DVD – Driving Innovation

Iain Scott visits the UK's DVD event and finds technology is driving the tank industry to places never seen before.


When it comes to motoring experiences, most army personnel will know that few things compare to being taken for a drive in a bit of gear worth upwards of £100,000.

That's especially true when the ride you're taking is in the front seat of an armoured utility vehicle. And it's not just the fact that you're hurtling down a near-perpendicular slope in several tonnes of machinery towards a deep-brown puddle of indeterminate depth.

It's exciting partly because you know that what you're riding in has been designed using some serious engineering and possibly some of the most reliable technology ever invented.

This is evident once you visit DVD, the annual mobility service expo held at Millbrook, in Bedfordshire, England. While many similar technology shows are pitched to the general public, DVD stands apart.

This year's event in June attracted more than 3,000 visitors, all of them – apart from the odd joyriding journalist – would-be purchasers and users of the latest mobility equipment, from radio technology and lighting all the way up to heavy construction plant and armoured transport.

For years, DVD has paid homage to the long line-up of technological advancements that have come regularly in this particular defence space. Lisa Murphy, of event organisers Defence Equipment & Support (DE&S), says that the DVD concept began with an expo for the specialist utility vehicles (SUV) integrated project team, then grew last year to include engineering systems support (ESS). This year the event was expanded again to incorporate the general support vehicles (GSV) integrated project team (IPT).

"Because it's a stakeholder event it has become an opportunity for a wide range of specialists who deliver mobility to work more closely together," she says.

WHERE NETWORKING PAYS OFF

Lieutenant Colonel Rowland Judge, leader of the general support vehicle integrated project team (GST IPT), says demands always change in this space of military defence. When his group received an urgent operational requirement to change a vehicle's specification, it had a range of factors to consider, many of which required new working arrangements with partners and other stakeholders.

"Demands always change in the space of military defence."

"For example, adding extra protection can mean increased weight, the need for up-rated components and additional power," Judge says. "[Shows such as] DVD will enable us to discuss implications like this with our stakeholders so that we can look at new ways of working together to provide the right equipment to the front line in even shorter timescales."

The focus of this year's DVD was on support to operations. One big draw for the second day of DVD was the debut of the British Ministry of Defence's latest addition to its MWMIK fleet, a 4t long-range patrol vehicle that can reach speeds of up to 80mph.

Lord Drayson, Minister of State for Defence Equipment and Support, says these are the latest protected vehicles being used by troops.

MOD LATEST ACQUISITIONS

The MoD also used the event to show off its latest vehicle acquisitions – the Viking amphibious armoured all-terrain, armoured steel vehicle presently in use in Afghanisan, where it is credited for saving many troops' lives with its soft-terrain mobility and the 6x6 protected patrol vehicle Vector, which came out of last year's armoured vehicle review.

The Vector, also in use in Afghanistan, is a step up from the SNATCH Landrovers, purposely built for rugged terrain and long patrol distances.

The 23t monster, Mastiff, was also a popular item at the show – derived from Cougars used by the American Marines, these six-wheeled mine-protected vehicles have already helped infantry troops, Royal Engineers and bomb-disposal teams move about danger zones with much more protection bringing further confidence to troops working in the field.

"Millbrook is a custom-built
off-road facility, one of Europe's leading locations for development and demonstration."

The upgraded FV430 Bulldog, two of which are presently used by The Rifles, the 4th Battalion in Basra, was also on display. These vehicles help soldiers carry out humanitarian work which means vehicles with added ability and room to move is a must. Better still, the FV430 has been designed to better move about the streets, having less impact on local infrastructure.

The Bulldog has an upgraded engine and gearbox, and allows soldiers to easily move between efforts on foot to the confines of the vehicle.

TAKING TECHNOLOGY OFF ROAD

DVD is not all about the vehicles, however. A large part of its appeal for the MoD and visitors is its location – Millbrook is a custom-built off-road facility, one of Europe's leading locations for the development and demonstration of all kinds of land vehicles, with 70km of off-road track for putting the heaviest of SUVs to the test.

This year's DVD featured 40 exhibitors, treating visitors to hands-on demonstrations. The big guns included Pinzgauer, Oshkosh, IVECO, MAN ERF, Leyland and BAE Systems.

Many exhibitors were even keen to show off capabilities beyond their impressive vehicles this year. Thales, for example, demonstrated not only its Australian-designed Bushmaster infantry mobility vehicle but also its comprehensive day / night surveillance systems. And for procurement and maintenance officers, it showed off its asset management information system and through-life management toolkit.

Another big firm, Lockheed Martin, spruiked the UK debut of two new vehicles, the future tactical truck system extender and the HMT 4x4 proof of concept, the latter featuring a prototype lightweight armour package to boost mobility. But it was also keen to discuss its flagship logistics tool, Joint Asset Management Engineering Solutions (JAMES).

"This year, many exhibitors were keen to show off capabilities beyond their impressive vehicles."

JAMES, a software-based logistic process application, has been used by the British Army's 102nd Logistics Brigade based in Germany. It has had initial operating capability since 20 October 2005.

It was designed to manage more than 40,000 pieces of equipment and coordinate a million transactions each month for the British Army, as well as manage land equipment for the Royal Air Force and Royal Navy.

It is already being credited with saving equipment support costs and helping the forces reach end-to-end logistic information technology convergence.

WHY HASN'T THIS BEEN DONE BEFORE?

The concept centre at DVD this year featured more than 50 companies, most of which displayed innovations at the pointy end of army technology.

Among them was German-based firm Autoflug, which demonstrated an apparatus of the 'I can't believe no one has thought of this before' sort. Based on the fact that 75% of manned ground vehicle casualties are caused by the shockwaves transmitted by mines, Autoflug has devised a fabric-based seat system that doesn't transmit the shock through a vehicle.

The company is not a new one – it was founded in 1919 to make parachutes – but its new technologies have given it a new lease of life. Now, for example, it has developed a microclimate suit for personnel travelling in armoured vehicles operating in extreme heat.

Another seemingly obvious, but actually terribly innovative, technology was on display among DVD's pavilion exhibitors. Citing studies showing that more than 80% of diesel-engine breakdowns are caused by fuel problems, FuelActive touted a deceptively simple, retrofittable system that it said allowed engines to become more fuel-efficient while leaving water and other contaminates at the bottom of a fuel tank.

Small-scale, high-tech mobility solutions also featured at DVD. Lowe, for instance, rolled out its range of audio technology – earpieces, headphones, and the latest in bone conduction headsets, throat microphones and other tech for covert operations.

"A straw poll of DVD 2007 exhibitors revealed that business, for most, is currently pretty brisk."

New technology was also being applied to more traditional fields – lighting, for example. Linear Guidance Illumination (LGI) displayed its range of LED floodlamps and Fireworm illuminated cables.

Among first-time exhibitors at DVD this year was Conekt, the external consultancy arm of TRW Automotive. The firm was drumming up awareness of its business – applying its scientific and technological capabilities to product development, manufacture and validation.

A straw poll of DVD 2007 exhibitors revealed that business, for most, is currently pretty brisk. But as one exhibitor told Army-Technology.com: "With two wars going on at the moment, it's not surprising."