Driving into the Future7 January 2010
Operational challenges mean armies are asking more from military vehicles. Dr Gareth Evans reports on the shape these vehicles are taking.
Constantly evolving operational needs coupled with the rapid in-theatre operating tempo of modern deployments have led to a concerted reappraisal of military vehicle doctrine. With today's vehicles already playing increasingly diverse roles, the next generation seems certain to face even more complex tasks over the coming decade as the changing demands made of the world's armies continue to develop.
Former Deputy Commanding General of the Multi-National Force in Iraq retired Lieutenant General Sir John Kiszely says that while the current focus on intra-state warfare and counter-insurgent action is unlikely to shift in the years to come, the necessity to remain adequately prepared to fight larger conventional wars persists. "We now face a wide spectrum of potential conflicts," Kiszely says.
The upshot of this, he argues, is that we will see a wider variety of vehicle designs on armed forces' inventories, ranging from traditional ground seizing / ground holding heavy armour, through mine-resistant ambush protected vehicles (MRAPs) to lightly protected vehicles for patrol duties.
More than a vehicle
A recent Defence IQ report says the projected market for such ground combat vehicles over the next decade stands at about $70bn. Main battle tanks (MBTs) and light / medium tracked armoured fighting vehicles (AFVs) will each account for about $28bn, while wheeled vehicles will take up the remaining spend.
It also forecast a 42% growth in MBTs, armoured patrol cars (APCs) and infantry fighting vehicles (IFVs) spending – up $9.4bn – for 2010 alone. Clearly, despite rising budgetary scrutiny, there is still money to be spent, although cost-effectiveness will remain a key consideration.
The surge in attacks in Iraq and Afghanistan from a range of increasingly familiar acronyms – IEDs, RPGs, EFPs and VBIEDs – has pushed the balance of the vehicular firepower, mobility or protection compromise firmly in the direction of the latter.
This has led to a range of upgrades on existing vehicles, and sometimes upgrades on those upgrades as the threat has changed. Adding heavier armour to standard vehicles undoubtedly improves occupant protection but it also cuts payload and significantly reduces manoeuvrability.
As this recognition has spread, the design-specific protected patrol vehicle (PPV) concept has gained ground. Unsurprisingly, its development seems set to continue throughout 2010.
It has also become apparent, however, that the burgeoning weight of such heavily protected vehicles limits their off-road performance, while for counter-insurgency operations their aggressive appearance can foster greater disconnection between force and population. Consequently, although events have cemented the need for heavy PPVs such as the US's Cougar and the British Mastiff, there is a need for new utility vehicles that provide a balance between performance, payload and protection.
The novel and uniquely-engineered TMV 6x6M is a prime example. Born to cope with the mutable nature of modern military threats, it has been designed from the ground up to offer good survivability, high on / off-road capability and a payload capacity that bridges the gap between light utility vehicles and existing medium tactical trucks. With a design concept that allows for 4x4 and 8x8 variants and a wide range of anticipated operational roles, it could set an important trend for the future.
Architecture and innovations
Vehicle architecture at hardware and software levels is another area expected to become increasingly relevant to development programmes this decade. Modularity is a key aspect. Force Protection combat systems and electronic warfare platform manager Mark Stusnick says the idea of adaptability is vital. "These days you definitely need a modular approach to projects and to be able to introduce different sensors and weapons to your vehicle," Stusnick says.
Bringing the plug-and-play concept into the APC promises tremendous potential benefits to crew and soldiers as well as those tasked with maintaining and preparing vehicles for mission deployment.
Increasing survivability is not simply a question of better protection, greater mobility and higher lethality; the value of good situational and geospatial awareness coupled with effective system and platform integration is only just beginning to make itself felt in this respect.
Maximising integration and interoperability between hardware, doctrine and IT systems among partners will also prove an increasingly important force-multiplier. Given the innate network-centricity of modern armies, this makes establishing digitally seamless command and control infrastructure important. Accordingly, innovations in this area can be expected to feature in the military vehicles of 2010 and beyond.
Around the world
The military vehicle arena is truly international. There are already interesting developments to watch across the world as we move into the century's second decade, and other developments will follow.
In November, for instance, Mahindra and Mahindra signed an agreement with BAE Systems to create an Indian-based military vehicles joint venture at an investment of over $21m while Australia's new Hawkei Light Protected Vehicle has successfully passed its first mine-blast tests.
In addition, Chinese internet sources reveal the existence of a new small-tracked armoured vehicle, one with a strong suggested link to Russia's own novel "air-weight" BTR-MD / BTR-D3 Rakushka. Early December saw the first use of the LEMIR counter-IED system by French forces in Afghanistan and by the end of 2009 South Korea's K-21, said to be the strongest tracked armoured IFV in the world, will be deployed to field sites for operational duties.
Few in the military vehicle community – whether soldier or manufacturer – would welcome an invitation to speculate about what the future might hold. Experience of the unpredictable and fast-shifting demands of recent operations in counter-insurgency and expeditionary warfare has highlighted the folly of that.
That said, it seems safe to assume that tanks will remain the mainstay of armoured warfare and lighter vehicles will continue to ensure the necessary rapidity of deployment essential for reactive power projection roles, while new developments arise in response to changing needs.
With the prospect of exclusively 'national' conflicts now widely viewed as remote, these moves will provide future multi-national coalitions – rapidly established as the de facto "new model army" for the 21st Century – with considerable flexibility of response.
Faced with such diversity, as Kiszely says, striking the right balance will generate new logistical challenges for the next generation of military planners.