Supacat All Terrain Mobility Platform (ATMP) and Springer
As is common with anything to do with Supacat, the history is complex.
Supacat designed the vehicle but were not able to manufacture in quantity so entered into production sharing contracts and in the early eighties the fifteen ATMP’s were accepted into British Army and Royal Air Force service, all manufactured by Williams Fairey Engineering.
Fairey and Supacat developed the vehicle further and the Mk II was entered into the British Army’s All-Terrain Mobility Platform (ATMP) requirement for the 5th Airborne Brigade.
Thirty-six Mk II’s entered British Army service in 1988, following trials the year earlier.
In 1995, an agreement was made between Alvis (now BAE Systems) and Supacat in which Supacat would retain design and production rights for civilian markets but Alvis would be responsible for military markets.
In 2005, Supacat regained sole marketing rights.
From the Mk1, through the Mk II, Mark IIa and finally, to the MkIII, the ATMP was incrementally improved. Because of their simplicity, they were not overly expensive either, one of the production contracts for 86 ATMP’s and 84 SLLPT trailers was let for approximately £4 million.
ATMP is a 6×6 design that used low-pressure Terra-Wrangler tires, and with a ground pressure of 0.2 kg/cm, it was highly mobile. Originally powered by a 1.3L Citroen engine, the later versions had a 1.5L VW-Audi engine and automatic transmission. Specifications included a 750-1,000kg payload, increasable to 1,600kg with reduced performance, maximum loaded weight of 1.6 to 1.8 tonnes, limited amphibious capability, a top speed of 65kph and permanent 6 wheel drive.
The fuel tank has a 50L capacity, increased in later versions.
Because the focus for ATMP was air manoeuvre and logistics, a great deal of thought was put into cargo handling ad weight/dimensional compatibility with in-service aircraft.
Air portability was a key requirement; they can be parachute dropped on Medium Stressed Platforms (2 per platform), carried by helicopter as a sling or netted load and are internally transportable in a Chinook. A simpler platform could also be used to decrease time to rig and de-rig, this was called the ‘oversill’ scheme.
Given the length of time the ATMP had been in service, all necessary Joint Air Transport Establishment (JATE) clearances were obtained, including various combinations of slinging and air drop with different aircraft. The Chinook was cleared to carry 2 ATMP’s internally without lowering the roll cage or 4 as a single underslung load.
Merlin internal carriage, Puma sling load and even the Blackhawk were certified.
Multiple stacking options also exist for carriage in larger aircraft such as the C130 and C17.
Compromises were made with the basic design in order to keep weight down and achieve dimensional compatibility, the vehicle had no suspension, thus limiting speed, ground clearance and ride quality.
The second focus area was cargo handling.
Using an integral winch and pair of ramps that were stored in internal compartments parallel to the vehicles long axis, pallets could be simply winched onto the ATMP load bed, secured and the vehicle driven away.
To increase carrying capacity a pair of specially developed trailers were also introduced, the FLPT (Fork Lift Pallet Trailer) and SLLPT (Self Loading Lightweight Pallet Trailer).
Although there are a number of variations, the basic trailer had a hydraulic tipping mechanism and pallet forks. The driver would simply tilt the trailer into the down position, reverse onto the pallet, tilt the trailer back up, and drive away. Maximum payload for the ‘flipit’ trailer was 1,400kg and it could also be converted to carry three stretchers. Demountable corner posts could also be used to form sides for loose loads, with ratchet straps used to secure the load. Conversion took only a few minutes and the posts were carried on the trailer.
Speed, flexibility and simplicity in action.
In addition to clearing landing sites, the ATMP was also used for towing the L118 105mm Light Gun complete with ammunition trailer, total carried and towed payload being in excess of 3,500kg.
Because the basic design was so versatile, it was modified and used for a number of different applications. A number of hard or soft cabs, winches, hydraulic jibs, ambulance, recovery, firing posts, firefighting equipment and even a track kit to improve mobility were available. It was also used for unmanned autonomous trials.
GKN make the Air Portable Fuel Containers, currently in service in the Mk5 guise.
The balloon-like, Kevlar reinforced, containers, can hold up to two tonnes of fuel. When full, the containers are 1.37m in diameter and can be towed, slung load under a variety of helicopters and parachuted from tactical transport aircraft.
The final ATMP version of relevance was the GKN FuelCat.
This was a system designed to support Forward Arming and Refuelling Point (FARP) operation for helicopters and fixed wing aircraft. One vehicle contains generator, pumping equipment and fuel tank, and the other, a crane and trailer for another fuel container and pipelines. Between the two vehicles, they can carry 4,000 litres of fuel, pump it to multiple aircraft simultaneously and, provide aircraft towing and a gas turbine starting rig.
Over the years, they have seen service with airborne forces, the Royal Artillery, Royal Air Force and Royal Marines, and with the MoD on range duties.
Deployments included Kosovo, Iraq (both outings) and the early stages of Afghanistan. They were in fact, a direct result of lesson learned during the Falklands Conflict, specifically a lack of all-terrain mobility for light forces, especially their artillery support.
During the 1991 Gulf War, all ATMP’s were converted for the Rapier air defence system towing role.
Following the conflict, twenty ATMP’s were quickly reverted to the standard configuration, a crane added and deployed with Royal Marines to Northern Iraq in support of the Kurdish minorities, OP HAVEN. The C130 stacking pallet and forklift handling proved to be very useful and the low ground pressure reportedly allowed it to be driven into a minefield to recover an injured soldier.
For the second time around in Iraq, ATMP’s that were disposed of to the civilian market were hastily re-purchased and deployed to theatre.
It is hard not to be enthusiastic about the ATMP, mature, flexible, adaptable, strategically and tactically deployable, and extremely capable. Unlike the Esarco, Multidrive FCV and Stonefield, it entered service and stayed there for some years, and saw action in the Balkans, Iraq and Afghanistan.
But as we know, the British Army can be fickle when it comes to its vehicles and has demonstrated on several occasions, poor capability husbandry.
In Afghanistan, ATMP’s were used to support C-IED efforts, Apache Attack Helicopter refuelling points and in their traditional logistics role but due to years of neglect, a lack of investment in sufficient spares holdings and questions over continued support for a non-Euro compliant engine, they were withdrawn in 2010.
Reliability in the hot weather of Afghanistan was poor, availability of 50% of the deployed fleet on any given day was considered to be good. Cost of spares was proving to be high and taking up valuable space on the air-bridge. An environment mitigation package was considered before withdrawing the vehicles but it was assessed as being equivalent to a complete redesign and therefore, a new acquisition. Supacat informed the MoD that given their workload at the time, would be unable to deliver such a redesigned vehicle for two years.
The MoD then considered further options for the Land Forces Load carrying Platform capability and it was judged that a quad bike and trailer did not have the payload to fulfil the role. A number of manufacturers were asked to ‘express an interest’ including Roush (Balter 2), Development Engineering and Enterprise Limited (WVL-C6-AS), Enhanced Protection Systems UK Limited (Tomcar), Supacat Limited (ATMP 2), John Deere, Yamaha Corporation, Honda Motor Company Limited and JC Bamford Excavators Limited
Of these Yamaha, Honda and JC Bamford Excavators declined the MoD’s offer.
In April 2009, Enhanced Protection System was awarded the contract for 78 vehicles at a total cost of £3 million although other sources have that figure at £7million.
A Tomcar magazine article stated;
In what was an interesting turn of phrase, Dr Andrew Tyler (Chief Operating Officer for the MoD’s Defence Equipment & Support) stated;
The article went on to state;
Taking a quote from the MoD’s website
Driver training was established at Leconfield and in Germany.
The delivery of 29 Springer vehicles into Afghanistan started in July 2009 and ended with the last batch, consisting of 2 Springer vehicles, received in Afghanistan in July 2010. Transportation of the Springer vehicles, to and from Afghanistan, was via land and sea. The balance of the fleet was used for training and development purposes.
In September 2009, the Sun reported problems with the Springer fleet that had emerged during initial driver training.
The MoD denied any problems, of course with an MoD spokesman telling the newspaper;
There have been no reports of problems with the vehicle. Springer has successfully passed its trials with the Army, has been declared fit for purpose and is going into service
Nothing to see here; move along, the deployment continued.
Jane’s also described a Springer 2 revision, retrofitted to existing vehicles as a result of operational experience but these would not solve the fundamental problems.
The Springer was removed from service in March 2011, recovered from Afghanistan and declared out of service by September 2011.
All 78 vehicles were sold to civilian users for about £7-10k each and for the rest of operations in Afghanistan, quads and trailers were used, despite the MoD judging they were unsuitable, the very reason the Springer acquisition was initiated.
A rare UOR failure
After the Springer UOR was introduced for Afghanistan and then withdrawn, Supacat developed the MkIII ATMP.
At the Land Forces 2014 exhibition in Australia, Supacat showed off their concept for a new and improved Supacat, the Mk IV.
Commenting on the updated design, Michael Halloran, MD of Supacat Pty Ltd, the Australian subsidiary of Supacat, said:
All Terrain Vehicles have even developed an improved amphibious capability for it.
That isn’t the end of the Supacat ATMP story for the British Armed forces, although, at this point, it seems unlikely to re-enter (again) service with the British Army.
At the Royal Navy’s Unmanned Warrior 16 exercise, an ATMP MkIII was used to support the QinetiQ team.
Subsequently, the MoD issued a tender requirement for a range of support services for the maritime autonomous trials team (MASTT).
Emphasis added, and I think they meant to say Palfinger hydraulic crane not Pathfinder hydraulic crane.
So there you go, ATMP has entered, left and been reintroduced to service with the British Army a number of times and seems is now back in service, but with the Royal Navy, albeit on a supplier support contract basis.
The vehicle concept remains sound, the vehicle itself is sound, especially the new MkIV.
It is a shame that UK airmobile forces have no mobility platform when the ATMP is manifestly suitable and would be relatively easy to re-introduce, given all required aircraft and mobility clearances already exist.
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