UK's LPPV Contenders Square Up at Eurosatory
The global defence industry meets in Paris this June for Eurosatory 2010, the world's pre-eminent military expo. Daniel Garrun takes a closer look at two light protected patrol vehicles (LPPVs) that are vying for one of the UK's top contracts.
Eurosatory began in 1967 as an exhibition organised by France's military procurement agency, the Delegation Generale pour l'Armement. It has since grown into a global event with one mission: shaping tomorrow's defence.
In 2008, the show attracted 1,210 defence and security exhibitors from 52 countries, as well as tens of thousands of visitors from around the world. The 2010 event, which will be held in Paris on 14-18 June, is expected to be bigger, and – considering the accelerating trajectory of defence research – visitors can expect quite a show.
Amongst all the tanks, armaments, missiles and other battlefield gadgets that will be on display, two vehicles in particular are expected to stand out as they vie for one of the most lucrative contracts around – the UK Ministry of Defence's (MoD) light protected patrol vehicle programme.
The light protected patrol vehicle programme
The LPPV programme, announced as an urgent operational requirement in March, seeks to supply at least 200 vehicles at cost of about £100m, for an urgent in-service date of early 2011.
Finding such a vehicle is a critical requirement for the UK MoD. Since the outset, the war in Afghanistan has been determined by two major obstacles: staggeringly demanding desert and mountain terrain, and insurgent enemy forces that are well skilled in the use of home-made explosives and roadside bombs. Its current LPPV, the Snatch Land Rover, is woefully inadequate, and it needs a replacement to lift the tempo of forces fighting the shifting insurgency.
The LPPV programme is designed to solve these problems by providing soldiers with a vehicle that has enough protection to resist most improvised explosive devices, but is still mobile and agile enough to allow engagement in areas that would otherwise be inaccessible.
Of the 287 UK defence force casualties that have been reported in Afghanistan at the time of writing, at least 37 have been attributed to the use Snatch Land Rovers, resulting in widespread condemnation of MoD preparedness and a commitment to remove all Snatch's from non-essential activities by early 2009.
Although then Defence Secretary John Hutton rejected a formal enquiry into why so many deaths could be traced to one vehicle, a bitter taste still lingers in the public sentiment – a taste the UK's new coalition government will be eager to remove.
The original entrants for the trial included four companies, but the number has since been whittled down to two: all-British company Supacat and its SPV400 protected vehicle; and US-based Force Protection, which has entered the Ocelot light patrol vehicle.
The other two shortlisted contenders were Babcock, who withdrew early on in the competition, and NP Aerospace, which also withdrew as their Phoenix vehicle wouldn't be ready in time for the trials.
The next step of the process is further testing, for which the MoD has purchased two Ocelots and arranged for five SPV400 prototypes. No date has been set for the final verdict, but a decision has been tentatively scheduled for August.
Supacat have based its 7.5t SPV400 on a modular design that encompasses a V-shaped armoured steel hull, a shape that will deflect a blast away from the crew pod.
The pod itself has been designed by NP Aerospace, Supacat's armour protection partner for the SPV400. It has been constructed as a separate module and is sealed off from potential secondary projectiles.
The SPV400's speed (80mph on a desert plain) and all-terrain mobility is comparable to Supacat's Jackal – which is already being used in Afghanistan to good effect. It is also equipped with air suspension to provide as comfy a ride as possible. Both axles are mounted on detachable "sacrificial" sub-frames, which will absorb and deflect a blast away from the crew pod if a wheel strikes an explosive device. To allow for this "sacrifice", the engine and transmission have been separated, so the crew pod will not be affected should the front sub-frame detach.
It's a vehicle with a good English pedigree, something that is expected to hold good favour with the MoD as the UK will retain full control over future design upgrades, and the vehicle will be free from US International Traffic in Arms Regulations restrictions.
The first prototypes were subjected to two days of blast trials in December 2009; more followed in May 2010. Although details on the scale of the blasts have not been released, Supacat has assured all concerned that they were "significant" and above those required for the programme.
Force Protection's Ocelot
The second contender for the programme, Force Protection's Ocelot, also incorporates a V-shaped hull for blast protection. However, its protected pods can be demounted and swapped, giving the Ocelot flexibility – it can be used in several roles, including troop transport, materials transport and fire support.
The vehicle, designed alongside technology specialist Ricardo, has a gross weight of 7500kg (1500kg of which is payload), and can reach a top speed of 110km/h. It can be transported, underslung, by a C-17 Globemaster, C-130 Hercules or a CH-47 Chinook, and is capable of towing vehicles the same size as itself if needs be.
Although it is an all-new concept, the Ocelot has been developed to provide levels of survivability that are comparable with the Cougar family of mine-resistant ambush-protected (MRAP) vehicles, which have already been deployed by the UK in the form of the Mastiff, Ridgeback and Wolfhound. Tests have been ongoing since summer 2009: in that time, Ocelot has proved itself through a sustained programme of blast, ballistic, automotive and manoeuvrability trials.
Although not entirely British-made, the recent interest shown by the Australian government – which has picked it in their version of the LPPV programme for use in Afganistan and elsewhere – is a definite feather in the Ocelot's cap.
Eurosatory and beyond
With the vast range of defensive hardware that will be on show at this year's Eurosatory, there is guaranteed to be more than one headline maker. The expo is, after all, a glimpse of both the future of modern conflict and the technology that will be used to fight it.
Beyond the fight to win what would be both a lucrative contract and quite possibly the "saving grace" of the UK MoD, other notable battles to look out for include the provision of a fully integrated future-soldier system for the US Department of Defense.
What it won't be, however, is the final test for either of these LPPVs. That will play out on the deserts and mountains of Afghanistan, where the vehicle's ability to save lives will be put through its paces.