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Combat Vehicle  –  Opinion  Piece  –  DND/CF  Procurement  &  Industry  –  August  2009

'Once  &  Future  Combat  Systems' –  New  Blast-Resistant Hulls
Matched  with the  latest in  Electronics,  Weapons,  and Sensors

Edited excerpts from a report on key features of  new combat vehicles by James Hasik
CASR  is grateful to James Hasik for his permission to reproduce this abridged version of  his timely report. Opinions expressed are the author's, but footnotes and inserted commentary are those of  the editor.  To view the full  document  ( in PDF ),  please  see:  Hasik  Analytic  LLC.
Summary:  a  Brief  Step-by-Step Analysis of  the  8x8 Armored Vehicle Market  in the US

Ongoing counterinsurgencies have shifted the emphasis in US force structure to the infantry, and  the  need  for  blast-protection in its vehicles is essential. For the US Army and  Marines, this might seem to be a call for more 'Mine-Resistant, Armor-Protected' (MRAP) vehicles. The Afghan campaign, however, has demonstrated the need for vehicles with better off-road capa- bilities than MRAPs, but more carrying capacity than the new 'MRAP-All Terrain Vehicle' (the M-ATV ).  While  heavier  vehicles would offer not  just  blast-protection, but greater  ballistic protection as well,  a  reasonable chance at  stopping  anti-tank  rounds  ( or  missiles )  would require a vehicle as massive as a tank. Thus, the next generation of  troop carriers – particular- ly those of  the US Army – will  likely be wheeled eight-by-eight ( 8x8 ) vehicles –  just with V- shaped  hulls for robust  blast-protection. Designs will likely be sourced from companies with 8x8 experience. Other than General Dynamics Land Systems, all such manufacturers are based outside the United States.  Overseas companies will be seeking American production partners to ensure adequate domestic content and  technology insertion.  What  follows is a brief step- by-step strategic analysis for companies interested in this market.

 1)   Understand  what  the  US  Army  wants:

In particular, many experienced  senior officers have been calling for a  third maneuver battalion for each combat brigade. Brigades should further,  the service seems to be recommending, incorpor- ate their own information operations, public and civil affairs, psy- chological operations, and  electronic warfare specialists, so that combat brigades can undertake stability and  civil support opera- ations  alongside traditional  offensive and defensive operations.

In  particular,  many support  units  should  now  be equipped  with  heavier and  more sophis- ticated weaponry, such as crew-served weapons  [eg: machinegun, AGL, and Javelin missile], night-vision and infrared-aiming devices, and indirect fire capabilities. This renewed emphasis on dismountable infantry calls  for armored vehicles  able to provide  protected mobility along predicted routes, increased electrical and data capacity to support networked systems, and an expandable architecture to allow for new armoring technologies should they become available.

 2)   Know  what  the  Army  can  actually  get:

This is a good start  to a wish list,  but  its parameters are con- strained by physics. The Army's last combat vehicle initiative, the FCS ( Future Combat System ), was doomed once its effort to develop  an active protection system – a complex defensive suite designed  to shoot down incoming projectiles  –  ran into technological roadblocks. Considering, then, what is possible, US  Defense  Secretary,  Robert Gates,  is weighing options for moving up to US $75 B from current  budget allocations into new capabilities designed to deal with  asymmetric threats  and  irregular operations.  On  the  ground,  this  means mostly  high- mobility,  well-protected  armored vehicles  carrying  dismountable  forces.

Where does this leave the Army?

There are complaints that the Army's new approach is beginning to lean  too far  in the direct- ion of converting the service wholesale towards fighting counterinsurgencies, at the expense of  'big-war' capabilities.  This is a false dichotomy.  In Afghanistan, the Army is encouraging its  field commanders to  shift  towards  more ' traditional '  combined  arms  techniques  which use artillery, mortars, and direct  tank-fire, in order to clear the way  for  their  armored infantry. Dismounting troops are central to both big war and small war scenarios.

 3)   Start  with  the  MRAP:

So, while initially considered by some as a 'one-off' program,  the MRAPs form a good starting point  for analyzing real 'needs'. After all, Secretary Gates terminated  the FCS MGV effort after he learned that  these vehicles were planned to have flat bottoms that sat just eighteen inches [45cm] off  the ground.  The Army's similarly configured  M2 Bradleys have proven  relatively vulnerable to mine and bomb blasts, and  its flat-bottomed M113s  [ CF TLAVs ] are not much allowed outside the wire in Iraq, clocking only one-tenth the monthly mileage of  MRAPs, and one-twentieth that of  Strykers. The planned FCS would offer no great advancements in blast- resistance over these vehicles which the MRAPs had already supplanted  in daily operations.

Thus, MRAP has now become the new standard by which all vehicles will  be measured. We expect that any new vehicle project  that fails to compare reasonably  to this standard  will face more than just scrutiny –  that proposed vehicle may not get built at all.  Why?  The  MRAP is optimized to protect  soldiers  against the three (3) classes of weapons used  by insurgents: the assault  rifle [ primarily Kalashnikov AK-47s], the shoulder-fired rocket [rocket propelled grenades or RPGs], and the improvised explosive device [ IEDs  –  roadside or emplaced as mines].

Guerrillas frequently innovate new tactics and  techniques, but  these three types of  weapons have become  the major ways of  doing  violence  for about  forty years  now. The monocoque welded steel hull of  the MRAP  (sometimes with a surrounding  slat armor 'cage' )  provides a substantial shield against those three most common threats.  In addition, the vehicle provides a relatively large interior compartment which can be readily reconfigured for various roles.

Nonetheless, today's MRAPs suffer from at least two major deficiencies as compared to other armored vehicle types, whether wheeled or tracked.  First, MRAPs don't perform well off-road. (This is, after all, the key requirement of  the  MRAP-ATV  program for the Afghan campaign.) The second flaw is lack of firepower. Thus far, MRAPs have been limited to 12.7 mm machine- guns and automatic grenade launchers.  Fortunately, both of  these problems are quite fixable.

 4)   Move  on  to  an  8x8  Wheeled  Vehicle:

Some years ago, we predicted the eventual demise of  the FCS manned ground vehicle (MGV) project, and began hinting that the Stryker 8x8 ( the US version of the LAV III ) might become the real  ' Future Combat System '.  All the same,  the next 8x8 in the US need not  be a  Stryker per se. Worldwide, the leading 8x8 armored vehicles by sales are  General  Dynamics' Piranha Light Armored Vehicle and Pandur series,  ARTEC's BoxerNexter's VBCI, and  Patria's AMV (Armored Modular Vehicle). All of  these  8x8s  feature  better off-road mobility and weaponry than the MRAPs;  the latter  three  8x8  designs also offer more carrying capacity than General Dynamics' vehicles. What is particularly needed now is a section-carrying vehicle that is both robustly blast-resistant and highly mobile

However, building such a vehicle would  require more than just adding some V-shaped  plating to some existing design.  There is a meaningful  trade-off  between  retaining a  lower center of gravity for off-road mobility, and  maintaining  enough  ground clearance for  blast-resistance. Many of  these challenges seem to have been addressed in Oshkosh's M-ATV design.  If  these challenges could  be addressed in a vehicle with twice the cap- acity, that design could eventually take over many of  the roles of today's MRAPs as well as 8x8 vehicles, serving as platforms for chemical, biological, and radiological  ( CBR ) reconnaissance, armored medevac, electronic warfare, battlefield surveillance, and as a robot mothership. [ Ed: this overlaps with some roles envisoned for the Canadian  Tactical Armoured Patrol Vehicle (although a bit small for APC ).]

 5)   Don't  try  to  Build  a  Tank:

Some critics will point to the recent announcement that the Canadian Department of  National Defence will seek a new Close Combat Vehicle (CCV) of  25 to 45 tons –  presumably a tracked vehicle  –  as evidence against  the necessity for an eight-wheeled  armored vehicle combining high mobility with blast-resistance. This is an important development, but for several reasons, it is not generally conclusive. First, the CCV will not replace any Canadian Forces vehicle, but rather, will supplement existing LAV IIIs, which are themselves due to be upgraded.  The LAV III fleet is large enough to motorize only six of the Canadian Army's nine infantry battalions, a planned order for 108 CCVs will be enough to motorize one or two more battalions of  infantry.

Further, the CCVs will  be found  in an off-the-shelf vehicle line, most likely KMW / Rheinmetall's Puma or BAE Systems Hägglunds' CV90 series. Providing enough ballistic protection to avoid  penetration by at least some large-caliber cannon rounds and anti- tank missiles, would make for an enormously heavy vehicle. With the increasing prevalence of  ' top-attack ' anti-tank missiles, even this degree of armoring  may not  be enough for survivability, at least against reasonably sophisticated foes.

Regardless, infantry fighting vehicles like the US Bradley, British Warrior, and Swedish CV90 cannot withstand the kinds of attacks mentioned above even frontally where armor is thickest. Thus, there are clear design breakpoints at resistance to artillery splinters and 14.5 mm heavy machinegun fire  –  the heaviest indirect and insurgent threats that a vehicle might be reason- ably expected to face, and  with which  dismounting  infantry  should  be primarily  concerned.

 6)   Pick  Your  Partners:

As we do not expect the US Army to attempt to convert some of its older M1 Abrams tanks to heavy infantry assault vehicles, we conclude that  the ABCTM  [ Army Brigade Combat Team Modernization, the FCS MGV replacement ] program will most likely call for a wheeled infantry transporter. Ashton Carter, US  Under Secretary of  Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics, made clear that he prefers the next armored vehicle program be jointly shared by the Army and  the Marine Corps. The Marines clearly prefer an eight-wheeled vehicle for their proposed  Marine Personnel Carrier (MPC). This program is expected to call  for a mostly off-the-shelf  vehicle,  so we are uncertain as to whether the scope of  the  engineering  problem  merits a fresh  start  for ABCTM.  Either way, those combined US Army and Marine programs are  the largest  opportunities before the industry. Companies planning  to compete  for this business  face a challenging  set of  strategic issues.

European companies with existing designs are beginning to find  teammates in the US:  so far, Textron has teamed up with France's Nexter and  its  VBCI vehicle, and  Lockheed  Martin has teamed with Finland's Patria with its AMV. [1]  ARTEC, with its well-regarded Boxer, is partic- ularly absent from this list.  Potential partners include firms beyond the list of  usual suspects: US speciality  truck manufacturers are increasingly showing  that  they  have the skills needed to build wheeled armored vehicles.  Oshkosh had never previously designed or  built a vehicle more protected than an up-armored truck, but now it has repeat orders for M-ATVs over $2 B.

The two local  US firms with long experience in armored vehicles  – BAE Systems and  General Dynamics –  face a slightly different set of  questions. BAE's existing 8x8 program, Hägglunds' SEP, was recently rejected by the Swedish government in favor of Patria's AMV. Without that home country support, BAE must to decide whether to double-down [2] with the SEP for MPC and ABCTM programs, to develop another new vehicle, or to seek a partner overseas. On the other hand, General Dynamics simply declined  to engineer its own new vehicle for the MRAP program, preferring to exercise its North American license to BAE's RG-31 Nyala. [3]  Without that engineering experience, General Dynamics could  seek assistance  from a blast-protection specialist designing a more robustly-protected version of  the LAV III.

In short, the market opportunities  in the United States alone could  be huge, and there remain open strategic questions in engineering,  manufacturing,  marketing, and alliance management. The answers are not obvious, but the commercial and military imperative is looming.

[1] Some manufacturers already tout  improved mine-resistance  for  their 8x8s. This issue was the central argument in  BAE Systems Hägglunds'  lawsuit against  the Swedish government's selection of  their  Finnish rival  Patria's  8x8 AMV as the Swedish Army's next  infantry carrier.

[2]  In Blackjack, "doubling down" allows players to double their bet  by placing a second  bet that is equal in value to the first.  Doubling down would suggest BAE's faith in the SEP 'hand'.

[3] The RG-31 was part-sponsored  for M-ATV by the Canadian government  but was refused.

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