While high altitude special mission aircraft, unmanned aerial vehicles and other advanced Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) platforms have grabbed the limelight, an enduring reality on the battlefield today and for many years to come will be the use of medium and lightweight tracked and wheeled reconnaissance vehicles, acting as the eyes and ears of manoeuvre forces. These platforms will take on the task of scouting ahead, investigating areas of interest and accurately marking targets or enemy concentrations and transmitting that over the network across echelons of command, populating the common operation picture with critical situational awareness that simply can’t be achieved any other way.
by Adam Baddeley
Platforms tasked with undertaking this have been largely divided into two categories; one is what might have been termed ‘scout cars’ many years ago; light armoured vehicles that emphasise speed and mobility over protection and heavy armament to conduct their missions and larger better protected 6×6, 8×8 or tracked designs employing medium calibre cannon and in some cases anti-tank ordnance.
Special Forces have long placed an emphasis on speed for protection rather than armour in conducting operations and missions, many of which. The US Special Operations Command Ground Mobility Vehicle (GMV) 1.1 programme competition has prompted a number of solutions to appear over the past few months. The GMV 1.1 requirement is for a vehicle with scalable armour protection according to near, high speed with the ability to be carried via a CH-47 helicopter and equipped with an advanced C4ISR systems with nearly 1300 vehicles required replacing the legacy modified HMMWVs.
Northrop Grumman launched its solution for the GMV 1.1, the Medium Assault Vehicles – Light (MAV-L)at AUSA in October, developed with partners BAE Systems and Pratt and Miller Engineering. The design has a Gross Vehicle Weight (GVW) of 5.8 tonnes with a payload of two tonnes and has been shown to offer speeds of 60Mph over cross country trials.
The MAV-L is not alone, one of the most recent offerings in this field is the Special Purpose All-Terrain Vehicle (S-ATV) developed by Oshkosh Defense. The solution is equipped with the TAK-4 independent suspension system, used on the successful M-ATV and implemented on number of other platforms.
Other offerings include that of General Dynamics OTS and Flyer Defense LLC, offering the latter’s Flyer Advanced Light Strike Vehicle. Navistar, SAIC and Indigen Armor have developed the Non-Standard Tactical Truck (NSTT) platform. Another Light Armoured Vehicle in this category was the Spectre from General Dynamics Land Systems offered in a Widetrack configuration which can be carried by a CH-47 and has a scalable armour package. The vehicle has a combat weight of 4.7 tonnes and is powered by a 3.2L g CYL Turbo Diesel which runs on JP8 fuel and has a scalable open architecture. HDT Storm’s Light Tactical All-Terrain Vehicle has a turning circle of just 6.1m and has a gross vehicle weight of 3.65 tonnes and at maximum load can reach 60mph in under 15 seconds and has a maximum speed of 161Kmph and has range of 563km.
Polaris Defence recently unveiled their Amour Concept Demonstrator, developed with M9 Defense and designed to provide high levels of protection but at a 40 percent reduction in weight over what is in service today. Features include a aluminium exo-skeleton, a seamless composite V-hull with crew capsule protection to STANAG IIII and Door protection to STANAG III+ with an number of areas using a steel – composite hybrid material. Polaris also had their MRZ2 and MRZR 4 ultra-light tactical vehicle on show aimed at airmobile or special operations forces.
Beyond the world of special forces the next generation scout vehicles for the US Army will be met in part by the Joint Light Tactual Vehicle (JLTV) programme, the potential HMMWV replacement, currently at the Engineering Manufacturing Development stages with teams lead by AM General, Lockheed martin and Oshkosh being awarded contracts for the 27 month effort.
To meet the requirement of JLTV, a number of light armoured vehicle designs have emerged. Oshkosh’s L-ATV Light combines features of the M-ATV, notably its protection levels and the use of its TAK-4 based AK-4i intelligent independent suspension system to provide 508 mm of wheel travel as well as new features such as an optional ProPulse hybrid diesel-electric drive train kit generating on-board and export power. AM General’s Blast Resistant Vehicle Offroad (BRV-O) and BAE Systems-Northrop Grumman’s Valanx solution are two more. Another, Navistar’s Saratoga has a reported payload of over 3.3 tonnes and is designed both to meet JLTV and other global requirements.
The requirement of France’s military throughout the Cold War and continuing today for light armoured vehicles, has produced an enviable range of platforms suitable for the scout and reconnaissance role and for the future this will be sustained through requirements for the Army’s Scorpion programme the acronym for the Synergie du Contact Renforcé par la Polyvalence et l’Inforvalorisation which has established the Army’s requirement for the Véhicule Blindé d’Aide a l’Engagement. This has prompted a number of designs including the Panhard Crab and 8-10 tonne, low profile – 1.8m high platform – housing a crew of three in a highly protected platform. In the reconnaissance role a package of a 25mm cannon in a Remote Weapon Station which also carries the Thales Lightweight Multirole Missile is envisaged. At its launch at Eurosatory 2012 it was equipped with a 25mm ATK Bushmaster M242 equipped CTI turret although it can support up to 30mm weapons. Protection wise, it has a STANAG 4569 2/3 versus mines – the design incorporates a triple floor but eschews a V shaped hull and can reach up to STANAG Level 4 with uparmouring against small arms.
Today however, France’s Véhicule Blindé Léger (VBL) remains in widespread service including several militaries in the region. The four wheeled, Panhard vehicle is capable of high road speeds and can traverse rivers with an amphibious speed of 5.4Kmph. Protection is limited to small arms, artillery fragments, mines and also includes NBC protection. The latest version is the Mk 2, equipped with a 130Hp Steyr engine. France also continues to use the PVP Petit Véhicule Protegé. Another vehicle, the Panhard VBR has payload of 2.5 tonnes and is powered by an MTU 325hp engine, capable of propelling the vehicles to a top speed of 110kmph.
Outside of widespread use by the French Army but a design that is gaining adherents elsewhere is the Sherpa developed by Renault Truck Defence which is a family of vehicles which includes a light scout variant which can be operated with a RWS and active protection systems including the IMI Bright Arrow systems designed to defeat RPG and ATGWs.
A growing number of countries have adopted Iveco LMV also knowns as Lince by its launch customer Italy who now operates roughly 1400 of these vehicles. Other users include Austria, the Czech Republic, Belgium, Norway, Russia, Spain and the UK. The latest version has been strengthened and equipped to house a Remote Weapon Station and additional sensors with a reconnaissance platform variant also being developed
A key light vehicle operated in the reconnaissance role is the Jackal 2, a Supacat design for high mobility weapons platform requirements. The systems uses an air-bag suspension system to improve cross country performance with speeds of 89kmph in British service with 129kmph on roads. The vehicle is equipped with a mix of 7.62mm and 12.7mm machine guns and the Heckler and Koch Grenade Machine Gun. The UK’s Coyote tactical support vehicle (TSV light) is based on a 6×6 derivative of the Jackal 2. The UK has also fielded the General Dynamics Land Systems Foxhound vehicle, known by the company as the Ocelot, in Afghanistan from June, taking over from the many of the roles formerly undertaken by the Panther, a version of the Iveco LMV. A total of 325 of the vehicles have been ordered by the UK MoD with the design heavily focused on IED and mine protection. The company is also developing a reconnaissance version of the vehicle along with other variants.
In South Africa, BAE Land Systems OMC’s RG32M is the latest version of the RG32 family which has been widely operated in Afghanistan and Iraq with users in the counter-mine IED stretching further back to operations in Bosnia.
The General Dynamics Eagle I and Eagle II are other examples of light reconnaissance vehicle. The vehicles have been acquired by the Swiss military and those of Denmark, the latter vehicles operating as reconnaissance vehicles for armoured formations. The Eagle IV is large but still 4×4 vehicle built around the chassis of the Duro vehicle which includes a Cummins ISBe 5.9l engine, has allowed for its payload to be increased while still allowing two vehicles to be transported in a single C-130. The increased payload has resulted in acquisition by the German armed forces which deployed with it to Afghanistan 2009 as has Denmark who acquired the vehicle to replace its Eagle 1 vehicles. A version of the Eagle was also been linked to a JLTV bid
Germany and the Netherlands have each opted for lighter vehicles for their reconnaissance needs via the Fennek with over 300 vehicles planned for the Germans and 410 ordered by the Netherlands with the first vehicle being delivered in 2003. The vehicles are in a range of options from reconnaissance, combat engineer, anti-tank, combat engineer and joint fire support. The reconnaissance capability is provided via a mast mounted payload which includes a high-capability thermal imager, daylight camera and laser range finder. Both countries have deployed the vehicle to Afghanistan where they have been attacked with both RPGs and mines with the protection systems keeping casualties to a minimum with the design having high levels of survivability.
Turkey’s Cobra design has moved through a number of variants in recent years with some versions having a gross vehicle weight of over 11 tonnes and armoured protection, new engine and other features have been added. In the region, Bangladesh, the Maldives, Pakistan and the Philippines have all acquired the vehicles with the design also attending Bridex in Brunei in 2011.
The reconnaissance version has a number of target acquisition and surveillance solution both electro-optic and radar based in mast mounted payloads.
In Australia, the Land 121 Phase 4 programme opted for a local design, Thales Australia Hawkei awarding the firm work to proceed to develop several prototypes for further testing by the Australian Defence Forces (ADF) via a June 2012 award. The internal architectures can support a number of advanced sensors suitable to a forward reconnaissance role although the ADF requirement is for patrol and utility vehicle variants,.
In contrast to lighter vehicles, a number of other militaries require a higher level of offensive capability such as a 30-40mm cannon or larger main gun akin to those of earlier Main Battle Tanks while retaining high levels of manoeuvrability and still being able to conduct the core reconnaissance task. Their task, in addition to the scout reconnaissance mission they are also given additional tasks such as screening and flanking which demand offensive fore power.
Historically there were a large number of these type of vehicle the previous generation including the Panhard AML, Sagaie and Cascavel but successors are thin on the ground. For the next generation of reconnaissance vehicles, the UK is opting for the UK Scout Specialist Vehicle (Scout SC) based on the Austro-Spanish developed General Dynamics European Land Combat Systems ASCOD vehicle and armed with a CTAI International 40mm Case Telescope Armament System (CTAS) and MTU-Renk powerpack.. General Dynamics won the contract to supply the vehicles in in a £500 million award announced in July 2010 for the demonstration and qualification phase of the programme. The trials vehicle is currently scheduled to begin user testing in January 2013.
Nexter’s AMX 10RC armoured reconnaissance vehicle, represents France continuing coincidence in medium weight vehicle in the reconnaissance roles with 256 vehicles recently concluding an upgrade covering enhanced protection new BMS and other features to extended its service life. The turret is equipped with a Nexter ML 105 turret with 105mm NATO standard gun. Performance wise its has an unrefueled range of 1000Km with speeds of 85kmph on radars and is also amphibious.
France’s replacement for the AMX-10RC is the Engin Blindé de Reconnaissance et de Combat or Reconnaissance Tracked Armoured Vehicle weighing roughly 17-18 tonnes conducting a range of Surveillance and Target Acquisition missions across the spectrum of conflict. The vehicle will replace the French Army’s Nexter Systems AMX 10 RCR and Panhard General Defense ERC 90 Sagaie vehicles. A solution for this has been developed by Nexter under a government contract. To meet the EBRC requirement, Panhard General Defense have shown its SPHINX or Secret Project for High Intensity and New Conflicts 6×6 armoured car, also equipped with the CTAI