ATGW on any AFV, despite pretty much everyone else doing it (even us, with the bodged warrior Milan)? I suspect money is indeed the reason.

    And having seen a mast on the back of a PANAMA Land Rover, I was impressed by how small the footprint was – basically just bolted to the exterior of the Snatch to the right of the door.

  19. Tall mast-mounted sensors seem more appropriate for surveillance vehicles (i.e. those that sit in one place, monitoring an area), than recc vehicles (i.e. those who require frequent movement). The German Fennek recc vehicle does have a short mast.

    IIRC, there was talk of putting LRAS3 on a mast for the Stryker surveillance variant. Not sure what happened to that idea.

  20. Actually I think the Warrior MAOV FV 514 (that’s the one with a dummy gun due to insufficient space for gun + serious optics) with an elevating mast for MSTAR did enter service. Whether it is still in service is another matter, you don’t often see pics of MAOV.

  21. The US Boarder Patrol has a fleet of COTS trucks with E/O sensor masts. Not armored or military to any extent but still useful for surveillance.

  22. google coyote recce vehicle or LAV 2 coyote. It has been in use (with a mast) by the Canadians since the mid-90s and it’s replacement will also have a mast. It appears to be very effective. It can acquire (day/night) at 12-15km and identify at 8-10 km. It also has an audio-tracking system good to 12km. They use it to watch areas of interest and send dismounts in for close recon.

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