Description of British Army all terrain vehicles (ATV’s) or quad bikes and how they can be further exploited
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Quad bikes (or small all-terrain vehicles) are in common service with a number of military forces to provide mobility and logistics support, generally dismounted forces, light role infantry for example.
In UK terminology, a quad bike is typically a four wheel ride on vehicle with a weight of less than 550kg but the definitions and regulations can depend on other factors (click here to find out more)
Military Quad Bike Background
It should 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 a number prototype versions but the end of the war doomed it, they never went into serial production.
The Ultra Lightweight is shown on the left with the JAB MkII on the right, shown with an amphibious trailer.
Although a number of three wheeled small ATV’s were produced by Sperry Rand and others in the USA in the sixties, with Honda producing their first in 1969 called the ATC90. The first four wheeled ATV was launched in 1982 by Suzuki, the LT125D. A couple of years later, Honda followed with their TRX200TM and Yamaha, the YFM400. Since then, they have achieved success and widespread adoption in the sport, agriculture and utility markets.
Skip forward several decades.
British Military Use of Quad Bikes
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 but by mid-2015, the MoD-owned approximately 900 quad bikes, obtained over a number of contracts.
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 first 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.
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.
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
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.
They have also occasionally found themselves in the news, this from the Daily Mail describing UKSF operations against ISIS
The operations start with SAS commanders studying hours of footage of potential target sites recorded by drones – Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) – and listening to enemy communication intercepts in a bid to identify IS leaders. Once the regiment’s senior officers have identified a target, the soldiers gather to receive their operational orders. They then leave their secret base and climb aboard a fleet of helicopters – with the quad bikes already safely secured in the cargo hold.
As the SAS soldiers strap themselves into their seats, the pilots tap in the co-ordinates for the area of desert where the Chinook will land. As the helicopters’ engines are so loud, the Chinooks take the SAS soldiers to a laying-up point as far as 50 miles from the target. The troops disembark aboard the quad bikes and prepare their general- purpose machine guns (GPMGs) and Barrett sniper rifles
Although many have been disposed, the British Army and Royal Marines have retained a large number of quad bike ATV’s in service and the latest models have dual throttle control and a trailer capable of carrying two stretchers.
Getting the Most Out Of Quad Bikes
There is not much more to say on Quad Bikes, they are simple, cheap and effective at what they do but there are a few areas where perhaps their utility could be extended.
The gap crossing system (folding ramps) described above is perfect for irrigation ditches and other short gaps, it is quick to install and requires very little training. For longer gaps, an improved system may be desirable.
General Dynamics picked up the concept and produced the Quad Bike Bridge (QBB).
The QBB can bridge gaps up to 2.5m and installed in less than 5 minutes.
Where the gap is longer, wet and where the banks are relatively low to the water a floating pontoon style system can be used. MSS Defence in the Netherlands have a system called the GXS Rapid Deployable Gap Crossing System. It is aimed at larger vehicles, up to 2.5 tonnes but still useful for quad bikes.
It is available in 5m and 10m kits with both, deployable very quickly, less than 10 minutes. The system comprises inflatable floatation elements, a road-mat and various ancillaries.
A final system worthy of consideration is the Tactical Assault Bridge (TAB) from Easibridge. The Tactical Assault Bridge is an a optimised sectional ladder, but a sectional ladder that can be used for gap crossing, fence breaching, overhead cover support and other application using a single 1.5m long section with a wide collection of fittings and accessories.
The 1.5m section length means it can be easily carried on the back or across a quad bike. The system is specifically designed for quad bikes but can be used to bridge gaps considerably longer than the two systems described above. Its general flexibility also offers much greater value than those above, which are only for gap crossing and lack flexibility.
To use it in the quad bike crossing application, two TAB’s are used, longer spans use a link tensioning system common to innovative military bridges like the MGB and GSB. Maximum span length is 18m.
This really is a special system, continuing the British tradition of military bridge engineering innovation.
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 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 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 drove 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 forklift or telehandler.
Stacking pallets can also be used and a side opening container would make loading and unload possibly without manual handling inside the container.
Quick, easy, efficient and all about maximising spae efficiency in transport.
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 straps. A DROPS flatrack would also be an obvious choice.
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.
Again, none of this is specifically about enhancing the capability of quad bikes, just making transport more efficient.
Although this might be veering into the light cavalry or mechanised a Quad Carrier might provide a means of supporting more quads over longer distances although of course, initial deployment is not as easy as just a load of soldiers and the odd quad. Trade-offs and experimentation might prove or disprove this concept.
A similar concept is widely used in the Dakar Rally (although mostly to support motorcycles) and could be used for stores carriage, fuel, maintenance and other similar tasks. When used with one of the trailers described below, this would be a reasonably compact package.
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.
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 the Canadian company MMIST have the Sherpa guided parafoil system and CQ10 cargo UAV, both of which can be used with heavier payloads like a quad bike.
Internal carriage in a Chinook and Merlin is also possible.
Quad racking might be useful as a demountable fit for the QE class aircraft carriers.
And whilst we are on the subject of Carrier Enabled Power Project and amphibious capabilities, a RIB landing Craft is the final item in this section.
Useful enhancements 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.
These are now reportedly being delivered to the US DoD, with Michelin also marketing their X-Tweel.
For use in cold environments, tracks can also be fitted, again, it might be worth trialling these against conventional snowmobiles for cold weather 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.
J-Wheelz video demonstrates how quickly they can be fitted and how they afford additional ‘buoyancy’ on soft surfaces such as mud, snow and sand. It also shows how they can be used to provide a flotation capability for water crossing. At $650 a set, certainly worth trying.
The Logic trailers are simple, robust and strong.
In some roles, there may be an argument for specialist trailers like water bowsers or perhaps log trailers but in many cases, it is probably easier to just use jerrycans or ratchet straps. Tipping trailers might also 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.
If the track attachments are fitted, ski equipped trailers are available.
The final trailer to look at it is Tetra-POD that is interesting because it is a) plastic and b) turns into a boat!
Although not strictly a trailer, here seems a convenient place for attachments.
For providing light engineering support (excavation, razor wire emplacement and field fortifications) some hydraulic attachments are available
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.
Given the significant battery load of dismounted personnel using a quad bike in a power offload capacity could go some way to offset that weight.
Ricardo has been marketing such systems for a few years, although not sure if they had any success.
Quad bikes can be dangerous, the ATV Lifeguard is one of many products commercially available now to provide anti-crush rollover protection, hopefully, these will find their way to military users.
The quad bike is perhaps the most useful ‘mobility mule’ because of its simplicity, reliability, logistics overhead and mobility but by adding more equipment and making them more complex, the risk is they move away from the attributes that make them so useful.
No doubt there are things that can extend their usefulness and deployability but in a world of finite budgets, it is argubaly more important to have more vehicles rather than fewer vehicles with all the optional extras.
There are hear to stay though, so some minor additions and developments could increase their utility and improve logistics for light role infantry, SF and selected specialised tasks.
Not much to dislike about them really.
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