Personal Transport and Load Carrying

This section is not about personal load carrying as in bets, plate carriers and rucksacks, but wheeled devices that can take the load off the soldiers back and means of improving mobility.


An oft-overlooked but important requirement during WWII airborne operations was the need to rapidly move stores away from the drop zone. CLE’s went through a number of revisions and the MkIII’s were still in service 40 years after the end of WWII. CLE stood for Central Landing Establishment but eventually changed into Container Land Equipment and then Container Light Equipment. CLE’s went through a number of revisions in size and construction with some specialised units developed for radio equipment for example. Dimensions were similar, 1.7m long and 0.4m diameter.


Their parachutes were colour coded so personnel in the ground could quickly identify their content without having to open them first, an ingenious but simple development. Red; ammunition. Yellow; medical supplies. Light Blue; food and water. White; general stores. Green; signals equipment

Low powered lamps were used for night drops to aid location. CLE could be carried in singles or bundles and launched from the side door or underwing racks, the latter a technique often used by the Halifax and Hasting aircraft.

One device used was the folding airborne trolley, designed to fit inside a CLE, it was used extensively for both stores and medical evacuation. Toggles were used to allow it to be both pushed and pulled.

Folding Airborne Trolley

There was also a larger version, the Airborne Handcart, used by glider forces.

US forces also had a similar approach, the M3A4 Utility Hand Cart, for example, a couple of brilliant resources for information on the US hand carts are the Liberator and Handcartz, click to read. They found use not only in airborne operations and could be towed behind a Jeep, also available in specialist versions like cable laying and mortar ammunition carriers.

Air despatch enjoyed a resurgence during Afghanistan and the images below show CDS bundles being gathered at a drop zone and loaded onto Springer and MAN SV Vehicles using old-fashioned muscle power.

Springer airdrop logistics

Door bundles, like Javelin missiles or mortar bombs, will need moving off a drop zone, splitting and distributing, but they are heavy and bulky.

The first question of this article is a simple one.

Can the first piece of equipment considered for improving the mobility of air assault forces be a simple trolley to move stores away from a drop zone, or, a similar device that can be used to assist personnel on long advances to battle?

This may seem an odd question, but it is a serious one.

Anything to reduce carried weight, improve efficiency or speed has to be worthy of consideration, regardless of how it looks or if it is lacking in masculinity. If it was good enough for WWII Paras and Rangers, surely it is worthy of today’s air assault forces?

Although Paras can carry small buildings on their backs wheels are a wonderfully simple and effective invention, quads might not always be available after all and there is no doubt they aid mobility whilst reducing stress on the body.

This news piece about Afghanistan from 2006 illustrates the problem, members of the US 10th Mountain Division hauling water with stretchers.

Water by stretcher

Muscle Power

A trolley or hand cart does not need to be the result of a huge research programme, the leisure and industrial markets have all the required components, some examples shown below. There are also a number of manufacturers that manufacture similar products, the Handimoova and Wheelz for example (more Wheelz examples here)

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All Terrain Hand Trolley 1

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All Terrain Hand Trolley 2

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Zarges make large wheels and handles for some of their larger boxes and Hinterher, an ultra-lightweight trolley with Zarges fittings. We might also look at the rescue market where a number of manufacturers make rough terrain wheeled stretchers.

For supporting carriage over longer distances, there are a number of simple wheeled pack supports available, CarrixDixon Rollerpack and Monowalker Fatmate for example.

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Simply put, wheels allow heavy loads to be carried over longer distances with less effort than carrying them in a Bergen (rucksack). Some terrain may not suit wheels and so they might not be worth using but over short distances, could be a cheap, simple, silent and effective means of improving mobility.

Now I will be the first to admit, they are somewhat lacking in credibility and ‘allyness’ but if a glorified grocers trolly was good enough for the men that did the whole Arnhem thing, it really should be good enough for today.

Moving on…

There is some fascinating history on military bicycles but in a modern context, they are somewhat lacking in military ‘street cred’

The exploits of Vietnamese and Japanese soldiers with bicycles are well known, joined by lesser-known examples of the Swiss Cycle Regiment, US 25th Military Bicycle Corps and the British Cycle Division, but all these remain firmly in history, the world has moved on.

This is not a suggestion that we should create a Bicycle Corps, but can they be used for certain niche applications?

One use suggested by a Think Defence author and ex-recce officer was to use a folding bicycle as an adjunct to a conventional armoured reconnaissance vehicle, a quick move forward from a protected position for example.

The well-known Brompton is joined by the Montague Paratrooper Bicycle and lesser known designs such as the Tern Cargo Node that can carry 160kg, the electric assist Prodeco Mariner and Fat Bad from Bad Bikes. Non-folding electric bicycles like the Sondor Indiegogo and Xterrain Electric might also be considered.

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And as we all know, muscles don’t have to be human.


Military Motorcycles

Beyond the niche attractions of muscle-powered trolleys and bicycles, I think there is more utility in motorcycles than bicycles.

Motorcycle in Syria

By coincidence, this article from Sputnik News describes the value of motorcycles in the close urban terrain of Salma in Syria.

The way we fight has changed since the beginning of the war, and we have developed our offensive methods,” said Hany, a 25-year soldier with the Syrian Army. “Nowadays, we use motorbikes for their speed and mobility. My bike is harder to track and is too light to set off landmines.”

“It was the use of more than 80 motorbikes in the last battle for the town that had the greatest impact in terms of winning in the final 72 hours,” one field commander said. “The motorbikes allowed us to transfer the wounded, carry light ammunition and food and were used by fighters carrying machine guns and night vision binoculars.

“We’ve come up with an advanced course on street fighting and guerilla warfare, and fighting on motorbikes may become a tactic that regular armies come to rely on. Eventually they’ll become an essential piece of equipment, like a gun or ammunition”

The use of motorcycles in a military context is hardly new, German and Russian forces in WWII made extensive use of them for reconnaissance, seeking out gaps and Israel suffered at the hands of motorcycle-borne forces. Conventional motorcycles were also used for convoy marshalling and despatch rider duties although both these tasks have been largely superseded by navigation and communications technology. The Welbike was also used to great effect by British parachute and glider forces and the US 101 Airborne Division used them in the 1991 Gulf War.

Obviously, they sacrifice protection for mobility but logistics requirements are tiny, especially fuel and this has seen them retained for special-forces use in Afghanistan.

The image below shows one in use in Afghanistan with an Australian soldier.

Lithuanian special-forces used motorcycle in Afghanistan, from Stars and Stripes magazine;

The effectiveness of being lighter and faster wasn’t lost on Lithuanian Special Forces in Afghanistan’s rugged Zabul Province who, in 2007, parked their armored trucks and cowboyed-up on high-powered Yamaha and KTM motocross bikes to take the fight to the enemy.

In a place where the roads are littered with improvised bombs the move seemed risky, but five years later the Lithuanians were still in the saddle.

“These motorcycles were our lucky card,” said Maj. Liutauras, the Lithuanian commander in Zabul last summer, who, like many special operators, prefers to be identified only by his first name.

The Lithuanians’ first patrols in armored vehicles, were repeatedly ambushed by insurgents on motorcycles, he said.

“They were able to reorganize and hit us hard again and again,” he said.

So the Special Forces adapted. They acquired motocross bikes and set up a training area in Lithuania to learn how to maneuver in rough terrain, jump and chase down skilled enemy riders.

The Lithuanians’ speed on the motorcycles quickly allowed them to chase down enemy observers and prevent ambushes. And the motorcycles were too light to trigger many of the Taliban’s booby traps, often set with heavy springs that allow civilian traffic to pass unharmed but detonate when a heavy armored vehicle passes.

“We are risking a lot but this risk is measured,” Liutauras said, adding that his men often patrolled with just six bikes. “Our aggressiveness and our tempo and advance to contact is always a win.”

Motorcycles are also popular with Afghan security forces, who even use them to drag rakes in search of roadside bombs — a technique not recommended by international troops.

“Everyone rides motorcycles in Afghanistan,” Liutauras said. “The main thing is making them understand taking care of them.”

Liutauras said the motorcycles have protected Lithuanian forces in Afghanistan by enabling them to catch more Taliban bomb makers, meaning fewer bombs in their area of operations.

The insurgents’ machines were clearly inferior to the Lithuanians’ 450cc to 550cc Japanese and Austrian bikes. However, the Taliban are very experienced riders, Liutauras said.

“They have been living here for hundreds of years so they know all the routes and they can do 80 kmph (50 mph),” he said. “We can do 100 kmph (62 mph) or more but for us it is sometimes hard to catch them because they are light and we have body armor and weapons.”

The only casualties suffered by the Lithuanian motorcycle troops were broken arms and ribs from soldiers who have fallen off their bikes, Liutauras said.

The Lithuanians also have passed on successful motorcycle tactics to Afghan troops, he said.

“We want to train them to drive off road and give them the best expertise,” Liutauras said. “When ISAF (International Security Assistance Force) forces go, their fast moving motorcycles will be one of the most effective measures.”

Quad bikes and small ATV’s have mostly replaced motorcycles in UK service but they may, again, find utility in certain niche applications, special-forces and reconnaissance for example.

Motorcycles fall into two categories, folding/compact, and conventional.

The compact motorcycles can be more easily carried and deployed, especially by air. The modern version of the Excelsior Welbike is the DiBlasi Folding Moped, available for a couple of thousand dollars. With a small 50cc engine and total weight of less than 30kg, top speed is 50kph. An electric version is also available.

The Honda Motocompo is no longer made, but still interesting.

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The main issue with these is the simple fact they are not of much use off-road.

To address this, Rokon produces all-wheel-drive motorcycles.

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The tires can be filled with water or fuel, both wheels are powered and with the 200cc petrol engine can tow 900kg loads. The King Abdullah II Design and Development Bureau in Jordan has developed a specialist military version of the AB32 Rokon Desert Ranger and it is in service with Jordanian forces.

In the same broad niche is the Russian internet sensation, the Taurus 2. Available as a self-build kit it is low power but light and very mobile, two versions exist.

The video looks fun, and typically Russian!

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The last video is from Daymak in Canada, the Beast D.

More conventional trail bikes have been trialled extensively by US and other forces, mostly before counter insurgency operations in the Middle East consigned them to specialist use only. As discussed above, risk aversion and operational reality meant they gave way to quads and protected vehicles but as more conventional operations look to be part of the future motorcycles may get back into service. Certainly, US airborne and special-forces have retained their interest in motorcycles, especially hybrid and two-wheel drive models.

These two videos are certainly worth a watch, especially the first one that explains the tactical pros and cons.

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In 2011, the specialist US manufacturer Christini supplied 90 of their innovative 2 wheel drive motorcycles to the 82nd Airborne Division.

The Christini All Wheel Drive technology does as it says, powering both wheels, from the Christini web page;

The CHRISTINI AWD Military Edition is based on the CHRISTINI AWD 450 E or CHRISTINI AWD 450 DS, and has a multitude of add on parts for  added protection and longevity.  It can be either off road specific or an on road based bike with all the options to make it extra tough!  Each bike is built to order and you can choose from the accessory parts shown on our specifications tab. The Military Edition is used by the Navy Seals and Special Forces groups overseas, as well as other branches of the military. It features a powerful liquid cooled 450cc four-stroke engine, precisely tuned suspension, and an All Wheel Drive system that provides unbelievable traction, handling and stability.

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The AWD Military has been refined over a number of years, it now features foam filled tires, GPS, anti-stall automatic clutch and additional protection for vulnerable areas. A number of SF teams used them in Afghanistan where their light weight allows them to be carried on medium sized helicopters, providing a great deal of mobility for small teams.

KTM and Kawasaki have also developed all-wheel-drive motorcycles with different approaches, hydraulic and mechanical connection to the front wheel. All-wheel drive cannot substitute for skill but it does help a skilled rider although the extra weight might not be welcome.

If stealth is the main criteria Zero Motorcycles have developed a military version of their all-electric motorcycle, the MX.

Zero MMX

The press release has some very interesting information;

The MMX was developed exclusively for military use in the U.S. Special Operations Forces (SOF) and provides Special Operations riders with unique tactical advantages over traditional combustion motorcycles, as the electric powertrain allows for rapid movement over hostile terrain in near silence and minimal heat signature. Zero Motorcycles’ engineering team worked under military contract to develop the motorcycle. The MMX has met the most stringent standards set forth by the U.S. military, as an undisclosed number of MMX motorcycles are currently undergoing full operational testing.

2013 Zero MMX Military Motorcycle – Key Features

Specialized military dash for quick and centralized mainline controls

Keyless ignition engaged with dash toggle for quicker departure

Modular and quick-swappable power packs

Wet operational abilities in up to one meter submersion

Switchable headlight for night-time stealth

Integrated wiring to accommodate quick installation of front and rear infrared systems

Safety override and reserve power capabilities to extend range during extreme situations

Aggressive foot pegs and hand guards for optimal control

Tie down eyelets with integrated tow cable and rear seat strap

The 2013 MMX Military Motorcycles are built off the 2013 MX platform, which is incredibly tough and lightweight, and uses a finely tuned and fully adjustable suspension system to absorb aggressive terrain. Combined with state of the art Z-Force™ technology and an ultra-light frame design, the Zero MMX is agile and fast where it counts.

The 2013 Zero MMX features the all new Z-Force™ motor. With 54 hp and 68 ft-lbs of torque, the Zero MMX accelerates hard, with incredibly smooth throttle control, to allow riders to tackle bigger obstacles and corner faster. When rolling off the throttle, riders can take advantage of regenerative braking to both modulate speed and extend ride times. The performance characteristics of the Zero MMX are also adjustable via Bluetooth and a compatible smart phone mobile device when using the Zero Motorcycles mobile app.

The 2013 Zero MMX integrates the world’s first truly modular power pack system and is available in two configurations: ZF2.8 (one module) and ZF5.7 (two modules). The lockable modules can be individually added or removed, regardless of state of charge, in less than a minute. Charge times can be cut down to around an hour using a scalable quick-charge accessory system or with the CHAdeMO accessory (CHAdeMO charging requires a supporting charge station). Owing a Zero has never been easier as the sealed Z-Force™ motor virtually eliminates all routine powertrain maintenance and drives the rear wheel by way of a beefier 520 chain.

The low heat and noise signature provide obvious advantages but the equally obvious disadvantage is the range. The single power module is said to provide 170 miles range but on difficult terrain, this would be reduced. Additional modules can be carried but that just increases the burden although a module can be charged in an hour.

Regenerative braking can extend the range and there is even an ‘app’ for managing the electronics.

Things have moved on since then, the technology is more reliable and provides additional endurance as battery power density improves.

DARPA also awarded a technology development contract to Logos Technologies, for the Silent Hawk hybrid military motorcycle. The hybrid engine was also able to make use of diesel and JP8 fuel.

Which brings me on to what would probably be the most useful feature for a military motorcycle, the ability to use diesel or JP8 fuel.

The US Marine Corps did have in service a number of diesel motorcycles from Hayes Diversified Technology, although I am not certain what their current status is. Interestingly, much of the technology was apparently developed at Royal Military College of science (Cranfield) that allows the motorcycle to achieve nearly 100mpg. The engine is fitted with a modified Kawasaki KLR650.

Its key feature is the ability use military/civilian diesel, Bio-Diesel (B20 or B100), JP4, JP5, JP8, AVTR and even Kerosene.

Diesel USMC Motorcycles

The British Army’s Harley Davidson built Armstrong MT350 Motorcycles are now long out of service, having been supplied over 7 years and in a quantity of 1,700. Although some Kawasaki KLR’s and Honda XR/WR 250/400’s were purchased for specialist users from CJ Ball, they are not in widespread service.

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Harley MT350

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Whilst snowmobiles are commonly used for units that operate in extreme northern areas the basic design has been adapted by SandX for use in deserts as well, operating from -50 degrees to +60 degrees.

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This looks like a lot more fun than wheels so I thought I would sneak it in. It is more or a less a tracked skateboard, designed and manufactured by BPG Werks. At just under 150kg and can travel in excess of 25mph over very challenging terrain, there is even a trailer.I think riding one looks like hard work, especially with any loads, but watch the videos.

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Of all the exotic equipment on display above, I tend to think that the most useful would actually be the diesel motorcycle and fat wheeled hand cart.

To summarise, if we can take a different approach to risk on contingency operations of the future, improving mobility for light forces may well involve greater utilisation of motorcycles, and in some niche cases, perhaps even the odd bicycle or hand cart. They are fuel efficient, can be silent, easy to maintain and easily carried on larger vehicles and helicopters, and, can be easily air dropped as door bundles or without the need for air despatch platforms.

After all, if it is good enough for the mighty Peoples Liberation Army…

Quad Bikes

It may come as no surprise that the Quad Bike is actually a British invention we failed to exploit. The Standard Ultra Lightweight and Jungle Airborne Buggy were produced in 1944 and 1945, the JAB progressed through three prototype versions but the end of the war doomed it, it never went into production.

Jungle Airborne Buggy

Skip forward several decades.

Driving motorcycles, especially off-road in challenging circumstances, requires not inconsiderable skill and experience, and they do not have a great deal of load carrying capacity, both weight and volume. Quad bikes on the other hand, can tow trailers with significant loads and although driving quad bikes off road, safely, is far from a trivial task, they do seem to have displaced motorcycles in most forces, the UK being no exception.

Before the training pipeline adapted, it was reported that over half of all quad bike drivers had fallen off.

By mid-2015, the MoD-owned approximately 900 quad bikes, obtained over a number of contracts.

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3 Para in Zabol

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The first models were off the shelf petrol engine designs from Honda and Yamaha but these eventually changed following work on the Resolve/Roush DRV that used diesel or JP8. One of the UOR’s was fulfilled by Roush, taking the standard Yamaha Grizzly 450 units and adding a NATO towing hitch, winch, run flat sealant for the tyres, IR lighting, left hand throttle and other minor modifications, in addition to the diesel engine. Subsequent contracts were with Yamaha direct.

In Afghanistan, Quad Bikes proved to be enormously useful for running replens, casualty evacuation, transferring stores to and from helicopter landing sites and a million other odd jobs. They were especially useful in close terrain, narrow tracks and such like but in the Green Zone, with its many drainage and irrigation ditches, mobility was often impaired. To address this, lightweight gap crossing equipment (Gap Crossing Capability Short – Quad (GXC(S) Quad)) was obtained from Mauderer in Germany, or aluminium ramps to you and me!

Short Gap Crossing

A couple of trailers models (SMT 171B and SMT 120B) were also obtained from Logic, bringing the payload up to approximately 150kg, including the ability to carry stretchers.

Logic Trailers

Major Matt Cansdale, 3rd Battalion, Parachute Regiment, said;

The quad bikes proved to be reliable and able to go places that no other vehicle could. The equipment that the quad bikes were able to carry enabled us to launch patrols that covered more distance and were longer in duration than would otherwise have been the case, so we were able to push into areas that the enemy did not expect us.”The ability to evacuate casualties effectively and quickly also meant that we could move away from established routes while limiting the risk to our forces

The latest versions have ECM systems fitted.

Quad and Trailer

They even found use with less conventional users.

Quads in Afghanistan

Having proven the utility of Quad Bikes, in time-honoured tradition, the MoD is busy selling them off cheap, get them whilst you can, here and here.

If we are to build upon the undoubted success of quad bikes in Afghanistan I think we should first recognise that in the next operation, conditions might not suit, equipment is not a magic bullet.

From then, achieving greater utility from our considerable investment comes from maintaining the training pipeline, developing tactics and in equipment terms, accessorising!

Accessorising falls into three categories, logistics, weapons and systems.

Quads are sometimes used as a stable platform for sniper rifles and in some cases, have also been used for 40mm GMG and other automatic weapons.

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Weapon Rest


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Quad Bike Armament

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Must admit to not being enthusiastic about adding weight to quad bikes by turning them into weapon platforms, they may also encourage inappropriate use and detract from their value for load carrying.

A more useful enhancement might include improving the basic systems, tires, engines and electrical systems etc.

Airless tires seem to be maturing to the point where wider adoption becomes feasible. They have been ‘coming soon’ for a long time but Polaris seem to have the confidence to offer them as a standard addition to their product line, selling their damage and puncture resistance as key attributes, especially in urban environments.

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They are now reportedly being delivered to the US DoD, with Michelin also marketing their X-Tweel.

Small electronic equipment stowage would also support a plethora of roles such as ECM and communications rebroadcast. The reconnaissance role could also benefit from the platform benefits of a quad.

The UK company, C2UK, market the C-QUAD, a C4ISR system built on a quad bike.

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C Quad 1

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C Quad 2

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Given the significant battery load of dismounted personnel using a quad bike in a power offload capacity could go some way to offset the weight. Ricardo has marketing such systems, although not sure if they had any success.

For use in cold environments, tracks can also be fitted, again, it might be worth trialling these against conventional snowmobiles for Royal Marine use, Matracks are the market leader, although there are others such as Camso.

Occupying a position between wheels and tracks is the J-Wheelz wheel extension, it looks neat and worth a trial I guess.

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It is probably no surprise, but I think the most useful means of exploiting the value and maximising our considerable investment in quad bikes is in the logistic and engineering areas.

Deploying quad bikes to the theatre, like anything else, will generally be via aircraft, inside a container or on a flat rack for sea transport, or on a truck or trailer for road transport.

Putting them in a container means there is likely to be a lot of unused space, because quads are low, not stacking them is inefficient. The Yamaha 450 is 2m long, 1.1m wide and 1.2m high, additional height may come from antenna housing etc. Comparing these with the inside dimensions of a standard 20ft intermodal container shows that it can comfortably fit laterally into a container with about 350mm to spare. At 5.9m long, the container could carry 5, but from a height perspective, they cannot be double stacked. Using a 40ft container, means double the carriage, but double stacking can still not be used.

Going up to a high cube container does allow them to be easily double stacked, Hi-Cube containers are very common in the global logistics supply chain and represent no additional problems for container handling equipment.

Using a 20ft Hi-Cube container would, therefore, provide sufficient space for 10 quad bikes, 40ft Hi Cubes, at least 20. 40ft containers are used less in military applications except in sea transport although they are used, which means they remain and viable option for transport to the theatre by ships, rail and trucks.

Getting them in and out of a container, especially if double stacked, will require the use of stacking fixtures and pallets. Loaded, they vary between 450kg and 500kg, so not an easy manual lift. Ramps may be used and the quads driven into the container but a safer and more efficient method would be to secure the quad bike to a pallet and lift in using a fork lift or telehandler. The support deck can be fixed or travelling, and the weight can be lifted by all in service forklift equipment.

Stacking pallets can also be used and a side opening container would make loading and unload possible without manual handling inside the container.

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Quad pallet

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Stacking ATV Pallet

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Side Opening 20ft ISO Container

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Quick, easy and efficient.

Once in theatre, they can be moved forward using the same container and simply unloaded as required, or unloaded and transferred to Army logistics vehicles like the MAN SV, tied down to the cargo load bed using ratchet strops.

An alternative would be to use a trailer. The standard ¾ tonne trailer can comfortably carry one quad, or specialist trailers used to carry multiples, preferably, side loading trailers.

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quads on trailer

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ATV Trailer 3

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Air transport is a little more challenging because in general, carrying 20ft ISO containers on aircraft just wastes fuel, but AAR Corp has the answer, the single and double ATV container. With fork lift pockets and full compliance with aircraft cargo floor rollers it makes transporting quads by air extremely easy.

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Single ATV Container

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Double ATV Container

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The container can also be air dropped and is certified for sling loading with a number of helicopters.

If they are not used for air dropping alternatives exist, guided and high velocity. Because they are relatively light, they can use expendable plywood platforms and honeycomb cardboard cushioning, instead of more robust airdrop platforms. For precision, Atair Aerospace have the Onyx range, the Canadian company MMIST have the Sherpa and Snow Goose

There are any others.

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Quad Bike Air Despatch

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Altair Onyx ATV Platform

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Finally, trailers.

The Logic trailers are simple, robust and strong, but the alternative does exist and may be worth trialling. The problem with specialist trailers though is, they cannot be used for anything else. One could see some value in a water bowser trailer but probably more sensible just to put jerrycans in a conventional trailer.

A tipping trailer would be useful, and could be used for recovering unserviceable quads and quickly dropping off stores, without manual handling. Powered trailers can be used for larger loads.

A few options below.

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The next part will go into multi-seat all-terrain vehicles, light, air-portable trucks and cargo handling equipment.


Part 1 – Personal Transport and Load Carrying

Part 2 – Section transport and Load Carrying (History)

Part 3 – Section transport and Load Carrying (Moving Forward)

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February 2, 2016 6:46 pm

As usual, shameless self-promotion for a related blog post:

I don’t think of motorcycles so much as of a transportation vehicle as of a MP vehicle (traffic control!), a scouting vehicle (route reconnaissance to assess trafficability, scouting positions for bivouac or firing positions) and an emergency courier vehicle.
Actual scouts (non-armoured recce) might find it useful to be able to hide the motor vehicle easily off the road as well, but motorcycle recce would likely only be acceptable in the “rear” area, looking for isolated OPFOR:

I’m very sceptical about the relevance of all those Afghanistan lessons and habits in a European theatre. Wars in Europe tend to be driven by brutal firepower and logistics, with next to no “base camps”.

BTW, one doesn’t need foam-filled tires to proof motorcycles against punctured tires. There’s also this, available COTS:
This is relevant if motorcycles were commandeered.

February 3, 2016 12:20 pm

In Armoured Recce we often had a mountain bike in the roof basket of one of the Support Troop CVR (T) Spartans. Very useful for conducting silent recce’s over short distances and great on exercise. (Even for nipping to the local shop for bread and eggs) One of the troop gets into sports kit and cycles off to recce the enemy locations, while trying not to look too obvious.
Top tip, the soldier riding the mountain bike must remember to wash the cam-cream off his face first, otherwise the enemy may get suspicious.

Pete Arundel
Pete Arundel
February 3, 2016 5:46 pm

A little off the topic and perhaps I should wait for the Section transport part but I came across a neat little off-road vehicle a few years back and always thought it would, if developed, make a good ATMP type vehicle. Built using standard automotive parts and (originally Austin Mini, later Ford Escort MkIII) with one designed specifically for Army use (1 tonne payload, two would fit in a Chinook).

Mike W
February 3, 2016 6:59 pm

An excellent article. Well researched and extremely readable.

I’ve never quite fathomed out why the motorcycle has virtually disappeared from the British Army’s inventory. I suppose that, as TD states, the role of despatch rider has been superseded by more modern communications technology (mobile satellite communications, radios, teleprinters, fax, etc. etc.).

However, motorbikes have speed and mobility. The reference in TD’s post to their employment in Syria well illustrates their many uses and value in urban terrain . I rather like the soldier’s comment that his bike was “too light to set off landmines” and the commander’s observation that his force had come up with an advanced course on street fighting and guerrilla warfare, and “fighting on motorbikes may become a tactic that regular armies come to rely on. Eventually they’ll become an essential piece of equipment …” Maybe they will make a return to more mainstream use in British forces. They are presumably still used by our Special Forces for their speed and agility. I don’t know what roles are performed by the Kawasaki KLR’s and Honda XR/WR 250/400’s mentioned but they are presumably in service in small numbers only for niche roles.

One last point. I would have thought too that motorcycles were of far greater use for convoy escort work than quad bikes. They are narrower and more agile and probably faster than quads.

February 4, 2016 11:23 am

70km on a litre of diesel: now that’s what I call minimal logistic drain. pity about the cough cough emissions cough but…

Brian Black
Brian Black
February 6, 2016 1:32 pm

Mike W, I think it’s generally wrong to think of radios, fax, etc as superseding despatch riders; or even to think of despatch riders in the modern era carrying much in the way of actual messages from one commander to another.

One of the things that has been required until very recently was the regular and wide distribution of codes and ciphers to enable secure communications by other means.

Digital encryption has worked its way down the unit levels, but we still entered this century with a strong reliance on printed code books. For example, it’s only ten or so years ago that a section commander might routinely carry the daily BATCO (Battle Code) sheets in his pocket. That’s the same situation that existed in the Second World War, when even things like the German Enigma machine required the guy on the end of the line to have the same printed code book as the message sender.

That is the sort of thing that was more likely to be transported by a despatch rider, rather than the message itself. And as codes can be broken, and as the loss of a code book immediately compromises the code, there would need to be a constant daily distribution of new code from formation HQ right down to small unit level.

(I’m not sure whether BATCO is even taught any more; it was still taught as an emergency fallback for a while, but may have dropped off the syllabus entirely by now).

Radios and riders have been two sides of the same coin. In that respect, it is digital encryption that superseded the rider, not radio or teleprinter and so on.

Two other uses for bikes that I’m aware of from my time in the Army have been logistics (small items / urgent requirement) and transport for specialists. These have probably been edged out by changes to the types of operations that have been conducted in recent times, and by what’s deemed acceptable risk.

Mike W
February 6, 2016 4:34 pm

Many thanks, Brian, for your most enlightening post. I never really thought of it that way: i.e. that it is digital encryption that has superseded the rider, rather than radio or teleprinter doing so.. I suppose that I’m still living too much in the Forties and Fifties and watching too many war films from that era!

Your comment on the use bikes for logistics purposes (small items / urgent requirement) is fascinating. I take it that something of that need is still there within the Armed Forces, just as it most certainly is in civvy life, witness the need for thousands of mortorcycle couriers to deliver items of urgent need. Used to cut me up regularly when I lived and worked in London!

I think my points about speed and agility remain valid and I would not be surprised to see bikes return to more of a mainstream military use.

February 6, 2016 4:51 pm

The quads in the French army are limited to special forces.
A quad is very quick to learn to use, is relatively safe, even in off-road, as long as it does not increase the pace, and it allows quite heavy load, not far from tonne for some model cargo, a Polaris RANGER 800 6×6 tracte 900kgs.
PVP does not enter in a NH90 while quad yes. Accessorily this is a little vehicle much cheaper than PVP, but this is not really the same thing on road, a PVP roll fast, while the quad is quite slow and it eats tires.

Mike Chaffin
April 15, 2016 5:43 am

I can think of a number of uses for motorbikes as a standard feature in a light infantry company. I suppose the ideal solution would be a diesel / electric hybrid for a number of reasons.

Rather than mobility itself the first would be for charging. The British army radios for a start require the central collection and charging of innumerable batteries which takes many hours at one of the two Company HQ land rovers. Would also allow swapping out the myriad AAA / AA / C / D cell batteries carried by every infantry soldier with rechargeables. Currently the entire show is run from a single generator and the engines of the landies. With a few bikes doubling as charging stations this awkward task could be delegated to the platoon level saving a great deal of time.

The second would be crypto related. Losing the encryption on a radio set is a real headache which requires quite a logistical kerfuffle to solve. Having the company signalers able to rapidly converge on and rectify this would alleviate a lot of problems which Murphy’s law ensues always happens at the worst possible time.

Casevac for the walking wounded is a given, as is light resupply, especially for heavy but dense items such as ammunition. Just being able to transport bulky items such as a stretcher etc would be useful.

Being able to screen a patrol would have been a godsend in Afghanistan. Foot patrols which came into contact would be unable to close with their ambushers due to the weight of kit carried, though whether that same ambush would even have risked contact knowing that bikes could cut off their retreat is a moot point.

Also with the Javelin being used almost as much for recon and anti-personnel as it’s original purpose mounting them would allow these bulky but wonderful bits of kit to be brought to bear where needed at short notice. Can’t see any reason why a 2 man Javelin team couldn’t carry the kit plus a reload on a couple of bikes. Same with the snipers or a patrol mortar, a patrol which came into contact could receive support of whatever flavour delivered quickly and efficiently to a nearby vantage point.

Difficult to foresee any downsides other than the inevitable casualties from squaddies overextending themselves!

April 15, 2016 8:25 am

Recon all the way! :)


One other interesting note is that most radios are extremely short ranged, one of our bike teams per platoon (1/6) is classed as a “High-Powered” team, whose main job is to set up a rebro (rebroadcast) station to relay data from deeper within enemy territory to HQ, so in a way, radios do not really supersede bikes but are complementary, giving mobility to relay stations.

But for the love of God don’t put people who can’t even ride a bicycle on motorcycles. My training batch had about 10% casualties from just learning how to ride, ranging from someone who hit a road divider and had the handlebar break his nose at the resultant wheelie all the way to the worst case of a simultaneous broken arm and leg when someone was thrown off his bike.

One thing most people do not realize is the speed of motorized/mechanized units vs that of foot infantry. With infantry, you would be lucky to get a forced march of 6km/h while vehicles average 60km/h, so a mechanized unit would only take 1 hour to cover the distance infantry need 10 hours to hoof, with the resultant strains and fatigue, especially muscular strains. When muscles are fatigued, they twitch a lot which affects accuracy badly. This is why while light infantry may be good at defending static locations, they are very bad at strategic repositioning, so basically, light infantry function something similar to minefields. Static area denial.

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